If two words could be used to encapsulate the subject of this review, they would be slender and elegant and in this case these adjectives are not limited to the way they look, although of course this is an important part of the equation. There was a time when column speakers were invariably tall and blocky and too often frankly ugly structures, but the last decade has seen a quiet revolution in loudspeaker design, and Mission is one of the brands that has been leading the way. Students of history will recall that Mission was the company that introduced the column speaker with the influential 753 about 20 years ago.
The genealogy of the 796se goes like this. It is the largest member of the 79se series (se here stands for sonically enhanced, not slender and elegant apparently). The Mission 79se Series replaces the plain vanilla 79 Series that was launched as long ago as 2008. It uses the same clever cabinet and some of the drive unit technologies that resulted in ‘Design and Engineering Showcase Honours’ for the range at CES, but it includes a number of improvements introduced by designer Peter Comeau, Director of Acoustic Design for Mission’s parent company, IAG, who was intimately involved with the earlier British owned iteration of Mission with whom Peter became chief designer in the years after he left Heybrook, the company with which his name was once synonymous and with which he built his reputation as one of the world’s leading loudspeaker designers. It was Peter who designed the original 79 series, whose main styling cues have been carried across largely intact to the sonically enhanced models.
As well as being famously slender and elegant, the larger members of the 79se series includes side firing bass units, a key factor reducing the width of the enclosures without skimping on the size of the bass units and hence bass response. The 796se also includes an inverted bass unit and tweeter, a feature that Mission has been using for many years. With the tweeter below the midrange unit, the larger unit can be kept further away from the muddling effect of reflections from the floor, which allows the designer to reduce the height of the enclosure while keeping the design listening axis (slightly above the midrange unit plane) high enough to suit normal domestic seating.
Other changes have also been introduced to the new models, including (but not limited to) drive unit improvements. The tweeter down reverts to the original 78 series Mission silk (actually textile) dome which is mounted on a mildly dished diecast waveguide which is said to enhance dispersion, allowing more than one listener at a time to hear a fully formed and consistent soundfield, retaining the mid/bass integration and improving phase response over the crossover region. The tweeter is mounted on an elastometer cushion (a damped layer) to enhance the detail and refinement of the unit.
The bass unit is further developed from the preceding range. The cone material is known as ‘Paramid’, using Aramid fibres (a material related to Nomex, which is notable for its use in circuit boards and transformers, and is made from synthetic polymers which are resin loaded and extensively cured to form, three dimensional structures which according to Mission are lighter and have tensile strength greater than steel by a factor of 5!
There are also changes built to the enclosure itself, which uses three different density layers of particle board laminated with RF activated resin damping layers to help absorb resonances which are mutually damped by adjacent layers. Each layer is tuned to a different discrete frequency (a similar idea is used by Cambridge Audio with their Performance loudspeaker range), which results in a very ‘dead’ enclosure largely free of the boxy colorations of a traditional enclosure. The most immediately notable feature of the enclosure however is its smoothly rounded lines, and its organic shape, which helps it look unusually clean and modern. According to Mission, internally the acoustic fibre filling the curved enclosure has been recalculated to maximize absorption at midrange frequencies, helping the asymmetric shape of the enclosure to reduce standing waves and reflected sound impact on the rear of the bass unit cone. Even the plinths show evidence of unusual attention to detail.
The final changes involve the new ‘perfect phase’ crossover which is designed to improve integration between the different units, traditionally one of the loudspeaker designers black arts.
The 796se is a three way, three driver rear vented bass reflex design with an official response ranging from 38Hz – 20kHz +/-3dB from its 32 litre enclosure. Impedance is 8 Ohms nominally and power handling is said to extend to 200 Watts, though on our assessment it is beginning to sound a little strained well before that point, and in typically absorbent mid side rooms you should not be looking at average sound pressure level greater than 92 – 94dB. The 796se is no powerhouse, and a healthy 100 Watt/channel amplifier will be an excellent match for this speaker in most cases.
Setup is unproblematic, The speakers should be toed in and can be oriented to that the bass units are pointing in or outwards, but except perhaps in very unusual acoustic surroundings, this model will sound best with the units facing inwards (ie towards each other), which will give the most sold and stable central image and reduced levels of reflections from nearby walls - but there is room for experiment here. Some space should be left behind the speakers to allow the reflex ports room to breathe. The terminal block is of good quality and supports single and biwiring options.
The 796se is an excellent loudspeaker, which is as easy on the ears as it is on the eyes, and which seems best suited to acoustic or relatively small scale music. You probably wouldn’t choose it for high level use with heavy duty music, not specifically because of any power handling or bandwidth limitations but because the speaker has a slightly dry balance, and is limited in extension. It lacks the architectural solidity of a truly full size speaker. It is more of a compact speaker with some added bass reinforcement than a full blooded, wide range loudspeaker in its own right.
I used it to good effect with chamber music generally – that’s my kind of poison – unaccompanied piano being a good example and with vocal material, especially solo singers accompanied by acoustic instruments, and it also worked particularly well with medium scale material like Brahms Alto Rhapsody. It even gave a good account of itself with densely scored works like the Strauss Alpine Symphony. Equally however it was out of its depth with the louder passages from Mahler 8, so the line should be drawn somewhere before that extreme.
Where the Mission did excel was in its ability to create a believable acoustic and sense of space from well-engineered recordings - Robert Silverman’s Mozart Piano Sonatas engineered by Ray Kimber using his extraordinary IsoMike on SACD and Madeline Peyroux’s eponymous album being cases in point. The Mission was never quite as physical sounding as the very best, but it was clearly very refined and natural, and on the whole it sounded clean, tactile and alive. Imagery was well delineated laterally, with a slightly foreshortened sense of depth in my room, probably because the tonal balance is slightly lean and dry, though this may not be the case in a smaller room. All in all, though, this is a highly accomplished and thoroughly listenable loudspedaker.one that shows plenty of evidence of great care in its fundamental design and voicing.
Mission 796se floor standing loudspeakers
Dimensions: 998(h) x 206(w) x 318(d)mm
Recommended amplifier power: 50 – 200 Watts
Frequency response: 38Hz – 20kHz
Price: £1,300 per pair