The Morgan Audio RMS11 is a compact stand-mount loudspeaker. More important is the fact that it’s also an active loudspeaker, and that simple adjective separates it out from the overwhelming majority.
Active drive is a technique commonly found in the Pro industry, but is a comparative rarity in the domestic hi-fi arena. Meridian and B&O both use it as a matter of course, while Linn and Naim make it available as options, as do Pro-crossover speaker brands like ATC and PMC. But all those tend to be well upmarket examples, which is not at all the case with this little speaker from Morgan Audio. As I understand it, this little RMS11 is only available direct from the manufacturer at £499/pair, a figure that seems hugely competitive in view of the fact that each speaker also contains a power supply, an electronic crossover and a couple of MOSFET power amps.
As a hi-fi company founded in Liverpool nearly 20 years ago, Morgan Audio has had very little recognition here in Britain. Not that Hi-Fi+ can be blamed for this: Issue 6 (Apr/May 2000) carried a review of Morgan’s complete Deva system, which went on to receive a ‘Product of the Year’ award in Issue 10. Morgan’s problem seemed to lie more in the difficulty of finding dealers willing to stock and sell its relatively inexpensive products in a tough and very competitive UK marketplace.
However, success in overseas territories like Germany and Taiwan helped keep this modest operation going, and it has also been diversifying into multi-room systems and the like. Today the company website shows a product line that consists of just two active loudspeakers – this tiny RMS11 and a larger model dubbed rms15 that has still to be finalised. That might bring to mind cautionary proverbs about eggs and baskets, but I suspect Morgan Audio knows what it’s doing.
The website suggests that the RMS11 isn’t really expected to be used at the end of a full hi-fi system. However, it lists a wide variety of possible sources, indicating the expectation that the speakers will be driven from the analogue (e.g., headphone) outputs of specific components, a little like a B&W Zeppelin perhaps, albeit in a more traditional two-box, wire-connected form.
Each speaker’s black-painted metal rear panel will act as an effective heatsink, and comes equipped with an IEC mains socket, a gain control, and an RCA/phono input socket. (Morgan Audio can also supply a digital input version, though this is not described or discussed in any detail.) A couple of toggle switches are fitted: one simply switches on/off; the other has two positions labelled ‘nearfield’ and ‘normal’, the former dropping the treble by about 3dB to compensate for close-up listening.
The rest of the enclosure is MDF, neatly finished in black, white or graphite, while the mirror-imaged front panel accommodates a tiny (nominally 4in, 100mm) bass/mid driver, a 25mm soft dome tweeter and a very small port. The diaphragm of that little main driver is just 75mm in diameter, so one can anticipate fine crossover region integrity alongside rather limited bass delivery and power handling.
Since I’m not of the iPod generation, iTunes remains a foreign country, and I like to change between a number of different sources, I began by connecting my regular Naim NAC552 preamp directly to the speakers, by-passing the usual power amplification. Since the huge price differential suggests such an arrangement is unlikely in practice, a very inexpensive Creek OBH-22 passive pre-amp was also pressed into service as an alternative.
The down side of active drive, and the main reason for its poor acceptance in the hi-fi sector, seems to lie purely in the inability to choose one’s power amplification. Whether that is really important, however, must be a matter for debate. Active drive also has a number of significant and positive implications; the most important of these are perhaps the elimination of a passive crossover network and speaker cables, and the direct connection of power amplifiers to drive units. Some active speaker systems go much further, especially those with digital connection facilities, but the RMS11 is simple and straightforward in this regard.
As soon as these little speakers were connected up, there was no avoiding both the advantage of a small loudspeaker, and the benefits that active drive was bringing to the party. Small speakers tend to be relatively free from boxiness, in part because the box itself is so very little. However, position a pair of seven litre miniatures quite close to a wall and they’ll deliver a modest but respectable amount of in-room bass in the far field down to around 50Hz. It might not be all that clean or deep, or indeed go all that loud, but it does at least exist. While close-to-wall positioning will boost the mid-bass octave (50-100Hz) by some 6dB, a down side is usually some extra midband unevenness.
Even with the help of wall proximity, the RMS11 is a bit of a lightweight affair, but that’s partly because the real strength of this speaker lies in its outstanding midband coherence, marred only be a degree of forwardness in the upper midband.
This is all happily confirmed by some fairly simple measurements. Sensitivity and impedance are not appropriate with active speaker systems, but the frequency balance remains entirely relevant. This demonstrates the RMS11’s suitability to wall reinforcement, and also indicates an impressively smooth if rather lightweight overall tonal balance. It’s essentially neutral, but characterised by a measure of upper-mid forwardness, 800Hz-1.6kHz.
A number of key factors immediately draw the attention. First, this little loudspeaker’s freedom from boxiness is quite splendid, and that alone does much to promote fine central focus and impressive stereo imagery, even though depth is somewhat (probably inevitably) inhibited by wall proximity.
The surprise element was that this speaker sounds rather more dynamically vigorous than one has come to anticipate from such a small loudspeaker. This observation I’m inclined to attribute to the avoidance of any form of passive crossover network. Such devices don’t necessarily cramp dynamics, but often tend to do so, and the quality of the network components seems to have become a key element in modern speaker design.
The third major strength of this speaker lies in its superior time coherence through the crossover region. This is sometimes (though not necessarily) where passive speakers suffer from a degree of timesmear, due to the phase shifts introduced by passive filters. Once again, active filtering affords greater flexibility, and careful design has been applied to minimise timesmear through the crossover region. The result doesn’t match the total coherence of a single full range driver system. But it gets close, with fine voice-band reproduction, delivering speech and lyrics with unusual clarity and intelligibility.
I came to these loudspeakers with no preconceptions, apart from the knowledge that the pricetag was surprisingly modest. They’ve completely won me over. They’re too small to represent perfection, but within that constraint are very good indeed. The overall character tends to be somewhat lightweight and forward, and although the fine coherence delivers superior detail projection and intelligibility, it also tends to reveal any inadequacies in the source, which is arguably the only real down side. Find the right system context, however, and the RMS11 is a steal.
Drivers: 100mm bass/mid with doped paper cone 25mm fabric dome tweeter
Amplification: 30W bass + 25W treble
Inputs: 1x RCA/phono (digital also available)
Features: volume, normal/nearfield EQ
Finishes: black, white or graphite
Size (wxhxd): 167x282x180mm
Morgan Audio Systems
Tel: +44(0)151 324 0716