Cambridge Audio Minx S215 Speaker System Page 3
A Prophet, also in DTS-HD Master Audio, is a French-language prison movie about an impressionable young Muslim who falls in with the Corsican tough guys who dominate their claustrophobic world. Much of the action is confined to the close, bare walls of prison cells, an acoustically terse environment that the five cubes conjured up effortlessly. In a scene where the protagonist learns to hide razor blades in his mouth—as prelude to a murder—a string orchestra invades the cell with sudden, shocking sweetness. Although I found the tonal balance on the cool side, this episode exuded warmth. This suggests that the cubes and their flat drivers have enough resolution to be content-dependent chameleons, unlike lesser sat/sub sets, which tend to make everything sound the same: thin and cheap.
Maid in Manhattan is a rare outing for the Dolby TrueHD lossless surround codec, which sounds as good (very, very good) as DTS-HD Master Audio but isn’t used as much. The maid is Jennifer Lopez, who unintentionally romances Ralph Fiennes in the ritzy Manhattan hotel where she works. There are few dark emotions or notable surround effects in this gentle comedy, but if you want to hear Paul Simon’s “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” in surround, here’s your ticket. The cubes did well with this jolly snatch of music, boding well for the music demos.
The Violin Challenge
Ray Chen was just 21 when he recorded Virtuoso for Sony Classical, featuring works by Tartini, Bach, Wieniawski, and Franck. Here was a chance for the Minx to fumble a solo violin, to make it sound nasty and hard. Instead, the cubes gave a vibrant account of the Taiwanese-born, American-trained violinist: his vigor, deftness, and singing tone. They also gave a striking account of the piano, indicating more distant miking, and clearly showing the difference in depth from the close-miked violin. I noted that the left side of the keyboard was underrepresented, so I upped the sub volume again. The recording was so rich in ambience, and the cubes so nuanced in their treatment of that ambience, that 2.1-channel stereo had nearly the same spacious feel as the 5.1-channel Dolby Pro Logic II Music mode. Five cubes (and sub) were better than two, but not by much. The ability to perform in stereo is a crucial test for any speaker system. This one passed with flying colors.
Bucky Pizzarelli’s Swing Live is available in every conceivable format: SACD, DVD-Audio, CD, low-resolution MP3 download, and high-resolution 96/24 download. I have the SACD. This club date by the venerable jazz guitarist is a Chesky recording, and longtime readers will be able to recite what I’m about to say word for word: The center channel was unused, but the remaining four speakers anchored a strong soundfield. I can’t argue with the logic of the mix, which keeps the band mostly in front, the audience mostly in back, and an invisible but steady proscenium between them. The club acoustics sounded raw, but not unrefined, via the cubes.
It was indeed a cold day in, well, New York when I played the DTS-encoded CD of Hell Freezes Over by the Eagles. I wouldn’t cast aspersions at their classic songs or tireless musicianship, but like anyone who goes to a lot of audio demos, I’ve heard this material a few times too many. Finally confronted with a straightforward rock rhythm section and its demand for percussive weight, I raised the sub volume just a hair short of 100 percent—some superstitious impulse kept me from whacking the knob all the way up. This gave the bass and drums much of the punch they required relative to the rest of the frequency spectrum. But it also attracted undue attention to the crossover region, which caused male voices to localize in the sub—and the Eagles, correct me if I’m wrong, are all men. The guitars sounded a little glassy, but they always do—it’s a characteristic of the recording. Now I can finally move this item from slush pile to landfill.
Cambridge Audio’s Minx S215 is not just a satellite/subwoofer set, but an especially small one. Smart engineering and good materials enable the satellites to create a vivid soundfield with modest but well-pitched bass reinforcement from the sub. Do these tough little speakers rival larger ones? Not in every respect. The laws of physics are what they are, and for real slammin’ bass, speaker-haters would have to overcome their hate. But what if they’re not willing to do that?
In the unforgiving conditions of the real world, with real people trying to fit surround sound into real homes, these little cubes are clever entertainers. And they’re sure a lot more home theater worthy than a trendy flat-panel set bereft of all but its awful builtin two-channel speakers. The Minx is a compact, persuasive ambassador from the homeland of surround.