Power Sound Audio MTM-210 Speaker Review
PSA MTM-210: $799.50 each
by Wayne Myers
The Power Sound Audio MTM-210 is a recently introduced audiophile speaker from the Mineral Ridge, Ohio based speaker and subwoofer manufacturer. While the company's target market is primarily home theater enthusiasts, the MTM-210 caught my attention as an offering poised to cross into two-channel territory, and I was anxious to hear what co-founders Tom Vodhanel and Jim Farina had come up with. The two questions in my mind were:
- Could the MTM-210 really be considered an audiophile speaker? and...
- How well would it perform relative to other speakers in the under-$2000-per-pair price range?
The PSA MTM-210 is a two-way sealed-cabinet design intended for use with a subwoofer. Drivers include two 10-inch woofer/midrange cone speakers and a 1-inch compression driver loaded with a cast aluminum exponential horn. The custom crossover is an in-house design.
The enclosure design is a straightforward box made of 3/4 inch MDF with a black spray-on covering material called CHEMTHANE 7030 - a fast cure, 100% solids spray polyurethane "for protecting wooden enclosures, audio speakers and other fragile substrates from damage during everyday use, freight loading personnel and exterior exposure." The coating has a textured vinyl-like feel that seems super-tough. It is specified for thin film applications of 15-30 mils, and it felt like a thick application had been used on the MTM-210.
Each unit's 55 lb weight tells you that construction involves some mass. A look through a woofer/mid driver opening confirms it. Inside the enclosure there are two bracing baffles which divide the unit roughly into thirds at the levels between drivers. Each is made from a 3/4 inch MDF board glued to front, rear, and sides of the enclosure, routed-out leaving beefy beams reinforcing the enclosure walls plus a beam across the middle for extra strength. Fiberglass insulation lines the sides and back for sound absorption.
The look is utilitarian, and some might get the impression that the MTM-210 is an over-simplistic or less-than-mature design. As for their appearance, many will end up in dark rooms or even behind projection screens and the home theater crowd tends to be flexible about a speaker's visual aesthetics. Two-channel enthusiasts often set the cabinet finish bar a bit higher, and might consider the appearance a deal killer for their listening rooms. Fair enough. But if there is any tendency to surmise from the model's appearance that the MTM-210 is an unsophisticated sonic performer, be advised that they possess some special qualities worth taking the time to witness first hand. These are serious speakers, period, and I predict that there will be numerous audiophiles bending their speaker-appearance rules to accommodate an MTM-210 pair in their setups.
I expressed my interest in reviewing an MTM-210 pair with a 2-channel emphasis in mind, knowing that Todd Anderson of HTS was already giving them a home theater workout, and did not hold back on demanding the best performance from them.
PSA MTM-210 Web Page.
Associated Review Equipment
Frequency response, a composite of measurements taken at several distances from the drivers - very flat above 1 kHz, very smooth throughout. Plot smoothing is Psychoacoustical + ERB (Equivalent Rectangular Bandwidth) and Psychoacoustical + 1 octave.
The unsmoothed response shows freedom from lone sharp peaks that can resonate or cause fatigue. The dip at 200 Hz is due to a ground reflection not being fully absorbed/dissipated. The dip just above 1 kHz was seen in measurements close to the MTM-210. Beyond 5 ft, at normal listening distances, careful mic placement could eliminate it altogether, indicating the benefit of proper vertical placement and aiming of the MTM-210.
Frequency response measured outdoors at 1 m at 45, 90, 135, and 180 degrees off axis, showing the overall highly directive nature of the horn-loaded tweeter.
In-room response at the mid-field LP, 15 degree listening angle. The slight de-emphasis below 400 Hz is barely noticeable when you look for it, and quickly forgotten. Overall response is very smooth. The Moving Mic Measurement method (with pink noise) verifies the average response through the listening area to be very flat.
Polar response in the off-symmetry direction at a distance of 3 ft indicates significant variation with small angle changes. An MTM-210 lying on its side will not sound so great to off-center listeners. PSA sells a version with the tweeter rotated 90 degrees which should perform much better in a horizontal center channel application. A user can make the change at home with a Philips screwdriver in a few minutes.
Polar response in the on-symmetry direction at a distance of 3 ft stays very flat to well above 10 kHz.
Total Harmonic Distortion at 75 and 85 dB SPL is very low, well below 0.5%, and stays below 1% even at 95 dB SPL volumes.
IM distortion is also very low.
IM Distortion (DIN)
@ 75 dB SPL = 0.29%
@ 85 dB SPL = 0.31%
@ 95 dB SPL = 0.45%
Impulse response indicates speedy responsiveness and fast recovery. The ringing is at about 15 kHz. I wondered if it might contribute to lack of clarity on dense program material, but found no indications of this being the case. When A-B comparing to my reference electrostatics, I found a few passages where the MTM-210 could not quite keep pace with electrostatic clarity at higher volumes. This was rare and I really had to hunt for it. The MTM-210 performed with exceptional clarity.
Step response plots indicate the very definition of tight bass.
Group Delay varies only slightly, supporting the tight imaging and excellent soundstage capabilities of the MTM-210.
Impedance measurements show very tight tolerances. The impedance curves are almost perfectly overlaid.
A Comment On Setup Precision
We think of highly directive speakers like monopoles and dipoles as making room characteristics less important, as having an ability to "tune out" the room and work more directly with the listener, making room placement and treatments less important. This is true, but getting it to happen is not necessarily an easy task. I was reminded while working with the MTM-210 what a difference careful attention to detail can make in the setup process. This is true of all speakers, but the need for precision is accentuated with high-directivity speakers. More than once in the review process, I had to stop listening because something was off. Invariably, it was a little difference in angle or distance that was to blame, and a small adjustment corrected the problem.
The reader is reminded that these comments about the need for placement precision are characteristic of horn-loaded and high-directivity speakers in general and say nothing negative about the MTM-210 themselves.
I found it necessary to accomplish the following to get the best from the MTM-210:
- Speakers at equal height.
- Tweeters at ear level - sturdy stands are a must.
- Speakers standing straight up, or if angled, speaker faces at the same angle and sides perpendicular to the floor.
- Equal distance from tweeter to the center of the Listening Position (LP).
- Matching Listening Angles.
- Matching toe-in.
- Matching distance from front wall, if at all possible; if not, treatment may be needed.
- Matching distance from side walls, if at all possible; if not, treatment may be needed.
- Distance matching to 1/4 inch.
- Angle matching to 1/4 degree.
MTM-210 Placement And Sonic Characteristics
Position - Front-Wall Location
- 92 in speaker plane to LP
- 59 in speaker to speaker
- 18 in speaker plane to front wall (2 in min back of speaker to wall)
- 18 degrees toe in
- 0 degrees off-axis listening angle
Position - Mid-Field Location
- 60 in speaker plane to LP
- 59 in speaker to speaker
- 50 in speaker plane to front wall
- 10 degrees toe in
- 14 degrees off-axis listening angle
High-efficiency speaker designs - the MTM-210 weight in at 98 dB sensitivity - have a couple of special things going for them:
- They are easy to drive, so low-powered amplifiers generally have plenty of headroom and can drive them with ease and without fear of even occasional clipping events.
- Power dissipation is minimal so driver and crossover components stay cool and operate more linearly than with conventional speakers.
Once properly set up, it is hard not to notice the dynamic delivery by the MTM-210. Energy focus and efficiency combine to produce a delivery that is lively, often sounding like it is being performed live. This is a highly addictive quality in a loudspeaker. Also conspiring to make this liveliness possible are components carefully chosen for low distortion, always operating in their ideal thermal range due to low power dissipation. Power amplifiers never have to work very hard and operate in the cleanest part of their dynamic range. These factors work together to make delivery sound especially easy for high efficiency speakers.
The MTM-210 soundstage is more focused than with a conventional tower speaker. It all tends to appear along the tweeter-to-tweeter line between the speakers, perhaps seeming less spacious vertically but having more impact and being truer to life.
The MTM-210 may seem to produce an overall soundstage that is less spacious than from conventional speakers. This results from its directive nature, and from being less room-dependent at high frequencies. But there is nothing second rate about the soundstage and imaging (SS&I) produced by the MTM-210. If anything it ends up having stonger depth acuity, a quality difficult to achieve and highly room dependent with conventional speakers. Soundstage spaciousness will result more from later reflections in the room then early ones, giving even stronger support to sharp imaging, so easily disrupted by the earlier-arriving reflections typical of conventional speakers.
The tight soundstage line between tweeters makes vertical alignment of a left-center-right trio of MTM-210 speakers important in a home theater setup. Sounds or voices traveling from left to center to right will be likely to appear to move vertically if the tweeters are not on a straight line.
The MTM-210 absolutely excel close to the front wall, where they will usually be placed in a home theater. Many speakers do poorly near the front wall, even far more expensive models, usually sounding muddy and giving fair-to-pour SS&I results. The sealed design and 70 Hz cutoff are key to this performance. The MTM-210 produced some of the tightest bass I have heard from a speaker at any price, defying all attempts to get them to misbehave. The soundstage they projected in this position virtually erased the end of the room and the speakers as well. Imaging was tight and precise in all three dimensions, making instruments and voices sound as live as I have heard them in my room.
At this distance from the listening position (LP), image position stayed rock steady as I moved to the left and right home theater seating positions, 36 inches either side of the main LP. If ever a speaker could project a phantom image stable enough to not require use of a center channel speaker, the MTM-210 is the one to do it.
Out into the room in a mid-field configuration, the MTM-210 benefited from a more open 15 degree listening angle. Speakers were invisible in the soundstage, which if anything seemed more spacious than when set close to the wall. Imaging remained precise, although at this position the center image did shift somewhat with the listener's change of position. Not a problem in my book, with two-channel listening tending to be a solitary experience anyway. That 15 degree off-axis angle involved zero sacrifice in high-frequency response, the off-axis response remaining flat to well beyond 10 kHz. The SS&I performance had a great deal to do with the MTM-210 delivery of detail, also, as smaller image elements were better separated and stood out more clearly in the sound field.
Do they sound like horns? Of course it is inevitable that a horn-loaded tweeter will activate a listening room differently than any other kind of tweeter, so yes, in a sense it does sound different. But the MTM-210 compression tweeter with exponential horn displayed no overt resonance or signature that said horn-loaded tweeter at work. And, while lacking the complete invisibility of a perfect tweeter, it was rare that anything about its delivery would draw any attention to itself. I immersed myself in fun listening mode for hours with only an occasional pull toward analytical mode to address a question about MTM-210 sonics, and that is very good for any pair of speakers in this price range.
The delivery is very direct, again by nature of the design, and may seem more "in your face" than some listeners like. For those who like an impactful presentation and lots of clean detail, the MTM-210 delivers it all with ease, and can entertain for hours on end without fatiguing.
MTM-210 Listening Tests
Perfect World, Holding On For Life - Broken Bells:
Starting with Perfect World, I felt one of those rushes that lets you know that a pair of speakers is going to be a lot of fun to work with. Perfect World, Perfect Speakers? Well, that might be a stretch, although no obvious flaws were coming to attention, either.
Highs extended smoothly clear out to 15 kHz, bordering on bright, but smooth and clean. Kick drums were tight and punchy, while lacking in real depth. The MTM-210 is meant for use with a subwoofer and would work well with an 80 Hz or 70 Hz crossover. The low-frequency response below 400 Hz steps down slightly, as indicated in both outdoor and listening room measurements, but this never felt like a weakness. I did add a sub to hear the difference it made. By "add" I mean I plopped it down and spent about 5 minutes adjusting level and delay, a minimalist integration effort, but that was all it took to realize what was missing of the lowest frequencies. No doubt most listeners will want that last two LF octaves filled in somehow.
I mentioned the dynamic nature of the MTM-210, and of high-efficiency speakers in general, especially involving horns. Their directivity helps erase the room and tunnel from the speaker plane to the listener's ears directly. Instruments sounded more live than usual. Detail was uncovered and presented to be appreciated and enjoyed. Guitar notes had me seeing and feeling the scratchy pluck of the pick and the jump of the string.
At one point in this session I made a minor move to one speaker which resulted in the right being pointed ever-so-slightly higher than the left, a barely noticeable amount. I heard the mismatch before I saw it - image clarity and soundstage were off, the sound in general lacked clarity and the high-frequency smoothness had some resonant peaks sticking out, all of which might have one taking distortion measurements or looking for a defective amplifier or preamp or an incorrect setting - SOMETHING that needed fixing. Restoring the symmetry of the vertical aiming was all it took.
Along with the sharp, clean imaging and natural soundstage, the dynamics were also quickly obvious, especially on the drums, but all parts of the recording benefited from it.
From Blown Speakers - New Pornographers:
The drums stood out on this track, sounding much closer to live than usual, and I have heard this song a LOT recently. The empty areas of the soundstage outlined and highlighted the vocals and instruments.
Fantasy Fools - New Pornographers:
On some speakers the dense chorus vocals manage to sound grainy and unclear. With the MTM-210 they stayed clean.
Revolution Earth (custom mono mix) - B-52's:
This full-range track has been mixed to mono as an image clarity test. The image was like a golf ball, small and sharp.
Revolution Earth (original stereo mix), Ain't It A Shame, Good Stuff - B-52's:
Thoughtfully recorded tracks like these are like a layered dessert, with details to be discovered as you dig into it, with rich guitar and synth tones to appreciate, and with tight imaging and well-separated soundstage elements to explore.
Baby Loves Me, Spectacular Girl - Eels:
Crisp percussion elements sounded and felt live. The dynamics on these straightforward tracks felt like they had been through a "punch enhancer."
You Shook Me All Night Long - AC/DC:
AC/DC's simple recordings sounded like hearing the band live on the MTM-210.
My Own Summer, MX - Deftones:
Played at a louder volume level, these tracks sounded and felt like attending a Deftones concert, which I have done. The sizzle and punch of live music were delivered by the MTM-210 pair effortlessly. Where some speakers have ways of reminding you that they are working hard, the MTM-210 made it sound so easy.
Eleven Small Roaches - Michael Hedges:
The playing noises of this acoustic guitar track immerse the listener in the physical aspects of guitar performance. I can see the MTM-210 being favored by musicians for their ability to open up performance details.
Collapse The Light Into Earth - Porcupine Tree:
The strings on this track can sound shrill and lose clarity on a lot of speakers. They took on the slightest edge during the louder passages, but far less than with most speakers I have auditioned.
Weird Fishes--Arpeggi - Radiohead:
A great imaging test, the four lead-in drumstick clicks were precisely located and sounded live.
Packt Like Sardines In A Crushd Tin Box - Radiohead:
The punchy kick drum, like an impulse signal, stayed tightly focused. Each pulse was there and gone with no hangover.
Pyramid Song - Radiohead:
Another great imaging test, every cymbal strike was precisely located.
Variations on a theme of Corelli - Scott Davie - Rachmaninoff:
This track is recorded with more dynamic range than most. From pianissimo to fortissimo, the Overs piano tones were reproduced faithfully, and the live piano feel was evident.
As an experiment, I wanted to hear the benefit of slightly lifting the frequencies below 400 Hz to a flat level. Adding a single shelf filter in my music server at 300 Hz with 3 dB of boost (ReaEQ plugin, Low Shelf, 300 Hz, +3 dB, BW=1.2), this raised low frequencies to just the right level to give kick drums and bass lines a solid sense of authority without muddying the midbass tones. That is the only EQ I would use with the MTM-210, preferring to apply it minimally to bring out the best in a speaker rather than overwhelm it.
Listening with that touch of bass boost made even clearer the conciseness with which these speakers handle low frequencies. The MTM-210 delivers the very definition of tight, responsive, articulate bass, as good as I have heard.
In answer to my initial questions, the Power Sound Audio MTM-210 is clearly a solid entry in the ranks of audiophile speakers, and it stands tall as a serious performer at its price point, even raising the bar in a few measurement categories. With its concise bass, its crisp, extended, detailed highs, and its room-erasing soundstage and imaging capabilities, the MTM-210 deserves consideration by both home theater and two-channel listeners.