Music Hall Marimba: An overachieving little speaker

For once, you get true high-end audio at an affordable price point; the Marimba just sounds like an expensive speaker.

Spunk, that's what Music Hall's Marimba speaker has lots of. No measurements are needed to confirm this is an exceptional speaker. Its low-key looks are deceiving; it's just a nicely finished "wood" grain black medium-density fiberboard box, measuring 6.6 inches by 8.7 inches by 11 inches, with rounded corners. There's a 1-inch silk dome tweeter and a 5.25-inch woofer lurking behind a removable black cloth grille. The internally braced cabinet feels solid; there's nothing exotic about the design, but the box feels more expensive than you usually get in a $350 per pair speaker. The back panel hosts all-metal connectors and a bass port. The Marimba kicks butt like few budget speakers can. It has attitude, and coming from Roy Hall, that's what I expected.

The Music Hall Marimbas Music Hall

Who's Roy Hall? I met Hall in the early 1980s when he was running a small factory building speakers in New York. That lasted a few years, and Hall surfaced again as an importer of British turntables and speakers. Over the last 10 years he's spent a lot of time in China working with manufacturers who make his other Music Hall products. He knows who's who in China and where he can get exactly what he needs. Hall's a very hands-on guy, always has been, and he has a knack for making exceptional sounding, but affordable products, like the Marimba. Hall told me it was designed "by ear" in one day, and my ears tell me he did a great job.

I pitted the Marimba against one of the best, most highly refined, budget-priced bookshelf speakers I had on hand, the PSB Alpha B1 ($300 per pair), and it was immediately obvious the Marimba was a better performer with Van Morrison's new CD, "Born to Sing: No Plan B." The midrange was more natural and complete, so vocals sounded more lifelike, and the mid bass energized Morrison's sound in ways the Alpha B1s couldn't muster. My 30-year-old NAD 3020 integrated amp , the one I bought on eBay a few years ago for $66, really clicked with the Marimbas. I also tried the $219 Emotiva Mini X integrated, and that amp wasn't as sweet as the NAD, but it was a great match with the Marimba.

The speakers perfectly jelled with my two-channel home theater, and while a subwoofer would have been nice, I was satisfied with the sound from just the two speakers. The Rolling Stones' "Shine A Light" concert Blu-ray was a blast -- the old guys can still rock. Eminem's "Live from New York City" DVD demonstrated the Marimbas' 5.25-inch woofers can deliver surprising low-end oomph. I didn't have a pair of Pioneer SP-BS22-LR s ($130 a pair) on hand for a direct comparison, but I really think the Marimbas have a fuller and richer tonal balance. It's a much better speaker, but I still love the Pioneer; it's the best I've heard for that kind of money.

The Marimba is a real keeper, an audiophile-grade speaker that won't break the bank. Roy Hall told me the Marimba is it; there won't be a bigger or more expensive model joining the Music Hall lineup anytime soon. He knows when he's got a good thing -- the Marimba is it, the one and only Music Hall speaker.

About the author

Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Home Theater, Inner Fidelity, Tone Audio, and Stereophile.

 

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