In recent years, Bowers & Wilkins, one of the legendary names in British hi-fi audio, has been branching out beyond its high-end speakers that have long appealed to audiophiles. It has created a line of uniquely styled Zeppelin iPod speaker systems and now it is offering the P5, a $300 pair of headphones as well as the $500 MM-1 multimedia speakers.
The first thing you're probably saying to yourself is: wow, $500 for a pair of PC speakers. What do I get for that?
For starters, these speakers are slick-looking with black cloth grilles and brush metal trim. For relatively compact speakers--they measure 6.7 inches high by 3.9 inches wide by 3.9 inches deep and have a 3-inch woofer and a 1-inch tweeter--the MM1s have a nice heft to them. The right speaker--which houses four 18-watt Class D amplifiers, two of which power the left speaker--weighs 2.1 pounds, while the left speaker comes in at 1.9 pounds. The amplifiers make the aluminum top on the right speaker warm to the point where we became concerned--maybe it's not quite warm enough to keep a cup of coffee hot, but pretty warm nevertheless. That said, the speakers worked fine during our tests--we left them on for a few hours straight without any problems.
In terms of setup, you connect the MM-1s to your computer via USB and it installs the drivers install automatically on Macs and Windows PCs. According to B&W, the USB connection is fed to an "audiophile" quality digital-to-analog converter that incorporates equalization to increase the 3-inch woofers bass output. Around the back of the right speaker is an auxiliary input for iPods and other audio devices as well as a headphone input. Both the USB and power cords plug into the bottom of that speaker, and some slots for cable management help keep everything aligned and hidden properly. The speakers come with a shiny black-and-chrome oval-shaped remote control that looks similar to the one B&W includes with its Zeppelin and Zeppelin Mini iPod speaker systems. The remote control--which is a fingerprint magnet and easy to misplace--controls the the speaker's power and volume, as well as play, pause, next, and previous track selection for iTunes. If you misplace the remote, there's a volume control on the side right speaker as well as a power button. The left speaker's blue LED flashes when you raise or lower the volume and turns red when you power off the speakers.
When CNET contributor Steve Guttenberg wrote his impressions of the MM-1s, he talked about how he didn't agree with B&W's claim that there was "no need to add a subwoofer" to these speakers. He pointed out that larger, less expensive systems such as Altec Lansing's Expressionist Ultra MX6021 PC speaker-subwoofer system ($200) "can produce dramatically more and very high-quality bass." While that's true, the MM-1 produces deep, punchy bass for a 2.0 speaker system and it offers very detailed, well-balanced sound.
What's interesting about these speakers is that they're truly optimized for a near-field listening experience and they sound their best when you're sitting about 3 feet away from them with the speakers spread about 30 inches to 36 inches apart. Not coincidentally, that distance equates to where you'd be in relation to your computer--and computer speakers--when sitting at a desk.