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.
At that distance, these are some of the best-sounding computer speakers we've listened to--their strength lies in the amount of clarity they deliver. As such, they do better with well recorded and higher bit rate tracks (B&W encouraged us to test the speakers with lossless digital music or CDs). As Guttenberg noted, the "MM-1s all too clearly revealed marginal sounding MP3's shortcomings." Translation: If you put garbage in, it will sound like garbage coming out; there's no masking it.
Like Guttenberg, we also have a pair of Audioengine 2 speakers ($200) on hand for comparison, and we agree that the MM-1s offer clearer audio with more potent sound and better-defined bass. They are definitely a step up, particularly for those looking for a high-resolution computer speaker. But the Audioengine 2s cost less than half the price of the MM-1 and they are more laid back, so they don't make poorer-quality MP3s or streaming audio sound so harsh. They also are more flexible in terms of listening distance--you don't have to listen to them from 3 feet away to maximize your listening enjoyment.
Comparing the MM-1s with the larger Audioengine 5s, which cost $350, isn't really fair since the 5s are bigger, bulkier, and far less sexy-looking speakers. That said, you're going to get better, bigger sound from the 5s since they can really fill a medium-size room. The MM-1s start to sound a little strained at higher volumes and really aren't designed to be muscular "party" speakers. They have a more refined quality to them.
As you can probably tell from our comments, we like the MM-1s a lot; however, we have some misgivings. We think that $500 computer speakers should offer more listening flexibility and shouldn't be so optimized for a near-field audio experience--they sound good from farther back, just not as good as they should for $500. But if you're someone who likes to kick back at your desk chair in your den or home office and listen to music, you are getting a great-looking and -sounding set of computer speakers.
Freelancer Steve Guttenberg contributed to this review.