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B&W MM-1 multimedia speakers review: B&W MM-1 multimedia speakers

B&W MM-1 multimedia speakers

David Carnoy Executive Editor / Reviews
Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Kobo e-books and audiobooks.
Expertise Headphones, Bluetooth speakers, mobile accessories, Apple, Sony, Bose, e-readers, Amazon, glasses, ski gear, iPhone cases, gaming accessories, sports tech, portable audio, interviews, audiophile gear, PC speakers Credentials
  • Maggie Award for Best Regularly Featured Web Column/Consumer
David Carnoy
4 min read

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.


B&W MM-1 multimedia speakers

The Good

Slick, modernist design; well-balanced, detailed sound; punchy bass; remote control included; digital connection via USB to computer.

The Bad

Extraordinarily expensive; audio quality isn't as good when you move out of the sweet spot (three feet away from speakers); sound is so detailed it makes MP3s and streaming audio of already iffy quality sound worse.

The Bottom Line

We found a lot to like about the B&W MM-1 multimedia speakers, but their $500 price tag gives us pause.

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.

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.


B&W MM-1 multimedia speakers

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 7