Merlin Music Systems TSM Bookshelf Speakers

TSM

User Reviews (69)

Showing 1-10 of 69  
ssand1   AudioPhile [May 13, 2015]

I have been a long time Magnepan user and really felt I would never use anything else but based on a change in my listening area even the MG-12's that I was now using were just too big.

I had heard Totem Hawks at a audio show and really liked them and started looking for a used pair. As I am a voracious reader of audio sites I had read a lot of very positive comments on Merlin speakers so when an older pair of TSM's became available I reached out to Bobby at Merlin for more info. To say Bobby is helpful and loves and knows what he is talking about is doing him a great disservice, the man is a terrific owner of his company and a great fellow audiophile to speak to about our hobby.

After several conversations I bought his Black Magic TSM speakers because he told me they would outperform anything used I would pick up, he convinced me they would satisfy me even more than my beloved Maggies.

I quickly sold my Maggies and waited for my new TSM's to arrive. In the time it took them to be manufactured Bobby and I spoke many times and taking his advice I upgraded all my cables to Cardas Clear light.

Finally I got the email that the speakers were on there way, I could not have been more excited. I was like a kid coming down to the best Xmas morning ever.

After getting them hooked up and playing it took me a while to get them dialed in correctly. The simple wooden device Bobby provides is a great help but? I still did a lot of fiddling. To say I was impressed out of the box would not be correct, they sounded really good but felt a little tight and too polite to me. After an email exchange with Bobby he told me the cables needed to burn in and just keep playing them, and that's exactly what I did.

Fast forward three months and I am in listening heaven, these are just great speakers. My system is made up of a McCormack DNA 225 amp that has been modded by Bob Backert and an Audiable Illusions M3A preamp, also very heavily modded by Bob. Bob is local to me and if you have never heard of his work look him up, the man is a magical with tubes. I mostly listen to vinly throught my VPI Scoutmaster table. The sound I am getting truly makes me feel I am center row at a concert. The warmth, soundstage, clarity and sense of everything being just right is there with these speakers. My listening area is small and these really fill it with sound, bass is more than enought for what I listen to which is classic 50's and 60's jazz and acoustic guitar music. Male and female vocals are outstanding, with every breath they take being heard.

If you on the market for an outstanding small footprint speaker do yourself a favor and give these a listen. I am looking forward to hearing the VSM speaker one day but can't imagine I will want to make the jump (I say that now).

Have I forgotten my Maggies, there was real magic when I had the 3.5's in my system but they were overwhelming for my listening area. The new version of the TSM speaker is outstanding and gives me everything I could ask and want from a high quality speaker.

I am one happy new member of the Merlin clan and can now see why his speakers have such a devoted fan base.?

OVERALL
RATING
5
VALUE
RATING
4
Bradf   Audio Enthusiast [May 12, 2015]

Impressions of Merlin Music and the TSM Black Magic Monitor

Merlin Music is unique in its approach by providing the end user with a fairly complete outline of the speakers design, component selection, and a perspective of the methods and techniques used in the construction of the TSM. Another attribute of Merlin Music is there inexhaustible service. If you are unable to find what info you're looking for on their web site, just give them a call, the personnel is very friendly and helpful.

From its 1 and 1/2 inch front baffle, top and rear panels; proprietary Cardas wiring , and selection of some of the best driver and crossover components available, together with its computer engineered and modeled design, it's very apparent that the TSM Monitors are a high grade audio component in which it is a reasonable hypothesis to conclude why the monitors have the ability to produce a very reallistic life like reproduction of music.

Tonal characteristics of instruments are rendered with such realism; the presence of the instrument is projected and staged into the listening area as an image closely representing the full musical body and size of the actual instrument. While the speakers disappear, sound is emitted and staged throughout the listening area, extending well beyond the inner and outer boundaries of the speakers

A passage of music containing the simultaneous play of several instruments is presented in well balanced, separated layers, accurate in the instruments tonal characteristic and make up of exact and precise notes.

While limited in its volume and extension of the lower register of the bass scale, the bass has realistic clarity, and presents the reverb of the upright hollow body to the growl of the electric bass string vibrating over a pickup very accurately, with tuneful and well defined leading and trailing edges. There's always an exception, but I think most monitors do benefit from the augmentation of a sub woofer; where what is left off with the monitor is picked up with the sub-woofer . There's no obvious frequency seam integrating the TSM with a sub woofer. I am very satisfied with how well my sub blends with the TSM's.

Based on computer modeling, Merlin has developed a procedure utilizing a template tool, provided to the end user for aligning the TSM 15 degrees toe-in. Another feather in the Merlin Music cap.

The statement commonly heard in audio component reviews, i.e. "for the price" is inappropriate here. With regard to value, the TSM would suit well as a measure to the audio industry.

Above all else said here, the TSM's sound like music, and all the components thereof; voices, instruments and venue ambiance, that make for a very enjoyable listening experience time and time again.

OVERALL
RATING
5
VALUE
RATING
5
marcello   Audio Enthusiast [Apr 19, 2015]

I became aware of the name Merlin in 2012 (sorry Bob ...), thanks to a review published by TNT-AUDIO, but cause there isn t an official distributor in Czech Republic, i don t give a weight. In any case, since then, the Merlin TSM Black Magic entered in my head ... and from a month now also in my heart .. !!!. The speakers are unique ... transparent, neutral, nothing is missing in the sound ... any kind of music is played so 'as it should be ...
The professionalism and kindness and enthusiasm of Bob Palkovich are very engaging .., as well as the speakers TSM Black Magic. Unique in the panorama of sound reproduction today, just a beautiful 2-way closed box !!
Do You have any doubt about your environment, stands, positioning? Bob will help you to solve them ... just ... immediately ..
My thanks to Bob for his help and friendly behaviour, and I m a the only one in Czech Republic that own his really great sounding bookshelf speakers.

OVERALL
RATING
5
VALUE
RATING
5
jayson   AudioPhile [Dec 09, 2012]

I went from Focal tower speakers/Sony 5400es cdp to Merlin TSM-MMM / Marantz sa-8004 combo and i could not be happier.
Even with a cheapo dvd player the Merlins were good right out of the box. For my listening taste they are SPOT ON. I was looking for balance and focus on vocals. No glare or brightness which contributes to no listening fatigue. Their ability to play live music is just great. If you love music and shopping for speakers give these a try. High end audio can be very frustrating at times...money does not equal good always. If you read about products and see them described as "musical"...i believe this is what they are talking about.
I believe they are very revealing of components up stream so they deserve good company.
My current system:
-Marantz sa-8004 sacdp
-Thor TA-1000 tube linestage
-H/K Citation amp (150wpc)
-Merlin TSM-MMM
Nothing speacial as far as IC's and speaker cables.
On top of being a great product...the owner Bobby is a easy to reach and a true enthusiast.

OVERALL
RATING
5
VALUE
RATING
5
mosa gary   Audio Enthusiast [Sep 18, 2012]

Just upgraded my 2006 tsm's.Called bobby up to talk about possible upgrades. He
recommended sending them back to him and upgrading my tsm's.So Glad he did. I got the upgraded tsm's back about 1 week ago. After setting them up and burning them in about 5 hours I sat down to give them a listen.WOW they sound far better than they did before the upgrade. The thing I noticed most is the amazing clarity I hear, you can actually hear the reverberation of the strings on the guitar.I am now going to need to upgrade the other parts of my system because these speakers reveal every weakness in the audio chain. Thanks bobby.

OVERALL
RATING
5
VALUE
RATING
5
willimusk   AudioPhile [May 12, 2011]


Back in January, I initiated a thread on Audio Asylum about the viability of using Merlin TSM-Mmi speakers in a wall unit. I had just ordered a Manley Stingray II at the time. Based on feedback from Inmates there and conversations with Bobby P, I went ahead with the purchase of the Mmi with Master RCs. I'm extremely glad I did.

The TSM/Stingray combo, as others have reported, has excellent. But most important for my installation, the Merlins sound remarkably good in my wall unit, despite being placed on their sides and only 8 inches from the front wall. I was primarily concerned about two things: humpy midbass because of the close wall, and excessive HF energy because my large living room is untreated, with many hard surfaces (hardwood floors, 18 feet of stonework along a side wall, 60 sq ft of picture window on the short wall opposite the speakers). At first, right out of the box, I did have a midbass hump and the sound was a bit bright. But after 120 hours or so of break-in (the manual says 60 but don't believe it), the bass smoothed out and the brightness almost completely disappeared.

The Mmi integrate beautifully with my little sealed-cab Von Schwiekert sub at 50 Hz, providing full range, even bass response with no humps. Playing CDs and SACDs through a Marantz SA11S2, HFs are sweet, detailed, extended. Overall tonality is very natural and transparent. I am still getting a touch of midrange glare or brightness, probably because I'm using silver speaker cables, which are not recommended. I've ordered some Cardas copper cables; I expect them to cure this slight hardness in the mids. Imaging is surprisingly good if just slightly diffuse--better than I expected, given the speaker placement--creating a decent soundstage in width and articulation of players, though the depth definitely suffers from placement. I really couldn't ask for more and was expecting much less.

I have a couple of other systems in the house, including one that's fully tricked out in a dedicated room. This TSM/Stingray combo gets pretty close to that one in musical satisfaction, at a fraction of the cost, and in a truly challenging context.

Over the 12 years or so that I've been an Inmate here, I've read with some skepticism all the exuberant fan postings about Merlin speakers, finding them at once intriguing and a little off-putting. Now I get it. I have to say, the TSM-Mmi really are excellent and very versatile. Just thought I'd pass it along for the benefit of anyone trying to get good sound out of bad placement. Kudos, Bobby P.

OVERALL
RATING
5
VALUE
RATING
5
innhitman   AudioPhile [Mar 06, 2011]

I must start off by revealing I have owned several pair of Merlin speakers over the past 10 years... Both VSM's and TSM's... I have not been an owner of ultra high end gear for a few years now. Cashed out about 7 years ago for no good reason.

Over the past 7 years I couldn't listen to music. None of my friends were into high end audio.. so I couldn't listen to their systems for more than 5 seconds before begging them to turn it off. I couldn't listen in the car, because I gave up spending 5-10K on a car system back in '99 ( the last time I had a full Macintosh system in my car - later sold that car with the system in it)... I know... wasted money... story of my life.

When I decided to assemble a system for my living room, I made my first call to Bobby to see what was new. He told me about the new mmi version of the TSM's. It didn't take much for him to sell me on his product because I knew he and I shared the same taste in audio reproduction. However, when he told me how much of an improvement his speakers had undergone over the past 7 years, I was all-in.

This review didn't leave me a choice to state it is a 2011 product, but it is... I even got the first pair with mirror matched front face plates....

Now to the sound... improved in every way you can ask for.... deeper bass... richer, fuller presentation, all while retaining the purity and top notch refinement I had come to expect from Merlin. Bobby loves his speakers on tubed gear, but I am using them on the Luxman 550 integrated along with the Luxman CD/SACD player, D-05... I don't regret using SS on these speakers one bit. NO listening fatigue whatsoever... I haven't turned the system off for 10 days now..... I even slept on the couch a couple of nights because i couldn't tear myself away from listening.

Although I listen at moderate to low levels normally, I can't get over how much louder I can play this version than I could in the past.... and it still sounds first class... If these aren't a class A+ recommended speaker system, then something fishy is going on.

I have heard 6-8K monitors that don't match the wide refinement achieved here.... If you think $3500 (got the master networks) is too much to spend on speakers, you have to listen to the competition and see the crazy coin they want for their gear.... just amortize the cost over the 20 years you could own these.

This is a great starting place if you want true state of the art music reproduction... choose your front end and amp according to your taste....

Very happy customer!

OVERALL
RATING
5
VALUE
RATING
5
Don   Audio Enthusiast [Dec 09, 2010]

I've had my trusty Merlin TSM-se speakers for about 5 years, and had a moderate system. I ran them with mcintosh gear and was mostly happy with them, but craved more, as do most of us in this hobby. So I started reading some reviews on the TSM MMI, called up Bobby and asked about upgrading mine to MMI status. I was informed that I couldn't as the cabinet material was different but he could get the internals upgraded to between MME and MMI status, so I packed them, shipped and them off.

Well, a month later got my speakers in the mail, along with a shiny new Stingray II I ordered. Hooked everything up, first song I played was the Jeff Buckley version of hallelujah. From the first note I knew something about these speakers were special. Sounded like he was singing in my living room. Another big thing I noticed in this upgrade from the SE was how much more mellow they are, even with my SS mac gear. I can listen for hours and hours and my ears don't fatigue. The imaging on these speakers is superb. You can literally point to where all the instruments are on stage.

How much better can these get, they are amazing speakers. I'll update this review when I get my Master RC networks. I am extremely happy with this upgrade, and for those who wonder if this upgrade is worth it, HELL YAH :).

My system for those interested
Manley Stingray II
Merlin TSM MME (what they are labelled as)
Using a macbook pro as a source with crappy monster 3.5mm to rca adapter
Cardas SE9

OVERALL
RATING
5
VALUE
RATING
5
mike-s   Audio Enthusiast [Nov 29, 2010]

Over the past 20 years, I had abandoned audio as a hobby, but recently retired, found myself with idle time on hand and spending more of it engaged with music. First encountered TSM's a few years back, briefly, while traveling out of town in a home system. Not much time to evaluate their sound, but impressed me enough to make a mental note. After reading reviews, came to the conclusion that associated gear needed was much too exacting for my resources. I settled upon paradigm signature s2's mated with a ps audio integrated amp. I was rewarded with a wonderful 3D presentation, beautiful midrange and well defined if not inflated bass. As time went on, after extended listening often into the wee hours, it became apparent that there was a glare occurring in the higher frequencies that made me wince and reach for the volume control. The paradigms did produce a sound that invigorated my love affair with music, but interest in Merlin was renewed. I found a review of the mmi's, modest ss amplification and glowing praise. Soon after that, was on the phone with Bobby, and my pair was ordered. The paradigms were sold and the new arrivals eagerly anticipated. Unfortunately there were some problems with caps that delayed production. I repositioned a pair of NHT monitors that are use as home theater mains, and hooked them up to the PS Audio. After an hour or so of listening, I was convinced there would be no more music until the Merlins arrived.

In the meantime, browsing audiogon, I noticed a Rogue Audio Cronus for sale at a very attractive price. An el34 tube integrated with easy bias and enthusiastic reviews, why not? It was powering the NHT's a week later, and I was amazed. Truly a wonderful integrated that in my opinion, creates a impressive soundstage. Listenable, adding a character to the NHT’s that took me by surprise. I am now hooked on tubes.

A few weeks later the Merlins arrived. In my experience it took about 20 hours for initial break in. I only had about 25 hours on the new driver tubes for the Rogue. Then things got very interesting. As time went on I confirmed what I had hoped for, no anomalies in the frequency spectrum. To me, this allows for a presentation that can absolutely define a performance. Have always loved the creative interaction found in collaborations by Joni Mitchell and Jaco Pastorius. There is a synergy with Mitchell’s voice and Pastorius’ foundations. It comes across brilliantly on Mingus. This became my first irritation with the paradigms. At certain frequencies, her voice would glaze over and destroy the continuity of vocal inflections matched to rhythm, dynamics and harmonic richness. I remain very critical when listening to the mmi’s, and have yet to be offended.

The expansive canvas of sound that emerges has been articulated by enthusiasts, certainly in a way more eloquent then I could convey. It seems to blossom after 20 or so hours of play. Remember leaving them powered up, running a score of errands, and returning home 5 hours later to a transformation. I can only confirm that it is layered and projected in a most remarkable fashion. With the Paradigms I had the revelation that a huge soundstage enhances my enjoyment of reproduced music more then any other consideration. None of the monitors I had encountered in the past could equal them. The Merlins can astound. The Wailin’ Jennys, The Devil’s Paintbrush Road, on Firecracker. A kick drum intros to establish spacious depth behind the band, then an acoustic envelope expands without bounds. I have never heard any thing like it. Maybe it’s formulated in their resolving capabilities and tonal purity. It goes beyond any words I can use to describe it. Whatever the cause, the effect can be simply lovely. Mary Jane Lamond, Domhnall Mac ‘Ic Lain, on Suas E! Aural timbre is expressed with absolute clarity. Her voice suspended in the center of soaring percussion and base is stunning. I have to comment on the natural recreation of female vocals. Melody Gardot, Over The Rainbow, on My One And Only Thrill. She articulates lyrics with incredible detail. This selection showcases her talent, and accompanies it with orchestration. The mmi’s intensifies a sense of spatial integration in a way the paradigms could not match. I believe it has everything to do with getting the timbre right. Small jazz ensembles, my experience is limited, but haven’t heard a monitor better then the mmi’s. There’s a lot of bands popping up rich in the classic style of guys like Joe Venuti and Django Reinhart. Complex passages and rhythms that dance the frequency spectrum. Jimmy Rosenberg, on Gypsy Swing. The band occupies all the space in front of me. I know there is a crossover at work structuring tonal harmonics between two drivers, but I’ve tried and can’t detect a micro collapse in ambience when I follow individual instruments. Every time I power them up, that thought, “damn, they sound good”. If ever the opportunity comes to audition TSM‘s, sit back, explore your music and be prepared.

Have always found myself drawn into the lush sounds of orchestral strings. I am not quite sure how to characterize the TSM’s presentation in this area. A favorite recording for the past few years has been George Gershwin Goes Orchestral, St. Louis Symphony. Gershwin always conjured imagery of the consummate cosmopolitan man. I love this performance. Urbane manners expressed in timeless, delightfully crafted melodic composition. On Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, Andante Con Moto, there is a conversation between piano and ensemble. Again I have to go back to tone. Percussion, brass, reeds, strings. A subjective comment. The Merlins seem to convey every nuance of Gershwin’s savvy stride. You’ll have to judge for yourself. There is a track, Ashokan Farewell, on Songs Of The Civil War by Jay Ungar and Molly Mason. Fiddle and guitar. A bittersweet melody of forlorn resignation. Again I recall wincing several times as the fiddle glared on the Paradigms. Reproduced with the mmi’s, my emotional response is never interrupted. I do think they reveal the lovely character of strings matched to composition. Not an overly lush sound, but in no way is it lean. Just pure, accurate, and always inviting. This same appeal always surfaces whenever I become critical of any sound. I played trumpet in high school, and had a very exacting mentor. God knows that was a long time ago, but found myself vividly recalling how he could texture notes on cornet. Subconsciously, I suspect this has always been my standard when listening to classical brass. The mmi’s created something that has never happened before. A first time flashback. Remarkable to the extent that it was not an approximation, but true to memory. It occurred when listening to Jean-Baptiste Arban, The Carnival Of Venice, with The Army Brass Band, on Kiss My Brass.

Another aspect that adds to the enjoyment of the TSM’s which is hard to qualify. Was often wowed by the paradigms. On recordings that have exquisite detail captured in dynamic range it sometimes became distracting. Keb’ Mo’, It Hurts Me Too, on The Door, a folksy blues breakout. Just one of countless examples. This track is an unleashed sonic odyssey. With the Merlins, it becomes a delight. A an immediacy that can be arresting, but expressed effortlessly in the flow of music. Maybe a better word is transparency, but I am not sure what that implies in audio context. The Merlins articulate a natural balance. This seems to be a common theme in audio reviews and the threads I’ve read here. My comments will sound redundant to people who follow them, but It’s absolutely true. There is something spectacular in the detail I hear. This becomes obvious with familiar favorites, but reviews were forgotten. In my time with the mmi’s, there is not much thought of exquisite highs, visceral bass or mid rage purity. Not to be misunderstood, they excel in every parameter mentioned. Nothing hollow, everything I hear is full of substance. My opinion, it is pointless to dissect their sonic characteristics without putting them in context. It’s just so well integrated, all sounds right. As they settle in, I don’t know if they continue to get better, or my conceptual framework regarding home audio is changing. The mmi’s are refined in an artistic fashion without sonic flares. Their language is music. A good thing if you’d rather listen then analyze, maybe not so good if you’re an amateur trying write an objective review. (I’m doing the best I can)

Some 30 years ago, I assembled a system. Eminent Technology LFT-3 planers, AR SP-8 and D-115 amplification which probably fell well short of the power needed to truly make them sing. I was not as discriminating back then. There is a track, Johnny Hodges, Papa Knows, on Everybody Knows. The credits list Carney on baritone sax. Towards the end, he comes in left of center. With the attack and decay of each note, the ET’s allowed me to hear the flow of air resonate on the reed. The paradigms could not express it with any sense of realism or prominence. I thought it was more of an issue due to digital source. Aggravating when you know something is missing. To my delight it is beautifully detailed with the mmi‘s, restoring the intimacy I remember. As I recall the ET’s could resolve better. There wasn’t a hollow sizzle then fizzle effect, but they always sounded too aggressive to me. It’s too long ago to make a fair comparison (back then the source was vinyl). I am certain the mmi’s effuse Hodge’s band with more sensual warmth, one of the things I’ve always enjoyed most about the sound of his ensembles. To some extent, it may be better synergy in matching components. I briefly paired the mmi’s with PS Audio’s Trio C100. There was some compromise. The results could not match the glowing spatial appeal of the Rogue, but there is no drastic collapse of extension, no confusion in details and that beautiful tonal purity remained intact. Overall, I did feel the PS does noticeably narrow the higher frequency bloom of female vocal crescendos. Extended notes do not resonate with the same distinction in the acoustic bodies of a stand up bass, guitar, mandolin, dobro …. Also true, Hodges’s sax not as ripe, nor Nilsson’s range expressed with such full-bodied ease (never sounded better then it does on Knnillssonn). If I didn’t have the Rogue for comparison, would probably not mention any of this, but tubes do sound better. An experiential learning curve involved here. As time goes on, there may come strategic upgrades, but in no way feel compelled to do so.

One more thing I have to mention. If you enjoy vocal harmonies, you’re going to have a love affair with these monitors. Vocal textures, dynamics and resolution are in a word, wonderful. Hot Club Sandwich, Hit That Jive Jack, on Live At Old St Paul‘s. It sounds a bit close-miked with deflated extension, but a trio of voices swings into life, stays consistently focused with enough spatial ambience to create a realistic image. What I can hear, is an exceptionally talented band, the dig they have for the music and rhythmic swing. Voices blended perfectly in interactive harmony. It’s exciting to discover a well engineered recording, but when I’m focused on the music, the Merrlins won’t gleam or strive to compensate for shortcomings. They always remain true to the performance, and leave me with an enhanced appreciation for artistic flair; an expanded perspective. Important if you enjoy variety in all genres. The Roches (on Moonswept) and Merlins, knocked my socks off. After some time with the mmi’s, I began reflecting more on just how imaging characteristics influence the accurate placement of performers. I am enamored with the way the they present an image. Voices arranged together sound utterly natural. Not etched in rigid compliance, there is dimensional harmony. They emerge from a distinct direction, and expand in space with such rich tonal character. The Robert Shaw Coral, on Opera Choruses. I was totally unprepared for this. Beautiful music that captured my attention on occasion, but usually in the background with the Paradigms. When voices blossomed on the Merlins to spread across the room, I couldn’t break away. The entire impact of a full chorus with orchestra on stage, no, not quite, and limits to sound levels that can be achieved without strain, but still, the only word that consistently comes to mind is glorious!

To put my impressions in perspective. Every word expressed is heartfelt, based on an short but intensely focused time with these speakers. They were written while listening, with some references noted. I hope audio terms as I understand them are used in proper context. My listening area is not large, but hardly constricted (15x18 with beamed ceilings), and playback for source materials certainly not state of the art. I’m offering no phantom credentials to validate my opinions. My experience with contemporary audio design is limited. I would not characterize myself as a seasoned hobbyist, and only an occasional enthusiast. After everything is in place, I prefer to set it and forget it. There are other designs I would have liked to audition, but never found the opportunity. The motivation to post this review, is simply to offer a point of view for people who may be interested. As far back as I can remember, music has animated my mind and emotions. Time after time, hour upon hour, the mmi’s are totally gratifying. Perhaps a subwoofer for full orchestrations, but I have never had much luck trying to integrate subs with seamless results. The foundation of the mmi’s is rendered with solid presence and harmonic richness, I am more then pleased.

It goes without saying, music greatly enhances the lives of everyone who may be reading my thoughts here. Undoubtedly there are other well executed designs that may offer the audio purest alternatives with greater rewards, and the quest becomes the only point that validates an exotic hobby. Technical innovations are easy to promote and quantify, artistic thoughtfulness a more subjective standard. When your mind can balance both, it becomes time to savor the results. In the still of the night, with a clear head and music that touches heart and imagination, I’m not left wondering how much more satisfaction there can be. Everything is relative. Your own perceptions and priorities may lead you in a different direction. I think Merlin has evolved a speaker for the music lover with finite resources and uncompromising standards. I consider myself fortunate to have found them by chance, and in a way feel as if I have no right to own something so extraordinary without going thru a painfully long process of trial and error. My thanks to Bobby at Merlin, and to all who have taken the time to express their impressions in these archives. The TSM’s are deserving of every accolade bestowed upon them, and more.

OVERALL
RATING
5
VALUE
RATING
5
Bobsprit   AudioPhile [Aug 30, 2010]

This is a edited review as the full version would not fit here. If you'd like to read the full version please use the link below after the review.

When you're looking at speakers in the 2-3K range and up, you've already heard a group that's started with wonderful designs like the Revel M22 and Dynaudio 140 along with the added cost of good stands. You may have forgotten costs altogether and listened to some of the super-high end monitors from Focal and Revel. You've probably spent time with Dunlavy and Proac and explored the fine offerings from Totem & many others. This is true high end territory and a lot is expected.

Before I get to the nitty gritty details of my review of the Merlin TSM-XMr's, I'd like to start by cutting through the haze of a few misconceptions. I paired the Merlin monitors with a Emotiva XPA-3, Manley Stingray and even a Denon reciever. The sound was never anything less than fantastic. That's not to say that the pairing with the Denon was as good, but rather with the Stingray it became MORE fantastic. I say that because I want to forever end the idea that these speakers don't play well with others. I also started with some inexpensive Monster Cable and in no way did this cripple the speakers. I eventually added Cardas because part of this hobby is experimentation and tweaking!

With the Stingray II tube amp from Manley...
Now we're talking! While Bobby was building my Merlins I let the Stingray break in powering some SVS monitors I had lying around. They sounded pretty good! Of course the Merlins were a whole other world. This amp created the image magic and helped the Merlin's show their stuff by simply not being in the room. On the better recordings, with eyes closed, it was not possible to know where the speakers were! (Of course I KNEW where they were, but the effect was astounding). This was the synergistic excellence I had hoped for and the roughly 7K worth of amp and speakers was out-dancing many far more expensive systems I've heard over the years. This was being accomplished without any real tweaks, partial break-in times and mid-fi CD player and cables!

Getting low and fast...
Next up was my beautiful MJ Acoustics 150 MKII subwoofer. This small sub is at least as good as the REL models and perhaps a bit better. With it's well thought out and versatile controls along with a remote I was able to blend the smallish sub seamlessly. With the sub the Merlins now filled out at the low end and sounded unbelievable. Suddenly I felt like this was every bit as musical as the VSM's, but with a lovely bottom end that completed the picture. Of course adding the same sub to the VSMs.....ah, there's the rub!

So what does this all add up to....
In short, these are the best monitors I've ever heard and they are among the best speakers period. I prefer them to my wonderful Magnepan 1.6 pair and they make music better than anything I've heard from Revel, Dynaudio, Snell, Focal, Totem, B&W and pretty much the who's who of the speaker world. But read that again! I said that they make MUSIC better. They MAY not out-resolve the top of the line B&Ws, nor do they offer the punch of the top drawer Revels or the womp of some super duper multi array monsters. Those are "speakers" and quite excellent indeed. The Merlin TSM-XMr is something else and much closer to being a musical instrument than any other speaker I've heard. They open an extreme window of clarity into a recording that is quite remarkable, allowing for a layered image where even complex passages still convey a very real sense of space around individual instruments and voices. For music lovers this is the greatest compliment I can give any speaker designer and builder. I felt much the same way about my Royd speakers many years ago, a true hero of small speaker design. And audiophiles take note, if you love to play with gear as much as listen to music, the Merlins will also oblige by being utterly transparent, allowing component characteristics to penetrate with ease. It's no shock that some Magnepan owners have upgraded to Merlin speakers. And with that many will say that the Merlins DO in fact resolve with the best when better gear is mated to them. But there are limits both to my sanity and funds to explore those grounds. A good friend said, after hearing my Merlins, "These would suit anyone because they are completely gear transparent."

What they did best....
Vocals were beyond critique, bordering on SPOOKY for being so lifelike. On better recordings the imaging and boxless sound impressed by simply removing the speakers from the room. The same went for small ensemble recordings where the human ear can focus on a single instrument with ease. The Merlins did not just reproduce the violin; they got out of the musical path almost entirely, or such was the effect. It sounded like it was "in the room", a rather tired expletive in the high end world, but very applicable here. This effect was something I often enjoyed with the Magnepans, but the Merlins do it even better and without the need for an exact sweet spot. Additionally, on vocals the Maggies often presented a singer as "larger than life" conveying a three dimensional image, but also one that was not scaled correctly. Perhaps, due to their size, the Merlins handle this issue with ease. On more complex classical passages the Merlins once again played the recording with a minimum of coloration. Incredible detail met resolution but not in a way that broke the music down into components. They stood out as both analytical and outstandingly musical. Coherence and continuity is at such a high level as to challenge monitors I heard costing 3 times the price. The overall continuous nature of drivers and cabinet remained intact to the point where I often felt I was listening to a single driver! I fought to hear the speaker, but usually the music carried me away. Treble was grainless, liquid and honest sounding. Midrange characteristics seemed completely controlled by the amp and associated electronics. With the Stingray the presentation was slightly forward, which is what I like as it tends to be more involving for me. Bass response was a true delight. While the TSM's don't plumb the depths, neither do they demand a sub. Against my stone fireplace wall, they generated a good amount of kick on Lyle Lovetts' Pontiac. In my theater room they were more bass challenged, the bass thinned out considerably, but sounded even more rhythmic and quick. Adding the MJ sub was a requirement for me in that setting.

Finally....
Few people will be unhappy with a pair of Merlin TSM-MMi or MXr speakers. They will not play to ear splitting levels or slam you in the belly with bass. But they will provide a musical experience that few speakers at even triple the cost can replicate.
Bobby told me that that these speakers are his life's work. He has entered the ring with some very heavy contenders and has proven that you can still score a knock-out in a very crowded division of high end audio. Unwilling to rest on his past successes he continues to refine the product. This is a superior execution of speaker design that gives up no real ground to far pricier designs and it's ongoing evolution is part of that success.
Bobby is another reason to buy a set of Merlins. He's a very nice fellow who appears to love audio and will happily share his enthusiasm with you. He does this in a very down-to-Earth manner that makes the buyer feel at ease during the buying process. While I bugged Bobby for cable and amp ideas he was always willing to provide support well after the check was cashed. Following delivery we had a couple of talks regarding placement and break-in. He's not just selling speakers; he's trying to get the music right for his customers. The man and his speakers deserve a lot more attention.

To see my full review please visit http://carew.synthasite.com/

Cheers!

Rob

OVERALL
RATING
5
VALUE
RATING
5
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