I was on holiday in Rome and during a sightseeing break, I decided to search eBay for ‘vintage speakers’ (I know, it’s sad, but I simply cannot help myself…). These little bookshelf speakers caught my eye. There was hardly any auction description and no branding visible on the speakers anywhere. However the tweeters looked very familiar and the woofer diaphragms looked like Bextrene cones from the LS3/5A. I decided to purchase these with an intention of using them in my bedroom system, if they turn out to sound good enough.
When the speakers arrived, I inspected them properly and did some digging around. It turns out that this is an early version of the Audiomaster MLS1 from the 1970s.
Please note – usually before reviewing vintage speakers, I recap the crossovers to ensure that capacitors are within manufacturer’s specification. On this occasion, caps were within spec from the original schematics, so there was no need for a recap.
Audiomaster was a British brand that was launched in the early 70s by a retail chain called KJ Leisuresound. The man responsible for speaker design was Robin Marshall (ex BBC engineer who later ended up working for Monitor Audio and then set up his own brand – Epos). Due to demand on the market and Robin’s connection at BBC, Audiomaster obtained a licence from the BBC and started production of the LS3/5A’s. At the same time they also designed their own speakers, with the first model being Image One, which evolved into Image Two, which in turn evolved into the MLS-2. This speaker, the Audiomaster MLS1, was a newer and smaller design, that was supposed to sound like a slightly bigger LS3/5A but at much lower price point. Audiomaster sold plenty of MLS-1s and other models during the 70s, however, due to bad management, they were not able to sustain the growth and ceased trading in the early 80s. If you are interested in the history, here is a great interview with Robin Marshall.
So what do we actually have here? A small, shoe-box sized closed enclosure, with two drivers and a complicated crossover. Low sensitivity and limited power handling. Sounds very much like LS3/5A…
|Frequency Response:||57 – 20,000Hz (+/- 6dB)|
|Sensitivity:||84dB (1W input, measured at 1m)|
|Power Capacity:||30W (continuous program)|
|High Frequency Driver:||Audax HD12-9D25 25mm (1″) Fibre Dome|
|Low Frequency Driver:||Audax HD17B25J 160mm (6.5″) Bextrene Cone|
|Enclosure Dimensions (HxWxD):||370x230x185 (14.5x9x7.25″)|
|Weight:||6.5kg (each speaker)|
|Price When Launched:||£90 for a pair|
|Equivalent Present Day Price:||£505 for a pair|
|Current UK Price:||£100 to £250 for a pair|
Look & Feel of Audiomaster MLS1
I really like the look of these little speakers. Perhaps not as much as the look of LS3/5A’s, but still, I find them very presentable. The enclosures are made from 19mm chipboard, finished in a real wood veneer and dampened with large amounts of open cell foam. They are quite heavy considering the size. The finish quality is OK but with a couple (in my opinion) of cosmetic issues. The front panels were painted after the boxes were put together and consequently some of the black paint transferred onto the veneered edges. Not an issue, but could have been avoided.
The drivers of Audiomaster MLS1 were made by a French loudspeaker manufacturer – Audax and look quite neat in terms of finishing quality, especially when compared to British drivers from the same era. The tweeters are 25mm fibre domes, used in a number of other constructions during the 70s. Woofers are 160mm Bextrene cones with rubber surrounds and baskets made from pressed metal, powered by relatively small ferrite magnets. The crossovers are relatively complex for a 2 way construction, made from components available at the time.
Sound of Audiomaster MLS1
First impressions are important, and when I hooked these up and played a couple of tracks, I thought to myself “gosh, these are very well balanced”. Whatever I threw at them, they handled it pretty well, and made it easy and enjoyable to listen. They give an impression of a fairly deep and wide soundstage and they are quite good at imaging.
Midrange and treble appear to have some warmth to them. This is especially noticeable when listening to voices. Sam Cooke’s voice on Lost and Lookin, sounds velvety smooth and rich. This warmth also positively affects how these speaker handle saxophones. The warmth does not however mean that they lack clarity – it just means that they are not as analytical. Nonetheless, speakers are always about compromises, and it is impossible to find speakers that do everything as you want them to. One of the shortfalls is how these Audiomasters MLS1 reproduce stringed instruments, especially guitars. Their warmth seems to mellow the sound of guitars and make them somewhat softer. Having that sharpness and attack there, would make guitar’s sound a lot more life-like. When exposed to busy tracks they do not handle them as well as larger speakers with more drivers, but considering their size, they handle them pretty well.
Bass… Well, if you read any other reviews on this website, you will know that I am quite sensitive to this part of the audio spectrum. I like pianos to sound full bodied and the bass guitars to sound like bass guitars. This is the reason why my main speakers were always of a substantial size. The majority of small speakers that I have experienced, always left me with a feeling that something is missing in that area. Audiomaster MLS-1s are different. Despite the early low frequency roll-off, they sound full bodied and do not make me feel like I’m missing something. Perhaps the overall flatter frequency response contributes to this, but regardless of what it is, it’s a great quality. If I was to criticise anything, it probably would be the lack of attack, however, considering the size of the speaker, it is actually pretty good.
Audiomaster MLS1 are very balanced, and easy to listen. Clear and warm at the same time. Despite limited bass extension, they never make you feel that anything is missing. If you are after small vintage bookshelf speakers, forget about LS3/5A, and get yourself MLS-1s for a fraction of the cost.
|Balance of Sound:|
|Neutrality of Tone:|