M8Audio Tiny Maxwell Loudspeaker Review
Peter Familari spends time with a small but perfectly formed compact stand mounter…
AUD $4,000 RRP
When it comes to loudspeakers, the race to build the best-in-class doesn’t always fall to the largest, most prestigious brand. More often than not, it’s the small speaker company that’s propelled by creative passion, striving for the best possible sonics and build quality, that wins the chocolates.
A couple of StereoNET Hi-Fi Shows ago, I was struck by this on hearing the Sweet Maxwell – a lyrically named, exquisite sounding, beautifully built standmounter, handcrafted in sun-soaked, rain-drenched Queensland.
Although close to the deadline of my comprehensive show report, my ears kept me in the M8Audio suite where the music flowing from this speaker had a siren-like, beguiling quality. I knew then that visitors to this room were also hearing something incredibly special. It soared up high in the treble and delved down to decent depths of bass with consummate ease. In between was a glorious, transparent midrange. No wonder I returned to enjoy another listen several times, and noted down that, “this is the speaker I’d like to own, when funds allow.”
The cabinet’s unique wave-like, contoured and upwards flowing front baffle announced that a world-class compact was in the offing, at least to any music lover with the discernment to appreciate real loudspeaker quality. So when offered the opportunity to review the smaller Tiny Maxwell model, I eagerly accepted the offer – and it turned out to be a real class act.
‘Class’ is also the operative word when describing the Sweet Maxwell, plus another attribute that this compact has in spade loads – poise. No matter what genre of music being played, it continued to sound entrancing. Would the Tiny Maxwell provide most of what its bigger brother delivers, I wondered? Well, it will set you back $4,000, so there’s nothing cheap about it. Yet any loudspeaker aficionado will come away knowing that its performance propels it into the high-end compact, luxury class with consummate ease. Indeed it seems excellent value for money here in Australia, because many of its price rivals suffer from importer margins, and M8Audio sells direct to consumers who save a bundle shopping this way.
The idea behind the Tiny Maxwell, according to MarK Thomsen – founder and chief design wizard at M8Audio – was simply to do a baby Sweet Maxwell. “I wanted to carry on the design of the larger speaker but scale it down in size as far as possible. A tiny speaker with no holds barred, but still affordable enough to make it achievable for most people…”
To achieve this, he didn’t skimp on the drivers, the cabinetry or the crossover. The two drive units selected have real audio pedigree and are reassuringly expensive. We’re talking Scan-Speak’s amazing 149mm Revelator mid/bass and a 29mm pure beryllium tweeter custom made for M8Audio by SB Acoustics, with the crossover point set at 2.6kHz.
“I know of no other driver in existence capable of satisfying deep and accurate bass in a tiny enclosure, than the five inch Scan-Speak Revelator”, Tomsen told me. “Well of course there are dedicated mini subwoofer drivers, but none can do midrange whereas the Revelator’s is just wonderful. I use the uncoated paper cone version which has a livelier, more dynamic sound, and is a far better match to the dynamics of the tweeter. The latter is what is needed to elevate the performance and match the midband.”
“I wanted the speakers to be tiny, but still benefit from the full potential of the bass capabilities of the Revelator driver,” Thomsen said, “so I came up with a system that increased internal volume, retained the rigidity of a thick cabinet and included a resonance damping system. This was done by hollowing the side panels of the cabinets from the inside to gain more volume. By doing this in a honeycomb pattern the rigidity is retained, and we use viscoelastic damping compound at the bottom of each honeycomb pocket to get rid of resonance. There’s also the basic shape which is functional from an acoustic point of view; its complex internal profile avoids parallel surfaces and the large curvature on top manages diffraction problems.”
The cross-laminated birch veneer cabinet measures a usefully compact 378x168x267mm and weighs 7kg. Knock it, and you get a satisfyingly dull thud that’s likely down to the combination of that sturdy, braced box and the natural sheep’s wool wadding inside. The finish is excellent, and the speaker comes as standard with white side panels with satin-effect, clear-coated birch end grain. A bass-reflex design, the rear-mounted port means it is not ideal for being placed up close to a boundary wall; the manufacturer recommends a minimum of 0.5m out into the room.
Despite its ported design and reasonable internal volume, its quoted sensitivity figure of 84dB is below average – many other similarly sized rivals do better. You’ll need a reasonably powerful amplifier of 50W RMS per channel or more to get the best from it then, but that’s not difficult these days. Instead of chasing a higher sensitivity figure, it rather looks like the designer’s priority was to squeeze decently deep bass from the package. The manufacturer’s supplied frequency response figure is impressive for this size speaker at 49Hz to 32kHz (±3dB), while nominal impedance is pretty benign at 6 ohms.
The Tiny Maxwell seemingly soars to infinity in the treble, whilst serving up satisfying levels of bass. It’s not prodigious, but what you hear is tight, super-fast, detailed and convincing. In the midband, its two drive units marry up seamlessly, giving a clean, smooth and realistic sound. Fed by my SME 20/11 and Series V turntable and van den Hul Crimson Stradivarius cartridge, Audio Research Reference 7 Mk11 valve CD player, Audio Research Reference 1 preamplifier and Reference 75 valve power amp, it made a very nice noise.
For example, Broderick Smith’s Suitcase album showed off the singer’s powerful, melodic and expressive vocal on Say a Prayer, giving the Tiny Maxwell a midrange songfest of the kind that would daunt many larger loudspeakers. The album has an affinity with Melbourne’s Western suburbs. Smith lived in St Albans, a tough, unforgiving place in the nineteen sixties and would have been familiar with the Altona railway line, as he chose to feature one of its stations on this album’s cover with the Altona refinery in the background. I also knew the Altona line well and used to ride its train to visit a youthful paramour – a girl you could say – from the west country fair. This little loudspeaker sure helped bring back some memories!
Simon Lewis was a young man when he and I first communicated after my review of Mystique, one of his albums that’s dedicated to Victoria’s great Southern Coast. What I wrote then hasn’t diminished my esteem for his music, a feeling reinforced by its dreamy soundscapes playing through my review pair of alluring Tiny Maxwells. He remains one of Australia’s finest composers and his early albums – Southern Water, Southern Dreaming and Southern Christmas – are classic in the best sense of that word.
More lately, Lewis regularly spends time in southern India recording with KV Balukrishnan and other fine musicians. His latest album, Amanaska’s Circles, is described as a cultural feast of eclectic music for lovers of world fusion, and was recorded in the UK, USA, India and finished in Melbourne. Anyway, the moment Smith gave voice to a plea for lonely kids everywhere in Say a Prayer, I knew I was home again musically speaking!
I then dragged out my aged vinyl copy of his Big Combo album and played Mobil Town, letting the SME/Van Den Hul combo go to work recreating this track’s driving, menacing bass melodies. Memory lane is a powerful place to revisit. Back in 1981, I spun this album on a Linn LP12 turntable with a Hadcock tonearm fitted with a Garrott Decca Gold. The rest of my gear included a Pos Vibes valve preamp, Quad 11 power amps and Rogers LS35/A and Quad ELS57 speakers. The album was a revelation then, but even more so now.
For example, the Van Den Hul Crimson Stradivarius moving coil cartridge appears to leave absolutely nothing left in the vinyl groove. It prises out all the subliminal detail buried within and endows it with a humanity that’s rare in audio. The melodious and addictive midrange I was hearing through the Tiny Maxwell had scale and life-like veracity, thanks to the excellence of the system as a whole. This little speaker was subtle and detailed, making the most out of the profusion of detail coming from my top-flight vinyl source.
Like every analogue addict, I have a range of favourite pick-up cartridges – and keep going back to my Decca Maroon, Decca Gold, Ortofon SPU, Denon DL103, Koetsu Black and my early long-bodied Koetsu Rosewoods (both superbly refurbished by AJ van den Hul). Yet none rival the complete all-around ability of my current Crimson Stradivarius. It teamed up with this little loudspeaker to weave no small amount of magic with the unforgettable melodic beauty of Ruby In The Snow. The clarity of the mournful harmonica riffs coming via that exquisite tweeter and dextrous woofer near enough convinced me that the player was in the room beside me. The track’s driving bass augmented a transparent midrange, replete with subtle audible clues that combined to give an unexpectedly large soundstage, body and dimensionality.
Of course, this little loudspeaker won’t deliver you the same sense of physical scale afforded by JBL’s huge Classic L100, for example. For the same reason – because it cannot defy the laws of physics – nor can it deliver a subterranean bass that the latter loudspeaker is so capable of wielding. Due to the Tiny Maxwell’s somewhat diminutive dimensions, soundstaging and imaging are more spatially constrained than is ideal. Yet what you do get is almost total freedom from the sound of the cabinet, plus a level of transparency where every note is audible as a balanced sound, rather than one that will have you hiding behind the sofa with your fingers in your ears. In other words, this speaker isn’t just couth; it’s almost flawless in some respects.
Through My Eyes is a thematically linked series of beautifully composed and arranged soundscapes. Recording quality is front rank, and the size of the soundscape loses little of its impact played through this speaker, thanks to its inherent transparency and razor-sharp imagery. The album’s masterfully played and beautifully recorded piano has startlingly accurate timbre. Synthesiser also features heavily on this album but is always tastefully combined with other natural acoustic instruments – including a didgeridoo, wherein the power of the player’s breath explodes through this small speaker.
Timing is top-tier, too. The lightness of the tweeter’s beryllium dome and the mid/bass driver’s paper cone makes for something incredibly quick off the mark. Pick any track on this album at random, and you soon hear a foot-tapping quality to the proceedings. Factor in the stiff and inert cabinet and the result is something with excellent transient speed and barely any audible overhang; the musical notes stop and start in an instant.
For a change of pace, I popped my Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Anniversary CD into my silver disc spinner and sat back, allowing this small stand mounter to do its thing. I wasn’t quite prepared for the large amounts of production details, and musical nuances, that was put before me. Every track became a voyage of music rediscovered – and She’s Leaving Home, in particular, revealed a layer of emotion not there on my older Compact Disc copy.
I wiped a few tears from my eyes and turned to a Beethoven Late String Quartet, as you do! As if to prove itself as accomplished across musical genres, the Tiny Maxwell positively sang with Opus 132, especially the slow movement played by the Vegh Quartet. It sounded as close to a prayer outside a church as you’ll ever hear. I sat there aghast, as this sublime classical music masterpiece unfolded in my room as the dawn light straddled the windowsill. As the slow movement faded with its last spiritually laced notes, I gave thanks.
It was quite an experience to review the Tiny Maxwell, as it’s an exceptional loudspeaker given its size and price. Of course, it has limitations – not least its moderate sensitivity and limited physical dimensions – yet is still an awe-inspiring all-round package at an affordable price. It’s one of those rare examples of how an exceptionally well designed small speaker can sometimes do so much more than be the sum of its parts. As such, I’d recommend it to anyone with small-to-medium-sized listening room wanting a compact stand mounter that punches way above its weight.
One of the veterans of the Australian HiFi industry, Peter was formerly the Audio-Video Editor of the Herald Sun for over two decades. One of the most-respected audio journalists in Australia, Peter brings his unparalleled experience and a unique story-telling ability to StereoNET.