A resounding five stars for these big, beautiful and hard rocking beauties.
MISSION HAS A long history of creating innovative, elegant and highly affordable speakers. The English company, having been acquired by China-based IAG (International Audio Group) last decade, has recently recruited a crack team of designers and experts to help give extra sparkle to the company’s image. I was impressed with their efforts in bringing to life the excellent EX800 series that I reviewed here in August last year, and you can read more about the company and some of the team in that review.
The new SX series sits just below Mission’s EX range of speakers. There are two standmounts (SX1 – 2), three floorstanders (SX3 – 5) and two centre speakers (SXC1 – 2), which are available in New Zealand in black or cherry wood finishes.
The SX5s are big and heavy – weighing around 31kg, they’re almost a two person lift – with three bass drivers, a mid/bass driver and a tweeter, and each speaker also has two rear-mounted bass ports. There are two sets of binding posts per speaker to enable single, bi-wiring or bi-amping. Measuring 1121 x 261 x 365mm (hwd) – with a cabinet volume of 56L – and mounted on their own sturdy, spiked plinths, they definitely grab your attention. I have to admit I was a little worried the SX5s would be too big for my relatively small room, and that I wouldn’t be able to give a good and balanced appraisal of their performance, but as you’re about to see, I was pleasantly surprised to find I had little to be concerned about.
The Mission SX5s are a three-way bass reflex design, using 160mm aluminium drivers for the three bass – and the one mid/bass – units, and and the a 25mm titanium dome tweeter. They are rated at a nice 90 dB sensitivity with an impedance (according to the manual) of 4 ohms (the website states the minimum impedance as 3.5 ohms and the nominal impedance as 6 to 8 ohms), and Mission recommends amplifiers with at least 60 to 200wpc. Additionally, the company claims a frequency response of 54 Hz to 40 kHz (+/- 3dB) and suggest the bass extends to 44 Hz (-6dB), and a ruler-flat crossover transition with the crossover frequency given as 450 Hz/2.5 kHz.
The mid/bass units are an interesting design, and the Mission engineers have outdone themselves in producing these wide bandwidth drivers – said to reproduce all frequencies from 30 Hz to 4 kHz, spanning 7 octaves – using the latest in composite metallic material technology. The front face of the speaker driver – an alloy ‘voice plate’ – has been bonded to a fibre cone made from a combination of pulp and Aramid particles, and is said to ensure “pistonic cone movement” to minimise distortion while having perfect rigidity and self-damping to keep unwanted resonances and break up modes at bay. The main drivers are housed in a cast-aluminium shell and the mid/bass is mounted, along with the titanium dome tweeter (in the traditional inverted Mission fashion), in a die-cast front baffle, clamped, as it were, between the die-cast and the cabinet sub-baffle to ensure proper mechanical stability. To ensure the tweeter isn’t affected by any LF vibrations it is housed in an elastomeric chamber, and the light and rigid titanium tweeter is also fitted with a phase-correcting plate which surrounds the periphery of the dome, “to ensure a smooth and extended response from 1 kHz” and beyond.
Clearly a great deal of research and effort – and dare I say love – has gone into the SXs. I love their look: especially the hand-veneered cabinets which curve gracefully back with the slightly sloping tops and the attractive aluminium-look drivers. The cabinets themselves are made from interleaving wood layers which are glued and pressed at high temperatures before being left to cool. This process is said to create a cabinet which is inert and free from internal stresses, and those curves help to eliminate unwanted internal resonances. I must say the speakers even look superb in black, a colour I don’t normally go for in a speaker. The fabric covers are magnetic, and I definitely preferred to keep them off for their appearance and sound.
The SX series has been designed to be easy to position in most typical living spaces, even when placed close to the rear wall – so my initial concern about my room’s smallish size versus the large size of the speakers was somewhat allayed, especially once I started listening to them. They have also been engineered to sound good no matter where listeners are sitting – on or off axis, they should always sound well balanced.
Setup & Listening
I placed the SX5s slightly more than the recommended minimum distance from the rear wall – 300mm in my approximately 4 x 5m listening room – and ended up angling them slightly towards the listening position, which fortunately proved to be the ideal spot. Foam bungs are supplied for those who need to play around with the bass, but I ended up not needing them at all. Mission recommends QED cables, which I already use for speaker wire, and with my Unico SE providing 140 wpc of amplification into 8 ohms (probably around 225 watts into 4 ohms) the Missions proved very easy to drive. Source material was, as usual, provided by my Well Tempered/Analog Instruments/Benz ACE/Trichord Dino vinyl rig, with the odd digital track handled by my trusty Rotel RDD-06 DAC.
I let the SX5s run in for a good 50 to 100 hours before I started seriously listening, as I had been advised that the review samples had only about 10 hours on them. I initially noticed considerable, though not unbearable, brightness and glare in the treble, but after only about 20 hours use this disappeared entirely, and those titanium tweeters really started to impress. The treble was crisp and so very clear and vivid, with cymbals for example, sounding believably metallic. Those tweeters kept the highest notes in control and naturally extended – whether they were from brass instrument or screeching vocals – holding them in the air but never letting them become hard on the ears.
They truly grabbed me with Cat Power’s ‘We All Die’ from the album Myra Lee. The song starts off with a grungy, repetitive guitar riff suitably complimenting Chan Marshall’s singing/wailing. With a lovely and open sound on a big soundstage, the Missions really did a good job of putting everything out into the room. But then the drums kicked in with such perfect timing and authority that I had to restart the song several times just to hear that instant again and again. The power and depth of the sound created by the kick drum astounded me: I could feel it in the floor and in my ribcage, yet it wasn’t overpowering, neither in my room itself nor within the actual recording. The Missions sounded very well balanced and even handed with no blurring of the upper frequencies. The performance was effortless and unforced with little or no discernible cabinet colouration. With great pleasure I had a real sense of my room becoming a live venue: I saw Cat Power perform live recently, and I can say that the SX5s really do a stunning job of bringing that live environment into the home “venue”.
Om’s ‘Gethsemane’ from the mighty Advaitic Songs LP damn near peeled the socks off my feet. After the song’s long intro, the bass and drums thundered into the room with a force that took my breath away. They didn’t exactly extend down to sub-sonic levels, but I could literally feel the air moving and the whole room tingling with electricity – I kid you not. I couldn’t help but inch the volume up and up, and the bass nailed me into my seat, rattling my ribs and battering my internal organs, almost bringing me to tears of maniacal joy. It really was that exhilarating. There was no hint of any of the “bass boom” which some Mission speakers are occasionally criticised for; instead I heard deep, tuneful bottom end that stayed completely in control note by note. Bass guitar notes and low, low drum thuds started and stopped with precision, rather than drifting off like woolly sheep like some other speakers might do. Yet despite all that air-moving and house shaking, nothing was immediately amiss in any other aspect of the sound – the midrange remained relatively rich and open and the treble stayed clear and focused, continuing to handle transients with ease.
While I do think the SX5s performed remarkably well in my room considering their size, I would love to hear them in a bigger space, not to mention in a full home theatre, multi-channel set up. In saying that though, I could happily live with them in my current situation.
Then out came the rocky stuff. Spinning records from Wilco, the brilliant young duo Tweak Bird and the blistering Naam, I was never disappointed, as my room was sort of turned into a throbbing, sweaty (well it was mid-summer) live setting. But other genres of music did equally well: from the usual female/male vocal tests to smooth acoustic music, the SX5s captured the soul of performances without becoming boisterous. Despite their size they could be as gentle and delicate as needed. Even jazz was well represented. No, they’re not exclusively a head banger’s speaker. Double bass had real depth and colour and all my favourite drum solos gave me nearly as much thrill and excitement as the real thing. If any pair of speakers can make recorded drums sound like an actual kit then they get my vote, and the SX5s did a fine job convincing me. Brass was crisp and clear, thanks in no small part to those lovely titanium tweeters and, through the midband, I could pick the placement and scale of the piano which appeared to have all the necessary tonal properties and flavours of the actual instrument. The SX5s nicely highlighted the percussive as well as the melodic character of the piano keys, which helped add a sense of insight into performances. Again, I had that impression of an even, well balanced sound. Even with that solid, air-moving bass, the mid and high frequencies remained in full “view”, clear and focused with just the right amount of detail. Vocals were rendered faithfully; delicate and intimate, plaintive or aggressive, I believed and felt what I was hearing. Imaging was spot on and life-sized with a huge soundstage which extended from far behind the speakers and filled the room, wall to wall.
Switching back to my Spendor SP2/3 standmounts, I found – obviously – that the bass wasn’t anywhere near as powerful or precise. The top end, though not as crisp, sharp or detailed as the Missions, was perhaps a little more natural overall and of the two speakers, I maybe preferred the Spendor’s midrange, as they did slightly better at sounding open and natural, albeit with that Spendor “colour” I love so much. But that’s where it comes down to personal taste. Obviously these are two very different speakers with different characteristics, and to be honest I could easily live with either pair. The Missions probably sound more “hi-fi” than the Spendors, and they just do everything well and with an ease that suggests that they could blow your windows out, bring the ceiling down on your head and still sound wonderful. At no point – or volume – did I experience any listener fatigue.
Perhaps rockers, dub-heads and blockbuster movie lovers are most likely to be drawn to these fabulous Missions. In saying that though, I think jazz lovers, for example, are in for quite a surprise – if you need great timing and speed, transparency and dynamics and great frequency response, the SX5s do it all, and they do it very well. I would urge everyone, no matter what their musical preferences, to spend some time auditioning these speakers, because you may well be as impressed as I was. For those of us who like a bit of everything, the SX5s will fulfil most needs, and provided you have the power, they’ll do it with a breathtaking ease. At a smeck under six grand, my main reservation has to be the price. Yes, they’re expensive, but then the build quality is impeccable and they look and sound most agreeable indeed – you get what you pay for, and with the SX5s that’s quite a lot. They give performers a real, almost tactile holographic presence, timing and rhythm is near enough to perfect – they aren’t sluggish or dull by any stretch – and you get big chunks of tuneful bass that doesn’t linger and turn muddy. So with that in mind, perhaps these $6K SX5s do in fact represent excellent value for money.
Highly recommended. ANDREW BAKER