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To complete the speaker package, M&D opted for a conventional boxy enclosure made of a not so conventional material: compound artificial marble (CAM). It's white in color and polished to a glossy shine. This material is similar to DuPont's Corian, more than twice as dense as MDF and less easy to break than natural marble. The entire enclosure is one molded piece of art - no seams, no joints, no veneer. The compound marble skin is 12mm thick and backed by a 5mm MDF liner that's spray-painted white to give an overall strength equivalent of 30mm MDF. Do not underestimate this 5mm of MDF. It plays a vital part in conjuring the warmth and musicality that most exclusively stoned cabinets lack. The tweeter and bass compartments are completely independent and separate chambers, the former being very shallow and just deep enough to contain the DREAMS module. Both chambers are generously lined with 20mm thick polyfoam to further damp cabinet vibrations.

The Maximus measures 14.5" H x 8.5" W x 11.25" D and weighs a hefty 32 lbs. It is now in its second generation and slightly bigger and heavier than its predecessor. Nominal impedance is 4 ohms (2.8 ohms at the lowest) and sensitivity is 84.5dB/2.83v/1m. The manual recommends the use of a high-current amplifier with no less than 100 watts output. A first look at the Maximus quickly assures a good impression. The most stunning feature has to be the unusually large DREAMS tweeter which is as big as the Super SX bass driver. Some German firms like Adam and Elac employ AMT-style tweeters as well but only in 1/4th or 1/6th sizes. And flat, not curved. Around back, Maximus has fitted two pairs of binding posts for bi-wire or bi-amp operation. That's quite common nowadays. Not so common are the three vents, each with a 7.5" long shaft.

I first set up the Maximus with the Symphonic Line RG3 Mk3 preamp and RG4 Mk3 monoblocks, the latter capable of 150/300 watts into 8/4 ohms and stable below 1.5 ohms. My reference speaker system for this setup has always been the Apogee Centaur Minor, coincidentally also a 2-way hybrid with a 6.5" bass driver and an 800Hz crossover point. In lieu of a pair of M&D Maximus speaker stand -- made of composite marble for $650/pr -- I place the Maximus on the Yamaha YST-SW200 subwoofers, which happen to be 24" high and weigh 18Kg each. Rock-solid enough.

The factory advised a run-in period of 100 hours. But I could hear deep-sea diving, uncluttered bass right from the start. The mid to high range was crystal clear and transparent. And so coherent, with the crossover below the presence region. This band is as smooth as the Apogee but with more bite. Music from the Maximus conveyed an immediate presence and vibrant energy. I'm also surprised that there's virtually no audible cabinet resonance or smearing - as though the drivers were suspended in mid air.

However, one thing was definitely missing - the soundstage. Things sounded like an impasto painting, with blotches and patches of orchestral colors flying about. Everything was present but somehow not as easy as usual to pin down to a discrete point in space. I was hoping that if the placement within the room had stood my hard-to-please Apogee in good service, then these innocent wide-eyed 2-way monitors shouldn't be picky. Boy was I wrong. To my surprise, the hot spot for the Maximus ended up 8 feet from the front wall (the Apogee sat at 4) and with a toe-in of 20 degrees (the Centaurs only used 7 to 9). No, I didn't get from point A to B in 60 seconds. I took a snail's pace of five or maybe even six weeks to arrive. These speakers are more sensitive to room size/proportion than most bookshelf speakers. My room is awkwardly long and proves to be very challenging. But the good thing is, these speakers are stubborn. They know where they stand. Once you find them the sweet spot, they start to sing. And once you know their temper, moving them to another room poses no problem.

The Maximus reminded me of being in the recording studio during my days in advertising when we were recording background music and jingles. I felt like I was again among the musicians or ten feet away from the pianist. When orchestral music played, I felt like being the conductor, with the full ensemble wrapping around me. The soundstage was wide open and layered like a big onion. Incredible detail and microdynamics - you wouldn't have to search for them, they'd come and get you. This is the most revealing speaker I've ever encountered. Any coarse-grained, harshly textured recordings will be ruthlessly exposed. But with a first-class recording, you'll be handsomely rewarded with vivid bowing of the strings and lifelike attack of the piano hammers. You'd swear you're at the centre of music making.

I almost forgot the Omni Harmonizer. It's an optional "pseudo-super-tweeter" which wasn't designed to extend the high frequencies as much as to enhance ambience. Its enclosure is also made of compound artificial marble, with a footprint of 5.5" x 5.5" and overall height of 5.5". The bottom half houses another DREAMS driver, the model DR-2, which fires upwards at an inverted cone diffuser to radiate out 360 degrees high-frequency energy from 7 to 35kHz. The diaphragm of this tweeter consists of 38 micro elements with a total surface area 15 times that of a typical 1" dome. Eight NdFeB units provide magnetic motor power.

Three user-selectable sensitivity levels of 0 dB, -2.5 dB and -5 dB (through connection to different binding posts) help fine-tuning to match the sensitivity of your main speakers and acoustic behavior of your listening room. I used a pair of 14" custom-made Van den Hul jumpers terminated with banana plugs to form the parallel connection between the Omni Harmonizer and the HF binding posts of the Maximus. Most of the time, I had the jumpers connecting to the -2.5 dB level. Occasionally, I would opt for 0 dB. I found that just as useful -- if not more -- in matching different recordings to enhance spatial references.

With the Omni Harmonizers on board, some of the near-field studio monitor characteristics (not pernicious, only different) seem to be neutralized and the whole system becomes more musical. Without compromising the details, the soundstage becomes airier. The difference, no matter how subtle, is like four-wheel drive. Once driven, it's hard to go back if you know how to make the best use of it. With or without, the Maximus manages to preserve low-level information and balance it with subtle nuances of musical flair. Its ability to produce deep, clean, skin-tight bass tends to be the most noticeable forté. In fact, it's the only speaker system that's ever set foot in my house to make my subwoofers redundant. Truth be told, it makes them sound like grumpy old men. But don't let that mislead you to think that the Maximus is only great for the bottom end. The mid to high range enchants equally with accurate harmonic rendition.

Knowing myself to be persnickety, I couldn't just stop there. I was wondering how much of this performance was my amps, how much the speakers. I took the Maximus upstairs to run them on a budget-priced setup: Restek Vector preamp and Sim Audio Celeste W-4070se power amp, usually paired with either the JMlab Micron or Dynaudio Facette. The Micron paled against the Maximus in every aspect. The W-4070se is a high-current amp capable of 160wpc/4-ohm (85 into 8). It employs a zero-overall-feedback design with a DC servo circuit to control distortion and a balanced differential topography throughout. While the "tube amp" character of the Symphonic Line complimented the Maximus as expected, the speed and purity of the Celeste, to my surprise, seemed to work just fine with the studio monitor as well. I didn't find it thin, bright or forward at all. I played the same selection of CDs, ranging from piano, violin, guitar, vocal to orchestral, Biber to Mahler. The music was just as rewarding and involving. Here, I gave the Maximus a 20° toe-in and 36 inches of breathing space from the front wall. It reciprocated with studio-quality resolution and orchestral spatial holography. I finally did a silly thing that I have always scoffed at others for doing. I took out my dust-collecting CD of Chinese drums and played the track that 9 of 10 Chinese reviewers in Hong Kong at one time or another have used for reviewing equipment. Awesome! Every strike was a direct hit, accurate and completely free of cabinet resonance and coloration.

Perhaps the best time to evaluate a piece of equipment is when it is actually taken out of your system. With my Apogees once again adorning my family room and music flowing in the air, the first question I asked myself was, where had all the detail gone? The change was that drastic. Perhaps the Maximus is too revealing? Only time would heal or tell. But the Apogee is definitely shy of bass. So I removed their stock woofers and replaced them with the Super SX. Those proved heaven sent. Both systems use 800Hz crossover points. Both systems have low to mid sensitivities (84 vs. 84.5 dB). Even the screw mounting holes are a perfect match. As a matter of fact, Mark & Daniel do offer this kind of speaker modification service. It's what they call Linear Excursion Promotion (LEP) Program. Send them your woofer with specs and they'll custom-made a new SX driver for you. If I'm not keeping the Maximus, I'll definitely keep their SX woofers. After all, deep, riveting bass proved just a stone's throw away.

Postscript: I thought I should try the Maximus with tube amps. All my single-ended triode amps wouldn't move the speaker - it barely did 20km/h at full throttle. So I took it to my friend Richard's 200wpc parallel-configured McIntosh MC2102 with smashing success. If tonal accuracy is its second nature, bass with that kind of power was obviously first. Not even the Mullard CV4004 and CV4024 tubes could soften or shaken the SX driver's determination. Richard's listening room measures 21' by 15' with 9.6' ceiling and opens to a dining area of 15' by 15'. It's not the most acoustically flattering yet the Maximus was not at all intimidated nor penalized. The bass slammed with the authority and spontaneity of floorstanding speakers. It didn't require wall proximity or corner gain to fake the lower harmonics. Richard has just found his dream speakers in the Dynaudio Evidence Temptation, to match his complete McIntosh system (MCD1000 / MDA1000 / C2200 / MC2102 x 2). Even a spoiled audiophile like him shook his head in disbelief upon hearing the Maximus. That says something about the Maximus. It's name is aptly chosen. For the money asked, this speaker pushes the full-range small monitor concept as far as seems possible.

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