The MM-1s do an excellent job of making compressed music sound decent. 320kbps MP3s sound great and even the half-dozen 256kbps AAC (iTunes Plus) tracks we have sounded pretty decent. Really low bit-rate tracks can suffer, but we’re talking 128kbps WMA streaming audio here and the kind of person who would put such files through a £400 pair of speakers more than occasionally frankly doesn’t deserve the gift of hearing.
Stepping up to some 24-bit FLACs did reveal extra elements of detail to Beethoven’s 9th, among other, similarly epic tracks. The transparency the MM-1s deliver is particularly noteworthy; you can really get a feel for where in the mix each and every element was mastered, whether a cello, a flute, a viola or a xylophone.
Films and TV shows sound equally as good as music, with an episode of Doctor Who showcasing the MM-1’s ability to turn their hand to producing clear dialogue, enveloping atmospherics, and luscious accompanying music. The lack of a large sub-woofer means you don’t get quite the ground-shaking rumble of some speaker sets, which can dull the impact of action-packed films, but then for the best home cinema effect you’re going to want surround sound and a comfy sofa anyway.
Bowers & Wilkins hasn’t limited the MM-1 speakers to only accepting input from a PC, over USB. The right-hand speaker has an aux-in and headphone output around the back. The former lets you hook up just about any device, mixing its audio with that from your PC.
The headphone output is a little niftier as it lets you take advantage of the MM-1’s excellent audio processing when using a set of ‘phones – the speakers mute automatically when you plug in your headphones. The results are impressive, with a set of trusty Shure SE420 earphones sounding miles better via the MM-1’s than through the iPhone they’re usually subjected to.
Flourishes like this are what enable the Bowers & Wilkins MM-1 speakers to justify their admittedly significant asking price. It really shouldn’t be possible to make a set of desktop speakers sound this good, but somehow B&W has. Maybe it’s just us, but we think quality like this is worth paying for.
There was never any doubt in our minds that the Bowers & Wilkins MM-1 speakers would be something special and, lo and behold, they are. They look stunning and sound even better – truly, PC audio has never had it so good.