McIntosh ML1 Loudspeaker Mk II

What happens when vintage, or retro-classic styling, meets modern loudspeaker development techniques and cutting-edge sound? McIntosh has resoundingly answered that question with a product that pays homage to their very first speaker, introduced back in 1970, the ML1 (as in McIntosh Loudspeaker #1). We were lucky enough to discover a pair of the original ML1 at a customer’s house, and as they were willing to part with them, they now reside at our Gramophone Experience Center

The new speaker, the McIntosh ML1 Loudspeaker Mark II, looks somewhat similar, but also looks much better, and is entirely different once we look under the hood. McIntosh has learned a lot in the past 53 years about making accurate speakers. You can find ML1 Mk II on display at our Experience Center, and in our view, they sound amazing.

A brief word about McIntosh: this is one of the most unique companies in the A/V world! McIntosh started building amplifiers in Binghamton, New York, back in 1949. Unlike so many competitors of that era, McIntosh has never left their “USA designed and built” roots, preferring to keep the design/build process and quality control under their watchful eye. A number of their employees have been there for decades. 

McIntosh has also developed several proprietary approaches to building products that literally nobody else in the industry is doing, resulting in the products having a unique look and feel. They have earned quite a reputation as an aspirational brand for many A/V fans. As a friend mentioned when he went to work at McIntosh some years ago, “There are lots of good products out there, but not many A/V companies have built a true brand identity, a brand that customers repeatedly ask for”. 

The styling of the new Mk II is delightful. The cabinet and matching stand which ships along with the ML1 Mk II speaker, both look beautiful. Even if a retro-looking speaker is not for you, you’ll love the oiled American walnut finish over solid woods. The speaker is also veneered on all sides, which is a nice touch, and McIntosh has applied a satin finish that gives the product a distinctly modern look. We guess that you will still look at these with pride decades from now while you enjoy your favorite tunes. 

What’s under the hood? The driver complement is all-new, a 4-way speaker with five total drivers.  First, you’ll notice the 12-inch woofer, pretty uncommon in this day and age of slimmer-front-baffle speakers. That is the first sign that these speakers have a really unique sonic signature, as they are capable of generating levels of bass that far exceed what you’d expect from such a relatively compact cabinet.  

Above the woofer sits a specially milled metal plate, which houses the remainder of the drivers. Twin 4-inch lower midrange drivers flank a single 2” soft dome upper-midrange driver, all arranged horizontally, with their center points lined up evenly. The milled plate adds extra strength and rigidity to the cabinet’s front baffle, keeping it stiff and non-resonant, reducing the chances of heavy bass energy from the woofer from interfering with the rest of the sonic spectrum. 

Why did McIntosh engineers develop this arrangement? Sonically, you wind up with a broad and even dispersion pattern, so that you don’t need to sit in a single, perfect “sweet spot” to enjoy the ML1 Mk II. The whole family can sit on the couch and hear great sounds. Imaging is quite good, with a broad and realistic presentation of the musicians.  This is especially welcome, as so many of the ’70s era speakers had a distinctly “boxy” sound quality. So many of those old speakers sounded like speakers, not like live music. Much has changed! 

Additionally, using both lower and higher mid-range drivers allows the engineering team to move the crossover point out of the critical range of the vocalist, the person in the band who gets your ear's attention. In our listening, vocals come across cleanly and clearly. Above the three mid-range drivers sits a single, 3/4 inch titanium dome tweeter, the same one used in their XR50 and XR100 speakers. In our listening, we’ve found this tweeter to be a great complement to the midrange drivers, for a really clear and open high-end sound quality.  

A word about the ML1 Mk II’s bass: it is remarkably powerful, with a significant slam factor when the music calls for it, especially given the cabinet’s relatively compact dimensions. Part of that is due to the custom-designed 12-inch woofer, which sports McIntosh’s patented Low Distortion / High-Performance Magnetic Circuit Design. This McIntosh exclusive keeps distortion to a small fraction of the company’s older speaker products. But they have also carefully designed the cabinet’s inside to have its own chamber for the woofer. This “speaker within a speaker” cabinet approach keeps the bass energy focused toward the listener and keeps it away from interfering with the relatively smaller wavelengths involved in the midrange and high-frequency sounds.  

Careful design was also applied to the custom crossover network, which has a really great feature in its self-resetting protection circuits. These mean that over-driving the speakers at a party with friends will typically result in a shutdown and thermal reset when the temperatures within the speaker have cooled to safer levels. This of course is much preferable to the alternative of a blown driver or tweeter. 

One final word about dynamic range and amplifier selection: these speakers are built to take massive power! McIntosh rates them as capable of handling as much as 600 watts per channel. Some of the company’s finest amps, such as the MC611 and the MC3500, would be a fine match for the ML1 Mk II.  This 8-ohm speaker is not difficult to drive and can be used with far less capable amplifiers. But to get the most out of them, you’ll want to select electronics that can allow your ML1 Mk II to really show their stuff.

If you want your music at lifelike sound pressure levels, ML1 is there for you! This is a classic-looking speaker. Some folks will love that, some won’t - but everybody will agree, the cabinets are beautiful. We think you will be amazed at the midrange and upper-end detail and clarity you hear with ML1 Mk II - articulate is the term that comes to mind  Bass is punchy, solid, and really unexpected for the cabinet size, equaling many larger speakers, so you’re unlikely to need a subwoofer. This ML1 Mk II speaker may simply be McIntosh’s best-ever speaker. Please arrange a private visit to our Gramophone Experience Center to hear them for yourself, and bring your favorite music. We think you’ll be impressed.