The Renaissance Audio Group, formally called Morel Acoustics USA, was formed in 1978 by its founder and president Mikhael Shabani. They produce loudspeakers for two and multi-channel operation (both floor standing and bookshelf models). They also have available a stand for use with the small loudspeakers and even their very own subwoofers. Not to stop there, the company also sells raw drivers for those DIY (do it yourself) audiophiles who might care to replace a blown driver or even to make their very own cabinets to built loudspeakers. By the way, some highly respected high-end audio manufacturers have been using Renaissance raw drivers for quite a while now with some of those drivers being made especially for them. If that is not enough diversification for you they also sell drivers, complete with grills, and crossovers for your car audio. When looking on their website I noticed my son leaning over my shoulder drooling over a tricked out car audio system found there. When my son does this it is a good sign that they are onto something quite positive.
Today's review of the Renaissance Audio MLP-501 will not center on automobile sound systems but rather the floor standing MLP-501 stereo loudspeakers for your home, priced at $1245. They have three drivers, a 1.1-inch soft dome tweeter, a 2.1-inch soft dome midrange and finally an 8.75-inch treated paper cone woofer. You might ask why did I choose these particular models from their lineup. First you should understand that I am a fan of large loudspeakers. I have in my two channel audio system a pair of Legacy Focus 20/20 and Klipsch Klipschorn loudspeakers as well as some Polk Audio SDA-SRS loudspeakers, used for the front channels of my multi-channel home theater setup located in a dedicated home theater room. Even my center channel and two rear channels are flood standing models. The Legacy, Klipsch and Polk loudspeakers weigh in at one hundred eighty pounds each and stand quite tall. So while looking at their website and deciding to do a relatively inexpensive loudspeaker review, I knew I would be more at home with their larger entry level floor standing model instead of their bookshelf design. True I was tempted to have gone with their MLP-403.5 bookshelf model which according to Renaissance are very similar to the MLP-501 loudspeakers. Both are three way loudspeakers using identical drivers, but then one would be forced to buy their matching stands. I have no other place to put them but on the floor or in the corners on top of my Klipschorns and did not think that corner placement would make for a proper review for that loudspeaker to sound at its best.
A pair of MLP-403.5's at $1090 plus the dedicated stands for $159 brings the grand total to $1249 or four dollars more than the MLP-501's alone. Checking the manufacturers specifications on their web site I noticed the MLP-501's digging down a little deeper in the bass region while also having thirty watts more power handling capability, even though their drivers were the same. Couple this to not having to fear my wife's sisters four year old, who was staying with us, accidentally knocking the loudspeakers off the stands during the review process and I was hooked. To me they sounded like a relative bargain, both price and spec wise, as well as being placement friendly for me in my particular review environment.
Of Amplifier Power And Placement
At 25 Class A watts per channel driven into an 8 Ohm load and immediately heard the difference. Here I was able to appreciate some of the true bass capabilities of the MLP-501's, yet still felt a little something was missing. My SM-70 pros can be switched to monoblock amplifiers, and since I had two just for that purpose, I ran them as such in order to have them generate 80 Class A watts per channel at 8 Ohms. Here is where I felt the MLP-501's to be most comfortable and with enough power behind them to believe I was getting the proper performance capability. Sure you could run an even more powerful amplifier, if you so desire, but I never did feel they needed it, at least not in my room. The review room is eighteen feet eight inches long by thirteen feet wide with a cathedral ceiling that peaks in the middle to thirteen feet in height. If you had a much larger room I might then suggest a more powerful amplifier or even a move up the product line to their larger loudspeakers.
For this review I went with a setup driving the Renaissance Audio MLP-501 speakers with 80 watts and feeling quite satisfied this would allow them to be well represented. I placed them with their cabinets slightly toed in with the drivers angled towards the listener. They seemed to respond better being close to the side walls, as their bass presence increased, and I put some rather large floor standing acoustic panels about two feet behind each loudspeaker as is my custom to do so. My acoustical panels of which I use three, in varying locations depending upon speaker placement, helps tame the echo in my room brought about in part by the high ceiling and very large glass window. The distance from the front panel of each loudspeaker to the rear wall was measured at four feet. The 501s do come with eight factory supplied spikes four for each loudspeaker. You can use these spikes on a carpeted surface or with audiophile style discs (not included) for use on hardwood floors so as not to leave any marks. When breaking in the loudspeakers give them a good fifty plus hours before jumping to any judgment about their merit. When I first took them out of the box I heard a very good loudspeaker with a clear midrange response, but lacking in overall bass presentation and rather limited extension in the upper frequency range. It did nothing wrong, which was good, but was lacking in areas I hoped would improve over time. Fifty hours later all was right as my initial opinion of its lack of extension in bass and treble frequencies vanished as the Renaissance Audio 501 speakers blossomed into their full glory which I will now describe to you in the following paragraphs.
Turning to my universal Samsung CD player and the DVD Audio recording of Riding With The King featuring B.B. King and Eric Clapton [Reprise 9 47612-9] I selected the song "Three O'Clock Blues". Here the drums sounded full and slow but not overly so, rather just natural as it was intended for with a song of this tempo. The notes of the organ were quick sounding yet delicate and distinct while their guitar work displayed good decay in typical blues style. I felt the speakers added a nice small club effect and would be good placed in a mid sized or even slightly larger room rather than a very large or auditorium filling environment. Once again that effect of added height made them feel larger than they should and gave one the feeling that B.B. King was right there in front of you.
Next up was something quite different, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Requiem In D Minor K.626 Unfinished [BMG 82876 58705 2] SACD recording. Mozart died before completing this piece so others had to later finished it for us. With this CD the Renaissance Audio 501 speakers presented a very good open "hall" effect as the choir sang adding great depth to the performance. They were also were able to add a nice sense of realism to the orchestra as horn, drum and string sections seemed to rise up. It was as if music was coming up from the orchestra pit to the delight of the patrons sitting in their seats. While not reproducing music on a grand scale as my Legacy's or Klipschorn's might they did display excellent qualities considering their relatively modest pricing structure and size. Not to be one to overlook one of my all time favorite CDs, by Yo-Yo-Ma & Friends Songs Of Joy And Peace [Sony Classical 88697-24414-2] I heard great detail with the cello in the opening number of "Dona Nobis Pacem (Give Us Peace)". Midrange, midbass and highs all had very good extension here as the 501's exhibited an ability to present us with intricate details. As the bow moved across the cello, I could feel its strings as well and the inside of the cello resonating with music. With "Here Comes The Sun" my heart soared with exuberance as Yo-Yo-Ma's performance was spectacular as the loudspeakers opened up allowing not only musical instruments but also James Taylor's voice to extend well above the 501's, filling in the soundscape before me.
With Jackson Browne's Solo Acoustic Vol. 1 CD [Inside Recordings INR5205-2] I was treated to some excellent virtually solo performances with occasional accompaniment from a piano. Here on "These Days" Jackson Brown's voice filled the center stage nicely as the MLP-501 again exhibited good depth front to back with a three dimensional quality to guitar and vocals that added a wonderful "live" feeling to the song. The loudspeakers exhibited a nice intimate overall presentation to the performance. It felt as if I was sitting center stage just slightly more forward than normal although not to any exaggerated extent.
With the two CD set Body + Soul Love Serenade [Time Life R794-01 A2 33972] I found songs that extracted some pretty good bass response. On the second disc "Can You Stop The Rain" the opening bass notes can be felt deep down in your gut as it commanded authority. The loudspeakers once again exhibited a smooth, powerful upper midrange bass upon hearing Peabo Bryson sing "Can You Stop The Rain" from the same disc. His voice here was smooth and full, having a very romantic texture to it, helping the music live up to its billing as a collection of "twenty-four sensual grooves". Background singers were heard clearly placed behind Peabo Bryson, spaced apart with appropriate distance between their voices, so each could easily and distinctly be heard. Wrapping up this disc with, "Shake You Down", a selection with Gregory Abbott, which I played at high volume, the performance seemed ever so large as music expanded beyond the loudspeakers to the left and right of them as well as retaining that added headroom (height) that I mentioned previously.
Before wrapping this review up I just had to hear the sound of the Fairfield Four from the CD Standing In The Safety Zone [Warner Bros. 9 26945-2] singing "My G-d Called Me This Morning". The tenor voice of Walter Settles, as he sang lead vocal, was ever so smooth. As for the background singing which was a mixture of baritone and bass vocals the speakers got those lower notes just right. A riveting display that sounded smooth and powerful is how I would describe the 501s when companioned with the Fairfield Four. They made for quite a good combination if you ask me.
In addition, the MLP-501's midbass presence never failed to grab my attention. There were times though, with certain music, that I felt them to be a little bass shy but only in contrast to my own loudspeakers with twelve and fifteen inch woofers capable of producing thunderous bass. It was then that I reminded myself this is a loudspeaker selling for only $1245 and at that price point you can not expect to get it all. Being this is the companies lower end floor standing model, you could always t move up and audition their Prelude ($2595) or Maestro ($3600) loudspeakers to see what they have to offer. Or maybe you might throw their Phantom Active subwoofer (featuring one 12-inch aluminum die-cast subwoofer and one 15-inch passive radiator) at them and see what happens. I for one would be more than happy to have the MLP-501s in my two channel system placed in a medium sized room or maybe even used for front loudspeakers in my home theater setup. Overall a good well rounded loudspeaker that benefits from matching with other quality components.
Please take into consideration that the equipment under review is being measured in my room, with my equipment and heard through my ears. As always you should be the final judge as to what works for you in your environment and measured against what traits you value most. The following was how I rated the equipment based on a rating system that does not take in to consideration the cost of the product, until the very last question, "Value For The Money". Before that all products are rated against others in its category, regardless of financial considerations.