Being in the Hifi business I have the opportunity to play with many products of various performance and price. It is just natural to play with the more expensive gear because that is where the excitement lies! But life is about balance, we are all different and different things are important to us. We all started somewhere at someplace in life. I did too.
I still remember my first Hifi set I bought. I remember how I did my research, how I saved up and then finally had to borrow a few $ from my bank before I could buy my dream system. I still remember how excited I was, that new smell right out of the box. I felt the weight, looked at the finish, set it up and listened to it for the first time. It SOUNDED MUCH BETTER than in the shop! Maybe it was my imagination? Who cares, it was mine! I was hooked.
However it did not take a long time before the ‘upgrade bug’ got hold of me. I still remember that adrenaline rush to search and save up for the new amp, then new speakers and so on… About 10 years later I sold my last component of my first Hifi set, a Technics SL-1200 turntable. I replaced it with a Technics SL-1100, the father of them all, which I still have today.
Why this story? Because I came across a set of speakers that are targeted for the first time buyer, but unlike the cheap plastic rubbish that are now dished up for the young, this is something special, something I would have been proud to own as a first time buyer. So if you are on a budget (or perhaps even if you’re not) this is for you. Why? Because not every Tom, Dick and Harry will have them and you will not get them at the stores that sell the plastic models. The really good news is that you will not pay more, in fact you will pay less for a far better product, that will sound better and will last longer!
When I look at a new audio product to buy I look at these four L’s in this order: LOOKS, LABEL (Brand), LIST price (RRP) and if a product ticks these 3 L’s then I will finally LISTEN to it. I will only consider buying a product if it tics all four L’s. The new Mordaunt Short Carnival speakers are such products. I was stunned when I first lay my eyes, hands and ears onto them, how is this possible for this kind of money? Let’s look at how these new speakers fit the 4 x L criteria.
- Modern, stylish slim-line MDF cabinets – no chip board here
- Attractive ‘wood look’ finish – no cheap, shiny plastic here.
- Woven composite ‘Kevlar type’ driver cones with proper metal phase plugs – no plastic dummy plugs here
- Proper rubber surrounds for durability – not cheap foam that perishes
The Carnival 6 and 8 floorstanders come with outrigger feet and spikes to stabilize them. They even have a separate mass loading compartment at the bottom that you can fill with sand to anchor them to your floor to make their bass even more solid and to reduced cabinet vibration even further. Both the floorstanders and the Carnival 2 book shelf can be bi-wired as well! The bass reflex ports are on the front allowing closer placement to the back wall without the dreaded bass drone of rear ported products. All these features are trademarks of high end speakers and it is a very nice touch of Mordaunt Short to add them to the Carnival range at this price point.
The black finish looks like real wood, its a black ash, not a black satin finish.
The three ‘show models’ in the range to me is the tiny Carnival 1, the ultra slim-line small Carnival 6 floor-stander and the Carnival 7 sub.
The Carnival 1 is a tiny speaker, about the size of your hand, but to give them heart Mordaunt Short made them sealed units, thus no bass reflex port that can make that terrible port noise on small speakers. You can also mount them directly against the wall (they come with small brackets fitted). The Carnival 1’s are far better looking in their wood look finish than their mass market plastic speaker counterparts. More importantly, they sound like a proper speaker not like a transistor radio speaker, but they do need to be paired with a subwoofer to reach the lower notes.
The Carnival 6 is to me the star in the range. It ticks all the right boxes. It’s a super slim line model, only 910 mm high with its spikes fitted. They have a soft dome tweeter and two bass/mid range drivers. The grill only covers the drivers on the cabinet and leaves enough wood to enhance their aesthetic appeal.
The Carnival 7 sub is next on the list. This must be one of the most elegant subs I have seen, it’s small, less than a 12″ cube but with a performance that will stun you. The four outrigger feet and spikes are a further nice touch to add to their looks. So this new Carnival range definitely ticks the LOOK box with great WAF (Wife Acceptance factor).
The Brand Mordaunt Short is one of the great success stories of UK speaker manufacturers. They have a great pedigree that stood the test of time for more than 40 years and has won many awards for their speakers. Unlike most other British speakers companies like Wharfedale, Kef, Mission, Quad etc that have sold to Chinese companies, Mordaunt Short are still a UK company with huge research and design facilities in the UK. Every component in every speaker, even their drivers are all in-house propriety designs. They produce some of the most advance drivers you can find today holding various patent rights on speaker designs and drivers that span over many years. So you can tick the LABEL box as well.
When I first heard the RRP of these speakers I thought it was per speaker not per pair! The RRP in NZ $ range from only $249 pr to $1099 pr for the most expensive Carnival 8′s, and when compared to overseas pricing, NZ is one of the cheapest places to get these incredible speakers.
How they can do all this for so little money is beyond me? The only thing I can think of is that Mordaunt Short realised that they had to be better than the onslaught from the east. They have done it and we benefit from that… so you can definitely tick the PRICE box!
As pointed out before one of the stars for me in this line up is the Carnival 6 floorstanders. They must be the best value for money floor-standers available in NZ to-date. Their sound is crystal clear, with a rich midrange and the bass is tight and fast, lacking only the deep bass notes which is in any case you can leave for a sub. The sound is slightly on the bright side of neutral but that is best for Home Theatre in any case. So this is an ideal speaker if your choice is 60% movies and 40% music.
When compared to normal floor-standing speakers the Carnival 6 looks very slim-lined and aesthetically pleasing see picture comparing it to the Mordaunt Short Aviano 6.
If you want to go for 70% music then I would go for its big brother the Carnival 8. This is a lot of speaker for the money and makes for some serious competition for floorstanders under the $1500 mark. Delivering big sound and solid bass and a rich full bodied midrange, while the treble is slightly toned down compared to its smaller brother, the Carnival 6 however this makes the Carnival 8 a more listenable music speaker that you can turn up quite loud before the treble becomes too prominent.
Of the two bookshelf models the Carnival 1 is definitely the looker. This is one of the most beautiful and striking looking micro speakers I have seen. It’s very well built with a lot of weight showing no skimping on cheap magnets here and yes the phase plug is real not a fake one and the plug itself is metal not plastic! It’s a sealed enclosure and there in lies a small problem… They are not as efficient as the others in the range and thus needs more power to drive than their bigger brothers. Strange but true (see our blog on efficiency). However they have the advantage that you can hang them directly on the wall with none of the problems you will have with speakers with bass reflex ports.
I think that was Mordaunt short’s idea with this model: to use them in movie 5.1 setup that you can directly hang on the walls (they come with small wall brackets already fitted). Thus when you combining them with the dedicated Carnival 5 centre and the Carnival 7 sub you will get an entry level, all wood look, 5.1 movie set that can take on more expensive sets at a fraction of the cost. They are crisp and clear sounding with a clear midrange so you will hear every detail, backed up by a tight and punchy sub.
The much larger Carnival 2’s are definitely the better sounding model of the two bookshelf models. They have the same clarity as the Carnival 6’s but the midrange is where they really shine. To me delicate vocals sound the best on the Carnival 2 speakers. So if that is your preferred music taste go for them and just add the Carnival 7 or 9 sub to give you that extra bit of bass they lack. This is also the speakers that Sam Telling of Stereophile raved about. I cannot say it better than the well respected Sam Telling so I rather quote him:
Stereophile: Mordaunt-Short Carnival 2 loudspeaker By Sam Tellig, August 2009.
The Carnival 2s imaged like crazy. Their soundstage was deep and wide, the images solid and stable. What’s wrong with these $250 sneakers-er, speakers? Nothing. Buy a pair just for fun.
The treble was refined and surprisingly sweet. Or not surprisingly: the soft-dome tweeter is made of fabric.
I didn’t catch a case of metal-dome tweeteritis, the way I do with so many cheap and less cheerful speakers.
So yes, this is probably one of the BEST VALUE for MONEY BOOKSHELF speakers you can buy.
The Carnival 3 dipole rears can be placed on stands but its best to hang them on the side walls. As all the dedicated movie fans will know dipole rears are by far the best as they disperse the sound around you, rather than directing it straight at you. The Carnival 3’s are probably the cheapest dipole rears you can buy in NZ. Not only that, they have each 4 drivers (two tweeters and two mids – most others only have one tweeter). Even if you already have other speakers and looking for dipole rears the Carnival 3 are so cheap its worth just to buy a set for your HT room regardless, you will then experience how real ‘surround sound’ can be.
That leaves us with the Carnival 9 sub. I specifically left this for last because this is something special… for $699. Yes that is right, only $699! There is not a sub that I have ever heard at this price that can even compete with this guy! It’s not small at just under 15″ cubed with a 10″ driver with solid big rubber surrounds. This sub has all the right virtues of a great sub for movies (and for music if you get the settings and position in your room right). For this money you could buy two, one for the front corner and one for the rear corner and I doubt if you will ever want to upgrade your subs. The outrigger feet and spikes add a touch of class to this magnificent sub nothing can come close at this price!
So we you can definitely tick the LISTEN box on all the Carnival series as well.
So which model is right for you?
From my experience with this exceptional value for money speaker range this is my recommendations:
Carnival 1 Package: 4 x Carnival 1 + Carnival 5 center + Carnival 7 sub
For rooms less than 30 sqm and importance HT 75% and music 25%
If you want a minimalist life style set and your preference is movies then I cannot think of any speaker set available in NZ for this type of money that can beat the Carnival 1 5.1 set 1. If you can spend the extra $200, go for the Carnival sub 9 it is well worth the extra especially for a bigger room..
Carnival 2 Package: 2 x Carnival 2 + 2 x Carnival 3 + Carnival 5 cen + Carnival 7 sub
For rooms less than 30sqm and importance HT 55% and music 45%
If your room is less than 30sqm and music is more important than movies go for the Carnival 2 as front speakers, they excel at vocal music. You can then add the package later if you want to expand into movies as well. Again if you can afford an extra $200 go for the Carnival 9 sub and this system will fill rooms up to 50sqm.
Carnival 6 Package: 2 x Carnival 6 + 2 x Carnival 3 + Carnival 5 cen + Carnival 7 sub
For rooms less than 50 sqm and importance HT 50% and music 50%
If music and movies are equally important to you but you cannot afford a whole 5.1 package now go for the Carnival 6 and add the rest later as we recommend in set 6. The Carnival 6 speakers excel on fine delicate and acoustic type of music, like guitar and Jazz. If you can stretch an extra $200 we definitely recommend the Carnival 9 sub. This is also important if your room is bigger than 50sqm
Carnival 8 Package: 2 x Carnival 8 + 2 x Carnival 3 + Carnival 5 cen + Carnival 9 sub
For rooms more than 30sqm and importance HT 45% music 55%
If music is more important to you than movies and you just want a pair of front speakers then the Carnival 8 is the answer. They are good for all types of music but excel on modern music. If you later want to expand into movies then we recommend the Carnival 8 package. In terms of subs, you need the bigger Carnival 9 with these speakers.
To sum up
As you by now probably gathered our favourites is the Carnival 6 floorstanders, Carnival 2 bookshelf speakers and the Carnival 9 sub. They are all exceptional value for money. However all of the new Mordaunt Short Carnival range speakers have a place and it all depends on your room and you preferred music and/ or movie taste. One thing is for sure… we have never seen a value for money speaker range like this in NZ to date.