So picture this. Its a very hot Friday afternoon in Texas, just got off work, truck is hot inside, AC just blasting and windows are open to let the heat out. I am sitting at a light listening to The Moody Blues "Blue Guitar" at near systems limits of amplifier output. I am just into the song and when the synth drums come in just after the minute mark I start air drumming my arse off and then begin to sing as loud as I can with the lead singer Justin David Hayward (way off key of course) but not actually hear myself and then it occurred to me, my limo tint windows are down. I look to the Honda on my right and the Subaru on the left that are both filled with college students all staring at me in hysterical laughter. I roll the windows up and have a laugh at myself because its been quite some time since I have done that.
So lets go back a couple weeks when I get a message from Nick of Stereo Integrity. He remembers I am running a few SI products and asks if I would like to review the TM65 Mark IIIs. I figured why not, I was not intending on ordering a set but was curious if they could live up to their specs. Besides, I had the truck built around quick change of drivers just for reviews and have been neglecting my duties in doing as such. I asked if I would be able to purchase them if I really liked them or if I can set them on fire if I do not. He said no, I had to wait like everyone else. I decided I no longer liked Nick and the speakers would be crap.
I am kidding of course. I like to try any speaker with an open mind no matter price or brand. I was informed they would be on their way and received them a couple weeks ago.
So lets start off with the big questions. Everyone wants to know numbers. Because as we all know numbers are always numbers and will tell the tale. Dont forget though, we live in a society that teaches new math and a number can now be a banana.
The TM65III is an updated version of the couple year old TM65II. Just in case you were wondering what that extra "I" was for. It is a shallow mount 6.5" mid-bass driver that looks like its had a mild facelift over the previous version but the numbers tell a different story.
Re 3.38 ohms
Fs 98 Hz
Le 0.11 mH
Sd 139.8 cm^2
Vas 3.60 L
Mms 19.7 g
Sensitivity (2.83v/1m) 90.67 db
Xmax 9 mm
Xmech 13 mm
It is a very shallow driver with only a 2 3/8" mounting depth. They are rated to handle 120 wrms and with a frequency range of 45-10,000hz.
Which gives them a graph like this:
I have stared at the graph quite a bit wondering if this is a driver that can actually play that entire range. Seemed odd that a 6.5" could reach so high as well as dig so low. I must be reading it wrong.
I unpack the drivers that come in the standard SI way of a box in a box in a box and a warning not to destroy them or Chuck Norris will use his beard fist to beat you up.
Very nice looking drivers. From the front they look totally different from the flat face cone of the Mark IIs. The new carbon fiber cone looks quite high tech and very clean. No huge stick on logo on the front, just a clean looking carbon cone with a carbon cap. I am already a fan as I liked the clean look of the previous version.
I flip the driver over and realize its pretty much identical to the Mark IIs. Same basket, same big slug of a Neo magnet, same terminals and just a very familiar looking driver as I am currently running the Mark IIs.
As a comparison the MKII is on the left and MKIII on right:
So I was expecting them to sound just like the Mark IIs. I will soon learn that they are quite a different animal.
I have had the great fortune of being able to play with some serious drivers from Focal, AD, Sinfoni, Illusion, Hertz,PhD, JL and many others and as such I have enjoyed many many hours in my vehicle listening to my favorite well known songs. Owning and reviewing so many $1000-$7000 excellent sounding front stages it would seem odd that what I left in the truck was some sub $500 components from a small company made by one guy that most people dont even know exists. For nearly 2 years now I have kept Stereo Integrity TM65MKIIs with the SI M25 tweeters and SI BM MKIV sub-woofers. The reason being is I am a big fan of the XBL^2 motor design. Soft or loud its ability to maintain cone control has always impressed me. The sound signature is (in my opinion) one of the best balances of incredible accuracy and power. They always do what I ask of them without complaint.
So I started off by removing the Mark IIs and replacing them with the Mark IIIs and made sure to still use the included hardware as to make sure I did not damage the surround.
And my real world test rig is a 2009 GMC Denali using full SDS dampening materials. The doors, floor and firewall all have CLD tiles and then covered in MLV which is then covered by the factory sound deadening. I also use Fast Rings just to help eliminate any standing waves between the door card and mounting ring which is minimal. Truck is very quiet and as "dead" as you could hope to get a largish truck cab.
Source, DSP and amplification consist of an Alpine X009GM source unit with on board DSP (not as fancy as a Helix but still very useful) and the amplifiers are Arc Audio XDi with the front being the 600.4 and am 1100.1 for the sub-woofers. Although I did also wire in my Sinfoni Prestigio to the TM65s just to see if it was any different than the class D Arc. Spoiler alert, it is so the Arcs are on their way out.
I gave the TMs just over 30 hours of break in before really sitting down for a few days of critical listening by just playing various pop, rock and classical songs with some hip-hop and rap just while taking some road trips. In this break-in period I could already tell these drivers are an improvement on the previous design. They still had that impressive mid-bass kick and clarity but the 900+hz range was noticeably stronger and clearer. They also seem to have a tad more kick below 100hz which caused me to run different crossover points vs the old version. I settled on a hp @ 63hz with a 12db slope and low pass at 2600hz also with a 12 db slope. I should note I also allowed them to run without a low pass for a bit and had to attenuate the tweeter channels a full 6db because these drivers really can reach some seriously impressive highs. I even tried them with the tweeters off and found the system still had some snap in it.
So in the following songs I listened to them with the sub-woofers off and then again with them on listening for all the subtle ques I know are there but sometimes get lost. I did this using the Sinfoni amplifier as I wanted the best signal I could give them and did not want to risk the Arc holding them back at all. The Arc is a wonderful amplifier but the Sinfoni just sounds better. Before we continue, yes I said an amp sounds better. Please set that aside and save the "All amps sound the same!" argument for your blog. We are here to focus on my impressions of just the Mark III drivers.
Here we go! I parked in the shade, ran the fan at its lowest speed and spent hours listening to some of my all time favorites. A lot I grew up with. All I have listened to on my Klipsch Horns with a Velodyne sub and old Mcintosh amp at home. Some songs on far superior speakers so I am very familiar with.
Song 1: The Moody Blues - I know You're Out There Somewhere. Its off one of their last albums so it uses much more digital instruments like drum machines and synthesizers but there are many nuances in this song.
At 2:38 the song slows down for a semi drum solo with various background noises and a cornet (synthesized) that dances between the left and right channels. The background guitar tends to get lost in all the information. Was not the case with these speakers. The guitar was well defined and could even pick up the sound of the pick striking the strings. The kick drum is rapid and defined with an impressive...well kick. At 3:45 there is a fast attack digital drum that also has a background drum track that tends to not be as defined as the main drums in most cases but here I was very impressed that they stayed very tight.
Next, Joe Satriani - Always With You. Great track to just listen to him jam out on the guitar. There is a strong bass line to accompany it so I am really looking for the speaker to keep that guitar detailed while also giving you that nice deep bass line. I was not disappointed. I really cranked this one up several times and the definition and dynamics of his guitar playing at the 1:53 mark were razor sharp while also keeping that bass line right up front at eye level.
That prompted me to play Nils Lofgrens "Keith Don't Go", the acoustic live version. When he hits the guitar solo at 2:48 every strum, every slide of his hands were spot on. At 3:20 he really is just plucking at that guitar and its like he is sitting right in front of you. By the 4:40 mark you swear you are right there in the audience and its reinforced at 4:56 when the crowd cheers I actually got goose bumps. It was a sublime sound throughout and I found myself falling hard for these speakers.
Next up was Billy Idols "Prodical Blues". With this song I just sat back with my eyes closed and as Billy starts to sing you can virtually hear that sneer on his face. Very smooth song and was one of the most enjoyable times listening to it and then at the 1:18 mark the drummer really smacks the skins and the TMs maintain perfect composure. Well sound wise anyway. They feel more like a hooligan that's trying to kick your shin. They are moving so much air that you are kinda waiting for them to bottom out but instead they just keep on kicking you while singing to you.
The next song while a bit over mastered is still one of my favorites. Its by Hurt and called "Dreams Away". Lead singer J. Loren Wince voice is very strong and in this track he he goes between soft and hard and can really hold on to some notes. This whole song is an overload of guitars and drums being thrown at you with points of simplicity. The problem I have seen with some speakers is in order to properly enjoy the softer spots of this track that the stereo is too loud in the busy parts of the song. Some detail is lost, a little smeared if you will. Was a non issue with these drivers. While not the best as a test or demo song it is one that made me smile and really enjoy the experience.
Next I decided to get a bit serious and played "The Planets: Jupiter" I honestly dont know which orchestra it is. I got it from an old demo disc and know I cant find the exact one on Youtube so I am suspecting London Symphony orchestra. 22 seconds in, the French horns are very very realistic. At 40 seconds the flutes sound just as delicate as they should. I think I am picking up Piccolos as well and then at 48 seconds the horn section comes in with a perfect balance and very spot on tonality wise. At 1:28 the lower octaves of the cello do seem a bit strange, almost stressed but not displeasing. Its odd because at 2 minutes the cello no longer sounds strained but more like the cellist is in the passenger seat. At 6:25 the xylophone really sounds sweet and as the instruments all come in its just a surreal experience and you are left feeling like you may have just gotten out of the concert itself.
While I have notes on many more songs I dont feel I need to explain them all. These speakers are the real deal. But I will talk about one last one.
Pete Townsend - "Eminence Front" Its a song I really enjoy but usually only listen to it at home for three reasons. I like it really loud, this causes issues in most automotive drivers. The opening digital drum line sounds a bit hollow, just enough to bug me. Also Petes voice coming in at 1:58 tends to be nasaly. I dont have this issue on a good home system but its always been my Achilles heal in the car audio world. There are maybe 4 automotive speakers I have listened to that reproduce this song right. AD Vipera in a 3 way setup with the neo M35s and T1Fs being one of the best and Illusion C6s being about the worst.(Illusion owners, I am just talking about this one song so turn off the caps lock. Illusions sound great on all other music....when they work) My TM65IIs were kinda in the middle and had a little issue with it but I liked them for everything else so I just didnt listen to that one song in the truck. The TM65III on the other hand has these issues well in control. The opening bass line is no longer hollow and his voice does not have that nasal strain at the high levels I like to listen to this song at. I listen to it at a level that if I ticked off my wife I can not hear her yelling at me from the passenger seat.
All in all I really really enjoyed my time with these drivers. I am actually depressed I have to pull them out and send them off for further review. I want to keep them in the truck, they are that good. Alas I have to pay and wait for them like everyone else but that gives me something to look forward to in a month or so.
Not only do these speakers sound wonderful but they are capable of output that is staggering while maintaing composure. One thing that really amazes me the most is how much speaker you get for $320 ($280 pre order). These prove you dont have to spend $1000+ to get superb detail, excellent low end response and a mid-range that really makes you think you are running a 3-way setup. I give these two thumbs up. These are something I am ordering for myself and doing it guilt free because I have spent more on taking my wife to dinner.
For those of you that just scrolled to the bottom.....
Pros: Solid mid-bass, clean mid-range, very shallow mount, detailed at all volume levels and under $300! (if you pre order)
Cons: Well........ hmmm........ you cant have them for a couple months? I am sorry, I really cant think of anything to complain about or anything I wanted them to do better.