TURBOSOUND MILAN M15
Everything designed in Milan seems to boast fantastic style credentials these days… even PAs.
Text: Mark Woods
UK audio company Turbosound is no slouch when it comes to quality sound reinforcement. It’s been manufacturing high quality large-scale touring PA systems since the 1980s. When I was recently asked by AT to investigate the new Milan M15 – Turbosound’s first foray into the crocodile infested waters of the portable powered speaker market – my hope was that the company might bring some big-show expertise to the small-show market. Having spent quite some time now with a pair of these M15s I’m happy to report that my confidence was justified. The Milan M15s sound remarkable. What I didn’t expect, however, was that they’d offer so much in the way of visual style – being designed in Milan, I suppose I should have known. Named after the Italian city famous for its fashion and classic architecture, the Milan M15 is a real good looker.
CUT OF THE JIB
Lots of contemporary powered speakers have annoying angles and ugly horns – I don’t like them. Others are more discreet with hidden components and simple straight lines – I normally prefer these. The Milan M15 meanwhile seems to hail from neither of these camps. Visually the speaker combines a balanced mix of both functional and decorative elements to create a look that is both serious and attractive. The dark blue/grey trapezoid cabinet is made from gas-injected rigidised polypropylene that feels harder and looks better than the regular polypropylene designs common amongst rival companies. The front section of the rounded sides has moulded ribbing running the full height of the cabinet. Behind that, on both sides, are thick silver aluminium strips with recesses in the centre for the handles. The rounded perforated steel grille itself is grey and relatively transparent, meaning that you can clearly see the components beneath, the most obvious of which is the custom-made reflex-loaded 15-inch neodymium woofer. This looks normal enough but not so the ports above it. These are distinctively shaped and the converging elliptical wave-guide on the one-inch high-frequency compression driver is a thing of some beauty. The Turbosound name and logo in relief on the sleek silver handle on the top of the cabinet and the Turbosound badge at the bottom of the grille provides the introductory credentials.
INJECTING NEW LIFE INTO LIVE SOUND
Designed to maximise the low-frequency response, the 60-litre trapezoidal cabinet is considerably larger than it needs to be to fit the enclosed components. The gas-injected manufacturing technique forces gas into the moulding so the cabinet can be quite large whilst remaining very strong. The result is a cabinet that feels solid and resonance-free without being too heavy to lift. Towards the rear of this enclosure are two flat sections designed for laying the cabinet on the floor at the standard 43º angle for floor monitor duties, with the horn able to be positioned either on the left or the right side. The top and bottom of the cabinet also feature a handy rubberised-strip foot to protect the cabinet and provide stability when the speakers are placed on flat surfaces. The bottom of the cabinet has two holes for pole mounting, either vertically or angled down at a fairly steep 12.5 degrees.
The only areas where style may have taken precedence over function are the side handles. Located in the centre of the aluminium strips on either side of the cabinet they look sleek and integrated but possess sharp plastic edges where the ends of the handles meet the body of the cabinet. I still haven’t been able to use them without having to allow for these edges digging into my hands. If you grip the handles tightly and right in the centre it’s possible to lift them and remain pain free but if they slip down through your hands… ouch. That’s my only complaint although it’s by no means a deal breaker.
The Milan M15s are not that heavy but they’re certainly bulky, and moving them requires more thought than normal. On the ground the easiest way to move them short distances is to pick them up using the handle on the top and sort of shuffle them along against your leg. To get them in and out of the back seat of a car I got used to carrying them with one hand in the top handle and the other in the pole-hole on the bottom. It’s possible to lift them onto stands on your own but at 22kgs it’s easier with two people. For more permanent installations, M10 rigging points are located on the top and bottom of the cabinet for vertical or horizontal rigging and an optional pole bracket enables adjustable wall mounting.
Control and connection options are conveniently located at the top of the recessed rear panel, and while not as comprehensive as some brands, all the essentials are laid out in a simple and spacious manner. There are two combo balanced XLR/Jack inputs with level knobs and one XLR output/link socket. Bass and treble EQ knobs provide shelving cut or boost at 200Hz and 4kHz respectively. There’s a switch to select between ‘Bass Mode A’ (flat) or ‘B’ (bass cut) and LED lights indicate power on, –6dB and limit. Under both input sockets there’s a raised switch to select mic or line level. As is the case with all powered speakers that possess this facility, these switches are dynamite if you accidentally go from ‘line’ to ‘mic’ while the speaker is on. While they’re clearly labeled on the M15 it’s often dark behind speakers and it would be fairly easy to knock one while feeling for the volume knob for instance. Sunken or highly resistant switches would reduce the chance of getting an instant earful of nearly 30dB of extra gain.
Firing up the Milan M15s as ‘alternate’ monitors in my control room created two initial impressions. Firstly, they go low. The frequency response is quoted at –3dB at 36Hz and –10dB at a floor-rattling 23Hz, and even though they’re quite a big box, there was more (and deeper) bass than I’d anticipated there would be. Secondly, they sound great. I often try powered speakers in the control room and typically get sick of them within minutes, but the Milan 15s proved to be handy alternate speakers. They have a distinctive voicing that’s full in the lows and low-mids, warm across the high-mids, and open, revealing and pleasantly detailed in the highs. I was also very pleased to see that Turbosound had provided a frequency response graph with the speakers – something most other companies are loath to do. The frequency response of most audio gear is quite flat, but not speakers. I suspect many speaker manufacturers deliberately avoid response graphs for fear of the inaccuracies they may reveal. However, the Milan M15 graph is, for a speaker at least, quite flat. They’re about 6dB up at 100Hz but from 200 – 10kHz they’re within a few dB of flat with the lowest point centered around the potentially nasty 3kHz.
Cranking them up outdoors with a microphone reinforced the perception that they’ve been tuned with almost an anti-presence peak with normal vocal mics (SM58 for instance) sounding relatively uncoloured between 3 – 5kHz. If the level keeps getting raised they start to get edgy around 1.6kHz but the overall voicing and stability are very good. The proximity effect generated by using cardioid mics up close did cause some muddiness but this could be easily controlled with the bass EQ knob. High-level music playback seemed effortless and these would make great ‘disco’ speakers. The strong bottom end is full and thick, the mids resist harshness and the horn is as smooth and detailed as I’ve heard from this type of powered speaker. The coverage pattern is conservatively quoted at 90º (H) x 60º (V) but in the field remains useful until well off to the side of the cabinet, whereupon most of the body of the horn is attenuated but the bass and some of the very high frequencies remain audible.
The M15s are rated at 450 watts continuous at 8Ω and differ from most of their competitors in that they have only one amp in each cabinet. This means the horn is passively crossed over and while the benefits of actively crossed systems have been widely trumpeted, Turbosound has instead gone with simplicity and efficiency. Because the drivers are physically aligned there is no need for any delay in the phase-coherent passive crossover. Cost is also minimised by using only one amp and component protection is provided by on-board 48k DSP limiting and dynamic EQ.
Time for some live shows. First off was Shane Howard and band at the Theatre Royal in Castlemaine, where I set the Milan M15s on stage under the centre mic position. As expected all you have to do is plug them into a send and apply volume. Part of me misses the process of EQ’ing the foldback but what’s the point of plug-and-play powered speakers if you need outboard EQ? Anyway, the M15s sounded terrific with the voicing well suited to standard live vocal mics. With the Bass Mode set to ‘A’ they were somewhat boomy for vocals right on the mic but the ‘B’ setting sorted that out in quick time. Nothing else required. The vocal range was very natural and distinctly un-harsh while the detailed high end was great on Shane’s D.I.’d acoustic guitar.
After I’d set the foldback I wandered out to the front of house, turned around and couldn’t help but notice the silver stripes. When used vertically the stripes are towards the rear of the cabinet and out of sight, but on stage and horizontally aligned, the near stripe is clearly visible and puts on its own visual show as it catches the stage lights. The speakers also look big on stage – they may not do so on particularly large stages but on your average small to mid-sized stage they take up their fair share of room. To be positive they’re very stable and more the like foldback of years past. It’s even possible to sit on them – as Shane did during one part of his show – but between the size of the cabinet and the flashy stripes it must be said; these do not make discreet wedges.
Next was a beautiful show in a small wooden hall out the back of the Guildford Hotel. The bluegrass band, Midnight From Memphis, was, despite the name, all the way from Nashville, Tennessee and they were clearly enjoying the opportunity to play in what was, to them, an ‘exotic’ location. When a dog wandered on stage during a song I knew they would remember the valley people of Guildford on their return home, but I digress…
Using a pair of powered speakers and a condenser mic in a hall is not as easy as it may seem and in this configuration gain before feedback will always be tested. The Guildford Hall only holds around 100 people so I used the Milan M15s as front-of-house speakers on stands and the band performed around a single condenser microphone… and for 45 minutes everything seemed right with the world. The Milan M15s had a transparent quality that seemed to blend into the room sound, keeping everything clear and warm. They were reluctant to feed back and there was enough deep bass to fill the bottom end of the admittedly small room – most powered speakers do not have enough useable bass. Needless to say I was very impressed. I even received a positive reaction from the audience… which doesn’t happen that often.
The other instructive gig was a rock ‘n’ roll band at the Coburg Town Hall in Melbourne. Not my normal sort of show but I’d recently recorded an album by the band, Sweetrock, and they asked me to do this show as they’d previously had trouble with the sound at this venue, mostly because their powered speaker system hadn’t cut it. The Coburg Town Hall is big and boomy; one of those rooms where speech is hard to understand from more than three metres away. The Milan M15s ended up being employed as the whole front of house system for a band that features six vocals, drums, bass and two guitars. Despite being way underpowered by any normal standard the Milan M15s did surprisingly well. They were up full, the limit lights were flashing on peaks, but the vocals were clear and quite meaty, and there was a fair amount of drums and band in there as well. I could hear the limiting but it was subtle and the speakers remained distortion free. These are the only powered boxes I recall using where I’ve been able to get the limit light to come on before unpleasant distortion. Usually they start to sound bad well before the limiting kicks in, and even up full you can stand quite close to the Milans without having your ears assaulted by harshness.
This is new territory for Turbosound and success will ensure the name is known by a much wider range of potential customers than its touring systems, corporate AV or installation speakers. The portable powered speaker market is already overcrowded in many respects, but there’s still opportunity for new products that offer something new or better sounding. The Milan M15s are competitively priced in the middle of the range and should appeal to a wide range of acts, hire companies and DJs with their distinctive sound, looks and pedigree. The M15 is the first product in Turbosound’s Milan range and is soon to be joined by the matching M18 sub, with rumours of a smaller version sometime in the future. I want a pair.