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The upper ambience speakers could not be installed in the ceiling due to air ducts. I made another design from a 30cm round bamboo cutting board cut out as front baffle and a 10" hanging basket as enclosure. After installing the speaker the remaining space in the basket was too shallow to accommodate the 4½" resonance port. I added a small plastic bowl of the same white plastic material as extension and a 2" PVC plumbing pipe coupler to lock the port in position from the inside. I tested the new design on MYOSS stands with my Symphonic Line system. The polarity tester confirmed that once again there was sound radiation around the basket. Above all, this pair sounded best with uncompromising bass response. Was it the Symphonic Line amp? I moved the pair to another room and used a 1970’s Beomaster 6000 quadraphonic receiver of 40wpc to drive them. Oh yes, they were good beyond doubt.

After mounting them onto the ceiling with Ikea Ekby Stødis shelf brackets, it became evident that the front pair on the floor could use some bass reinforcement. To round out, I called in the paired JL 10" subwoofers, my other DIY project I had finished earlier. Here’s my complete equipment list. Note that the first three involve tube amps:

Digital source: Oppo BDP-95 / Marantz SA-8260
Front L/R main: KingRex Preference + JohnBlue TL-66 + Polk MC60
Front L/R height: Dared MC-7P + KingRex QS-1 + Polk MC60
Center pair: Dared VP-16 + MC60
Surround L/R: KingRex T20U + MC60
Front L/R subwoofers: Audio Zone Pre-T1 + NuForce Reference 9 SE V2 + JL10WX4
LFE subwoofers: Yamaha YST-SW80
(Optional) Front L/R detailing: Audio Zone Pre-T1 + Thorens-Restek MMA-5 + Fostex FE126En
(Optional) Surround L/R back: KingRex T20U + Mission m7c1i

As you can imagine, eight pairs of speakers can really fill up a room as small as 15’ x 13.5’, sonically more than physically since the Polk and Fostex are quite compact. Two pairs of front-firing Polk MC60 form an isosceles trapezoid soundscape covering front left and front right channels. A third pair of MC60 with upfiring woofers hang in the middle as center channel. Occasionally I would add one more front L/R pair and Fostex 4" widebander when I craved more detail and textural articulation. The Oppo BDP-95 has three sets of front L/R outputs (XLR/2-channel front, RCA/multi-channel, front RCA) that suit my requirements.

The Marantz SA-8260 needs help from Y splitters. The paired JL passive subwoofers also take front L/R signals while the LFE (subwoofer) signals from the Oppo and Marantz players are fed to the paired Yamaha active subs through Y splitters. Of course the surround back speakers are only required during 7.1 Blu-Ray playback. Having them on top of the bookshelf does give the sonic illusion that they are much further back. As I said, the up-firing MC60 are born surround channels and they are far better than the Loth-X BS1 in such a small room in close proximity to my listening position. 

Involving and engaging are the operative words for this setup. It transforms a small room into a big hall. The trapezoid array of the four main speakers projects beyond the limitation of the walls. It makes the MC60s sound like—no, better than—6’ towers because the soundscape they paint is not only tall but wide and spacious. That has something to do with the diagonal setup I’m sure [below]. Even for stereo playback I run all the front speakers plus the center pairs of MC60 switched to front L/R (the Dared VP-16 has three inputs). That makes a total of ten speakers. I’ve never had music so grand yet so non-congested, so un-audiophiliac yet so close to live. The amps might look like a hodgepodge but the sound is coherent and harmonious. The front L/R pairs all have some kind of valve bloom. That just proved how I don’t need expensive multi-channel amps. And I won’t need those anyway because this way I can trim the volume of each pair to fulfil their roles. Consider the following as a rough guideline to how I balance the volume. I don’t think multi-channel amps could give me this much freedom.

Front L/R main: 100%
Front L/R height: 50 ~ 60%
Front L/R detailing: 40 ~ 50%
Front center: 70% (reduced to 40% when switched to front L/R)
Surround L/R: 20 ~ 30%
Surround L/R back: 20 ~ 30%

There’s something extraordinary and unexplainable about this multi-speaker setup. It breaks all the rules of speaker design and room acoustics. The arrangement is not disciplined like a D’Appolito array or line array. The randomly spaced configuration is more radical than Avantgarde’s Trio Classico. And each constituent speaker covers the full bandwidth, stretching out a unified sound canvas. Granted, unified might not be entirely accurate because the speakers are placed at different distances and therefore not time-aligned. Even the MC60’s tweeter and woofer are not time-aligned in the first place. But when you think of the orchestra in a live concert, do you ever worry about time-aligning 40 violins? Likewise in a recording session. The sound waves from 40 violins won’t reach the microphone at the same millisecond. That makes me think that instead of optimizing room acoustics to make music sound hifi, perhaps we could recreate concert hall ambience by diffusing point-source images with more speakers and let 40 violins sound like 40 violins once more. Why limit ourselves to only two speakers?

This is not to say that I prefer music to sound like a muddle. In fact instrumental placements are still vividly portrayed. Instead of each group being carved out like flat panels, they simply are more like full spherical bodies that naturally blend into each another. The solo piano or violin in a concerto, the vocalists in an opera are still discernibly clear and three-dimensional. They just interact, involve and infuse with the entire musical event in a more coherent way. To verify this, I had Rodrigo’s Concierto Andaluz for Four Guitars and Orchestra on Mercury’s 3-channel SACD. It’s the most convincing musical display of four guitarists and orchestra I’ve ever witnessed. Even instrumental solos sound voluptuous with more air and fluidity around it. Pop in Gergely Bogányi or Angela Hewitt’s Chopin Nocturnes and the Fazioli piano couldn’t be more enchanting.

I could have ended there but curiosity drove me to take my two floorstanding models to challenge the Apogee Stage. I wanted to hear how they’d fare in a big room. With both models driven simultaneously by NuForce P9 and two pairs of NuForce Reference 9 V2, width and depth opened up and the speakers disappeared. The Apogee Stage is invisible and more transparent but couldn’t match this breadth. The Polks needed more help from the paired Infinity subs which the Apogees sometimes could do without.

The Apogee Stage was more focused and layered like a perspective drawing with one clear vanishing point which instruments or instrumental groups relate to. The Polks were like multi-perspective panoramas with no vanishing point. Although more spaced out, the musical context was collaborative and well coordinated. If better focusing was preferred, it could be achieved by large toe-in of the front-firing model (aiming at the listening position) and lowering the upfiring model to 33" height and tilting the aimable tweeters - or better still, standing them up to front fire. Having a separate preamp to trim the volume of the upfiring model would give more control.

Turning off one pair of NuForce Reference 9 with only the front-firing model working aided by the Infinity subs, I was amazed that they could still hold down the fort by providing enough sound pressure to satisfy my favorite Rachmaninov piano concertos, Sibelius violin concerto and Dvořák symphonies. With lesser toe in, the soundstage projected away from and behind the speakers. I would say that it had the same ambience and about 80% of the imaging clarity of the Apogee.

Quick summary and tips
  • The Polk Audio MC60 is a fantastic product that changed my view of in-ceiling speakers. They are not just great for home theater.
  • Multiple speakers beyond two enhance ambience. Adding auxiliary speakers could be the better alternative to room tuning devices. Front-height speakers work like magic.
  • If you cannot install them into the ceiling, build simple enclosures and mount them to fire up.
  • Be inventive with your choice of enclosure to get that quasi omni radiation.
  • Adding resonance ports helps bass response. I used 4.5" x 2" and 4" x 2" ports.
  • Front firing will suit more conventional tastes. Upfiring is perfect for surround applications. Or make it hybrid: upfiring woofer, front-firing tweeter. Just remove the mounting screws of the tweeter and reuse them on a pair of plastic angle brackets. You need to drill new holes on the brackets.
  • Each of my MC60 DIY speaker costs around $100.
  • The Dollarama bin enclosure sounds unbelievably real with guitars, mandolins, theorbos, sitars and Middle-Eastern percussion instruments.