Ministry of Sound Audio L Plus and Audio M Plus review
Oasis, Blur, Radiohead, Metallica… and, er, Crowded House: these were the sounds of my 1990s, so I wasn’t terribly familiar with the infamous Ministry of Sound. Still, for plenty of folk, the Ministry of Sound – a nightclub founded in 1991 by Justin Berkmann – is redolent of the early 1990s house music scene. It’s an institution, if you will, and one that has since become a global music brand with its own record label.
It’s odd then, given the club’s clearly stated dedication to sound quality, that the brand’s speakers and headphone line haven’t yet met with critical acclaim or caught the imagination of the public at large. However, that could be about to change with its latest line-up of multi-room speakers.
Design and features
The Audio L and Audio M aren’t much to look at. The design is clean enough, but the plain, smooth grey plastic, metal grilles and gold trim just don’t get the pulse racing.
What is good, though, is the build quality. Both the L Plus and M Plus are constructed from thick, sturdy plastic, with strong metal grilles to protect the speaker drivers, and there’s nothing to vibrate or create nasty resonances.
Hiding on top of each of these speakers is a touch-sensitive surface offering controls for volume, play, pause and track skipping, plus there’s NFC for quick pairing of phones and tablets.
Behind those grey grilles, there’s more to get excited about. The Audio L Plus has a pair of forward-facing 4.5in drivers and a pair of 1in tweeters, plus a front-facing bass reflex port. The Audio M Plus has a single 4.5in bass driver and 1in tweeter above it, with a passive radiator reinforcing the low notes instead of a bass reflex port. It also packs a carry handle, along with an integrated, rechargeable battery that delivers six hours of playback at 50% or four hours at 70%.
The speakers’ most interesting features centre on their multi-room capabilities, and their credentials are impeccable. There’s support for Apple AirPlay, Spotify Connect and DLNA for Wi-Fi connection, and you can play music over Bluetooth via the aptX or standard SBC codecs. Ministry of Sound hasn’t neglected good old analogue, either, equipping both speakers with 3.5mm jacks, meaning you can hook them up to any number of old school audio devices.
Setup and use
So far, so good. However, as Sonos has proved over the years, it’s good quality software and ease of setup that really makes the difference in a multi-room speaker setup, and it’s here that the Ministry of Sound speakers lag behind.
Setup is simple enough, once you’ve downloaded the Audio Controller app. On iOS, you have to connect to the speaker’s Wi-Fi connection so you can hook it up to your home network (a bit clunky, but you only have to do this once). On Android devices, the process is all automated, and once both speakers are setup and switched on, the app scans the network and finds the speakers every time.
The app is where you can set up groups of speakers for multi-room audio and stereo pairing. You can also adjust the volume, and browse and play internet radio stations, the Ministry of Sound’s own radio service, the music on your phone and any connected DLNA music sources.
It has to be said that I’m not a fan of the UI. The process of swiping to the left to select the speaker or group of speakers, then to the right to select the source just feels awkward. And the design of the app itself is inelegant and simplistic. It feels more like an app designed to work on a smartphone from 2010 rather than one developed in 2015, and there are no facilities to build playlists or queue up tracks one after the other. Sonos’ developers won’t be losing any sleep over this.
That said, they might have a restless night if the neighbours kicked up the volume on a pair of Audio Ls or Audio Ms, because this is where the Ministry of Sound units truly excel.
I’ll deal with the Audio L first, because this is the real star of the pairing. It’s loud and powerful enough to fill a (very) big room, and, as you might expect, it’s excellent for listening to anything electronic – anything with a deep down low bassline. Dubstep, drum and bass, techno or trance: you name it, this speaker will lap it up. With a frequency response that reaches right down to 30Hz, there’s loads of bass thump on offer, coupled with a surprising amount of control. Just make sure you don’t put it right next to a wall or it can get a little overblown.
What’s really impressive about the Audio L Plus, though, is the fact that you can listen at low volume and still experience the low-down sound pressure. Where they fall short is in the mid-range frequencies, which sound a little harsh to my ears, and their ability to spread the sound outwards. Certain types of music – for instance, orchestral and choral performances – can sound a little constrained and boxed-in.
The Audio M Plus suffers from the same issues in the mid-range, and the bass is far less refined, but the volume level and sheer sound pressure it’s able to generate from such a small enclosure is truly impressive. Once again, the Audio M’s strength is with anything electronic. It’s real party machine.
With such a good all-round sound quality, I’m seriously impressed with these two new speakers from the Ministry of Sound. However, at £300 for the Audio L and £200 for the Audio M, they’re not cheap, and they’re also notably pricier than the equivalent speakers from Sonos – the Play:1 and Play:2.
Which is best? It depends on what you want. If it’s just streaming music, Sonos’ system is the most elegant and easy to use. It’s developed into a music platform in its own right over time and has years of multi-room pedigree behind it.
However, if you’re after a powerful sound and maximum flexibility (and like the sound of getting two free tickets to the club thrown in), there’s a lot to be said for the Ministry of Sound’s Audio Plus range. The software may be considerably less elegant, but with AirPlay, Bluetooth aptX and 3.5mm analogue input on offer – all features the Sonos speakers lack – they are a lot more flexible.
- Already got some decent speakers? Try turning them wireless with the new Google Chromecast Audio