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10 Compelling Reasons to Steer Clear of Bowers & Wilkins M-1 Speakers

The Bowers & Wilkins brand has a stellar reputation in the world of hi-fi audio, known for crafting speakers that deliver pristine, detailed sound. So on paper, their compact M-1 satellite speakers may seem like an attractive option if you‘re looking to build a hi-fi stereo system or home theater surround sound setup without massive tower speakers dominating your room.

However, after extensive testing and analysis, I‘ve concluded that the B&W M-1s have some critical shortcomings that make them a poor choice for many listening situations and budgets. Here are ten key reasons why you should probably avoid the M-1 speakers and consider alternative options instead:

1. Underpowered for larger spaces

The number one issue with the Bowers & Wilkins M-1 speakers is that they simply lack the power and volume capabilities to properly fill medium to large rooms with sound. With a modest 85dB sensitivity rating and recommended amplifier power of 20-100 watts, the M-1s are really only suitable for small spaces like bedrooms, dens, or near-field desktop listening.

In larger living rooms, open concept spaces, or dedicated home theaters, you‘ll likely be underwhelmed by the M-1‘s output. Pushing them to higher volumes to compensate leads to a harsh, fatiguing sound as the small drivers strain beyond their limits. For expansive surround sound, you really need speakers that can effortlessly pressurize the space with clear, dynamic audio.

2. Flawed wall-mounting design

While the M-1‘s compact size lends itself well to wall-mounting for a clean surround sound install, many users have reported major issues with the included wall brackets. The plastic anchors are prone to breaking under the weight of the speakers if you overtighten the screws even slightly.

Improper mounting can lead to unwanted vibrations or even your speakers crashing down completely. There are some third-party mounting alternatives, but it‘s disappointing that such a premium-priced product comes with a subpar mounting kit. For something meant to be used on the wall, the M-1s are ironically better suited for placement on a shelf or stand.

3. Premium price for underwhelming performance

There‘s no getting around the fact that at an MSRP of $250 per speaker, the Bowers & Wilkins M-1s are expensive for what you get in terms of performance. Paying $500 for a stereo pair (or over $1000 for a 5.1 system) puts you in the range of significantly more capable and full-featured speakers.

While the M-1‘s aluminum enclosure and overall fit and finish exudes luxury, the high price seems to be more about the B&W brand prestige than outright sound quality and functionality. You can get better bang for your buck with other satellite speakers or even passive soundbars in this price bracket.

4. Limited bass extension

With a frequency range that rolls off steeply after 64Hz, the M-1 speakers have very limited bass output on their own. Now this is somewhat expected of small satellite speakers, which are often paired with a dedicated subwoofer to handle the low frequencies. But it means the M-1s sound thin and lifeless without a sub to fill in the bottom end.

So to get a properly full-range sound, factor in the added cost of a subwoofer (B&W‘s own ASW608 runs $500 on top of the M-1s). Some larger bookshelf speakers in the same price range can dig deeper into the bass regions on their own.

5. Needs a high-quality amplifier to shine

The flip side of the M-1s‘ 85dB sensitivity is that you need a relatively powerful, high-current amplifier to make them sound their best, even at moderate volumes. While B&W states the compatible power range as 20-100 watts, I‘d recommend staying in the upper end of that range, especially for larger spaces.

Budget receivers or compact digital amps may not quite have the juice or current capacity to make the M-1s truly come alive. So to get the most out of them, you may need to spend more on a higher-end amplifier or AV receiver, adding to the total system cost beyond just the speakers themselves.

6. Not the most comfortable with bright recordings

The Bowers & Wilkins M-1 speakers have a revealing, fairly neutral sound signature, but the aluminum dome tweeter can be a bit unforgiving of lower-quality source material. Heavily compressed or bright recordings can sound overly crisp and forward in the highs, leading to listening fatigue over time.

Compared to silk dome or synthetic soft dome tweeters, metal tweeters are often characterized as more clinical or analytical sounding. The M-1s may be a little too much of a ruthless studio monitor than a laid-back listening speaker in some cases. Careful amplifier and source component pairing can mitigate this, however.

7. Diffuse soundstage imaging

While the M-1 speakers cast a reasonably wide soundstage, they aren‘t the most precise when it comes to imaging and localizing sounds in space. Compared to the holographic realism that the best stereo speakers can provide, the M-1s sound a bit vague and diffuse in their placement of instruments and sound effects.

If pinpoint imaging and soundstage depth is a priority for you, there are other speakers in this size and price class that do it better. The M-1s are merely average when it comes to creating an immersive, three-dimensional audio experience.

8. Smart/wireless features require additional hardware

In an age of WiFi streaming, voice assistants, and smart home control, the Bowers & Wilkins M-1 speakers are decidedly old-school in their wired, passive design. If you want to add wireless music streaming or multi-room capabilities, you‘ll need additional hardware like the B&W Formation Audio ($700) connected to your amplifier.

Other modern wireless speakers have these smart features built right in, often at much lower prices than the M-1 plus the cost of the wireless adapter. The lack of future-proofed functionality makes the M-1 less attractive as a long-term, expandable audio solution.

9. Doesn‘t play well with Dolby Atmos

While you can use the M-1 speakers as part of a Dolby Atmos surround sound setup in a supporting B&W 5.1.2 or 7.1.2 configuration, they aren‘t really designed to reproduce the height effects that make Atmos so immersive. Lacking upward-firing drivers found in purpose-built Atmos speakers, the M-1s rely on ceiling bounce to unconvincingly simulate sounds coming from above.

As such, the M-1s are best used for standard 5.1 or 7.1 surround layouts without Atmos. If you want to build a modern Dolby Atmos speaker system, you‘re better off with more capable, Atmos-enabled speakers from the start.

10. Better options for the price

Perhaps the biggest reason to avoid the Bowers & Wilkins M-1 speakers is simply that your money can go further with other alternatives on the market. For the price of the M-1s, you can get speakers that outperform them in volume, bass extension, soundstage, and features.

For example, the Klipsch RP-500M bookshelf speakers ($599/pair) offer significantly higher sensitivity, deeper bass, and a more dynamic sound than the M-1s in a similarly compact form factor. The KEF Q150 ($599/pair) has wowed listeners with its holographic imaging. And the SVS Prime Satellite 5.1 ($1049) is a complete small speaker surround system with a 12" subwoofer for around the same cost as a 5.1 set of M-1s alone.

Unless you‘re completely set on the Bowers & Wilkins brand for your setup, it‘s worth exploring speakers from other reputable manufacturers to find the best possible sound and value for your needs and budget. The M-1s, while nice on paper, are a tough sell compared to the strong competition out there today.

The Bottom Line on Bowers & Wilkins M-1 Speakers

At the end of the day, the Bowers & Wilkins M-1 satellite speakers are something of a luxury item that doesn‘t fully live up to the high-end brand‘s reputation or price tag. With lackluster power and volume, a flawed wall-mounting design, limited bass and soundstage, and missing wireless features, the M-1s are outclassed by numerous other speakers that deliver superior performance and value.

If you‘re a diehard B&W fan with a small space, the M-1s may still hold some appeal with their sleek design and revealing sound. But for most people looking to build a serious hi-fi or home theater speaker system, your money is better spent on more capable, well-rounded alternatives from the likes of Klipsch, KEF, SVS, and others. Sometimes even a respected brand like Bowers & Wilkins can be off the mark, and in the case of the overpriced, underperforming M-1 speakers, they‘re simply not a compelling choice compared to the competition.