The Mission LX-2 is the second smallest member of the LX range of speakers, the newest models to emerge from Mission. This is significant for a few reasons. The first is that we haven’t seen much in the way of new speakers from Mission in quite a while. The LX range is the first clean sheet design in a number of years. After this length of time, what does the brand offer someone looking for a new pair of speakers?
This is doubly important because Mission used to be the budget speaker brand. You could make a case that KEF, Mordaunt Short and Tannoy kept them honest but Mission ruled the roost. As late as me starting at Richer Sounds in 2001, the Mission 700 – at that point priced at a princely $70 was still something we sold by the absolute bucket load. For the record, I didn’t actually experience the joy of Mission ownership until I bought a pair of 773e floorstanders at about the same time.
A lot has changed since those days. The market for affordable speakers has shrunk and a name that didn’t even exist at that point – Q Acoustics – has come to dominate proceedings. There is a certain irony that Q Acoustics came into being in part to fill the gap in Armour Home Electronic’s inventory created when Mission became part of the International Audio Group of companies. Now the Mission LX2 is here like the son of the vanquished master to try and take it’s rightful place at the head of the pack. Is this the comeback we’ve been waiting for?
The Mission LX-2 is a member of a five strong range of stereo speakers with a supporting centre speaker. As the name suggests, the LX-2 is the second smallest in the family and the larger of the standmounts on offer. A two-way design, it makes use of a 25mm microfibre (that is to say fabric) tweeter and a 100mm mid bass driver. There is nothing remotely sophisticated about the premise of the LX-2 but if you dig a little deeper, you will find that there’s a bit more to it.
What the designers of the Mission LX-2 have done is utilise the manufacturing capability of the parent IAG group to elevate the components of the speaker over and above what you might expect at the price. This means that mid-bass driver is technically an inverted composite cone but the fibres and coating that make up the driver are sufficiently different from others on the market to be patented and regarded as proprietary. The claimed virtues it offers are lightness and stiffness – but only if the whole process is extremely tightly controlled. Coupled with a powerful ferrite magnet, Mission claims that the resulting assembly has class leading performance, if you have the means to build such a thing.
The partnering tweeter is less specialised but those of you of a certain vintage will have immediately noticed that it is mounted underneath the mid bass driver – a Mission trademark dating back years. This is done to help with the time alignment; different frequencies have a slight variance in the speed of their soundwaves and by mounting the tweeter underneath and slightly forwards of the mid bass driver, Mission claims to have largely eliminated this – while also giving us a familar ‘face’ to the speaker.
The cabinet that contains these drivers is relatively conventional but a little bit larger than might be expected for a speaker with this driver complement. Rather than find an exotic tweak to the materials involved, Mission has gone for a conventional flat sided MDF cabinet with a rear port. Like most modern speakers at this price, Mission has fitted the Mission LX-2 for single wiring only. Connection is via a pair of sturdy if slightly unremarkable terminals on the lower section of the rear panel.
Where the work has gone in is with the bracing which has been computer modelled in order to get the maximum bang for what will be fairly limited buck at this price point. By studying the data extremely carefully, Mission suggests that the points where there is discernable energy from the cabinet is limited to the drivers (which is kind of the point) and the bass port. The port itself has a foam bung section fitted in from the outset that serves to regulate the flow of air and avoid audible noise.
How was the Mission LX-2 tested?
As noted, this review took place at a fairly hectic time of year and this meant there was a degree of reviewing on the fly going on. Having got a handle on the performance of the Audiolab with the Neat IOTA speakers, the Missions were substituted and I got on with listening to them while carrying out a hundred and one other tasks. As such, one thing I didn’t actually check for the first few days was the price of the Mission LX-2. As such, after a bit, I reached the happy conclusion that the Mission LX-2 was a little dull looking but represented one of the very best $400 speakers you could buy. This was worthy enough in itself but does overstate the price of the Mission by getting on for close to 100%.
Judged at the correct price, the Mission suddenly becomes a much more significant speaker. Put simply it brings a level of performance to the sub $250 category that I don’t recall experiencing before. So what’s it doing that’s so special? Firstly – and perhaps somewhat counter intuitively – it is the lack of any immediate attention grabbing part of the frequency response that is noteworthy. The Mission is composed, even and consistent at every point of its output and this makes for a speaker that doesn’t grab at your attention by dint of some showy feature but because the performance it is producing is wonderfully controlled and composed. This lets whatever you happen to be listening to at the time, be heard as it should be.
Now, we’ve already tested a speaker under $250 that can do this and it’s called the Q Acoustics 3020. The arrival of the Mission hasn’t suddenly turned the 3020 into anything other than a great speaker. Where the Mission raises the bar is in two areas. The first is that it costs $40 less than the Q Acoustics. This is not a sum of money that I honestly believe will have people firmly coming down on one side or the other but if you can make that useful little saving, I suspect that many people will.
The second area where the Mission actually pulls out a small advantage is the bass response. This is a bit of a mystery as Mission actually quotes a lower frequency response of 65Hz with no given roll off compared to the 64Hz +/- 3dB given for the Q Acoustics. Outside the world of the theoretical though, the LX-2 has the edge. The slightly larger cabinet allows it to go a little lower and sound more assured while it does so. The effect is noticeable when you play something like Dead Can Dance’s Song of the Stars, the very deep note at the start of the track is something that the Mission correctly renders and has meaningful weight with.
What this adds up to is a speaker that is a ridiculously good listen at the asking price. In the time it has been installed, I have had no difficulty switching (and seriously good) PMC twenty5.21 to listen to the Mission. There is an assurance to the way that the LX-2 makes music that is seriously impressive. There is the sense when listening to it that the careful use of components and the attention to detail has resulted in a speaker that is far greater than the sum of its parts. Selecting complex and demanding bits of music – even ones that are a totally polar opposites of the spectrum like Nils Frahm’s Spaces and Perpetuum Mobile by Einstürzende Neubauten – and the Mission just calmly and brilliantly goes about its business.
This means that instruments sound like instruments, vocals that are clear and well broadcast with no unwanted congestion of directionality to them. That effortless cohesion from top to bottom means that nothing is highlighted unless the musician intended them to be. The performance is also such that you can easily pick up the traits of the equipment you have connected to them. The Missions are able to let you hear the improvements brought by the IPT modifications to the Audio Technica LP5 which is no mean feat for a speaker at this price.
Is it perfect? This is a slightly awkward one to answer. Listening to the Mission LX-2, I have the slightest sense that it is a bit grown up, a bit mature and well balanced to truly be in the mould of affordable Mission speakers of old. There was always the sense that the older models really wanted to play The Prodigy as the sort of volume levels that were a few dB shy of them coming apart at the seams. The Mission LX-2 can do this but it never loses that sense of control and composure. Critiquing a speaker because it sounds too well sorted though is perverse, so I have to phrase it in such a manner as to say that the Mission LX-2 could perhaps benefit, every now and again, from just a touch more fun.