I really have been unsure how to go about doing this article, the last time we did something similar, sure it was interesting, but much less happened, for example this time round we have 108 photos (so yes it will be a big post)!!! I am talking about a factory tour and after the much smaller scale earphone company of ACS last time, we are honoured to have been invited to true high end speaker manufacture MBL’s Berlin (location top secret) factory and listening room. It was something we couldn’t resist, we had to accept and we have to express our gratitude nice and early on in this article to the whole of MBL and their Worldwide Sales Manager and all round good guy Björn Rutz for hosting us for the day and finding us a lovely place to stay. It was awesome guys. This opportunity had arisen after we had our minds blown the last time we were in Germany when we demoed and loved the 101 X-Treme (£193,310) at the Munich show and with them being a completely unique speaker, my mind could only wonder how they go about making such an exotic looking speaker. On top of that they are not simply a loudspeaker brand, they make everything for your front end too, amps, DACs, CD players, you name it, they do it, only stopping at cables.
Being a high end company they obviously have some great stories and during these tales you get to realise a bit of the companies work ethic and customer support. If you were to buy the almost 200k 101 X-Tremes along with say their £38,790 9011 mono amplifiers and you are in Europe (or in some worldwide instances if the local distributor may not be able set up himself, a lot know what they are doing as you would hope) then chief engineer Jürgen Reis will fly in to handle room set up, yes you might expect it when dropping that sort of money but come on, how cool is that. The stories though are mental, from clients flying in whenever they fancy for a meeting on their private jet to infamous names such as CEO’s of some of the worlds biggest companies and hollywood movie stars (that sadly we can’t announce) owning full MBL systems to some complete absurdities. Take this for example, a guy wants to get his 15 year old daughter a pink X-Treme to match her pink Rolls Royce…. Or the guy buying 5 separate X-Tremes (2.5 sets) to go with two Wilson Audio Thor’s Hammer subs for the ultimate 5.2, in a room custom built for the system…. My mind was blown again and again, and this was all before we even arrived at the factory. We knew we had an epic day ahead.
It is only when you see a company in the flesh that you realise what they do. Maybe a lot of companies are like MBL but I highly doubt it because they do just so much. Almost everything happens at the factory, we started off in the metal work room where electronics have their chassis made from solid slabs of metal machined down and perfected on a range of machinery. Yes MBL do their housings from scratch, to their spec, to their high quality standards and that is why they don’t look super generic because a lot of companies will admit to sourcing generic chassis and cabinets elsewhere.
A pre polished amp front plate
The start of the volume knob before being polished.
Beautifully arranged drillbits for the CNC milling machine, the precision of this equipment boggles the mind.
These two photos show the versatility in angles and planes that can be achieved on a 5 axis CNC milling machine, it’s an absolutely stunning process to watch.
The older machinery is still in house like the pilar drill below, just shows the progression and desire for perfection that MBL have.
The CNC lathe, it’s a beast! (above)
The milling machine has it’s very own internal toolbox!
Another shot below shows the old tech they were using, it must have been incredible to switch from this to the current milling machine.
Some of the work is still completed by hand by skilled workers, some things are better done the old fashioned way!
Metal ready to go for different components, from feet to buttons to volume wheels!
The next area we ventured was into the stock room, which like any stock room was shelf after shelf of boxes and then crate after crate of a range of their models. Interesting though was the how they prepared things. At one end was all the ‘ready to ship’ stuff, nice and simple, retail packaged and labeled with the address. In another section though was the components like parts of the chassis for example, all in their finished form waiting to be specified and put into the desired chassis depending on what happens to be ordered as everything like the colour and other options is down to the customer to pick. Want a gold faceplate and white body? Boom quick assembly and its ready to go. Seemed smart. Also very clever was a little device called a tilt watch they attached to the boxes of the speakers that lets you know if the pallet as been turned to a certain angle for too long, potentially damaging content, in which case the freight carrier is responsible for any damage and the recipient should not accept. When dealing with such expensive stuff you have to minimise damage to your very best and you just can’t always trust couriers! This gives customers great peace of mind that their product has been looked after from the factory to their door.
Parts ready to be assembled
That was not light believe me! The whole piece cut from a single piece of aluminium, that is just the MBL way! The piece below is part of the base and top of the Extreme, the whole piece has to be dipped in a bath of the desired metal finish, gold or chrome for example. The finish is absolutely stunning and this piece was even heavier!
The very smart TiltWatch
A 101 X-Treme is bigger than Josh
Made In Germany of course! A nice little touch to to boxes.
As a flagship amp, they come in cool cases, you will know you are recieving a premium product!
Assembling the Speakers
The stock room was actually a separate detached building and we made our way back into the main build but at the other side. You pretty much have metal works on one end, offices in the middle and then you have the electronic manufacturing with the speaker assembly at the very end and thats where we ended up next. This is where they construct and individually make parts and drivers for the speakers, from the big ‘melons’ in the variations of the 101 and the carbon fibre mid range and tweeter drivers that are used in every single model they manufacture, from £9k to £190k!
This was the spray paint room, isolated from the outside to ensure an impeccable finish.
These are reference speakers for all retail products to be measured against with the equipment below. Every single mid range and tweeter is measured and stored on the system so if in the unlikely event of a failure you can have a sonically matched unit as a replacement! Prett cool.
The carbon fiber midrange and tweeter drivers, installed above and ready to be mounted below.
The chrome and gold covered parts is something that happens away from home but they do own their own vat of gold for dipping at a seperate factory that specialises in that. Remeber we saw this bit earliere in the store room?
Some melon drivers ready for testing
Stand construction for the extreme!
The start of the melon driver
The platform for the midrange driver
At MBL they bake their drivers, yes these are ovens!
This is the process for their infamous melon drivers.
First the metal is formed
Then the foam is stuck and carved
Finally they are all attatched the bases we saw earlier
Then copper is attatched as we can see hapenning here above.
These lovely ladies were on duty hand gluing the carbon fiber strips to the midrange and treble drivers, they swap driver roles weekly! different weaves for the mid range and tweeters are used for optimal performance, that’s how farthey have delved to get the best performance.
If you have seen these speakers in action, you will have noticed these strings may move, that is actually floor vibrations and is not caused by the speakers.
Ready for action
Here is the packaging crates for a complete 101 X-Treme
PCBs & Electronics
Lastly you had the soldering up of the PCBs and getting them placed in the finished chassis from over in the metal works area. They do rigorous testing of everything they make and quality control is about as tight as you will ever see. We looked through a bunch of stuff that had been rejected and we legitimately did not see anything wrong at first or second look and when they pointed them out they were very minute flaws, but this company do not accept anything but the best. The same goes for the audio analyst and everything has to measure and sound exactly to spec and I was pretty jealous from the range of audio analysers they had on hand, very expensive gear.
These were all the parts that had not made the cut!
This was the analyst room
PCBs, PCBs and more PCBs