Heritage hifi has been a bit of a buzz word for better part of the last half decade, and with pretty good reason. Off the back of vinyl’s meteoric return to popularity audio manufacturers began to notice the general publics predilection for a certain classic aesthetic. Anything with a walnut finish has flown off the shelves. Jog dials, brushed aluminium, and VU meters have all become much sought-after features. And if it looked like a 50yo piece you’d found in your father’s garage, all the better. This phenomenon is known as nostalgia marketing and the psychology behind it is big business. But if you’re Peter Comeau, the loudspeaker design behind the all-new Mission 700, psychology be damned. This is just good engineering.
The 700 footprint is big compared to more contemporary bookshelf loudspeakers. At 260 x 292 x 510mm, 700 dwarfs even the largest of Missions QX MKII or LX MKII bookshelf models. Make no mistake, this is a big bookie. But big is kinda the point according to Peter Comeau. Larger speakers with greater baffle width not only afford larger speaker drivers, they also avoid issues with baffle step. According to Comeau, baffle step at the typical 800Hz area for modern speakers is sonically responsible for a thinning of ‘body’ in vocalists and string instruments together with an increase in nasality or ‘honk’. Now, designers can fix this to some degree at the crossover, but the resulting effect decreases speaker sensitivity – meaning you’ll need greater amplification power – and it increases colouration, which is no bueno. So it makes sense that models like the Wharfedale Linton and Mission’s own award-winning 770 are receiving such high praise from reviewers and listeners alike. There really is something distinctly special about classic big box loudspeakers.
The 700s driver configuration is where things get super interesting. It’s an inverted driver design, meaning the tweeter is positioned below the mid-bass woofer. The original 700 was the first Mission speaker to receive this design treatment, and such was its success that the design has been incorporated into every Mission loudspeaker since. The benefit of inverted driver geometry is improved time alignment. By positioning the treble unit below the woofer, their signal paths are equalise so that the sound waves meet in time at the listener’s ear. 700 features a 28mm or 1.25” microfibre dome tweeter and a 165mm or 6.5” mineral loaded polypropylene mid/bass woofer. The mineral loaded polypropylene composite is borrowed from Mission’s award-winning 770 model, and improves the cone’s stiffness resulting in tighter, faster bass response down to a whopping 38Hz. Both drive units have been entirely redesigned from the ground up to take into account modern power handling and dynamic requirements, with features like damped rear chambers, die cast chassis and low damping surrounds.
Below the treble driver is a big front reflex port, much much bigger than the original 700s. Speaker porting is a benefit for a couple of reasons. First, it aids loudspeaker efficiency, which is to say that it reduces the number of amplification Watts required to achieve optimal speaker performance. A consequence of the cone membrane moving back and forth at rapid speed is air pressure projected out into a room. But the same movement is projecting air pressure within the speaker cabinet as well, and as that pressure builds it makes moving the membrane back and forth much more difficult, placing greater pressure on the amplifier to drive it. Ports help to vent that internal air pressure, allowing the speaker driver to move back and forth with greater ease, in turn reducing the load on the amplifier driving it. The net result of this is the reduced amplification power necessary to achieve optimal speaker performance. And with a recommended amplification range of just 25 - 150W per channel, it’s quite evident that the 700s are super efficient and need very little grunt to get them going.
In addition to efficiency, reflex ports have the added benefit of increasing bass response. But not all ports are created equally. A lot of attention when into the design of these big front ports. They’re carefully profiled at each end to smooth airflow, eradicate distortion, and avoid that “one-note” bass response typical of many reflex bass systems. What’s nice about 700s design is that the reflex ports are front facing, making speaker placement a breeze. Rear ports are fantastic if you’ve got speaker stands and loads of space. With stands and space, you can easily adjust the position of your speakers in or out from the wall to really dial in a bass response to your exact liking. But if you don’t, and your speakers are too close to rear walls or cabinets, that bass response is likely to be somewhat boomy or sloppy. It’s not going to be the tight, textural bass response Peter Comeau went to so much trouble to finesse out of the 700s reflex bass system, a reflex system that is thankfully – at least in my space – front facing.
Now, with all that low-end rumble, it’s imperative to speaker performance that the designers do all they can to reduce cabinet vibration. Cabinet vibrations colour the musical performance, giving you a poor interpretation rather than an honest replication of the original music piece. And thanks to clever internal damping, bracing, and cabinet wall construction, the Mission cabinets are quiet as a mouse. Under these beautiful true timber veneers – available in both black oak and the walnut you see here – is a sandwich construction layer of varying composite Timbers bonded by a layer of dampening glue. This composite radically improves the cabinet wall rigidity, reducing cabinet vibration, allowing the drivers to shine. And the finish is top notch. The walnut itself is almost exactly that of the Wharfedale’s Linton/Denton and LEAK’s Stereo 130 and 230 integrated amplifiers. So, if you’re looking to pair the Mission 700 with electronics that are equally old school, a walnut wrapped LEAK Stereo amplifier is going to be the perfect choice.
The 700s baffle, like their bigger 770 brother, comes in this killer white laminate finish with Mission’s logo just blow their flared front port. In early images of it, I wasn’t entirely sold on either the logo or the white baffle. But in the flesh, I absolutely adore it. And in contrast to the black baffles of both Linton and Denton, which I also really love, I have to say, to me at least, the Mission’s white front baffle makes them look a little boring. The 700s just pop. That white front baffle grabs everybody’s attention, making them a key furniture piece in any listening space. I’m a big fan of this look. And many reviewers like Andrew Robinson or Darko Audio have equally been big fans. But it is polarising. So if its not quite to your partner’s liking, they do come with a really slick set of magnet grills that pop on an off with ease, subduing their look to the likes of Linton or Denton. The grilles are quite beautiful, the magnetic fit is a really nice touch, and it makes changing up the look of the 700s super easy. And I’ve found myself bouncing between both looks more often than I first thought I would.
With such a wide range of heritage speakers now available it can be hard to decide on the right one for you. And this is where the Mission 700 makes a lot of sense. While the Wharfedale Linton is similar in price to the 700, and arguably the best value for money heritage loudspeaker on the market, it is big – really, really big. In my space, a 3.5m by 5m room, they not only swallowed up a lot of physical realestate, they also didn’t have the legroom to really shine. Don’t get me wrong, the Linton still sounded incredible – truly. But they really come to life in spaces much bigger than my own. Linton is a big loudspeaker and big loudspeakers like their breathing space. On the flip side, the Dentons weren’t exactly a perfect fit either. The Hi-Fi unit behind me does preference smaller bookshelf loudspeakers, and the Denton’s are among some of the best I’ve played with within this setup so far. But having experienced both the Linton and the Mission 770 in this room, I kind felt like was missing presence, a sense of scale when it came to the Dentons. While a subwoofer will no doubt fill in the frequency range gap, I’m still not going to get the same presence.
It was a bit of a Goldilocks moment in that the Linton were a little too big and the Denton just a touch small. But the 700, I’ve found, for me at least, are just right. Not too big that it overpowers either the available realestate or the restraints of the listening space, and not so small that I felt I was missing presence. The 700s are that sweet spot between both choices. They’re big bookshelf loudspeakers, no doubt. So they offer a sense of scale a lot of smaller, more contemporary bookshelf loudspeakers simply can’t. But they’re not so big that the sound feels constrained by the limitations of a smaller room, nor so big that they appear to swallow up vast swathes or realestate on entertainment units or shelves. Again, they’re really just a sweet spot between both option. So, if you’re in the market for a heritage loudspeaker, you’re concerned the Linton is a little big and that the Denton might not be big enough, then the Mission 700 is likely the perfect choice.
My time with these loudspeakers has been a treat. It took a little while for the mid/bass drivers to really break in and that low-end to fully open up. But once it did: wow. Texture, detail, body: 700s low end is everything Comeau expressed. Yes, the 700 is big by conventional bookshelf speaker sizing, but they’re well shy of Linton territory. And yet despite that, their delivery is remarkably similar. There’s a real sense of scale to the 700s, much more than a smaller bookshelf model like Wharfedale’s Denton, and yet they never once overwhelmed my rather modestly-sized listening space. The fit it beautifully. And talking of beauty, the 700s are a stunning furniture piece. There’s a real reason heritage Hi-Fi has taken off; it looks beautiful. Nobody questions the validity of modern Art Deco furniture. It’s simply a style that many people prefer in their homes. And if the technology within new heritage loudspeakers like the Mission 700 have been updated to wow modern listeners, it makes complete sense that their Art Deco aesthetic will be highly favoured by a certain corner of the listening public – myself included.
So is it simply nostalgia? Not at all. What do Ray Bans, Chuck Tailors and the Mini Cooper all have in common? They’re all dripping in style. Heritage Hi-Fi is a style – one that sounds every bit as good, if not better, than many contemporary offerings. Yes, it’s an aesthetic choice, but it’s one that’s on par with modern options. And I for one am stoked that we now get that option, because if I gotta stare at my loudspeaker all day long then I want them to look classic.
Mission 700 is available for purchase at AVRevolution.com.au as well as participating specialist Aussie retailers, if you’re dying to demo them first. Links available in the description below. Leave us a comment. Let us know what you love – or don’t love – about Heritage Hi-Fi. We always appreciate your feedback, just remember to play nice.