Nostalgia is big business in the audio world right now. Lately, brands like JBL have been resurrecting speaker designs like the classic L100 from the 1970s, perhaps the most iconic decade for the emerging hi-fi industry. Now it’s the turn of Mission, the classic British speaker brand to revive one of its most iconic designs.
Mission launched its 770 loudspeakers back in 1978 and it propelled the company to the forefront of the British hi-fi scene. Now 44 years on from when the highly influential Mission 770 speakers first appeared, the design is being resurrected with the aid of the latest audio technology and materials while maintaining the spirit of the original design when it comes to technical ethos, looks and sound.
The appeal of the Mission 770 was largely down to the way it sounded. That might sound obvious, but it the speaker was produced at a time when subjective evaluation via listening tests was secondary to technical specifications.
On the face of it, the original 770 speakers weren’t particularly radical, despite their distinctive white baffle and some very clever engineering. However, their sound was perfected after hundreds of hours of listening tests. This gave the Mission 770 speakers an edge over the competition and a reputation for superb sound.
The 770 project was a labour of love for Farad Azima, the founder of Mission. His intention was to deliver a level of midrange accuracy and transparency to match the much-loved Spendor BC1 while creating a tighter bass and a more engaging sound. The design was a breath of fresh air that put music first and gave definition to the term “musicality”.MORE FROMFORBES ADVISORByAmy DaniseEditorByAmy DaniseEditor
Nowadays, Mission is part of the IAG (International Audio Group) which includes brands like Audiolab, Castle, Leak, Quad and Wharfedale. The popularity of Wharfedale’s recent Linton and Denton revivals (two more classic British speakers from the 1960s and 1970s), as well as the arrival of the first new Leak electronics for more than 40 years, shows there is nostalgic demand for classic and much-loved British audio designs, albeit in re-engineered form.
Nostalgia fuels much of this demand along with the recognition that these designs have stood the test of time with their authenticity and engineering gravitas, qualities that are often lacking in this age of smart speakers and digital streaming. The appeal goes alongside the recent and astonishing revival of vinyl. They are products created for a simple, singular purpose: the sheer joy of music.
Mission says that now is the ideal time to bring back the 770 speakers in re-engineered form. The new model is faithful to the original blueprint, which was one of the most influential British speakers of all time. However, Mission’s engineers have made full use of modern audio technologies and materials to take the performance to a completely different level. The sonic spirit of the original speaker remains, but the sound and the build quality have evolved to produce a speaker that its designers say will meet and exceed the expectations of today’s consumers.
The project’s design and engineering team was led by Peter Comeau, Mission’s current director of acoustic design. Peter was just starting out on his audio career as a young reviewer for Hi-Fi Answers magazinewhen the original 770 speakers were launched and he remembers its impact well. He went on to co-found the Heybrook loudspeaker company, which just happens to have produced my first pair of serious speakers, the superb Heybrook HBII.
For Peter, the new Mission 770 speakers have been a labour of love; exactly as it was for Farad Azima, all those years ago. When Peter revisited the original speaker at the start of the project, he decided that two key elements were fundamental to its musical performance. The first was the use of a polypropylene cone – claimed to be unique in a consumer product at the time, while the second was the impressive resonance control of the speaker cabinet design. These elements became the cornerstone for the re-engineered design, although Mission says every part has been improved, from the drive units to the crossover and cabinet. The design has been totally updated while still capturing the same musical spirt that was so refreshing when the original design was launched.
A new 20cm polypropylene mid/bass driver was developed for the re-engineered 770, echoing the extended response and low coloration of the original design, while upgrading the motor system to handle modern power levels and dynamic requirements. Like the original, the driver is built on a die-cast chassis with large rear ‘windows’ to reduce early reflections back through the cone. Special care has been taken to marry a low-density nitrile surround to the cone, to match its impedance and reduce reflections from the cone edge.
The new polypropylene cone is loaded with minerals to make it stiffer than the original unit, producing a fast and tight bass that enables the listener to hear exactly how bass instruments are being played. This is balanced by tuning the cabinet and reflex port to a very low frequency, avoiding the ‘one note bass’ that is typical of many bass reflex systems. In addition, the port is strongly flared at both inlet and outlet to smooth airflow and eradicate distortion. The bass frequency extends to below 30Hz in room, which is remarkable for this size of speaker.
In the original 770 design, Farad Azima focused on the midrange performance, which was always the strength of hi-fi reproduction when playing vinyl records. For today’s digital sources and higher-quality turntables, the performance of a speaker at the frequency extremes is now considered equally important as the midrange. The new 770’s treble unit uses a lightweight, damped microfibre dome with an ultra-smooth response, backed by a damped rear chamber that pushes the resonance below the crossover region. The quality of the 28mm dome matches the mid/bass driver to ensure both units work in harmony.
The original 770 speakers used a single coil to equalize the bass to midrange response as well as crossover to the treble unit. The advanced software crossover mapping and measuring techniques used today enabled Mission to balance the bass and midrange and adjust the crossover to the treble unit. The choice of EQ and crossover for the new 770 design involved hundreds of hours of listening sessions using a wide variety of music. More than 170 circuit iterations were tried before the final crossover design was decided.
The circuit was then mapped out onto separate bass and treble circuit boards using short signal paths and high-quality components such as super-transparent polypropylene capacitors and air core inductors. The design maintains the simplicity of the original, but the Mission team claims it improves critical elements.
The drivers and crossover are housed in a cabinet made with a real-wood veneer. Measuring 59 x 30 x 30cm, the speakers have the same white laminated front baffle that made the original Mission 770 speakers such a stand-out product back in the 1970s and 1980s. Beneath the rose-tinged walnut or black veneers are further technological advancements. While the original 770 reduced midrange coloration using the BBC-influenced technique of a thin-wall cabinet damped by mass loading with bitumen pads, the new 770 has a twin-wall sandwich of high-density MDF and particle board bonded by a layer of high-damping adhesive.
The result is a cabinet with panel resonance well below audibility, enabling the drive units to do their job without any coloration. Internal bracing adds strength to the front baffle and braces the drive unit to the cabinet, creating a support that aids the dynamic performance of the bass unit. This is complemented by a layer of acoustic foam and damping fibre, placed to absorb reflections inside the cabinet without overdamping the bass quality.
Peter Comeau is proud of what he and Mission’s acoustic engineering team have achieved. Speaking about the launch, he said: “To repeat the original 770 brochure’s claims of ‘staggering bass definition and response; lack of coloration; uncanny imaging; information retrieval; transient attack; depth and perspective; accuracy and linearity; speed and dynamic range’ is only to hint at the true capabilities of the new 770. Instead, we prefer to focus on its uncanny ability to reveal the true depth, emotion and drama of whatever music you care to feed to it. A much-loved British hi-fi classic has been emphatically reborn.”
The new Mission 770 speakers are not only designed and engineered in the UK they are British made. Mission’s parent company, IAG, has expanded its facilities in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire – Mission’s traditional home – to include key manufacturing, assembly and finishing processes for specially selected products. A 9,000ft2production facility has been added to the existing building, including a new anechoic chamber.
Like most British audio brands, especially those operating at the more affordable price points, manufacturing of Mission speakers was moved to Asia (to IAG’s purpose-built factory) many years ago. This was deemed essential to maintain retail prices at the level the market demanded. Design functions such as R&D and industrial design remained in Huntingdon. IAG’s new “Made in the UK” initiative has been devised to enable the manufacture of specific products to be brought back to the UK without boosting costs.
Price & availability: Manufacturing of the new Mission 770 speakers is now underway with limited production runs. The first pairs will be available to buy from the end of March, in a choice of walnut or black wood veneers at £3,500 per pair. The price includes a pair of dedicated floor stands, made in the UK, to ensure each speaker is positioned at the perfect height. The stands have a damped carbon steel frame and large stainless-steel spikes to protect from unwanted vibrations. The package is completed with a set of stainless-steel spike seats for hard floors and a pair of handling gloves.
More info: www.mission.co.uk