Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment


Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Monitor Audio, founded in 1972, is part of the UK’s rich history of high-quality hi-fi design. Recently, Monitor launched the latest iteration of their affordable line of Bronze loudspeaker models, now in its sixth generation. The Bronzes have been completely redesigned for, per Monitor, superior sound and build quality.

I’d enjoyed the time I’d spent with Monitor’s Gold 100 speaker ($2100/pair, all prices USD), which I reviewed in September 2019, and looked forward to hearing their most recent take on a high-quality, affordable bookshelf speaker. I made sure to get early samples of the Bronze 100 ($595/pair).

Monitor Audio

Description

The Bronze 100 is one of two stand-mounted two-way models in the Bronze line. Below it is the smaller Bronze 50 ($475/pair); above these are two 2.5-way floorstanders, the Bronze 200 ($995/pair) and Bronze 500 ($1295/pair). The revamped line also includes the Bronze C150 two-way center-channel speaker ($325 each); the Bronze FX surround model ($550/pair); the upward-firing Bronze AMS module ($550/pair), for Dolby Atmos systems, designed to sit atop a Bronze 50 or 200; and, finally, the Bronze W10 active subwoofer ($795 each).

That the Bronze 100 is bigger than the average minimonitor is apparent as soon as you see it. It measures 14.8”H x 9.1”W x 12.8”D, and weighs 17 pounds. Its substantial 8” midrange-bass driver has one of Monitor’s proprietary Ceramic-Coated Aluminum (C-CAM) diaphragms, affixed to its surround with their Damped Concentric Mode (DCM) technology, claimed to optimize the overlap of cone and surround to decrease the amplitude and decay of the diaphragm’s first concentric mode. According to Monitor, this results in a more accurate time response.

This midrange-woofer is crossed over at 2.2kHz to a 1” C-CAM Gold Dome tweeter fitted with Monitor’s Uniform Dispersion (UD) waveguide -- they claim that this waveguide’s curved profile effects more even dispersion of high frequencies off the tweeter axis, improved time alignment, and a lower crossover frequency, for wider directivity. The tweeter sits behind an attractive, permanently affixed mesh of tiny hexagonal holes -- Monitor claims that this covering is acoustically transparent.

On the rear panel are two pairs of quality five-way binding posts, to accommodate biamping or biwiring; above these, to increase the speaker’s bass output, is a port with a throat of textured plastic. Between port and posts is a fastener for tightening the bolt that secures the woofer to the baffle.

Monitor Audio

Monitor specifies the Bronze 100’s frequency responses as 37Hz­-30kHz, -6dB in-room, and 52Hz-25kHz, -6dB free-field; its sensitivity as 87dB/2.83V/m; and its impedance as 8 ohms nominal, 4.5 ohms minimum.

The Bronzes are available in four finishes: White (my samples), Black, Walnut, and Urban Grey. The last two are simulated wood grains, the first two are matte and lightly textured. The baffle is separate from the rest of the cabinet, and for each finish it’s a different color, for contrast and visual flare. On my White samples, the baffle was light gray.

As you’d expect at this price, the cabinet’s panels meet at angles of 90°, with visible joins around back. Still, I found the Bronze 100’s contemporary styling fetching overall, and belying the low price of $595/pair -- at least when the speaker is viewed from the front. The textured finish of my samples seemed durable enough that I could throw my car keys on them with no ill effect. Not that I did.

Setup

The Bronze 100s came well protected in their box, shipped directly from Monitor’s UK headquarters -- the cabinets were in perfect condition. Included were an instruction manual; a pair of black, oval, magnetically attached cloth grilles; a plug for each speaker’s port; and eight self-adhesive rubber pads for the cabinets’ bottom panels.

I placed the Monitors atop the 24”-high stands designed for my Focal Sopra No1 speakers, which put their rear panels 18” from one long wall of my 15’L x 12’W x 8’H listening room. Speakers and listening seat described a 9’ equilateral triangle, and I toed the Bronze 100s in about 20° -- from my chair, I could see a bit of each speaker’s inner side panel. The side panels were each about 2.5’ from the nearer sidewall. My dedicated listening room has wall-to-wall carpet over concrete, and is treated with broadband absorption at the first reflection points on the sidewalls and on the front wall between and behind the speakers. One of my homemade bass traps occupies each front corner, and there’s some diffusion along the wall just behind my high-backed recliner.

Monitor Audio

The Bronze 100s were connected to my NAD C 316BEE integrated amplifier via homemade speaker cables with conductors of 12-gauge, oxygen-free copper terminated with locking banana plugs. My source component was a Bluesound Node network streamer connected to the NAD with AmazonBasics single-ended interconnects (RCA). I used the Node as a Roon endpoint, with the Roon app installed on my Microsoft Surface Pro 6 laptop. I played music streamed from Qobuz and Tidal, and from my library of CDs ripped as FLAC files and stored on a NAS.

To ensure that the Bronze 100s were well broken in before I sat down to do some serious listening, I played music through them at a decent volume level for some 20 hours.

Sound

I began with “Fast Car,” from Tracy Chapman’s Tracy Chapman, released in 1988 (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, Elektra/Qobuz). What first struck me was the Bronze 100s’ bass. I played this well-recorded track loud, and got from the Bronzes a big, bold, full-bodied wall of sound. At the very beginning, when the bass guitar and kick drum establish a slow, rhythmic bass line, I felt a deep-bass extension I’d normally associate with good-quality tower speakers. When I used my miniDSP UMIK-1 calibrated microphone to measure the Monitors’ in-room -3dB point, I got 23Hz. Thinking I must have made a mistake, I measured it again and got the same reading. That’s hard to believe from a pair of stand-mounted speakers -- most quality two-way monitors go down to only the middle of the 30-40Hz decade in my relatively small room. Obviously, those 8” midrange-woofers are doing something.

When the chorus of “Fast Car” is first heard, at 2:02, it’s accompanied by some snappier drumming by Denny Fongheiser. Here I felt that the Bronze 100s weren’t the last word in bass speed, punch, and attack compared to what I’m used to, but I wouldn’t describe them as slow or sluggish -- they still had relatively impactful punch.

Monitor Audio

Focusing on Chapman’s singing, I heard nice, smooth reproduction of her voice, which was solidly imaged dead center on the soundstage, slightly above and behind the speakers. The guitars to left and right of Chapman had a nice sparkly quality, and the struck cymbals at hard left had a delicate shimmer and long decays. In terms of perceived frequency response, or tonality, nothing sounded over- or underemphasized. The Bronze 100s’ sound was neutral -- no part of the audioband, from the lowest lows through the highest highs, seemed too forward or too recessed.

When I listened to “Angel,” from Sarah McLachlan’s Surfacing (16/44.1 FLAC, Arista/Qobuz), the Bronze 100s proved they could sound delicate and refined while reproducing this simple arrangement of McLachlan’s haunting singing accompanied only by piano. Each keystroke had a weight I could feel in my seat, and I could easily point to the position of each attack on the soundstage, then follow the decay of that note over ensuing seconds. The reproduction of McLachlan’s voice had a pleasantly ethereal glow and a good balance of presence -- not too dark or recessed, not too forward.

The Bronze 100s’ imaging focus and specificity were good, not great -- I’m used to smaller, more focused aural images than the slightly more diffuse images the Monitors projected. Transparency -- the sense that voices and instruments were being reproduced realistically, free of the speaker cabinets -- was also good for the price, but not great. With “Angel,” I heard subtle reminders that the music was being reproduced by two small boxes -- when I focused on the piano, I heard small resonances -- but for the most part, the Bronze 100s convincingly cast up aural images while calling little attention to themselves.

Monitor Audio

It was time for a quick-tempo rock track: “Run-Around,” from Blues Traveler’s Four (16/44.1 FLAC, A&M/Qobuz). The Bronze 100s were up to the job of retrieving detail, letting me hear the quick strumming of the guitars to left and right, John Popper blowing his harmonica at center stage, and Brendan Hill’s fast drumming. At this track’s loudest point (1:07) I turned it up -- but neither the Bronzes nor my little NAD integrated ran out of steam. Every instrument and voice remained distinct from the rest, with no compression. These bookshelf speakers could play LOUD and CLEAN without irritation, and on very little power -- the C 316BEE is specced to output only 40Wpc into 8 ohms. But while I loved the fullness of this track’s bass through the Monitors, the music seemed slower than I’m used to -- in terms of accurately reproducing the starts and stops of Hill’s fast-paced drumming, the Bronze 100s weren’t as nimble as I’d have liked.

Comparison: England vs. France -- Monitor Bronze 100 vs. Triangle Borea BR03

When I reviewed Triangle’s Borea BR03 minimonitor ($549/pair) for this site in May, it impressed me and was named a Reviewers’ Choice. As of July 1, the overachieving Borea BR03 had also found its way into Doug Schneider’s “System One” column on SoundStage! Hi-Fi, as well as into my own July 1 article describing its sound, and the sound of Focal’s Chora 806 speaker, in the language of in-room and anechoic measurements. You almost couldn’t ask for a closer comparison -- the prices of the Monitor and Triangle differ by only $46/pair. To make this comparison as fair as I could, I used pink noise and an SPL meter to match the speakers’ levels, and was able to switch between them in less than 45 seconds.

Tracy Chapman’s voice in “Fast Car” seemed to leap from the Triangles as a focused aural image surrounded by air, high above the tops of the speakers, in a way that seemed divorced from the speaker cabinets. The Bronze 100s, by comparison, created a wider, lower, less airy, slightly more distant image of her voice that didn’t sound as convincingly like a real woman singing in my room -- here, the Borea BR03s were the winners. But the Monitors cleanly outclassed the Triangles in bass output and extension -- their bigger, fuller, rounder low end will be more satisfying for those who, like me, crave deep bass and lots of it. The quality of the two speakers’ treble was roughly on a par, this track’s cymbal crashes reproduced with equal amounts of shimmer and equally long decays. However, the Borea BR03s produced a greater quantity of treble -- they sounded brighter overall, and the difference was obvious. Because “Fast Car” doesn’t suffer from excessive brightness, it wasn’t hard to prefer the Borea BR03s to the Bronze 100s with this track, despite the Triangles’ comparative lack of bass extension.

Monitor Audio

I heard the same differences through the midrange with Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel,” especially in her voice: it had more air, height, and focus through the Triangles, but in this case the Borea BR03s’ extra brightness overemphasized McLachlan’s sibilants -- the Bronze 100s didn’t. The Triangles reproduced the piano in this track with a more bell-like quality, with sharper transients and attacks. The opening note in this track, one of the piano’s lowest notes, requires extension down to the 20-30Hz decade to fully feel and appreciate. It was no surprise, then, that the Bronze 100s produced a far more satisfying plunk than did the Borea BR03s -- one I could physically feel in my seat. The Monitors also sounded a bit smoother than the Triangles with dynamic, closely miked voices, as when McLachlan sings, at 2:10 in “Angel,” “there’s vultures and thieves at your back.” When I played this passage at an appreciable volume of 90dB, as measured at my listening seat, the Borea BR03s made me wince a bit, making some of McLachlan’s sung notes sound a bit hard or glassy; the Bronze 100s were easier to listen to. But with this good recording I preferred the Triangles overall, for how they excelled at the traditional audiophile qualities I value: midrange presence, soundstaging, imaging, detail, etc.

I next turned to my favorite rock song of the 1980s, and a guilty pleasure: “Wanted Dead or Alive,” from Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet (24/96 FLAC, Island/Qobuz). Like many rock albums of that era, this one’s sound is thin, bass-shy, and a bit bright overall. You can probably guess which speakers won this comparison: the Monitors, all day long. From the opening sequence of bass guitar and kick drum the Bronze 100s delivered the goods, their greater low-end output and extension yielding more chunk and meat to balance out this track’s less-than-ideal sound. The Borea BR03s’ bass left me wanting -- there just wasn’t enough. I listened at good, healthy rock-out levels (98dB peaks as measured at my listening seat, C-weighted) -- the volume peaks at 2:42, but the Bronze 100s still sounded clean and balanced. At that same point, the BR03s were too lean, even downright bright and aggressive.

My last direct comparison was with hip-hop: “I Feel It Coming,” from The Weeknd’s Starboy (24/44.1 FLAC, Republic/Qobuz). Again, the Bronze 100s’ superb bass extension made this contest no contest at all. Through the Monitors, the extra rumble I felt from the sustained, ultra-low synth-bass notes was satisfying, and bordered on the difficult to believe from a pair of monitors. The Triangle Borea BR03s sounded a hair more punchy and fast in the rapid bass transients interwoven with those lower, longer bass notes -- still, it was the Bronze 100s’ stellar bass fullness that made them my choice, and a great speaker for hip-hop.

Conclusion

In my listening room with my reference system, Monitor Audio’s Bronze 100 produced a neutral sound, with bass output and extension that were second to none for a passive, budget monitor. This speaker may not be the last word in transparency, speed, and pinpoint imaging, but on the basis of those audiophile attributes for $595/pair, it can hang with the competition. But the Bronze 100s’ most attractive attribute was their ability to produce a BIG sound from a pair of relatively small boxes -- a sound that was smooth and nonfatiguing, but never dull, dark, or boring. They had enough finesse and refinement for evenings of quiet critical listening, but could party hard when I needed them to. They were easy to listen to.

Monitor Audio

If you’re looking for an attractive, well-built speaker in this price category that sounds great not only with well-recorded music but with all recording qualities, and you sometimes like to crank it up and let your inner rock star out of his or her cage, check out a pair of Monitor Audio Bronze 100s for their terrific sound.

. . . Diego Estan
diego@soundstagenetwork.com

Associated Equipment

  • Speakers -- Focal Sopra No1, Triangle Borea BR03
  • Subwoofers -- Dual SVS SB-4000 (2)
  • Integrated amplifier -- NAD C 316BEE
  • Power amplifier -- McIntosh Laboratory MC302
  • Preamplifier-DAC -- McIntosh Laboratory C47
  • Crossover -- Marchand Electronics XM446XLR-A (between preamp and amp)
  • Room correction -- miniDSP DDRC-22D with Dirac Live (between digital sources and DAC)
  • Digital Sources -- Rotel RCD-991 CD player, Bluesound Node network streamer, Microsoft Surface Pro 6 laptop computer running Windows, Roon
  • Analog sources -- Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Esprit turntable with Ortofon 2M Red cartridge
  • Speaker cables -- homemade, with conductors of 12AWG oxygen-free copper and locking banana plugs
  • Analog interconnects -- AmazonBasics unbalanced (RCA), Monoprice Premier balanced (XLR)
  • Digital link -- AmazonBasics optical (TosLink)

Monitor Audio Bronze 100 Loudspeakers
Price: $595 USD per pair.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.

Monitor Audio
24 Brook Road
Rayleigh, Essex SS6 7XJ
England, UK
Phone: +44 (0)1268-740580

Website: www.monitoraudio.com

North American distributor:
Kevro International
902 McKay Road, Unit 4
Pickering, Ontario L1W 3X8
Canada
Phone: (800) 667-6065

E-mail: info@kevro.com
Website: www.kevro.com