Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment


Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

  • SoundStage! InSight - Audio Research Past, Present, and Future (October 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - KEF's New R Series for 2018 (September 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Simaudio Moon 390 Digital/Analog Preamplifier and Streamer (September 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - EISA 2018-2019 Awards Introduction (August 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Simaudio's $118,888 Moon 888 Mono Amplifiers (June 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Totem's Tribe Tower (May 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Amphion's Three Newest Argon Loudspeakers (April 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Making the Hegel Mohican CD Player (March 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Estelon Lynx Wireless Intelligent Loudspeaker (March 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh's Five New Solid-State Integrated Amplifiers (January 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Amphion's Krypton Loudspeaker (January 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Anthem STR Preamplifier and Power Amplifier (December 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - McIntosh Laboratory MA252 Integrated Amplifier (November 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Hegel H90 and H190 Integrated Amplifiers (October 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - How Hegel's SoundEngine Works (October 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight  - Estelon History and YB and Extreme Loudspeakers (September 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - What Makes Hegel Different? (August 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Estelon Extreme Legacy Edition Loudspeaker (July 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Amphion Overview and Technologies (July 2017)
  • SoundStage! Insight - Totem Acoustic Signature One Loudspeaker (June 2017)
  • SoundStage! Encore - The Cowboy Junkies'
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- Anthem's STR Integrated Amplifier (May 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- Paradigm's Perforated Phase Alignment (PPA) Lenses (March 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Paradigm's Persona 9H Loudspeaker (March 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Contrasts: Dynaudio's Contour and Focus XD Speaker Lines (February 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - New Technologies in MartinLogan's Masterpiece Series
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Dynaudio/Volkswagen Car Audio (December 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Gryphon Philosophy and the Kodo and Mojo S Speakers (January 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- What's a Tonmeister? (November 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - AxiomAir N3 Wireless Speaker System (December 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Bang & Olufsen BeoLab 90 (November 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Gryphon Diablo 120 Integrated Amplifier (October 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Dynaudio History and Driver Technology (October 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - The Story How Gryphon Began (September 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Devialet History, ADH Technology, and Expert 1000 Pro (September 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Devialet's Phantom Loudspeakers (August 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh Home Theater and Streaming Audio (July 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - McIntosh MC275 Stereo Amplifier (June 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh History and Autoformer Technology (June 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - NAD Viso HP50 Headphones (May 2016)

I’ve become well acquainted with Monitor Audio in the past few years, having visited their offices in Rayleigh, just east of London in the UK, in 2014. I reviewed their Bronze 6 loudspeaker in 2016, and recently I used as my reference loudspeaker the flagship model of their previous generation of Silver models, the Silver 10 floorstander. I respect Monitor’s no-nonsense approach to loudspeaker design: not much pomp and circumstance, just sound engineering and modestly attractive looks.

Monitor Audio

Monitor’s Silver line is their most popular, and the new, sixth generation of Silver models will look very familiar to most audiophiles. The recipe is simple: high-quality, real-wood veneers and gloss finishes adorning the Silver 200 ($1500 USD/pair), 300 ($2000/pair), and 500 ($2500/pair) floorstanders; the 50 ($875/pair) and 100 ($1050/pair) bookshelf models; the C150 ($725) and C350 ($875) center speakers; the FX surround model ($875/pair); and the W-12 subwoofer ($1650). While it might have made more sense for me to request review samples of the Silver 500, I was far more interested to hear what the Silver 300 could do. I wondered if it might be the sweet spot of Monitor’s new Silver line -- it retains the three-way driver arrangement of the larger 500, but in a smaller, sleeker, narrower cabinet. The $1500/pair Silver 200, by contrast, must make do with a two-and-a-half-way array.

Details

The Silver 300 stands 39.4”H x 7.4”W x 13”D and weighs 44 pounds. The included outriggers and spikes add an inch or two to each of these dimensions. Finishes of Black Oak, Natural Oak, Rosenut, Walnut, High Gloss Black, and Satin White are available, though the Natural Oak finish must be specially ordered.

The Silver 300 is a visual knockout. The subtle lacquer shine of my review samples’ Walnut veneer was glossy enough to attract my eye but not enough for it to linger. The seamless wood grain shone through, and the rounded baffle gives the speaker a sophisticated look. On the rear of the bass-reflex cabinet are two contoured HiVe II ports, and two sets of binding posts for biwiring. As is my habit, I didn’t use the magnetically attached grilles. This allowed me to better appreciate such design flourishes as the oblong, brushed-aluminum plate that surrounds the midrange cone and the tweeter and includes a perforated subgrille for the tweeter, with Monitor’s logo and name curving around the holes at upper left, from 9 to 12 o’clock. With nary a mounting bolt in sight, my review samples looked quite dapper.

The Silver 300’s exterior doesn’t look all that different from that of the Silver 8, the fifth-generation model it replaces -- but the 8, too, was handsome. Given that the 300 costs no more than the 8 did, you might be forgiven for thinking that any improvements are only skin deep, but Monitor claims that the entire new Silver line benefits from improved drivers. The 1”, gold-colored, aluminum-dome tweeter is brand new, Monitor’s engineers having focused on lowering distortion. The 4” midrange cone and dual 6” woofers are made of Monitor’s ceramic-coated aluminum/magnesium (C-CAM), and given the company’s Rigid Surface Technology (RST) shape, a dimpled surface that Monitor says significantly increases cone rigidity.

Monitor Audio

All three drivers now make use of Monitor’s patented Dynamic Coupling Filter (DCF), a nylon ring that’s rigid up to the driver’s crossover frequency, and acts as a spring above that. First developed for the flagship Platinum II line, the DCF purportedly helps damp unwanted high-frequency energy produced by the driver it’s attached to. The midrange and woofers also benefit from improved magnets and voice coils, Monitor claims, while the cabinet is better braced, to help reduce colorations of the sound produced by the enclosure itself. Collectively, all of this helps minimize distortion, Monitor says, while making possible a nominal impedance of 8 ohms throughout the line -- the Silver 300 and its siblings should be easy to drive.

The Silver 300’s specifications include a frequency response of 32Hz-35kHz, -6dB, an efficiency of 90dB/W/m, a maximum SPL of 116dB/pair, and maximum RMS power handling of 200W. The tweeter is crossed over to the midrange at 3.5kHz and the midrange to the 6” woofers at 570Hz, each handoff via a fourth-order (24dB/octave) slope. The combination of a nominal impedance of 8 ohms (with a minimum of 3.5 ohms) and 90dB sensitivity should make the Silver 300s pleasant bedfellows for almost any amplifier that can put out at least 50Wpc, and possibly less in smaller rooms.

Setup

I attached the outriggers and spikes and placed the Silver 300s in the spots normally occupied by my reference KEF R700 speakers: about 8’ apart, 8’ from my listening position, and 1’ from the wall behind them. I toed them in until I could only just see each speaker’s inside panel. I then hooked them up to my Hegel Music Systems H360 DAC-integrated amplifier with DH Labs Q10 Signature speaker cables, and streamed music from iTunes and Tidal HiFi via the Hegel’s AirPlay input. The H360 was plugged into an Emotiva CMX-2 power conditioner, which helps eliminate the DC hum in my century-old inner-city home. The Monitors sounded good right out of the box; nonetheless, I played them for about 75 hours before doing any critical listening.

Listening

I’ve found that Monitor Audio speakers -- the Bronze 6, the Silver 10, and now the Silver 300 -- sound broadly neutral, but that their frequency response has been carefully contoured. I know that technical director Dean Hartley spends a great deal of time in Monitor’s in-house listening room, dialing in his team’s creations to ensure that they sound as a Monitor loudspeaker should -- this despite the fact that the Silver 300, like all Monitor prototypes, spent a lot of development time in the firm’s on-site anechoic chamber. With a half dB here and a dB or so there, you’re still getting a speaker with a mostly neutral sound, but that sounds a bit more dynamic and exciting than would a ruler-flat design. Doug Schneider, SoundStage!’s founder and publisher, likes to describe this sound as “Technicolor.” In practice, it meant that I found myself unconsciously playing a lot of rock, pop, and electronic music. These things can seriously rock out.

Monitor Audio

For instance, in “Despacito (Remix),” (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, Universal/Tidal), the 2017 smash hit by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee featuring Justin Bieber, Fonsi and Bieber were slightly farther forward on the soundstage than through competing speakers, as was the guitar riff that begins this track. It didn’t sound unnatural -- rather, the Silver 300s seemed to place me closer to the mike. Both voices sounded fantastic, Bieber’s breathy singing matching Fonsi’s sharper, more staccato enunciation. Their voices were smooth and detailed, leaning ever so slightly toward the clean, crisp end of the spectrum, with plenty of weight, if not warmth, through the mids. The bass line was definitely virile, and extended below 40Hz: punchy but not overwrought. This addictive combination of a forward midrange and deep, tight bass encouraged me to keep turning up the volume. The Monitors had no trouble keeping their composure.

Intrigued, I tried some big-speaker material: the original soundtrack for Tron: Legacy (16/44.1 FLAC, Walt Disney/Tidal). This album marries Daft Punk’s electronica prowess with their writing for an 85-piece orchestra at London’s AIR Lyndhurst Studios, and one of the more bombastic such tracks is “Disc Wars.” The drums at the beginning were thunderous, with well-defined strokes marked by rapid decays, and weight that laid a satisfying foundation for the rest of the music. Surprisingly, the Silver 300s didn’t overload my room, which full-size speakers tend to do. I was also taken with the uniformity of the speaker’s overall sound. I heard an immediacy and vigor from the Silver 300, from its tweeter straight down to its 6” woofers. I didn’t hear quite as deeply into recordings as I would have liked -- the Silver 300s’ imaging fell short of laser focus. Instrument separation was good but not great, the Monitors giving instruments a slightly soft, diffuse character. The same was true of the Silver 300’s overall transparency. While there was copious depth to Daft Punk’s orchestral arrangement, I had some trouble making out low-level detail toward the rear of the soundstage.

Monitor Audio

This modest lack of holography with “big” recordings was a bit of a letdown, and I found myself gravitating toward recordings that exhibit little in the way of depth but still showed off the Silver 300’s huge dynamic talents. With Rammstein’s cover of “Stripped,” from the Depeche Mode tribute album For the Masses (16/44.1 FLAC, A&M/Tidal), I couldn’t help but smile at Till Lindemann’s guttural, closely miked lead vocal, which practically dripped detail and articulation. The backing guitars had real bite and zest, and Christoph Schneider’s drums had satisfying amounts of decay and reverb. The sense of rhythm and liveliness was palpable on such tracks -- I found myself exploring the moodier music of my youth, from Rob Zombie, Goo Goo Dolls, and Collective Soul. I couldn’t get enough electric guitar and heavy drums as long as the Monitor Silver 300s were hooked up -- they were infectious.

With more delicate fare, such as “Threnody,” from Goldmund’s The Malady of Elegance (16/44.1 FLAC, Type/Tidal), the Monitor’s forward sound let me hear a great deal of Keith Kenniff’s deliberate yet melancholy approach to his piano. Indeed, the Silver 300s let me hear Kenniff’s unique miking approach, which tracks not only the keyboard but also the pedals. “Threnody” is rich and romantic, yet the Silver 300s’ subtle midrange emphasis pushed the piano farther forward into my room than I’m used to hearing it, which gave it greater tangibility. Such a front-row perspective may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it sure is mine.

Comparison

I had on hand pairs of two other midsize floorstanders to compare with the Monitor Silver 300: KEF’s new Q750, and the Bowers & Wilkins 704 S2. The KEF Q750 ($1499.98/pair) is a two-and-a-half-way design using a variant of KEF’s signature Uni-Q coaxial drive unit comprising a 6.5” midrange and a tweeter, with a 6.5” woofer and two 6.5” passive radiators. With subdued vinyl finishes and a simpler aesthetic, the Q750’s looks are more demure than the more upscale Monitor’s, and its cabinet isn’t built to as high a standard. I found the Silver 300’s slender proportions more attractive than the boxier Q750.

But the KEF Q750 distinguished itself with an incredibly linear and neutral sound that’s more balanced than the Silver 300’s. The KEF let me pick and choose which part of a performance to focus on, and emphasized no part of the audioband over any other. It was also more transparent, letting me hear deeper into such tracks as Daft Punk’s “Disc Wars,” and producing finer stereo imaging with “Stripped” à la Rammstein. But the KEF Q750 isn’t perfect. It couldn’t go nearly as deep in the bass as the Silver 300, which offered a far more robust foundation with Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s “Despacito (Remix).” Moreover, the KEF, for better or worse, couldn’t match the Monitor’s jump factor with upbeat music: rock, pop, and electronica.

Monitor Audio

The three-way B&W has a 1” carbon-dome tweeter, a 5” Continuum midrange, and two 5” woofers. The 704 S2 sounded even more upfront than the Silver 300, and its midrange was tilted far more forward. Through the B&Ws, Till Lindemann’s voice in “Stripped” was hollow in comparison to the Monitors, sounding sharper and over-enunciated, and with notably less power and weight. This worked wonderfully with some music, but dismally on tracks like this. The 704 S2 seemed to take the Silver 300’s focus on dynamics a step too far with its treble, too. Transients had an exaggerated whip and snap that bordered on the glassy, while the feeling of air around the piano in Goldmund’s “Threnody” was unnaturally emphasized, making it sound . . . too spacious. There’s no question that the B&W’s Continuum midrange driver unearths more low-level detail than did the Monitor’s 4” C-CAM unit, but it’s somewhat for naught, given the 704 S2’s heavy-handed voicing -- so much potential, so little realized. Beyond all this, the Monitor went considerably deeper in the bass with greater slam, which shouldn’t surprise, given its bigger cabinet and woofers. Visually, though, it’s a wash -- both models are built and finished to a high standard.

Conclusion

Monitor Audio’s Silver 300 doesn’t offer exceptional performance in any single parameter; it’s just very good at pretty much everything. It offers taut, extended bass, a smooth, well-controlled treble, and a bold, engaging midrange; it images fairly well, and produces a broad, deep soundstage. It’s a loudspeaker for the listener who values dynamics more than sterling neutrality, and who wants to move rather than sit and listen with stern solemnity. While it may be impossible for any $2000/pair speaker to “do it all,” the Silver 300 comes admirably close, and looks damn good doing it.

. . . Hans Wetzel
hansw@soundstagenetwork.com

Associated Equipment

  • Speakers -- Bowers & Wilkins 704 S2; KEF LS50, R700, and Q750
  • Earphones and headphones -- NAD Viso HP50, PSB M4U 4
  • Integrated amplifier -- Hegel Music Systems H360
  • Digital-to-analog converter -- Hegel Music Systems HD30
  • DAC-headphone amplifier -- Oppo Digital HA-2SE
  • Sources -- Apple MacBook Pro running Tidal and iTunes
  • Speaker cables -- DH Labs Q-10 Signature, Dynamique Audio Caparo
  • Analog interconnects -- Dynamique Audio Shadow RCA, Nordost Blue Heaven LS XLR
  • Digital interconnect -- DH Labs Silversonic USB
  • Power conditioner -- Emotiva CMX-2

Monitor Audio Silver 300 Loudspeakers
Price: $2000 USD per pair.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.

Monitor Audio Ltd.
24 Brook Road
Rayleigh, Essex SS6 7XL
England, UK
Phone: +44 1268-740580
Fax: +44 1268-740589

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

North American distributor:
Kevro International
902 McKay Road #4
Pickering, Ontario L1W 3X8
Canada
Phone: (800) 667-6065, (905) 428-2800
Fax: (905) 428-0004

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