Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment


Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Note: Measurements taken in the anechoic chamber at Canada's National Research Council can be found through this link.

The United Kingdom has a long, rich history of birthing and nurturing makers of exceptional loudspeakers: Bowers & Wilkins, Harbeth, KEF, Monitor Audio, Spendor, Tannoy, Wharfedale -- and those are only the ones I can think of off the top of my head. That Monitor Audio, founded in 1972, is one of the newer kids on that block is further testament to the UK’s longtime stature as a fertile breeding ground for hi-fi, as well as to the staying power of Monitor and the other remarkable manufacturers on this list.

Monitor’s newly revised Gold models are just below their topmost line, the Platinum IIs, from which Monitor has trickled down some technologies: e.g., the woofer and tweeter diaphragms, the bolt-through driver-mounting system, and the ports.

Monitor Audio

The subject of this review is the only minimonitor in the range: the two-way Gold 100 ($2100/pair, all prices USD). Above the Gold 100 in price are two three-way floorstanders, the Gold 200 ($5000/pair) and Gold 300 ($7000/pair). Also offered are the Gold 250 three-way center-channel ($1800 each), the two-way Gold FX surround ($2500/pair), and the Gold W12 active subwoofer ($3000 each).

Description

The Gold 100 is a minimonitor of average size -- 14.2”H x 7.7”W x 13”D -- and weighing a fairly hefty 20 pounds. Its 6.5” midrange-woofer is made of Monitor Audio’s proprietary Rigid Diaphragm Technology (RDT), now in its second iteration. RDT II comprises thin layers of Ceramic-Coated Aluminum Magnesium (C-CAM, another Monitor proprietary material) and carbon fiber, these sandwiching a core of Nomex. Monitor claims that this results in an incredibly stiff yet light, well-damped cone that minimizes distortion.

This midrange-woofer is crossed over at 2.5kHz to a Micro Pleated Diaphragm (MPD) tweeter -- essentially, an air-motion transformer (AMT) -- for, says Monitor, “a crisp top-end with attack but without harshness.” Its tightly folded diaphragm is somewhat like an accordion, with a radiating surface area six times greater than that of the 1” dome tweeter used in the previous iteration of the Gold series. Monitor claims that this and the MPD’s low mass make possible a smooth, wide frequency response and better transient response. Also unlike conventional dome tweeters, the MPD presents an inherently resistive load, with no meaningful inductance and no fundamental resonance.

Monitor Audio

Around back are two pairs of high-quality five-way binding posts, to accommodate biamping or biwiring, and a port lined with textured plastic, to increase the bass output. A single lonely bolt head above the port serves to tighten the bolt that stretches from the rear panel to the back of the tweeter’s frame, to affix it to the cabinet -- unlike in most speakers, no other bolts or screws secure the tweeter to the front baffle. Another bolt attaches the midrange-woofer to the rear panel, though this second bolt can be accessed only by removing the binding-post plate.

The Gold 100’s specifications include a frequency response of 40Hz-50kHz, -6dB, an anechoic sensitivity of 86dB/2.83V/m, a nominal impedance of 4 ohms, and a minimum impedance of 2.8 ohms at 3.4kHz.

The Gold models are available in four very high-quality finishes: Piano Gloss Black, Piano Ebony, Dark Walnut, and Satin White. The top panels of all but the subwoofer are finished in a luxuriously soft, black faux leather. The cabinet edges are rounded, and there are no visible joins. The quality of my samples’ Piano Gloss Black finish didn’t reflect the retail price -- Monitor has bestowed on a relatively affordable speaker a premium look. The cabinet’s flawless, joinless, rounded mirror finish, the screwless flush mounting of the drivers, and the textured top all come together beautifully to exude quality and prestige. This is a lovely speaker to look at.

Setup

The Gold 100s arrived well protected in their box, their beautiful cabinetwork unblemished. Included are: an instruction manual; a black, magnetically attached grille and a port plug for each speaker; and two quartets of self-adhesive rubber pads. I set the Gold 100s atop the Bowers & Wilkins stands I use for my reference B&W 705 S2 minimonitors. Positioned along one long wall of my room, those stands form a 9’ equilateral triangle with my listening chair. The speakers were toed in 18°, and the rears of their cabinets were 20” from the front wall. My dedicated listening room measures 15’L x 12’W x 8’H, is fully carpeted over a concrete slab, and is treated with broadband absorption at the points of first sidewall reflections, as well as on the front wall between the speakers. There are bass traps in the front corners, and some diffusion along the wall just behind my high-backed recliner.

Monitor Audio

I connected the Gold 100s to the 4-ohm output taps of my McIntosh Laboratory MC302 power amp with generic 12-gauge speaker cables of oxygen-free copper terminated with locking banana plugs. The source was my Bluesound Node streamer, connected via optical interconnect (TosLink) to a miniDSP DDRC-22D room-equalization processor (with its built-in Dirac Live turned off), its digital output in turn connected via TosLink to the DAC in a McIntosh C47 preamplifier, which fed the MC302 via balanced (XLR) interconnects.

When the DDRC-22D is left in the signal chain with its Dirac Live EQ filters turned off, all it does is upsample all incoming PCM data to 24-bit/96kHz. I always leave the DDRC-22D’s digital volume control set to maximum. I used the Node streamer as a Roon endpoint, controlled via Roon’s remote app installed on a Samsung Galaxy Tab S smartphone, the Roon application running on a laptop computer running Windows 10. I played music through the 100s at a decent volume level for about 20 hours before sitting down to do some serious listening.

Sound

I first listened to “Already Gone,” from Blue Rodeo’s Lost Together (16/44.1 FLAC, WEA Canada). From the opening guitar strums to left and right of center, I could tell that the Monitor Gold 100s weren’t lacking in resolution and transparency. I heard in the guitars all the layering I’m used to hearing, and when Jim Cuddy starts singing, the Gold 100s sounded smooth -- the tightly focused aural image of Cuddy’s voice appeared dead center, above and just slightly behind the plane described by the speakers’ frontmost edges, and with convincing presence. The bass drum enters 1:04 into this track, and this was when the 100s made a first impression that turned into a lasting one: the bass was substantial, full, and tight, with lots of speed and detail, and without excessive boom. I was pleasantly surprised by such deep bass from a speaker of this size -- indeed, when I used my calibrated UMIK-1 microphone to measure the Monitor’s in-room -3dB point, I got 33Hz.

Monitor Audio

Above the Schroeder frequency (about 300Hz in my room), the Gold 100s sounded neutral, never accentuating any part of the audioband. The midrange, where voices live, had nice presence and body without sounding too forward, and the top end was never aggressive or oversibilant. What I heard was again corroborated by a plot of my measurements at the listening position: a gentle slope gradually descending from 3 to 20kHz, with no broad peaks or depressions to indicate coloration of the sound by the speakers.

Next came some women’s voices: “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” from Bonnie Raitt’s Luck of the Draw (16/44.1 FLAC, Capitol), is a well-recorded track, Raitt’s voice accompanied by piano and subtle percussion. Here the Gold 100s showcased the nimble delicacy required to transport me to the recording session. They were very transparent, reproducing Raitt’s voice with no hint of cabinet coloration -- the music floated in space, with no attention drawn to the speakers themselves. Piano notes had weight and decay, and the gently brushed cymbal, imaged just to the left of and behind Raitt, was well delineated, with shimmer, even dispersion, and long decays. Bass doesn’t predominate in this track, but the Gold 100s’ exemplary delivery of the bottom octaves helped firmly anchor this performance, providing satisfying weight and a sense of size and scale that belied the speakers’ small size.

Monitor Audio

You’d think that, after listening to the title track of AC/DC’s Back in Black (16/44.1 FLAC, Atco) some two dozen times for Doug Schneider’s “Seven Shades of AC/DC’s ‘Back in Black’ -- Finding the Best Version to Test Your System With,” I’d be sick of it. Guess not -- great tunes are great tunes. I played it loud, as it should be played, and the Gold 100s didn’t disappoint. However, I noticed that although my room is on the small side (if well damped), these little speakers demanded quite a bit of power. I estimate that my McIntosh MC302 power amp was peaking at about 100W (the MC302’s meters display a range of 30-300W). So, a warning to prospective buyers: amps producing only 40-50W might not let the Gold 100s play loudly, or sing at their full potential. But with a 300Wpc power amp providing the juice, the little Monitors sounded fantastic with “Back in Black” -- the bass was punchy and tight, the lead guitar had bite and sharply delineated edges, and the rhythm guitars were wonderfully layered, with a visceral, guttural sound. The cymbal crashes, though not the last word in high-frequency extension, sounded balanced, and never etched or irritating.

Monitor Audio Gold 100 vs. Bowers & Wilkins 705 S2

My reference minimonitor, the Bowers & Wilkins 705 S2 (I reviewed it in March 2019), seemed the perfect speaker with which to compare the Monitor Gold 100. Both are two-way speakers designed in the UK, are similar in size and weight, and have 6.5” midrange-woofers. Heck, my samples of both even looked similar -- gray drivers on superbly finished piano-black cabinets. The main difference is in the tweeters: flush-mounted MPD for the Monitor, and for the B&W a carbon-stiffened aluminum dome surrounded by a carbon ring, the entire assembly housed in a separate “bullet” nacelle perched atop the speaker’s top panel. And their prices differ by only $400 (the 705 S2 costs $2500/pair). As soon as I’d confirmed that the B&Ws are in fact 2dB more sensitive than the Monitors, as stipulated in the manufacturers’ specs (88dB vs. 86dB, respectively), I began performing quick A/B comparisons, making sure to match the speakers’ volume levels each time.

The speakers’ sounds were basically similar: very detailed and transparent, capable of casting 3D images on vast soundstages. Some differences, however, had me choosing one over the other most of the time. For example, with Blue Rodeo’s “Already Gone,” the 705 S2s had a bit more presence through the midrange, especially with voices, and a bit more reach-out-and-touch-it realism. Jim Cuddy’s voice imaged a bit higher, had a bit more body, and was a tad smoother through the B&Ws -- loud vocal inflections that tended to sound sharp through the Monitors were slightly less so through the B&Ws. The 705 S2s yielded more extension and dispersion with the cymbal crashes that appear 2:10 in, producing a soundstage that extended past the speakers’ outer side panels. With the Gold 100s there was a bit less extension on top, and more of a sense that the sound was trapped inside the speakers. The speakers were quite close in terms of bass tautness and punch, and the Monitors provided just a bit more output in the lowest octaves.

Monitor Audio

“I Can’t Make You Love Me” again sounded a tad smoother through the 705 S2s, more realistic, and Raitt’s voice seemed to float in air a bit more convincingly. When she leans in to belt out a line, the Gold 100s could sound a bit shouty on the leading edges of notes compared to the slightly smoother-sounding 705 S2s. Conversely, the B&Ws managed to sound a bit irritating, courtesy their notoriously hot tweeters, reproducing ess sounds with a bit too much sibilance -- with this track, the Monitors kept sibilance completely under control.

With the cymbal crashes in AC/DC’s “Back in Black,” the 705 S2s outclassed the Gold 100s with greater extension, width, and longer decays, while the Monitors excelled in bass reproduction. While overall the two speakers were equally punchy and fast on bottom, the Gold 100s seemed to dig a bit deeper, for a fuller bass sound. Throughout the midband I again preferred the B&Ws, which offered more presence and air around voices and a bit more bite to guitar.

Lastly, I compared the speakers by playing Michael Bublé’s exceptionally well-recorded duet with Loren Alfred on “Help Me Make It Through the Night,” from his Love (24/48 FLAC unfolded to 24/96 MQA, Reprise/Tidal Masters). Through both speakers it sounded sublime -- with the same differences. The opening acoustic-guitar plucks to right of center stage had a bit more sparkle through the B&Ws, the leading edges of notes having more presence and bite. The two voices were smoother through the B&Ws, especially Bublé’s, and both singers imaged a clean foot higher, despite the 705 S2s’ tweeters being only about 3” higher than the Monitors’ tweeters. And once again, the Gold 100s yielded more bass output than the 705 S2s. Though this track doesn’t suffer from excessive sibilance, I found that the voices tilted a bit too much toward brightness through the B&Ws -- a charge I couldn’t lay at the feet of the Monitors and their well-controlled treble.

Monitor Audio

Overall, I preferred the sound of the B&W 705 S2 to that of the Monitor Gold 100. The speakers’ in-room frequency-response plots reveal that, overall, the Gold 100 is the more neutral-measuring speaker -- above 300Hz or so, its response was flatter in my room than the 705 S2’s, meaning it colored the sound less. The B&W’s plot shows a distinct rise in the presence region (500-1000Hz), which I find very pleasing, followed by a second rise in the sibilance region (3000-10,000Hz), which I decidedly do not like, and under normal circumstances EQ away with Dirac Live (which I didn’t use for this review). One could argue that the Monitor Gold 100 is a more “textbook” speaker. Which would you prefer to listen to? You’ll need to listen for yourself.

Conclusion

What I heard from Monitor Audio’s Gold 100s was a very detailed and transparent midrange with pinpoint imaging, and a neutral sound that didn’t call attention to or mask any part of the audioband. The Gold 100s played cleanly at high volume levels, though to do that with no concern may require an amplifier offering north of 100Wpc. The Gold 100 particularly stood out for its overall bass performance, which was perhaps the best of any minimonitor I’ve heard in my room. It surpassed my already very good Bowers & Wilkins 705 S2s with bass of similar tightness and speed but slightly more output and fullness. Although most of the time I ultimately preferred the B&Ws’ overall sound, I found the Gold 100 to be the more accurate, neutral speaker -- that is, the speaker of greater fidelity to the source signal. Last but not least, the Gold 100 is a real looker that could pass for a speaker costing twice as much. From its rounded cabinet with perfect mirror finish to its textured top to its cutting-edge, single-bolt-mounted midrange-woofer and tweeter, I found nothing in its looks to complain about.

The Monitor Audio Gold 100 is well worth $2100/pair, and should be on the must-audition list of anyone who’s shopping for high-quality minimonitors.

. . . Diego Estan
diego@soundstagenetwork.com

Associated Equipment

  • Speakers -- Bowers & Wilkins 705 S2
  • Subwoofers -- SVS SB-4000 (2)
  • Power amplifier -- McIntosh Laboratory MC302
  • Preamplifier-DAC -- McIntosh Laboratory C47
  • Crossover -- Marchand Electronics XM446XLR-A custom balanced, line-level, 120Hz high-pass filter (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 streamer, laptop computer running Windows 10, Roon
  • Analog source -- Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Esprit turntable with Ortofon 2M Red cartridge
  • Speaker cables -- 12-gauge, oxygen-free copper (generic) terminated with locking banana plugs
  • Analog interconnects -- AmazonBasics (RCA), Monoprice Premier balanced (XLR)
  • Digital link -- AmazonBasics optical (TosLink)

Monitor Audio Gold 100 Loudspeakers
Price: $2100 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

E-mail: info@monitoraudio.co.uk
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