Essex-based Monitor Audio has a new Gold series - and this is the biggest and tallest floorstander of the range
Monitor Audio pushed the boat out with its prestigious PL300 floorstanders in 2007, the first speakers in its then new Platinum range to employ an in-house designed ribbon tweeter. Later came the more affordable PL200s with a slightly smaller footprint, £5000 three-ways whose sharp clarity and fi nesse impressed me greatly when we reviewed them in Dec ’09.
Below the company’s flagship Platinum range comes the Gold series: substantially more affordable speakers with less elaborately constructed enclosures and drive units. The Gold GS models, in the market since 2006, have been replaced this year by an entirely new Gold line-up now called GX. The big news is that the company’s fabulous ribbon tweeter has migrated to these less pricey models. But it’s not exactly the same ribbon, as it has a shade more mass and shifted magnet sensitivity to enable it to extend lower in frequency with concomitantly higher power handling.
RIBS AND RIBBONS
This top-of-the-range GX300 is a three-way loudspeaker standing just over a metre tall, featuring two 6.5in bass drivers crossing over at 790Hz to a 4in midrange unit, which hands over to the ribbon at 2.3kHz. There’s a slightly smaller brother, the £2300 GX200, which employs two 5.5in woofers. Also in the Gold GX series are two standmount models and – covering all bases – two centre speakers, an interesting surround/on-wall design that’s switchable between monopole and dipole operation, and a subwoofer.
Monitor Audio forms its drivers from an alloy called C-CAM: Ceramic- Coated Aluminium/Magnesium. During manufacture the alloy is put through a three-stage ‘stress-relieving’ process aimed to remove surface deformation and molecular weakness. Once formed, the cone undergoes a high temperature anodic coating process in which ceramic alumina is layered onto its surfaces to a depth of 50 microns, producing a lightweight sandwich of alloy and heat-dissipating ceramic material.
In the GX series the bass and midrange cones are ribbed for additional rigidity, while fi nite element analysis (FEA) has been used to determine the ‘ideal’ cone profi le, and the drivers’ diecast alloy chassis designed for efficient venting in order to keep the driver cool and reduce internal pressure. Rather than being bolted or screwed onto the front baffl e, each drive unit is secured via long tension bolts that pass all the way through from the rear of the cabinet to the back of each driver’s motor unit. Serving a dual purpose, these bolts add further rigidity to the sculpted enclosure, which is formed by building up laminations of MDF to a thickness of 20mm, with multiple radial internal braces.
The Platinum series with ribbon tweeters has been a resounding success commercially, especially in Japan where the company enjoys a healthy market share in what is after all one of the most competitive and discerning markets in the world for high performance (and high value) hi-fi components.
Of course, if you’re going to manufacture loudspeakers that are affordable and offer a big bang for the buck, you’re going to have to make them on large assembly lines in substantial quantities. These days Monitor Audio has its own factory in China where it employs some 350 people, with shipping all around the globe. Given the price of these GXs, the quality of finish is quite fabulous.
Our review pair of GX300s was in high gloss black, lacquered and polished to a mirror-like sheen. White is an option too, along with natural oak, dark walnut and bubinga real wood veneers – all grainmatched and coated with 11 layers of lacquer. Ebony can be ordered as well, but commands a 20% premium.
ALL THE DETAIL
There’s a family resemblance in the sonic character of these GX300s to the Platinum PL200s that was noticeable within minutes of fi ring them up. The sound was fast and immediate, majoring on warts ’n’ all detail retrieval, with little in the way of papering over the cracks of poor recordings. With good ones, however, they created holographic images, almost electrostatic-like in their ability to create a three-dimensional picture of the musicians playing. I observe this to be the speed of the GX300s’ ribbons that allows for fabulous portrayal of acoustic ambience and low-level fine detail.
That Monitor Audio’s C-CAM ribbons sound so naturally explicit and ‘fast’ also means that percussion sounds, well, simply real. And you don’t need to be playing modern high resolution recordings via DVDAudio or a computer source in order to appreciate this fully. Listening to ‘Happiness Is Easy’, the opening track of Talk Talk’s The Colour Of Spring from an original 1980s vinyl LP [EMI EMC 3506] showed that the GX300s can do much of what the more costly PL200s do, the sizzle and snap of the drummer’s hi-hat appearing truly lifelike.
So many speakers with dome tweeters sound fuzzy and vague in comparison. The speakers’ retrieval of fine detail means you hear right into the sound coming from the engineer’s mixing desk. The ‘gating’ of instruments’ reverberation, artifi cial reverb applied electronically, and even sloppy edits can all be observed – almost as if one is listening on headphones.
So the family resemblance was clearly abundant in one respect; however, the sound was leaner than I experienced from the PL200s, and more brightly lit too. While the ‘slap’ of Danny Thompson’s acoustic bass was fast and crisp, the instrument lacked suffi cient body and oomph. Later in the album the mellotrons and children’s school choir during ‘Life’s What You Make It’ sounded thin and just plain too bright.
Initially I had the speakers positioned pretty much in free space in my listening room, almost a metre from the side walls and as just as far from the rear wall. But as our accompanying lab report shows, the GX300s do require some rear wall boundary reinforcement if you’re hoping for any hint of rich, rumbling bass from rock and large orchestral recordings. Indeed, in an exclusive interview regarding the launch of the company’s Gold GXs Monitor Audio’s marketing director Alex Brady told HFN: ‘Mindful of the importance of the Japanese market for our most prestigious models our technical director Dean Hartley has designed the GX300 (and smaller GX200 floorstander) to work in small-ish rooms. This is the first time that any of our larger tower speakers have been able to work really well when placed close to a wall. As a consequence we’re predicting they will prove particularly popular with UK buyers, as we Brits are living in increasingly smaller homes these days…’
A SMALL SHIFT…
Pushing back the GX300s to within a few centimetres of the rear wall, placing them further apart and toe-ing them in so that their axes crossed just in front of the listening hot seat, did flesh out the sound considerably, adding some warmth and weight to the lower frequencies while taming the brightness.
With impressive recordings such as ‘Mary Magdalene’ from Me’Shell Ndegéocello’s Peace Beyond Passion [Maverick 46033] the GX300s would punch you in the solar plexus if you turned the wick up, the bass stopping and starting when appropriate, and growling with gusto as the music demanded. The reverberation tails and myriad delicate percussive details in ‘Mary Magdalene’ hovered above and within the sound image, all the charming tinkles of bells and cymbals crisp and clear – and differentiated clearly from the electronically-created percussive embellishments mixed in.
Such delicious transparency and the feeling of air and space really came to fore with the classic 1967 Vox/Turnabout recording of Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances by the Dallas SO under Donald Johanos [24-bit/96kHz DVD-Video format disc, Classic DAD 1004]. The reproduction of the dynamic scale and subtlety of tone colours was tremendous, the creation of the image of a large symphony orchestra in a hall riveting. Only the big ‘push’ of air pressure from the timpani was missing. For seismic low frequency wallop you’ll need a subwoofer.
While we’re talking of creating a big-scale sound, the GX300s made a sterling effort to generate the buzz of live performance and recreate the atmosphere of the Budokan Theatre Tokyo with the extended blues of Otis Rush’s ‘Double Trouble’ from Eric Clapton’s Dec ’79 Just One Night [Polydor 531 827-2]. The whistling and shouting of the audience was palpable, the bass line well controlled and drum kit’s zinging cymbals crisply focused.The more mellow ‘Rambling On My Mind’ was equally atmospheric, the GX300s highlighting Clapton’s impressive vocal delivery in this timeless album.
These are very revealing speakers that should be avoided if you’re planning to feed them just with low quality MP3s! But for enthusiasts desiring to hear the finest details in good quality recordings the GX300s will prove highly rewarding. Bear in mind you will need a good amp to drive them. That they benefit from a little rear wall bass reinforcement will be a plus for those with cramped listening rooms.
Originally published in the October 2011 issue
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