In my years as an audiophile, I’ve encountered a few products that have left indelible marks on my memory because they offered something I’d never heard before. One such experience that stands out is the night I unboxed a Bryston B100 SST integrated amplifier and played Tori Amos’s Boys for Pele through it. From the first notes of her concert grand piano, I realized that while my NAD C 372 integrated was pretty good, the Bryston sounded much better -- even before I’d engaged its onboard DAC, which further improved its sound quality. I also remember the first time I heard a pair of Amphion’s Argon3 speakers. I was amazed that such clarity could be accompanied by so much warm bass.
Reviewing a pair of Monitor Audio’s Silver RS6 floorstanders was similarly revelatory. They sounded big for such small towers, but I was more impressed by their speed -- a term I’d never before used to describe a speaker’s sound. Their delivery of sound was tight and precise, devoid of bloat or overhang. Hearing the Silver RS6es helped me understand what UK audio reviewers mean when they describe an audio component’s sound as having “good pace, rhythm, and timing (PRaT).” I’ve since heard several other speakers from Monitor Audio, none of which has done anything to alter that initial impression of the company’s house sound, especially in terms of speed and clarity. So when I received review samples of Monitor’s new Gold 200 floorstanders ($5500/pair, all prices USD), I think I can be forgiven for expecting to hear more of the same.
Monitor Audio’s Gold series is just below their flagship line of Platinum II models. When Sheldon Ginn of Kevro International, Monitor’s North American distributor, dropped off the Gold 200s at my place, he told me that he owns a pair of Gold 300s, the 200’s bigger sibling. Although he conceded that the Platinum IIs offer higher sound quality, the Gold models are roughly half the price -- and, he intimated, offer a large portion of their Platinum counterparts’ sound.
I’ve already admitted to preconceptions about how the Gold 200s might sound. I also had expectations about how they would look. Between the sheer number of speakers Monitor sells and the fact that those speakers are manufactured in China, this UK company builds them to an astonishingly high level of quality for their prices -- something I’ve seen consistently from the brand.
The Gold 200 is no exception. My review samples were finished in Monitor’s Piano Ebony, which looks even better in person than in the photos on Monitor’s website. (Also available are Satin White, Dark Walnut, and Piano Gloss Black.) The ebony veneer had a high gloss that looked beautiful once I’d buffed off my fingerprints. The cabinet’s rounded corners give it a softened appearance, but it’s the front baffle that deserves the most praise.
Monitor’s basic aesthetic is shared by all their speaker lines, with appreciable increases in quality as the retail prices rise. The key words are clean and sophisticated -- the screws securing the drivers to the baffle are invisible, and there is no indication of how the grilles are attached (magnetically, of course). The woofers and the midrange-tweeter assembly are surrounded by silver rings that provide subtle flair and nicely complement the similar finish of the woofer cones. The metal grille over the tweeter looks surprisingly sharp, adding a modern accent to the rich wood veneer. The top of each speaker is covered in soft black leatherette -- a luxurious touch more frequently seen in far costlier speakers, such as those from Sonus Faber. Even the outrigger feet that stabilize the Gold 200’s stance deserve mention. Not only are they sturdily built, they’re accented with silver and chrome, and nicely complement the drivers.
The three-way, bass-reflex Gold 200 has two 6.5” woofers with cones that use Monitor’s Rigid Diaphragm Technology II (RDT II), trickled down from the Platinum II series: outer layers of ceramic-coated aluminum magnesium (C-CAM) sandwiching a core of honeycombed Nomex and an underlayer of woven carbon fiber, to provide stiffness and damping. The woofers are crossed over at 650Hz to a 2.5” C-CAM midrange driver that operates over a wide bandwidth of 2.85kHz, and hands off to a Micro Pleated Diaphragm (MPD) tweeter at 3.5kHz.
From a materials-science perspective, the midrange and woofers are impressive, but perhaps the Gold 200’s most interesting aspect is its tweeter. Its pleated surface gives the MPD a radiating area eight times that of a typical dome tweeter. As Monitor describes it, the pleats are rapidly squeezed together and pulled apart, as in an accordion, to create soundwaves in air and produce at the listening position a fast, dispersed sound up to 50kHz.
Nonetheless, the Gold 200’s specified frequency response is 35Hz-50kHz, -6dB. Other specs include a sensitivity of 88dB/W/m, a nominal impedance of 4 ohms, and a minimum impedance of 3.4 ohms at 1kHz. I thought the Gold 200s easy enough to drive -- my amplifier is comfortable with a lower impedance. Anyone looking to buy a speaker of this caliber would likely own a reasonably powerful amplifier; Monitor recommends 80-200Wpc. But in a smaller room and/or at lower listening levels, I imagine that even 50Wpc would be enough to get the Gold 200s to sing, provided the amp is stable into 4 ohms.
Standing on its outrigger feet and spikes, the Gold 200 measures 39.25”H x 11.13”W x 15.25”D and weighs 48.2 pounds. It felt heavy enough and solidly built, and the Piano Ebony finish gives it a distinct presence.
On the rear panel are two pairs of high-quality binding posts that accept spades, banana plugs, or bare wire. High and low on the back are two HiVe II ports, designed to accelerate the flow of air without producing annoying chuffing sounds.
The Gold 200s replaced a pair of Revel Performa F206 floorstanders in my reference system, and were connected to my Bryston B135 SST2 integrated amplifier with AudioQuest Comet speaker cables. Digital content arrived courtesy an Apple MacBook computer running Audirvana software, this connected to a Bryston BDA-2 DAC with an AudioQuest Forest USB link. The BDA-2 fed the B135 SST2 via Kimber Kable Tonik interconnects (RCA). All electronics were plugged into an ExactPower EP15A power conditioner-regenerator.
Recently, I moved out of the one-bedroom apartment in which I’ve done most of my listening since I began writing for SoundStage! and into a house. That apartment was of a decent size and surprisingly quiet, save for occasional voices from the hallway, or someone on the floor above dropping heavy objects. My new listening space couldn’t be more different: a large open area in a basement with a 10’ ceiling. The basement is partly finished, and the first thing I did was cover its bare concrete floor with a large area rug laid over the thickest pad I could find. And because I’ve set up my system in front of a brick fireplace, I’ve stacked some boxes behind the speakers to damp the sound. Ultimately, I’d like to finish the basement. Someday . . .
To gauge the sound of my new space, I began by listening to some recordings I know well, and one of the first was “So What,” from Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue (16-bit/44.1kHz AIFF, Columbia/Legacy). I’ve heard this track through dozens of speakers and know how it can sound -- or, at least, how it sounded in my old apartment. I began with my reference speakers, the Revel Performa3 F206 towers. Once I was satisfied that I had the sound dialed in reasonably well, I placed the Monitor Gold 200s in the positions just vacated by the Revels and listened again to “So What.” I then moved them a bit -- they ended up 7.5’ apart, and about that far from my listening chair. I toed the speakers in until their tweeter axes crossed just behind my head.
One thing I love about “So What” is how clearly laid out everything is on the soundstage -- it requires almost no effort to imagine the position of each of the six instruments across the front of the room. The first thing I noticed was the impressive width and depth of the stage the Gold 200s created. This was especially apparent when John Coltrane enters -- his tenor saxophone seemed to widen the stage to a degree I’d never heard in my old apartment, though “So What” had always sounded great there. The Monitors’ spacious sound was just as evident when I listened to Eddie Vedder singing “Society,” from his music for the film Into the Wild (16/44.1 AIFF, J Records).
The ample space that characterizes the sound of Kind of Blue (Columbia’s 30th Street Studio, where Kind of Blue was recorded, was a large hall -- a former church, with dimensions of 97’L x 55’W x 50’H.), was ably reproduced by the Gold 200s. Similarly, the reverb heard throughout A Feather on the Breath of God, a collection of compositions by the 12th-century abbess Hildegard of Bingen (16/44.1 AIFF, Hyperion), reveals the natural acoustic of the Church of St. Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead, London, where it was recorded. Listening to this on a Sunday morning, I was amazed by the sense of space conveyed by the Gold 200s as contralto Margaret Philpot sang “Ave, generosa.” And in “Columba aspexit,” the individual singers of the Gothic Voices, directed by Christopher Page, were nicely delineated, sounding precise in front of me.
Like other Monitor speakers I’ve heard, the Gold 200s were disciplined in their reproduction of recorded sound: always controlled at the volume levels I listened at, and squeaky-clean. Part of Monitor Audio’s “house sound” is their speakers’ ability to start and stop on a dime, and this was on full display with a high-resolution recording of the Finale: Presto of Haydn’s String Quartet in D, Op.76 No.5, performed by the Engegard Quartet (24/176.4 AIFF, 2L). The sounds of the two violins, viola, and cello were rich in tone and vibrantly immediate. This is not to suggest that the 200s sounded bright; rather, they sounded natural, allowing me to focus on the music rather than on the equipment through which I was listening to it. The first violinist’s attack on the soaring first note was sharp and incisive and nearly jolted me out of my chair. The fast tempo of this performance grabs the attention, and the Monitors had no trouble communicating its energy.
In “2:45 am,” from Elliott Smith’s Either/Or (16/44.1 AIFF, Kill Rock Stars), Smith’s doubled vocal was resolved with pinpoint accuracy, its aural images suspended in space at the front of the room. I heard the same with “Limit to Your Love,” from James Blake (16/44.1 AIFF, Atlas/A&M) -- Blake’s voice was tightly focused behind his piano, which itself had palpable weight and presence. The bass in this track goes deep, providing a brooding undertone to the rest of the performance, and the Gold 200s delivered it with excellent control and impact. At higher volumes the Monitors remained commendably composed, maintaining their clarity at volumes as loud as I could tolerate.
“I Never Learnt to Share,” also from James Blake, begins with Blake singing unaccompanied before being joined by a second voice and then a third, each soaked in reverb. The Gold 200s’ lucid sound was able to communicate an illusion of a huge space echoing with voices. The track crescendos to a climax that sounded full and powerful through the Monitors, each individual musical element carved out clearly across the soundstage.
The Gold 200s could provide sufficient low end in medium-size or even larger listening rooms. The bass they produced dug deep but was never woolly or ill-defined. Although even a pair of Gold 300s probably wouldn’t have been too much for my new listening room, I nonetheless never found myself craving more weight than the 200s provided. As with every Monitor speaker I’ve heard, the Gold 200’s clarity was almost beyond reproach, and its fast, clean sound was as evident in the lowest octaves as in the highest. If you want to rattle your floor and walls with film-soundtrack bass, you might consider adding a subwoofer -- but I didn’t need a sub to listen to music.
I compared the Gold 200s with my Revel Performa3 F206 speakers ($3500/pair). The Revel, another three-way design, has a 1” tweeter, a 3.5” midrange, and two 6.5” woofers. With their similar driver complements, prices, and physical dimensions, it made sense to compare these two models -- anyone interested in buying one might also find the other worth considering.
Eddie Vedder’s deep, resonant baritone in “Society,” from Into the Wild, sounded remarkably similar through the two pairs of towers. Switching back and forth between them, I was always treated to a consistently clean, open sound. The Monitors created a slightly deeper soundstage, this most evident when the backing singers harmonize with Vedder. Otherwise, whenever I thought I heard a difference, I’d then switch to the other speakers and not be so sure. Given that the Performa3 F206 is one of the best speakers I’ve heard, this is a testament to the quality of the Gold 200, which was never outclassed by its American counterpart.
As I listened to “m.A.A.d. city,” from Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d. city (16/44.1 AIFF, Aftermath/Interscope), the Gold 200s had a bit more bass oomph than the Performa3 F206es, whose sound was lighter in comparison. But Lamar’s voice was clearer through the Revels, as if it had been mixed a bit farther forward. And as clean as the Monitors sounded, the super-transparent Revels outlined Lamar’s voice more precisely. Ultimately, I appreciated how both pairs of speakers reproduced this track and could live happily with either -- but if forced to choose, I’d pick the Monitor Gold 200s for hip-hop: Their weightier sound is, overall, better suited to the genre, where greater fullness and impact are always welcome.
With Miles Davis’s “So What,” both pairs of speakers conjured up a wide, deep soundstage that helped to clearly separate the instruments spread across the front of my room. But again, the sound through both sets of speakers was well balanced -- I could hear little difference in the sound of Jimmy Cobb’s splash cymbal, the resonance of Paul Chambers’s double bass, or the richnesses of Davis’s trumpet, Cannonball Adderley’s alto sax, and Coltrane’s tenor.
If you like one of these speakers, chances are you’ll appreciate the other. But when I took into account the fit and finish, I preferred the Monitors. With its white finish, black drivers, and rounded cabinets, the F206 is attractive, but doesn’t match the almost obsessive attention to detail evident in the Gold 200. The latter’s high-gloss Piano Ebony veneer, screw-free front baffle, soft leatherette cap, and metal accents all add bits of tasteful flair.
Revel’s Performa3 F206 has been my reference loudspeaker for several years now -- I’d never reviewed another floorstander with which I’d consider replacing it. But now, having heard Monitor Audio’s Gold 200, that has changed. In many ways the two models perform similarly, but at times I preferred what I heard from the Monitors. For the most part their transparency and control were on a par with the Revels, but they pulled ahead in the physicality and sense of scale they delivered -- qualities far more meaningful to me in my new, larger listening space. Factor in the Gold 200’s more luxurious fit and finish, and the argument in their favor gets even stronger.
At the beginning of this review, I mentioned that every Monitor Audio speaker I’ve heard has sounded clean and precise. Those qualities are equally apparent in the sound of the Gold 200. $5500 is a lot of money for a pair of speakers, but given all the Gold 200s deliver in terms of appearance and, especially, sound, I say you get what you pay for. I think the Gold 200 could hold its own against speakers costing up to three times as much. In that, it’s raised the bar for what buyers can expect from a floorstanding speaker costing $5500/pair.
. . . Philip Beaudette
- Speakers -- Revel Performa3 F206
- Integrated amplifier -- Bryston B135 SST2
- Digital sources -- Bryston BDA-2 DAC, Apple MacBook computer running Audirvana
- Speaker cables -- AudioQuest Comet
- Interconnects -- Kimber Kable Tonik (RCA)
- Digital links -- AudioQuest Forest (USB), NexxTech optical (TosLink)
- Power conditioner -- ExactPower EP15A
Monitor Audio Gold 200 Loudspeakers
Price: $5500 USD per pair.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.
Monitor Audio Ltd.
24 Brook Road
Rayleigh, Essex SS6 7XL
Phone: +44 1268-740580
Fax: +44 1268-740589
North American distributor:
902 McKay Road #4
Pickering, Ontario L1W 3X8
Phone: (800) 667-6065, (905) 428-2800
Fax: (905) 428-0004