At the end of last month’s article, “The Best of Montreal Audiofest 2022,” I wrote that I would highlight my picks for the standout products at High End 2022 for this month’s column. We had a team of four at the show—held from May 19 to 22 in Munich, Germany—to produce coverage for our SoundStage! Global site, which we put online as the show was happening. I decided to put my picks on hold, however, because I felt that what Monitor Audio displayed in Munich had to take precedence.
Monitor Audio was founded by Mo Iqbal in Teversham, near Cambridge, England, in 1972, so 2022 marks the brand’s 50th year. Iqbal is no longer with Monitor—he sold the company to a group of audiophiles in 1997. That group grew the hi-fi loudspeaker company into the global powerhouse brand it is today, which has branched out into the home-theater and custom-install markets as well.
By all accounts, Monitor Audio is a success—and one with a lengthy history, at that. I visited the Monitor Audio headquarters—now located in Rayleigh, Essex—in 2015. I was blown away by the size and scope of the operation back then, and I understand the company has continued to expand. But in the back of my mind, I’ve always had the feeling that despite Monitor Audio’s success, its hi-fi speakers often get overlooked by audiophiles in favor of other British brands. And why is that? For one simple reason—Monitor Audio’s speakers look ordinary.
Note that I said look ordinary. As I said on our YouTube channel, the engineering of the brand’s Silver 300 and 500 7G speakers and the resulting sound can be considered “world class.” But when you look at a typical Monitor Audio speaker, you see a simple rectilinear wooden cabinet, finished with paint or veneer—you know, just like more than 90 percent of hi-fi speakers on the market today.
As far as I know, the furthest departure the company made from that formula was with its flagship Platinum series, which came to life in 2010 and is currently in its second generation. The Platinums’ wood cabinets have curved side and rear panels, along with some striking embellishments in leather and aluminum, which make them look fancier than Monitor’s other speakers—but they don’t stray that far from the norm.
Monitor Audio’s ordinariness was on display in a corner of its High End 2022 demo room. There, off to one side, sat a pair of Silver 100 Limited Edition loudspeakers. The Silver 100 Limited Edition is a model that celebrates the company’s 50th anniversary—and I wrote about it on SoundStage! Global as part of our coverage.
The Silver 100 Limited Edition is essentially a fancied-up Silver 100 7G. The drivers are gold-anodized to signify 50 years, its cabinet is finished in a color Monitor calls Heritage Green, and a gilded nameplate on the back displays the 50th-anniversary logo and the production number, in the “#n of nn” style of a limited-edition fine-art print. (As far as I can tell, nobody from Monitor Audio has stated the upper figure of the production run, and I couldn’t find it on the company’s website.) There’s a small bump in price over the standard Silver 100 7G: when the Silver 100 Limited Edition becomes available this September, it will be priced at $1695 per pair—$295 more than the Silver 100 7G sells for right now (all prices in US dollars).
I don’t have insight into Monitor Audio’s motives for producing the Silver 100 Limited Edition, but I suspect it might have something to do with being able to offer fans of the brand something special this year at an affordable price. It’s also recognizably a Monitor Audio speaker. Even though its performance is the same as the standard Silver 100 7G, I could see buying a pair because, based on what I know about the 300 and 500, it’s likely to sound pretty damn good—and I’ve got a soft spot for collectables, even if they cost a little more.
If that were all there was to Monitor Audio’s 50th-year celebrations, it would be a strong indicator that the company is content with being ordinary. And why not? It’s had considerable success already. But also on active demo in Munich was a pair of Concept 50s, finished in white—and a static display in the same Heritage Green finish as the Silver 100 Limited Edition.
The Concept 50 is proof that the company is not content to be ordinary anymore. In fact, the Concept 50 is so extraordinary in terms of its technical features and industrial design that it could catapult Monitor Audio into an entirely new category for its loudspeakers. It could also make people who have previously overlooked the company start paying attention to what’s being conjured up in Rayleigh.
Concept 50 won’t be the name of this anniversary speaker when it’s released. Like a concept car, it was on display in Munich to gauge consumer reaction before completion—and labeled as such. The price isn’t fixed yet, either. After talking to Charles Minett, chief industrial designer at Monitor Audio, and Michael Hedges, the chief acoustic designer, I was able to suss out that it will likely be less than $100,000 but more than $50,000 per pair—not that expensive, in the world of cost-no-object speakers, particularly when you look at the radical design ideas that have been employed.
Almost the only thing ordinary about the Concept 50 is Monitor Audio’s third-generation MPD (Micro Pleated Diaphragm) tweeter, which is an air motion transformer design that handles the highs. And it’s only ordinary to me because it’s used on some of Monitor Audio’s current lineup of speakers. The MPD tweeter is mounted in the middle of what looks like a boxing-championship belt strapped to two tall columns. That belt-like thing is made of aluminum.
Surrounding the MPD tweeter are six 2″ full-range drivers for the midband. I have never seen this driver used in a Monitor Audio speaker, nor have I seen the company use multiple midrange drivers before. They’re not run full range in this design but, according to Hedges, they could be if you wanted to—and that’s key. Hedges told me that the potential range of the drivers means they offer a broad swath of midrange output without the breakup problems often found with a large midrange driver. He also said that having six drivers allows for super-high power handling, which means high output, because the power is distributed across multiple drivers instead of being fed to just one.
Difficult to see on the Concept 50 are the four 8″ bass drivers mounted on the inner sides of the tall columns. There are two drivers per column, with each pair directly opposite the pair on the other side, which is important—because the opposed drivers’ frames are connected by metal braces. By mounting the woofers in this way, Monitor has created a force-canceling configuration, like you see with some speakers by Vivid Audio and KEF. This cancels out the vibrations that could otherwise transfer from the drivers to the columns. The result is that you hear the output of the drivers, not the resonances from those tall cabinets. To further reduce resonances, the belt-like piece that holds the MPD and midrange drivers attaches to the two columns via a suspension system to minimize the transmission of vibrations among the cabinet’s sections.
Michael Hedges (left) and Charles Minett
The way that the opposing pairs of woofers fire into a channel between the columns was intriguing to me, so I asked Hedges about it. He told me that woofers mounted the way they are on the Concept 50 radiate sound as freely as traditionally mounted woofers, providing the gap size between the columns is correct. According to Hedges, too narrow a gap creates a bump in the frequency response that you don’t want. So he simply worked out what the correct gap needed to be and that was that.
I’ve mentioned the high power-handling of the midrange setup. By having four drivers, the bass section can handle a lot of power, too. But Hedges confessed that he hadn’t yet subjected the speakers to extreme power-handling tests—because that would include testing to destruction, and the company hasn’t made that many speakers so far. But from what we heard in Monitor Audio’s High End 2022 demo room, a pair of Concept 50s can play extremely loud and extremely low in the bass. But as impressive as those aspects were, what everyone on our team noticed most was the midrange—it sounded unbelievably clean and pure, which I think we all found a little surprising. The speaker looks a little weird with all those midband drivers, as opposed to having just one for the task, but when you hear the result, you can’t deny that it seems to work.
Knowing the name of the Concept 50 will be changed when it goes into production made me think that the speaker is still a long way from the finished article. But Minett told me that he, Hedges, and the rest of the Monitor Audio team are gunning to have whatever this speaker will eventually be called out to market this year. That implies what we saw and heard in Munich is quite close to the final version. If so, the speed of delivery to the public seems extraordinary, too—and when the speaker does eventually launch, Monitor Audio may never again be seen as ordinary.
. . . Doug Schneider