Mon­i­tor Au­dio Gold GX 5.1 Speaker Sys­tem

NOVO - - PRODUCT REVIEW - Suave Ka­jko

If you have an ex­cep­tional mem­ory, you might re­call read­ing about the Mon­i­tor Au­dio Gold GX se­ries speak­ers in these pages be­fore. I re­viewed the GX200 oor stand­ing loud­speak­ers ($4,995/pair) from this se­ries back in the Oc­to­ber/Novem­ber 2011 is­sue. The GX200 proved it­self as a very ca­pa­ble speaker in my two chan­nel sys­tem and of­fered many of the sonic char­ac­ter­is­tics that I was fond of. In fact I took enough lik­ing to these speak­ers that I ended up buy­ing them af­ter the re­view. Since I wasn’t look­ing to make any changes in my two chan­nel sys­tem, the GX200s be­came a part of the up­grade path for my base­ment home the­atre sys­tem. Of course a pair of loud­speak­ers at the front of the room hardly makes a home the­atre sys­tem, so I asked Cana­dian dis­trib­u­tor Kevro In­ter­na­tional to send us the re­main­ing speak­ers to make a full 5.1 sys­tem. The com­plete sys­tem to be eval­u­ated in this re­view in­cludes the GXC150 cen­tre chan­nel ($1,195), a pair of the GX-FX sur­round speak­ers ($2,390/pair) and the GXW15 sub­woofer ($3,195). The to­tal price of this 5.1 sys­tem rings in at $11,775. At this price my ex­pec­ta­tions were set pretty high, as they should be.

The Gold GX se­ries sits just be­low Mon­i­tor Au­dio’s ag­ship Plat­inum se­ries. As you might ex­pect, much of the tech­nol­ogy in the Gold GX se­ries is de­rived from lessons learned dur­ing the de­vel­op­ment of the Plat­inum se­ries. Aside from all the tech­nol­ogy, the sur­round speak­ers and the sub­woofer of­fer some fea­tures rarely found in speak­ers. Vis­ually, each of the mod­els in the Gold GX se­ries is quite at­trac­tive and a good se­lec­tion of nishes means that they’ll in­te­grate com­fort­ably with just about any room dé­cor. Avail­able nishes in­clude Bub­inga, Dark Wal­nut, as well as glossy Pi­ano Ebony, White and Black. There re­ally is a lot to get ex­cited about here. Let’s ex­am­ine each of the mod­els in this re­view a lit­tle closer and you’ll see what I mean.

The GX200 oor­stand­ing speaker is the lit­tle brother to the GX300. Its three-way de­sign sports a C-CAM (Ce­ramic-Coated Alu­minium/Mag­ne­sium) high fre­quency rib­bon trans­ducer, a 4 inch RST mid-range driver and two 5.5 inch RST bass driv­ers. All of the driv­ers in this speaker use Mon­i­tor Au­dio’s C-CAM tech­nol­ogy, a ma­te­rial orig­i­nally de­vel­oped by the aero­space in­dus­try for jet engine com­po­nents. The C-CAM man­u­fac­tur­ing process com­bines the var­i­ous ma­te­ri­als through a se­ries of speci c steps which re­sult in an al­loy cone that is very light, yet ex­tremely rigid. This makes the C-CAM driv­ers much less sus­cep­ti­ble to ex­ing or twist­ing dur­ing op­er­a­tion com­pared to other cone de­signs and re­sults in a signi cantly re­duced dis- tor­tion.

The pro­pri­etary rib­bon trans­ducer is an ul­tra-thin sand­wich of the C-CAM al­loy sus­pended in a trans­verse magnetic eld of high en­ergy rare earth mag­nets. Thanks to its mass of just 18 mg, its di­aphragm is ex­tremely quick at start­ing and stop­ping and hence is ca­pa­ble of re­pro­duc­ing the lead­ing edges of notes and mu­si­cal de­tails un­like the more typ­i­cal tweeter dome de­signs. The rib­bon trans­ducer is ca­pa­ble of achiev­ing fre­quen­cies above 60 kHz and while this is be­yond the thresh­old of hu­man hear­ing, it means that you’ll be able to hear all the mu­si­cal nu­ances and har­mon­ics found in high res­o­lu­tion au­dio con­tent.

What makes the 4 inch RST (Rigid Sur­face Tech­nol­ogy) mid-bass driver spe­cial are a se­ries of ra­dial ribs which signi -

cantly in­crease cone rigid­ity com­pared to other cone de­signs. In­creased rigid­ity trans­lates into a lower dis­tor­tion, while the use of the light weight C-CAM cone means higher speed and ac­cu­racy. The 5.5 inch RST bass driv­ers use the same tech­nol­ogy as the 4 inch RST driver but of­fer a larger driver size and heav­ier con­struc­tion with big­ger mag­nets.

The GX200 has a fre­quency re­sponse rated from 35 Hz to 60 kHz, a sen­si­tiv­ity of 89 dB and an im­ped­ance of 8 ohms.

The GXC150 cen­tre chan­nel of­fers a 2.5way, sealed cab­i­net de­sign, hous­ing two of the same 5.5 inch RST driv­ers as the GX200, with the same rib­bon trans­ducer in be­tween them. Its fre­quency re­sponse is rated from 55 Hz to 60 kHz, while its sen­si­tiv­ity and im­ped­ance matches the oor­stand­ing model.

The GX-FX is far from an or­di­nary sur­round speaker. It can pro­vide ei­ther di­rect (mono­pole) or am­bi­ent sur­round (dipole) sound with just a ick of a switch on the speaker it­self or with a 12 volt trig­ger from the AV re­ceiver. This makes it one of the most ver­sa­tile sur­round speak­ers on the mar­ket to­day suit­able for use in just about any room en­vi­ron­ment. In the mono­pole mode, the GX-FX uses its front- ring 6.5 inch RST driver and a rib­bon trans­ducer to pro­duce sound. In the dipole mode, it uses two pairs of side ring 4 inch C-CAM driv­ers and 1 inch C-CAM gold-dome tweet­ers, to­gether with the front- ring 6.5 inch RST driver. The dipole ar­range­ment pro­duces a more dif­fuse, en­velop­ing sound. The GX-FX speak­ers are de­signed to be stand mount- ed (a match­ing stand re­tails for $595) or can be in­stalled at on the wall with the in­cluded brack­ets. Speci cations of the GX-FX in­clude a fre­quency re­sponse of 60 Hz to 60 kHz, a sen­si­tiv­ity of 87 dB and an im­ped­ance of 8 ohms.

All of the GX se­ries cab­i­nets are con­structed out of 20 mm MDF, while each of­fers its own brac­ing to im­prove rigid­ity and min­i­mize cab­i­net coloura­tion. Each speaker in this se­ries of­fers bi-wire ter­mi­nals with fac­tory in­stalled spade jumper ca­bles. Round­ing out the GX se­ries is just a sin­gle sub­woofer called the GXW-15, and like the GX-FX sur­round speak­ers this is not just an­other run of the mill sub­woofer. Its sealed en­clo­sure is equipped with an ul­tra-long throw 15 inch C-CAM bass driver, ca­pa­ble of a whop­ping 1.5 inches of ex­cur­sion. For a 15 inch sub­woofer it has an at­trac­tively small en­clo­sure, mea­sur­ing roughly 16 inches in each of the three di­men­sions. Its power comes from a 650 watt (1,200 watt peak) D2Au­dioTM DSP con­trolled, Class-D am­pli er. The rear con­nec­tion panel of­fers both RCA and LFE in­puts and out­puts. What makes the GXW-15 stand apart from the crowd is an on-board ad­vanced au­to­matic room cor­rec­tion sys­tem called LEO (Lis­ten­ing En­vi­ron­ment Op­ti­mizer) by D2Au­dio. The GXW-15 has a fre­quency re­sponse rated down to an earth shat­ter­ing 18 Hz. Un­like the typ­i­cal sub­woofer the GXW-15 has a small dis­play at the top of its baf e as well as a knob/but­ton just above it, which in the­ory you never have to use be­cause all func­tions can be con­trolled from the sup­plied re­mote con­troller. ‘nuff said.

The sub­woofer man­ual says to run the LEO sys­tem be­fore run­ning that AV re­ceiver auto cal­i­bra­tion so that’s ex­actly what I did. Run­ning LEO is a min­i­mal­ist af­fair – plug in the sup­plied mi­cro­phone, place it where you would nor­mally sit and let the sys­tem run its course of test tones. The whole thing took only a cou­ple of min­utes in to­tal. Fol­low­ing this, I ran the auto cal­i­bra­tion of my Pi­o­neer Elite SC-07 AV re­ceiver. And now it was time for the fun stuff! I should men­tion that part way through this re­view process I switched to a much higher per­for­mance Ar­cam FMJ AVR600 AV re­ceiver. Armed with a stack of Blu-ray discs, both mu­sic and movies, and SACDs I red up my re­cently pur­chased Cam­bridge Au­dio Azur 751BD univer­sal blu-ray player and grabbed a seat on the couch. Yes, a re­viewer’s life can be a tough gig some­times.

First up was the Rolling Stones Shine a Light concert Blu-ray, Martin Scors­ese’s take on what a Stones concert disc should look like. The track “As Tears Go By” opens with Keith Richards play­ing an amaz­ing 12 string acous­tic gui­tar lick and I’ve hon­estly never heard it sound this good on any home the­atre sys­tem. The Mon­i­tor Au­dio speak­ers de­liv­ered the rich­ness of the dou­bled-up gui­tar strings with full­ness in the mid fre­quen­cies and an amaz­ing bell-like qual­ity in the higher oc­taves. The depth and tex­ture of this pre­sen­ta­tion was as close as I’ve heard from a real 12 string gui­tar. When Richards strummed full chords, the strings rang in a per­fect union, yet at the same time I could hear the dis­tinct sound of each string. The rib­bon tweet­ers re­pro­duced the high fre­quen­cies of both in­stru­ments and voices with an amaz­ing siz­zle and a high level of de­tail. The tweeter pre­sen­ta­tion was airy, su­per clean and smoothly in­te­grated with the mid fre­quen­cies, not once did I de­tect any harsh­ness in the up­per reg­is­ters. I also never got tired even dur­ing long lis­ten­ing ses­sions. Rib­bon tweet­ers of­fer a wider hor­i­zon­tal dis­per­sion com­pared to dome tweet­ers and hence of­fer a larger hor­i­zon­tal sweet spot. It should how­ever be noted that rib­bon tweet­ers have a lim­ited ver­ti­cal dis­per­sion and as a re­sult sound best when your ears are at their level. Fur­ther en­hanc­ing the per­for­mance of this song, the sur­round speak­ers did a great job of pro­vid­ing the am­bi­ence as the crowd sang along dur­ing the cho­rus. The Mon­i­tor Au­dio speak­ers pro­vided me with plenty of lis­ten­ing plea­sure as I en­joyed the rest of the tracks on this disc.

Next I switched to the Dire Straits: Broth­ers In Arms SACD, a fan­tas­tic al­bum (on many dif­fer­ent lev­els) that gets plenty of play time in both my two and multi-chan­nel sys­tems. The Gold GX se­ries served up a per­fectly bal­anced fre­quency range

and one of the clean­est, lus­cious sound­ing mid-ranges I’ve had the plea­sure of lis­ten­ing to in my home the­atre. The rib­bon tweet­ers ex­tracted the nest mu­si­cal de­tails with the out­most del­i­cacy. Tracks like “So Far Away” and “Money For Noth­ing” pre­sented me with a holo­graphic sound­stage – which reached well be­yond the walls of my lis­ten­ing room as drums played all around my lis­ten­ing seat. Mean­while, the GXW-15 sub­woofer blended smoothly with the rest of the speak­ers and pro­vided per­fectly re­solved and well ar­tic­u­lated bot­tom fre­quen­cies.

Flute Mys­tery (by Fred Jonny Berg) on Blu-ray gave me the chance to lis­ten to a wide va­ri­ety of string and air in­stru­ments. The re­pro­duc­tion of this DTS-HD Mas­ter sound­track was su­perb, ev­ery in­stru­ment sounded rich and tonally ac­cu­rate. I de­cided to take this op­por­tu­nity to in­ves­ti­gate the dif­fer­ence with the GX-FX sur­round speak­ers oper­at­ing in mono­pole mode ver­sus the dipole mode. The mono­pole mode, rec­om­mended when the GX-FX is used as a rear speaker in a 5.1 sys­tem, pro­duced a di­rect yet in­cred­i­bly smooth sound and re­pro­duced all of the ne in­tri­ca­cies of the mu­sic. Not sur­pris­ingly the dipole mode, rec­om­mended when the GX-FX is used as a side or rear speaker in a 7.1 sys­tem, pro­duced a much sub­tler sur­round ef­fect. Rather than send­ing the sound di­rectly to my ears most of it was sent to the side driv­ers. As a re­sult the sur­round chan­nels pro­duced a much gen­tler sound - I was hear­ing more of an am­bi­ent sound rather than the full char­ac­ter of the in­stru­ments as in the mono­pole mode. Both modes worked won­der­fully well but I stuck to the rec­om­mended mono­pole set­ting for most of my lis­ten­ing.

While there was noth­ing wrong with hav­ing the Pi­o­neer Elite SC-07 AV re­ceiver driv­ing these speak­ers, I knew that a higher level AV re­ceiver, like the Ar­cam FMJ AVR600, should bring a fur­ther im­prove­ment to what I was hear­ing. Af­ter all, the Gold GX isn’t just an­other speaker se­ries – this is Mon­i­tor Au­dio’s sec­ond se­ries from the top and should be ca­pa­ble of more than the Pi­o­neer re­ceiver can send its way. It didn’t take very long to re­al­ize that with the Ar­cam in place the sonic im­prove­ment was re­mark­able. The au­dio be­came more or­ganic and fur­ther re ned, par­tic­u­larly no­tice­able with voices and in­stru­ments. There was also a no­tice­able im­prove­ment in clar­ity and de­tail ex­trac­tion. Yes, this was a greater pair­ing for cer­tain. Hence, I con­ducted the re­main­der of the re­view with the Ar­cam.

If you’d like to read my im­pres­sions about the sound of the GX 200 oor stand­ing speak­ers in a 2-chan­nel sys­tem, I in­vite you to read my re­view in the Oc­to­ber/ Novem­ber 2011 is­sue (now avail­able on www.canadahi .com).

Hav­ing es­tab­lished the ex­cel­lent mu­sic per­for­mance of the Gold GX speaker, in both two and mul­ti­chan­nel tests, I set out to eval­u­ate their sound as a com­pan­ion for movies. I be­gan with Star Trek VI: The Undis­cov­ered Coun­try on Blu-ray. The Dolby TrueHD sound­track sounded great from the out­set. The mes­mer­iz­ing or­ches­tral per­for­mance dur­ing the open­ing cred­its started off softly and grad­u­ally built in in­ten­sity and dy­nam­ics. The Gold GX speak­ers did a very good job of re­pro­duc­ing all of the var­i­ous sec­tions of the or­ches­tra. I was en­veloped by sound emit­ted from all around me, from a per­fectly blended sur­round mix. The crisp, highly de­tailed pre­sen­ta­tion of the Gold GX speak­ers of­fered much of the char­ac­ter that one would ex­pect from a good hi speaker. The sub­woofer had its rst chance to strut its stuff at the very be­gin­ning of the rst scene as a large cos­mic ex­plo­sion swept across the sound­stage from the front to the back of the room. The bass was pre­sented with great depth and tight­ness, not just by the sub­woofer but also by the sur­round speak­ers. Dur­ing the rst few min­utes of the lm I no­ticed that the Gold GX had a slight ad­van­tage over other speaker de­signs thanks to their rib­bon tweet­ers. This ad­van­tage was the clar­ity of the di­a­logue. Un­like with some of the other speak­ers I’ve lis­tened to in the past, the GX cen­tre chan­nel never failed to de­liver a clean ren­di­tion of the char­ac­ter voices - re­gard­less of how many other lay­ers of sound were in the mix. An­other ad­van­tage was that the di­a­logue was clearly au­di­ble even at very low vol­ume lev­els.

While watch­ing Thor on Blu-ray, what I got was a de­cid­edly cin­e­matic ex­pe­ri­ence. The Gold GX speak­ers han­dled this in­cred­i­bly dy­namic sound­track with the out­most con­trol. Sound dur­ing qui­eter scenes was de­liv­ered with del­i­cacy and pre­ci­sion. Low fre­quen­cies dur­ing loud scenes were ca­pa­ble of de­liv­er­ing seis­mic thumps but al­ways sounded tight and con­trolled. The LEO au­to­matic room cor­rec­tion sys­tem built into GXW15 sub­woofer did a phe­nom­e­nal job of smooth­ing out the bass fre­quen­cies in my room, and pro­vided a bet­ter bass re­sponse in all the seats on my couch. Di­a­logue was al­ways su­per clean, even when lay­ered with other sounds and ef­fects. Again I no­ticed that voices were very clear even at lower vol­ume lev­els. In one of the scenes, as Thor snuck into the Shield agency site set up to in­ves­ti­gate the “satel­lite” crash site, all of the speak­ers worked in uni­son to cre­ate fan­tas­ti­cally re­al­is­tic rain­fall and thun­der­storm.

The Mon­i­tor Au­dio Gold GX se­ries of­fered a stel­lar per­for­mance in my home the­atre and for a to­tal price of just un­der $12,000 for a 5.1 sys­tem you would cer­tainly ex­pect them to. Whether I lis­tened to mu­sic or watched movies, they never failed to en­gage me at the high­est level. Voices and in­stru­ments sounded true-to­life and hence mu­sic was al­ways full of emo­tion, re­gard­less of genre. On many oc­ca­sions I felt like the per­form­ers were right in my room. Dur­ing movies with good sound­tracks (and vi­su­als) the Gold GX se­ries were ca­pa­ble of cre­at­ing a to­tal sus­pen­sion of dis­be­lief, mak­ing me feel like I was part of the ac­tion. Yes it is pos­si­ble to as­sem­ble a home the­atre speaker sys­tem for a much smaller amount but you’ll miss out on all the dy­nam­ics, de­tails and re­al­ism that only a higher-end speaker sys­tem like the Mon­i­tor Au­dio Gold GX can de­liver.

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