Monitor Audio has consistently impressed me with the quality of their sound at the audio shows. Whether top tier or more modest gear, they have always achieved a high standard of performance that has honored the music and earned spots on my personal wish list. This British company has a proven track record dating back to 1972, and has been on a roll of late, conjuring up a parade of state of the art challengers and high value trickle down offerings that have garnered universal accolades. The newly introduced Studio loudspeaker marks a fairly radical departure from their more traditional bookshelf designs. It stands in its own division, falling price wise between the Bronze 2 and Silver 50 speakers, and borrows technologically from their top tier with a tantalizing mix of fresh ideas applied to their proven technology. Just how good is the Studio?
DESIGN & FEATURES
The designer has opted for an ambitious D’Appolito configuration, marrying their advanced Heil variation MDP (Micro Pleated Diaphragm) tweeter to a pair of long throw 4 inch mid woofers derived and modified from their uppermost Platinum II line. The woofers utilize Monitor Audio’s proprietary C-CAM and RDT II technologies to achieve exceptionally low distortion. The woofers are clamped rigidly into place onto a curvaceous, die cast metal sub baffle via a bolt through assembly connecting the magnet structure of each driver to the rear panel to increase rigidity. The cabinet, though relatively light, is extremely solid. The design is dual rear ported, using a slotted variation of their HiVe II design, and allows an uncluttered rear panel layout. The connectors get the full premium treatment, with large, rhodium plated terminals from the Platinum line. Crossover components are likewise, high grade. Specifications indicate an efficiency of 86 dB and a nominal 4 ohm load that dips below 3 ohms, so quality amplification possessing a robust power supply will be needed for best advantage.
In the looks department, the Studio gets high marks. The grill-less sculptured face and svelte 340 x 156.2 x 361 mm (133/8 x 61/8 x 143/16”) dimensions echo their premium PL500 II line with a refined
aesthetic that screams slick, modern lifestyle décor. The speakers are done in a tasteful satin paint finish, available in white, black or grey, with upscale lower corner logo embellishments. The size allows wide placement versatility, from casual tabletop mount, to more traditional stand mount configuration, depending on your requirements and the seriousness of your audio playback ambitions.
The optional stands included for review were very nicely matched, both in aesthetic execution and build quality. The top plate is laser cut steel, the pillar is extruded aluminum, and the base is die cast aluminum. The provided finish had a matching grey pillar with a satin black top plate and a richly contoured black base. Full white satin is also available. Monitor Audio has opted for a 4 footer arrangement with height adjustable chrome plated spikes. The Studios can be bolted to the stands via 4 threaded holes located on the underside of the speaker, for a more rigid and stable interface. Damping and surface protection is afforded by oversized, rubber spacers on the top plate. The rear of the pillar offers a vertical recess with adjustable plastic restraints, to keep cabling tidy. The spike mount is thoughtfully recessed within an elastomer surround to allow for adjustable placement without spikes for those with hardwood or solid flooring, a nice touch.
My standard monitor arrangement automatically assumes the requirement for additional vibration management and utilizes IsoAcoustics resonance control mounts between the speaker and stand. To create a benchmark reference point, the Monitor Audio speakers and stands were set up as a matched pair, minus the IsoAcoustic enhancement. Electronics was a combo of Tortuga pre/Bel Canto/Wyred components, with Arkana Physical Research cable. A second round of listening sessions added the mounts back into the mix to see if the speakers would see benefits.
Out of the box the Studios played very much in the mold of a studio control monitor optimized to emphasize detail, all up front, all start-stop precision. The sheer detail level at this stage was mesmerizing, but ultimately lacked some refinement. As the system broke in, the Studios gained their British heritage, becoming more natural and displaying warmth and sophistication, without sacrificing their resolving power. Both drivers exhibited tight control, and the folded ribbon tweeter showed delicacy, sounding unforced and un-etched. Raw detail remained a strong suit of the Studio, showing high levels of enunciation that allowed me to follow complex lines of vocal or orchestral material. Enhanced vibration control added context to that detail, fusing quantity of information into more realistic instrumental character. Audience clapping on live venue recordings like Diana Krall “Live in Paris” or Loreena McKennitt “Nights from the Alhabra” evolved from a cloud of energetic transient snaps to a multitude of enthusiastic human hands.
Driver integration gelled at distances beyond about 3 feet, allowing a generous seating area for casual listening. Critical listening gave immersive results in near field and quite compelling performance far field, where bass response optimized with a meaty zest. The lower frequency limit was commendable, given the speaker’s modest proportions and 4 inch paired driver complement, plumbing down to a solid 35 cycles with good authority, provided that volume levels were kept at sane levels. I never felt the need to augment with my subwoofer, although those demanding greater impact may prefer that option. Midband performance was very much studio monitor neutral, neither adding or subtracting warmth, and could be mildly tailored to taste by choice of ancillaries. Highs reached upwards with pedigree finesse, showing Monitor Audio’s MPD tweeter to be a standout performer. With the IsoAcoustics resonance control mounts in place, the Studio transformed the character into a classic British reference monitor, becoming more midrange centric, with the response expanding in both directions as natural extension.
Best dynamic behavior was achieved operating at natural acoustic levels, allowing the speaker respectable macro swing with a wealth of micro detail. Higher volume levels were possible, but at the expense of some dynamic and spatial compression. Subwoofer augmentation would extend that range by a few dBs and increase the comfort zone of the main speakers. The Studio fared surprisingly well on a torture test recording “From the Age of Swing” by Dick Hyman, a Reference Recording jazz CD which challenges even top tier speakers and electronics. It demonstrated that the specified 110 dB dynamic ability could flex real muscle if applied to dynamic range rather than absolute volume level.
Image depth and projection expanded over the break-in period, rewarding with a good sense of space and a reasonable amount of layering, although initially falling slightly short of more expensive, upper tier. The overall size of the soundstage showed greater proficiency in width where the Studio could achieve near panel speaker spread, as well as good reproduction of height. It did a reasonable job projecting images forward, but compressed depth information to a small degree. Image focus and specificity followed suit, delineating better in the left to right plane, but somewhat homogenizing depth information. With vibration management applied, the Studio changed its game, expanding in all directions, showing small, but noticeable gains in width and height, and drastic gains in depth and focus. Image localization and dimensionality became far more palpable, placing performers with superior precision in a deeper, more defined soundstage. The Reference Recording “The Chicago Sessions 1994-1995: Clark Terry” came alive with full scale venue, and the delicately layered artificial soundscapes of musical pop like the Tidal track “Turn: The Wombats (featuring Dagny)” were revealed, big, bold and infectiously fun. At full potential, the Studios added a convincing image and soundstage to their list of attributes, rivaling much pricier fare.
Bottom line, how good are the Monitor Audio Studio and stand? The stand is effective, stylishly attractive, and a joy to use. It merits an easy recommendation. The Studio? Beneath that lifestyle exterior beats a heart of pure Platinum pedigree. If you treat it like an upper crust lifestyle component, it will deliver imminently satisfying results. If you treat it like a Platinum series progeny, it will reward with true High End performance. Lifestyle or audiophile? I’ll take both, thank you. Add another Monitor Audio product to my short list.