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Published October 1, 2008

 

Monitor Audio Bronze BR2 Loudspeakers

Monitor Audio is an elder statesman of the loudspeaker world. Founded all the way back in 1972, this British company has outlasted myriad competitors to become one of audio’s most respected names by sticking to what it does best: making great speakers at prices most people can easily afford. But don’t for a second think that Monitor got where it is by playing it safe or living off past glories. If there’s one word that applies to Monitor Audio products, it’s innovation. That’s as true for the top-of-the-line Platinum PL100, reviewed last month on SoundStage! by Doug Schneider, as it is for the affordable Bronze BR2.

Description

At 13.75"H x 7.31"W x 9.81"D, the BR2 ($450 USD per pair), is the largest bookshelf speaker in Monitor Audio’s Bronze range. Each 13-pound speaker has a claimed frequency response of 42Hz-30kHz, +/-3dB, a sensitivity of 90dB/W/m, and an impedance of 6 ohms. The recommended range of amplification is 30-100Wpc. The BR2 is offered in Black Oak Vinyl, as well as the Cherry Pearlescent Vinyl of my review samples. Fit and finish are very good, and the two pairs of all-metal, five-way binding posts ’round back are nice to see at this price. Port plugs and black snap-on grilles are included.

Like all Bronze speakers, the BR2 features a 1" dome tweeter made of what Monitor calls Ceramic-Coated Aluminum Magnesium (C-CAM). According to the company, the benefits of making tweeters of C-CAM vs. the more conventional aluminum are extended frequency response, higher sensitivity, and greater detail. The C-CAM tweeter also has a rear-mounted damping chamber said to more smoothly respond to the input signal. The gold-topped tweeter dome is covered by a fixed grille of metal equidistant from the woofer below it and the 1.5" port above it, giving the front baffle a nice symmetry.

The 6.5" woofer cone is made of Metal Matrix Polymer, version 2 (MMP II), a material that, Monitor claims, provides the qualities required of all driver cones -- great stiffness and low mass -- while being compatible with Monitor’s high-pressure injection-molding process. Monitor says that this process allows its engineers to specify different thicknesses at different points in the cone: thicker where greater stiffness is needed, thinner where lower mass is critical to achieving better performance. This varying thickness, the company says, results in a cone with superior sonic properties, and thus a better-sounding loudspeaker.

The woofer incorporates two other technologies said to increase performance. The first is the driver’s nonmagnetic, glass-infused, cast-polymer basket, designed to provide a strong foundation for the MMP II cone while being inherently immune to vibrations. While you can’t see the woofer’s basket from outside the BR2, it would be hard to miss the pointed metal phase plug that stands proud of the woofer’s center point. Done in glossy black, the dome contrasts nicely with the cone’s silvery finish. But the plug isn’t there to just look nice; Monitor says it greatly improves the BR2’s off-axis midrange response. That should translate into a wide midrange sweet spot, and, as you’ll read . . .

System

Whenever possible, it’s a good idea to match review items with the kind of gear they’ll be working with in real life. To that end, most of my listening was done with the Bronze BR2s connected to a Marantz SR8400 HT receiver (110Wpc into 8 ohms, $1599 when available) in stereo mode. I also cheated a little by conducting a few experiments with some much more expensive amplification, in the form of the Grant Fidelity RITA-880. The source for all listening sessions was a laptop running iTunes and feeding noncompressed WAV files to a Blue Circle USB Thingee. To keep the cost of the review system down, I connected the Thingee’s digital output directly to one of the SR8400’s digital inputs and its internal D/A converter.

Sound

INXS’s "Original Sin," from The Best of INXS (CD, Rhino 78251), is one of my all-time favorite songs, and it gets a lot of play here. The Bronze BR2 did well with this song, providing good top-end energy. In the midrange, both Michael Hutchence’s voice and Kirk Pengilly’s tenor saxophone had great presence and were solidly locked to center stage, where they belong. The BR2’s bass performance with this track, though, left me wanting more. The snare drum had great impact, with a sharpness that I quite liked, but Jon Farriss’s kick drum and Gary Beers’s bass seemed down a couple of dB from where I expected them to be.

The BR2’s midrange was generally well executed, and what anomalies there were tended to be additive. There was some forwardness in the form of an upper-bass hump on Johnny Cash’s "I’ve Been Everywhere," from The Legend of Johnny Cash (CD, Hip-O 528802), but the country great’s soothing baritone on "Give My Love to Rose" was free of such artifacts. Wondering if what I was hearing might be recording-dependent, I switched to another crooner. Harry Connick Jr.’s voice on "You Didn’t Know Me When," from Blue Light Red Light (CD, Sony BMG 722982), was also slightly more prominent than I’m used to, so there probably is a small boost in the BR2’s upper-bass performance. But a midbass hump is hardly unheard of in a speaker at this price, and in the case of the BR2, it didn’t detract from a quite enjoyable listen.

For a while, I ran the Bronze BR2s with the Grant Fidelity RITA-880 integrated amplifier, which is based on the KT88 tube. Before anyone balks at the idea of mating a $450 pair of speakers with an amplifier costing 13 times more: In my experience, a solid product can sound very good when matched with other gear in its price range, but you might never know what it can really do unless it’s hooked up to pricier goods. A sports car might drive great on the street, but to discover what it’s really about, it needs to be opened up on a racetrack. This was the definitely the case here: as good as the Bronze BR2 was with the Marantz receiver, it was even better with the Grant.

The RITA-880’s KT88 output tube is justly renowned for its ability to reproduce bass with gusto and heft, something I thought the Marantz-Monitor combination had lacked. Well, if lean bass was the disease, the KT88 was the treatment, though not the cure. With the Grant RITA calling the shots, the BR2’s bass performance thickened somewhat and became more satisfying, but it still wasn’t in the same league as, for example, the similarly sized Exodus Audio Kepler loudspeaker ($725/pair), which I reviewed in kit form back in April. Still, on Herbie Hancock’s cover of "Here Comes the Honeyman," from Gershwin’s World (CD, Verve 557797), the deep plops that percussionist Madou Dembelle drops with a West African djembe were nicely rounded and satisfying.

As with INXS through the Marantz, the Monitor-Grant combination came up a little short with more pounding music, such as Creed’s "Higher," from Human Clay (CD, Wind-Up 13053) -- or even more sedate rock, such as Crowded House’s "Don’t Dream It’s Over," from Recurring Dream: The Very Best of Crowded House (CD, EMI 38250). Even at moderate listening levels, the Bronze BR2 was pushed to its bass limits sooner than I would have preferred. No, the BR2 wasn’t a bass champ, but since it will probably be paired with a powered subwoofer, that’s not much of a handicap. If I were an audio engineer and had to choose between deep bass and, say, a great midrange, I’d go for the latter. That seems to have been the choice made by Monitor Audio’s engineers.

The BR2s’ greatest strength was their ability to project a soundstage of impressive width and depth -- qualities that should make this speaker a big hit both in smaller rooms and in home theaters, where spaciousness and a big soundfield are mandatory. Ray Kimber’s IsoMike recording system is all about capturing ambience, which it seems to achieve with great aplomb. "Drum Kit Test," from Kimber’s IsoMike 2005 Test CD Demo Disc (CD, Kimber Kable), is a very dynamic recording that is also one of my favorite tracks to listen to for cues of hall ambience. Through the BR2s, Weber State University’s concert hall sounded big (it is) and empty (it was), and it was easy to pick out naturally delayed reverberations coming from the side and rear walls, as well as from the balcony. That’s pretty impressive for a speaker costing $450/pair. In fact, it’s the kind of spatial performance usually heard only from more expensive speakers.

Conclusion

Monitor Audio’s extensive range of speakers likely includes a product to appeal to almost anyone, from the budget-conscious home-theater buff to the well-heeled stereo purist. After giving a listen to Monitor’s Platinum PL100 in Doug Schneider’s listening room, I can say that, sonically, the Bronze BR2 bears a definite family resemblance to that fine speaker. To me, that’s proof that Monitor doesn’t reserve its best engineering and technology for only its top models. If you’re looking for a taste of the high end on a budget, make sure to give Monitor Audio’s Bronze BR2 a try.

. . . Colin Smith

Price of equipment reviewed


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