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 audios most respected names by
sticking to what it does best: making great speakers at prices most people can easily
afford. But dont for a second think that Monitor got where it is by playing it safe
or living off past glories. If theres one word that applies to Monitor Audio
products, its innovation. Thats 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
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 Audios 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
Monitors 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 drivers 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 cant see the woofers basket
from outside the BR2, it would be hard to miss the pointed metal phase plug that stands
proud of the woofers center point. Done in glossy black, the dome contrasts nicely
with the cones silvery finish. But the plug isnt there to just look nice;
Monitor says it greatly improves the BR2s off-axis midrange response. That should
translate into a wide midrange sweet spot, and, as youll read . . .
Whenever possible, its a good idea to match review
items with the kind of gear theyll 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 Thingees digital output directly to one
of the SR8400s digital inputs and its internal D/A converter.
INXSs "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 Hutchences voice and Kirk Pengillys tenor saxophone had
great presence and were solidly locked to center stage, where they belong. The BR2s
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 Farrisss kick drum and Gary
Beerss bass seemed down a couple of dB from where I expected them to be.
The BR2s 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 Cashs "Ive Been Everywhere," from The
Legend of Johnny Cash (CD, Hip-O 528802), but the country greats 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 Didnt Know Me When," from Blue Light Red Light
(CD, Sony BMG 722982), was also slightly more prominent than Im used to, so
there probably is a small boost in the BR2s 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
didnt 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 its hooked up to
pricier goods. A sports car might drive great on the street, but to discover what
its 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-880s 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 BR2s bass
performance thickened somewhat and became more satisfying, but it still wasnt 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 Hancocks
cover of "Here Comes the Honeyman," from Gershwins 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 Creeds
"Higher," from Human Clay (CD, Wind-Up 13053) -- or even more sedate
rock, such as Crowded Houses "Dont Dream Its 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 wasnt a bass champ, but since it will probably be paired with a powered
subwoofer, thats not much of a handicap. If I were an audio engineer and had to
choose between deep bass and, say, a great midrange, Id go for the latter. That
seems to have been the choice made by Monitor Audios 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 Kimbers IsoMike recording system is all about
capturing ambience, which it seems to achieve with great aplomb. "Drum Kit
Test," from Kimbers 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 Universitys 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.
Thats pretty impressive for a speaker costing $450/pair. In fact, its the kind
of spatial performance usually heard only from more expensive speakers.
Monitor Audios 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 Monitors Platinum PL100
in Doug Schneiders listening room, I can say that, sonically, the Bronze BR2 bears a
definite family resemblance to that fine speaker. To me, thats proof that Monitor
doesnt reserve its best engineering and technology for only its top models. If
youre looking for a taste of the high end on a budget, make sure to give Monitor
Audios Bronze BR2 a try.
. . . Colin Smith
Price of equipment reviewed