Introduced at CES 2015, Monitor Audio's new Gold Series speakers represent the fourth generation of the Gold range, a lineup that is second only to the British manufacturer's flagship Platinum Series. Monitor Audio has been in business since 1972 and distributes its products globally. The new Gold Series represents an evolution of its predecessor, the Gold GX Series, keeping the same form factor while incorporating many refinements to the prior design that are intended to further enhance performance. Some of the refinements include a new bass driver, tighter production tolerances of its ribbon high-frequency transducer, and re-fashioned grilles.
The new Gold Series is comprised of eight dedicated stereo, center-channel, surround, and subwoofer models. I've been familiar with Monitor Audio for almost two decades and still enjoy the "full metal theater" surround setup in my family room. My speakers preceded the very first generation of Gold Series models. Shortly after CES, I spoke with Sheldon Ginn, V.P. of Sales and Marketing for Kevro International (the North American distributor for Monitor Audio), about a possible review. Based on my current system electronics and room size, I requested the new top-of-the-line Gold 300 floorstander speakers ($5,495/pair) in a piano-black lacquer finish. Monitor Audio actually sent me a complete Gold Series home theater ensemble that also included the C350 center channel ($1,695), the W15 subwoofer ($2,795), and the FX surround speakers ($1,095 each).
The Gold 300 floorstander is a three-way, bass-reflex, rear-ported design with cabinet dimensions of 41.75 inches by 8.25 inches by 13 inches and an overall weight of 60 pounds. The cabinet is a rigid curved design with radial bracing and employing tensioned through-bolts to fix all drivers to the cabinet. These design elements are all intended to reduce vibrations of the cabinet itself, as well as the interface between the drivers and cabinet. An added benefit of the through-bolts is the elimination of screws on the front baffle, resulting in a cleaner, upscale aesthetic...and that's a good thing because the Gold Series drivers, with their satin silver finish, provide a beautiful contrast to the high-gloss cabinet finish. Trust me, you won't want the grills hiding these beauties. However, magnetically affixed grills are included if you need to protect against possible damage caused by someone with curious little fingers getting too close to these gorgeous drivers. Drivers include twin 6.5-inch dimpled C-CAM (Ceramic-Coated Aluminum/Magnesium) Rigid Surface Technology (RST) bass drivers, one four-inch dimpled C-CAM mid-range driver, and one C-CAM ribbon high-frequency transducer.
The C-CAM material originated in the aerospace industry for engine components, and Monitor Audio has been fine-tuning the material for its drivers for more than 20 years. C-CAM's light weight and extreme rigidity make it an ideal choice for drivers. The Gold 300's overall rated frequency response covers an impressive range from below 30 Hz to above 60 kHz, one of the largest for any speaker regardless of price. Frequency response is just one of the benefits of the unique C-CAM ribbon transducer, one of three standout features I discovered with the Gold Series speaker system under review. The ribbon transducer also tends to present a wider than average soundstage. Ribbon transducers are still fairly unique in speakers at this price point because they are more expensive and more difficult to manufacture than conventional dome tweeters.
The C350 center channel is the perfect tonal match for the Gold 300, incorporating the exact same driver complement but tuned for the C350's sealed enclosure. The 21.75-pound C350 has a similar rigid curved design to that of the Gold 300 with the side panels gently curving inward toward the back. The cabinet measures 10 inches by 22.88 inches by 13.13 inches.
The FX surround speaker contains an impressive array of six drivers, including a four-inch C-CAM midrange driver and a one-inch gold dome tweeter on each side of the cabinet. There is also one 6.5-inch C-CAM RST bass driver and one C-CAM ribbon high-frequency transducer mounted on the front surface of the cabinet. The six-driver arrangement provides the FX greater versatility, enabling it to be switched between monopole (music) and dipole (movies) playback modes, either manually or automatically via a 12-volt trigger. All of these drivers result in a much heavier-than-average wall-mount surround speaker at just over 26 pounds. Where most surround speakers' sound represents a compromise between music and movies, the FX's ability to be optimized for either at the flick of a switch was the second standout feature of the Gold Series for me. In monopole mode, just the two front drivers are active, similar to a bookshelf speaker. In dipole mode, however, all drivers except the ribbon transducer are active, intended to create a more enveloping sound.
Rounding out my review setup is the intelligent W15 subwoofer, the third standout highlight of the Gold Series system. As you can probably guess from its moniker, the W15 sub has one 15-inch C-CAM driver in a sealed cabinet with internal bracing. It also features a sealed amplifier compartment for its 650-watt, DSP-controlled, Class-D amplifier. The cabinet is compact for a 15-inch sub, measuring just 16.9 inches by 15.75 inches by 15.75 inches and weighing 77 pounds, 10 ounces. This enables the W15 to be more discreetly located, such as under an end table. That can be important when placed in a multipurpose space. The W15 sports stereo RCA in/out, LFE RCA in/out, and 12-volt trigger connections, and it comes with a remote control for calibrating the sub using Monitor Audio's built-in LEO (Listening Environment Optimizer) room correction software, with the included microphone and test tones. LEO is intended to eliminate bass boost from boundaries and corners, and that's important given the W15's seismic low-frequency limit of 18 Hz. Calibration takes just a couple of minutes to complete. The remote can also be used to set the low-pass filter and phase control, choose among four available equalization settings, or select from three custom preset programs that can be set and saved for easy retrieval later. In addition, there are buttons for navigation, power on/off, night mode, auto on, and mute. While all features can be selected from the LED display of the sub, the remote makes selection even simpler. The W15 truly is smarter than the average sub.
The Gold Series speakers were pretty straightforward to set up. Upon unboxing them, my attention was immediately drawn to the deep, lustrous piano-black finish that is the result of no less than eleven coats of lacquer. There are no sharp edges to the speakers. Instead, you'll find gently radiused corners for an elegant, high-end look. I first installed the two-piece, outrigger plinths to the bottom of the 300 towers using the bolts and wrench provided; it took less than five minutes. Next I screwed the optional spikes into the rubber-rimmed feet and placed the towers in the same position as my reference speakers: about 58 inches from the front wall, 24 inches from the side walls, seven feet apart, and slightly toed in. I experimented with their position but eventually settled on their original location.
I placed the C350 on my existing center stand and the W15 sub in the right front corner. The FX surrounds were placed on 36-inch stands close to the rear wall and about seven feet apart. The FX surrounds have three switches on the front baffle to adjust the ribbon transducer level, to set the speaker for right/left or forward/back placement, and to set the speaker for monopole (music) or dipole (movies) operation. Speaker binding posts and a connection for a 12-volt trigger are found on the back. I left the high-frequency transducer level set at zero, set the surrounds to the applicable right/left placement, and initially set the speaker operation to monopole.
The floorstanders and center speaker are bi-wireable and bi-ampable with dual sets of gold-plated binding posts. If you choose to use just one set of speaker cables, as I did, Monitor Audio thoughtfully includes high-end silver wire jumpers with spades. I connected everything up with WireWorld speaker cables.
I calibrated the W15 using the sub's remote control, test microphone, and LEO calibration software to smooth out any bass boost at the boundaries and corners. Next I ran the Audyssey MultEQ XT32 room correction software on my Marantz AV8801 preamp/processor to calibrate the other five channels. After some casual listening over the next week to break in the speakers, I was ready to start some critical listening.
When I was done evaluating the speakers in my media room, I took the opportunity to also evaluate them in my family room. My purpose was twofold. First, I was curious what differences I'd hear in this open-space environment with limited speaker-placement options, and I was curious to compare them to my trusty 15-year-old Monitor Audio speakers. I placed the Gold Series speakers in the same locations as my old speakers, meaning the 300 floorstanders were placed close (12 inches) from the front wall. Placing them this close required the use of the included foam plugs in the rear ports to quell the expected corner and boundary bass boost. The W15 sub was located along the left side wall, and the C350 center on a shelf above the television. Read the Performance section of this review to find out how the Gold Series fared in this test.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...