To start my critical listening, I kicked things off with some two-channel female vocals. If a speaker can't get the female voice right, I tend to lose interest quickly. I first switched the surrounds to monopole mode and then queued up the track "Songbird" from Fleetwood Mac (HDTracks, 24/96). I'm very familiar with this song, having listened to the recording dozens of times and having heard Christine McVie sing it live on two different occasions. Immediately, I noticed an airy quality to the recording that I hadn't heard before, no doubt compliments of the extended high-frequency response provided by the ribbon transducer. The attack and decay of the piano's notes were palpable and had a tonal quality that was dead-on accurate.
Moving on to male vocals, I used the Tidal HiFi steaming service to play the track "Draw Your Sword" by Angus and Julia Stone (Nettwerk Productions) in full CD quality. For those who are unfamiliar, this song by the Australian brother-sister folk and pop duo starts off with the delicacy of a single, lightly strummed acoustic guitar. Then a piano joins in, along with Angus's initially whispering vocal. The track continuously builds to a fever-pitch crescendo. With a properly set-up high-end system, I've heard this track literally reach out and grab me with its presence. When Angus starts to sing, there is a real sense of aliveness, as he seems to appear right there in the room in front of you. I've also heard this track lack much of that presence when played through lesser systems. Well, the Gold Series did not disappoint in bringing out that presence. In addition, all of the micro details were present, from the fingertip friction sounds on the guitar strings to Angus's breathing to the decay of piano notes. Finally, the soundstage was very wide, again compliments of the ribbon transducer. And the Gold 300 speakers reproduced it all with the tonal neutrality found among only the best loudspeakers.
To evaluate how the Gold 300 and W15 sub combination handle music with deep bass, I played the Saint Sa�ns Symphony No. 3 "Organ in C Minor Op. 78 IV Maestoso - Allegra" by the Kansas City Symphony (Reference Recordings). During this selection, the organ starts things off in a big way, and the Gold 2.1 setup reproduced these low notes with such accuracy, conveying all of the majesty and scale of this excellent recording. The W15 provided an excellent deep-bass foundation, adding to the scale and impact of this selection. Having a sub such as the W15 that can reproduce notes down to 18 Hz is definitely essential for accurately reproducing the lower notes of organ music. At the other end of the frequency spectrum, the ribbon transducer again presented a much wider-than-average soundstage with more space between instruments. This increased scale helped bring a greater sense of realism to the music.
But say, what about movies? Can the Gold Series deliver the goods when it comes to challenging movie soundtracks? Oh, yes! My wife suggested we watch a movie early during the Gold sSries review, and we selected the science-fiction action thriller Interstellar (Paramount Pictures). After switching the surrounds to dipole mode, we sat down to enjoy the film. In the opening scene, Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is dreaming of piloting an aircraft that is re-entering the earth's atmosphere. As soon as the scene cuts to Cooper in the aircraft, my wife asked me, "Is the room supposed to be vibrating?" My first thought was, "OMG, this sub goes really low. I mean, chest-thumping low!" We were hearing (and feeling) the most visceral bass we ever have ever experienced in this room. I just turned to my wife and said, "The room's not vibrating, we're vibrating."
While all of that gut-wrenching bass was pressuring up the room, dialogue articulation remained superb, and the more diffuse presentation of the surrounds in dipole mode helped to provide a more seamless 360-degree soundscape. While the plot got silly during the last 20 minutes of the movie, I thoroughly enjoyed the sound I was hearing through the Gold Series speakers. This movie is loaded with special sound effects, and these speakers just have a way of pulling you into the center of the action.
Another movie where the Monitor Audio Gold Series system stood out for me was the science-fiction dystopian action thriller The Maze Runner (20th Century Fox) starring Dylan O'Brien as the hero Thomas. As Thomas goes to check out the doors to the maze for the first time with Chuck running after him, the massiveness of the giant stone doors was realistically portrayed by the Gold Series as the doors began to close. And when the doors do close, there was a finality to the thud, brought about by the combination of both the tight sub bass and soundstage. Scene after scene, I marveled at the clean, coherent nature of the Gold Series sound. The drivers just blended together seamlessly, presenting a wider-than-expected soundstage.
So just how did the Gold Series compare when I placed them in the family room? They were a significant improvement over my older Monitor Audio speakers. I was a bit surprised, given that the Gold 300 is rear-ported and my speakers are front-ported. But to realize the last five percent of their potential, I had to pull them a bit farther from the front wall--about two feet away.
There's no such thing as the perfect loudspeaker, but there's very little not to like about the Gold Series. I suppose, if I had my wish and could change anything about these speakers, there would be only two changes. First, I would change the rear-port design of the Gold 300 to either a sealed or front-ported cabinet design to enable even greater placement flexibility. While inserting the provided foam plugs into the ports does significantly quiet the bass-boom effect when the speakers are placed near the front and side walls, the Gold 300s don't realize their absolute full potential unless placed farther away from the front and side wall. Monitor Audio recommends a minimum distance of 18 to 24 inches from the front wall and three feet from side walls for the Gold 300.
Second, I would add a set of XLR connections to the Gold W15 sub, in addition to the existing RCA connections. I like having options, and I know some enthusiasts prefer balanced connections. That's it. Other than these two minor quibbles, I wouldn't change a thing.
Comparison and Competition
In comparison with my more costly Aerial Acoustics and JL Audio speaker/sub system, the Gold 300 delivered about 95 percent of the performance of my Aerial Acoustic 7T floorstanders, but the W15 sub and FX surrounds beat my reference speakers. The single Gold W15 sub delivered greater bass impact but with the same level of bass accuracy as my twin JL Audio F110 subs. There's no substitute for chest-thumping 18Hz bass. Hearing (and feeling!) made me a believer. And finally, the wider dispersion of the Gold FX surrounds in dipole mode trumped my Aerial surrounds on movie soundtracks.
Another speaker to compare against the Gold 300 is the Revel Performa3 series led by the F208 floorstander. You can read a full review of the Revel F208 here. In addition to the Performa3 F208 floorstander, Revel also makes a matching center, surrounds, and subwoofer for a complete surround system that is priced very close to the Monitor Audio Gold Series system reviewed here. While I haven't had the chance to hear the entire Revel surround system, I liked what I heard at a brief audition of the F208 at CES. I would encourage anyone in the market at this price point to seek out the Revel for a comparison audition if possible.
Another possible competitor would be a surround setup from GoldenEar Technology featuring the highly regarded Triton One speakers as the mains. While such a system carries a lower retail price, that lower price comes with a lack of speaker aesthetics. The GoldenEars aren't exciting to look at, but they do perform quite well.
Let's just cut to the chase. The beautifully designed Monitor Audio Gold Series system is the best-sounding surround system at its price point that I've ever heard, period. The trifecta of special features I mentioned--including the ribbon transducer, 18Hz frequency-response limit of the sub, and the versatility of the monopole/dipole surrounds--all contribute to the excellent performance. As to their value, I suspect you'd have to spend significantly more to better the combination of accurate sound, design aesthetics, and sheer musical enjoyment that Monitor Audio Gold delivers.
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