Didn't take long, did it? There I was, revelling in the wonder of the dirt-cheap Acoustic Research M1 speaker, and along comes Monitor Audio with the first serious challenger. And it's like the M1 in more ways than you really want it to be. In other words, we're looking at yet another budget beauty which doesn't sing with like-priced electronics...
Unlike the M1, the Monitor Audio Monitor One looks conventional enough to appeal to even the most boring consumer: it's a small box with a grille. No high-tech styling fillips, no outre angles. But this is a Monitor Audf the dirt-chea io product, which means a finish far surpassing the standards of its price-point; you won't quibble about the extra #20 needed for the rosewood veneer. I haven't seen the standard finish, but black is black is black, so you pays your money.
The cabinet, ported at the back, is tiny and solid, constructed from MDF and in no way suggesting cost cutting. Measuring amere 240x160x152mm (HDW), the Monitor One is a little jewel, like a scale model of studio monitor. The cdmpany even fitted decent five-way binding posts instead of the tacky spring clips favoured by so many penny-pinchers.
Underneath the black grille is the secret weapon: a 19mm, one-piece, aluminium/magnesium gold-anodized dome tweeter. This has become the company's trademark, and it's fast, rugged and able to withstand all manner of abuse. Below it is a 100mm long-throw mid/bass driver using an impregnated fibre-pulp cone and special rubber surround on a die-cast chassis.
Bearing in mind that this beauty is smaller than an LS3/5A, I wasn't expecting too much in the weight or dynamics departments. The port does help, of course, but it also closes out an entire subdivision of the market which might have embraced the 'One. Because the port fires out the back, the 'One cannot be used as a bookshelf model in most circumstances. Had the company found a way to port it at the front or even below, it would have made the speaker more universal.
But who am I kidding? This is an audiophile product all the way, one which demands loonie-fringe attention at the expense of the mass-market-type of consumer. In other words, it works best on stands -- hell, it only works on stands -- and it needs the kind of amplifier (like the M1) which isn't what you'd expect to feed into #139's worth of loudspeakers.Read more about the Monitor One on Page 2.
Yes, the wee Monitor One costs the same as ten CDs. That's it. And it's a killer. So far from perfect or natural or realistic as to be almost comical, but just about as impressive and exciting a budget box as I can recall, the Monitor One has slam and dynamics and speed in the right quantities. It's one of those glorious lies; you actually think that you're listening to some hefty mutha like a Spendor or an ATC.
Given that the Monitor One sounded lightweight and weedy with a variety of 30-watt integrateds, I chose instead to audition it with the Marantz Class-A monoblocks, the Sonic Frontiers SFS-50 valve amp and the Classe DR10. And, no, I was not trying to pop the drivers; I do not bang head. Ever. Rather, I wanted to hear how the 'One sounded with amplifiers barely breathing, of known sonic excellence and, shall we say, ample bass.
The 'One rose to the occasion, handlinghe standards of its price-point, and The co So the 'One simply oozes class.otherwise ''appealing to set-and-forget only as much That's it. And it's a killer. It's sit's also. T, allowing it to shapeeemI also listenedthat were barely working at ite rose to the occasion, exploiting the extra power and rewarding the listener with a large-scale soundstage, lots of image height, enough width to expolit a Denon cartridge and the kind of pin-point imaging you expect of tiny transducers. But it meant employing cables and stands far in excess of what is budgeted for a speaker in this category. It looks like the Monitor One user hoping to extract the maximum will be forced to spend the same again on the ancillaries.
This still allows the 'One to serve as part of a 'budget audiophile' system below, say, #1000 -- a Musical Fidelity or Mission Cyrus, a reasonable CD player and the accessories taking care of the rest of the funds. It's a perfect choice if you're NOT of the BBC-school of smoothness-uber-alles. The 'One offers detail by the bucketload and it's quick, the sound is open and airy and the imaging divine. But there's an edgy, harsh aspect (chorus of I-told-you-sos from the anti-metal-dome-tweeter brigade...) which I could only minimise with the upmarket amplifiers.
It means that, like the AR M1, the smallest Monitor Audio can prove relentless unless you're prepared to mix'n'match with a train spotter's attention to the small details. As you'd expect, soft-sounding budget integrated amplifiers won't highlight this trait; neither, though, do they allow the 'One free reign.
If anything which veers away from the original signal is coloration, then the Monitor One is coloured. Still, it's an involving speaker, a bit of a roller-coaster-ride approach to sound reproduction, the speaker pulling you along and grabbing your senses. And it's not by any means unpleasant. As all budget purchases involve some form of compromise, the the approach taken by the Monitor One is a trade-off many will find preferable to the sweeter, but less exciting alternatives.
It's a brave move, releasing an affordable two-way box which eschews the safe conventions and the easy synergy of mush with mush. Unlike some competitors, the Monitor One is not a super-efficient whizzer; at 88dB/1W/1m sensitivity (8 ohms), it's a 'medium' design, easy to drive but not too easy.
How it will fare against the simplercompetition I don't know, but I
suspect that this baby will find a cult following. And the cult will
include would-be high-enders with limited funds. And they'll sigh with
relief when they learn that great things come in small packages, too.