Seeing a 40-inch-high tower speaker like the Monitor Audio Platinum II Series PL200 II retailing for $11,495/pair triggers memories of CES past. When I went to my first CES in 1990, $11,495 bought you a pair of flagship speakers from THIEL or MartinLogan--and probably left enough cash to buy a good CD player. Today, a speaker in this price range might be touted as "reasonably priced" compared with some high-end offerings. There are two reasons why I shouldn't let this price jump bother me. First, when you adjust for inflation, today's $11,495 equates to $6,259 then. Second, the PL200 II is arguably a better-engineered, better-made speaker than any of 1990's flagship models.
The Platinum II line is an update of Monitor Audio's original Platinum line, which launched in 2008. (I reviewed the $10,000/pair Platinum PL300 at the time and loved it.) The biggest difference between the original Platinum Series and the Platinum II Series appears to be in the tweeter. The originals featured a ribbon tweeter, while the II Series uses an MPD (Micro Pleated Diaphragm) tweeter, which is Monitor Audio's version of an AMT (Air Motion Transformer) tweeter. This type of tweeter has recently become popular again due to its use in speakers from GoldenEar Technology, MartinLogan, and others--although Monitor Audio stresses that its magnet system, diaphragm, and other elements are different from the AMT design. The PL200 II's MPD tweeter is vertically oriented, and it's claimed to have "uniform output to 100 kHz."
The cones in the four-inch midrange and dual 6.5-inch woofers use a sandwich construction, with Monitor Audio's ceramic-composite C-CAM material on the front and woven carbon fiber on the rear. Using such different materials on the same cone tends to damp resonance and reduce distortion.
One more interesting twist on the cones: They're connected to the voice coil (the wire coil that moves the cone back and forth) with what Monitor Audio calls a DCF (Dynamic Coupling Filter). The DCF is a nylon ring said to behave like a rigid material below the crossover frequency and like a damping material above the crossover frequency. Thus, it's effectively working as a mechanical low-pass filter, allowing a shallower slope and simpler filter to be used in the crossover circuit.
Crossover frequencies are 750 Hz between the woofers and the midrange and 3.9 kHz between the midrange and the tweeter. That second number might seem high; however, considering that the midrange's effective radiating diameter is about 3.5 inches, 3.9 kHz is the frequency at which its dispersion starts narrowing. Thus, the midrange/tweeter array should deliver broad, consistent dispersion without overtaxing the tweeter with frequencies too low for it to handle safely.
The PL200 II's enclosure is reassuringly rigid and non-resonant, partly because of its thick, gently curved side walls and partly because the drivers are bolted through the rear panels. The front baffle is covered in Inglestone leather, a 1.2mm-thick covering hand-selected from the top five percent of hides in Northern Europe. (It definitely looks nicer than the leather on my furniture, which appears to have been selected from the bottom five percent of hides in Oklahoma.) A heavy, high-density-fiberboard base stabilizes the speaker and provides a place to attach the feet or cones. The grilles are attached magnetically and fit into shallow grooves that prevent rattling or accidental detachment. In fact, Monitor Audio provides a magnet specifically created for removing the grilles, which is impossible to do with bare fingers.
I used the PL200 IIs with my usual stereo rig, which consists of a Classé CP-800 preamp/DAC, a Classé CA-2300 stereo amp, a Music Hall Ikura turntable, and an NAD PP-3 phono preamp, plus an Audio by Van Alstine AVA ABX switcher for level-matched comparisons. For movies and TV, I used a Sony STR-ZA5000ES AV receiver. I used Wireworld Eclipse 7 interconnect and speaker cables.
There was nothing fussy about the setup of the PL200 IIs. They worked well in the same positions I use for my Revel F206s, with the speakers toed in to point directly at my listening position. I tried them with and without the grille over the midrange and tweeter, and the differences were subtle, so I did most of my listening with the grilles off, as I usually do.
Because the new tweeter is the biggest change from the previous Platinum Series, I wanted to get an immediate idea of what it could do. Typically, I use recordings with lots of acoustic guitar or cymbals to test tweeters, but I've started using Gudrun Hinze's recording of Graham Waterhouse's "Piccolo Quintet, Op. 26," which sets Hinze's piccolo against a string quartet. The fundamental tones of a piccolo run from 523 to 4,186 Hz, and the overtones reach well above 10 kHz, so there's plenty to reveal a tweeter's character and flaws. I loved the way the PL200 II revealed the subtleties of this often-unsubtle instrument. Hinze's high notes sounded piercing (it is a piccolo, after all) but not shrill or harsh or breathy, even though I was playing the Quintet at a volume roughly equivalent to having a front-row seat in a small recital hall. The piccolo's sound also exhibited a lot of body; I got more of a sense of the instrument's natural resonance than I'm used to hearing (although that's a testament to the quality of the midrange driver, not the tweeter). The resonances of the wooden bodies of the stringed instruments, particularly the cello, also came through with exceptional clarity and realism. In fact, that's the way I'd describe the sound of this recording through the PL200 IIs: real. Or at least pretty close to real.
The 1970 jazz album Gary Burton & Keith Jarrett does not sound real through any speakers. Although this wasn't a good recording even by the standards of its day, I still enjoyed the way it sounded through the PL200 II. The speakers clearly revealed the album's rather strangely mixed stereo presentation, but the timbres of the instruments--especially Burton's vibraphone and Jarrett's piano--sounded natural nonetheless. Nothing sounded harsh or boomy or undefined, and the tune's infectious groove came through beautifully.
Recordings with more reverberance showed off the performance of the PL200 II's midrange/tweeter array to even better effect. Al Jarreau's recording of the jazz standard "My Foolish Heart" had a real "band in the room" feel, as if I were watching Jarreau and his group in a small jazz club. I loved the way the vibes, piano, and drums spread out naturally across the front of my listening room, with all the ease and natural spaciousness you'd hear if the instruments were just sitting on a small club stage instead of being miked in a studio. I'd describe the sound of the PL200 IIs on this recording as "authoritative." That's partly because the bass had a satisfying heft, but also great pitch definition and attack. The PL200 IIs even found the subtle growl in the bottom range of Jarreau's voice, which tends to get lost in the pop and smooth jazz recordings for which he's best known.
Cecile McLorin Salvant's take on the Fats Waller classic "Jitterbug Waltz" proved the PL200 II could handle female vocals as deftly as male vocals. I can't describe the speakers' rendition of her voice any more articulately than "really, really, really clear," but that pretty well sums it up. This recording is just voice and piano, yet from the piano alone I got a clear perception of the studio's acoustics; it sounded like a big room with a 12-foot ceiling, measuring maybe 25 by 40 feet. If they faked this with digital reverb, I'd sure love to know what reverb they used, because the piano sounded so compelling and realistic that I found myself restarting the tune several times.
So far I've mentioned only fairly lightweight music, but the PL200 IIs did a nice job with heavier music, too. It had plenty of bass output to handle The Cult's "Edie (Ciao Baby)" at a high volume. All the various parts of this tune's complex mix--which includes a string section, loud electric guitar, and subtle acoustic rhythm guitar--were easy to distinguish through the PL200 IIs. I especially enjoyed the sound of the strings, which I thought might seem strained and etched at the volume I had set, but they didn't.
Even though a high-end tower speaker like the PL200 II is obviously designed primarily for music listening, it can be expanded into a home theater system--Monitor Audio offers the $3,995-each PLC150 II two-way speaker and the $5,795-each PLC350 II three-way speaker as a matching center speaker. I didn't have those on hand for this review, but I did try watching a couple of movies through the PL200 IIs. I watched Tropic Thunder for the umpteenth time to hear all the funny lines again, not for the action, but the Vietnam battle scene that opens the movie does have lots of gunshots and explosions. The PL200 II's strong, high-precision bass reproduction suited the scene well, delivering above-average punch for a passive tower speaker. I'd probably add a subwoofer, but you wouldn't necessarily have to.
Click over to Page Two for Measurements, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...