Sean Killebrew began his writing career in the '90s, covering football for UCLA (his alma mater). His first foray into publishing was in 2000, with the below-the-line film- and TV-production guide books LA 411 and NY 411. For the past decade, Sean's passion for audio/video has been poured into writing for HomeTheaterReview.com. When not chasing A/V deals, Sean spends time skiing and losing to his son in basketball.
It's a good feeling to unbox a set of speakers and be given pause at the attention paid to aesthetics. Such was the case with the Monitor Audio Silver Series 5.1-channel system I was sent for review. The system featured two Silver 100 stand-mount bookshelf speakers ($1,049/pair) for the main left/right channels, the Silver C150 center channel ($725), two Silver 50 bookshelf speakers ($875/pair) for the surrounds, and the Silver W-12 subwoofer ($1,650)--all of which boasted a rather stunning walnut finish.
The Silver 100 uses a one-inch gold dome C-CAM (Ceramic-Coated Aluminum/Magnesium) tweeter and an eight-inch C-CAM woofer that features Rigid Surface Technology (RST) that's said to enhance stiffness for greater speed and accuracy (it also looks cool). The Silver 100 measures 9.06 inches wide by 14.75 high by 12.94 deep and weighs 20.5 pounds.
The Silver 50, meanwhile, is basically a scaled-down version of the 100, with a smaller cabinet and a smaller 5.25-inch C-CAM woofer. And the Silver C150 center channel uses a pair of 5.25-inch C-CAM woofers resting on either side of the gold dome C-CAM tweeter. It measures 17.69 inches wide by 6.5 high by nine deep and weighs 20 pounds. The speakers feature magnetic grilles that are attractive and complementary; however, I'm not sure you'll want to use them, given how attractive the speakers are when left naked.
The Silver W-12 subwoofer comes loaded with a 500-watt Class D amp, a 12-inch C-CAM woofer, an APC (Automatic Position Correction) system, a continuously variable crossover (40 to 120 Hz), a top-mounted volume control, and three EQ settings (music, movies, and impact). It measures 13.38 inches wide by 14.56 high by 16.13 deep and weighs a chunky 44.3 pounds, with a grille that attaches via grille pins.
Monitor's C-CAM tweeter features a vented Neo-magnet system that produces ultra-clean highs--and is also easy on the eyes. The C-CAM woofers derive as much as possible from their size and feature a concave profile that's said to improve damping and enhance midrange clarity. While I often find manufacturer descriptions to be rife with hyperbole, that was not my experience with the Monitor Audio Silver Series.
I began by swapping the Monitor speakers in for my existing Definitive Technology Mythos speakers and connecting them to my Integra DTR-70.6 AV receiver, with cabling provided by Wireworld. The Monitors are set up for biwiring, but I did not go that route. My main source was an LG UP870 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray player.
After a fairly lengthy and painful (due to my lack of patience) break-in session, it was time to put the Silver Series through its paces.
I spent more time auditioning and trying to challenge these Monitor Audio speakers than I normally do during the review process, which is a testament to both their sonic prowess and their versatility.
Typically, I'll begin my critical listening of a 5.1 system using two-channel music. In this case, though, my eight-year-old (future lobbyist) convinced me to start with the Ultra HD Blu-ray version of Despicable Me 3 (Universal). While he wasn't thrilled with my clinical approach to this movie-watching session, which included note-taking and multiple rewinds, even he noticed the improvement over our existing speakers--not bad for an eight-year-old and a good omen for the Monitor speakers. The film starts with a bang, and my first take-away was the depth and accuracy of the bass. This was prior to me using the W-12's APC (Auto Position Correction) and with zero tweaking of the subwoofer beyond volume. It was deep, compelling, and a visceral upgrade over my Definitive sub in terms of depth and control. My listening room is of decent size (roughly 300 square feet), and the Monitor system proved a much more capable pairing for the space than my existing speakers.
Next up was another bit of 4K goodness in the form of Dunkirk (Warner Brothers). For those of you who've seen the film, you know that it's light on dialogue and heavy on action ... it's also a must-see film. While watching Chapter 3, "The Air," I was impressed to note that dialogue remained intelligible, despite the cacophony of Allied vs. Axis action--a solid showing for the C150 center channel. It helped that I'd recently watched both Despicable Me 3 and Dunkirk through my reference Mythos system; while it was not a true A/B comparison, it did help me to discern differences. The most obvious difference was that the Monitor speakers' larger drivers moved more air and better filled the larger room. As Tom Hardy and his fellow RAF pilots come under attack from the Luftwaffe, you not only have the intense sonic assault of the air battle, but the music begins to hit a pulse-pounding crescendo. The Monitor speakers captured all of this with remarkable precision and depth, making for quite an experience.
I played back this scene several times while pushing the volume hard, and I came away impressed that the dialogue (what little there was) remained coherent while the bass remained well defined and, as I wrote, "downright friggin' deep." It's a testament to solid engineering that the folks at Monitor are able to--by using an ultra-long-throw 12-inch driver with a concave C-CAM cone, coupled with a DSP controlled 500-watt amp--deliver considerably deep and well-controlled bass. It's also worth noting that Monitor's proprietary APC (Automatic Position Correction) is simple to use, takes less than five minutes, and provides a noticeable improvement in frequency response. I had such a positive experience with the Monitor system as a whole that it's hard to call the W-12 the star of the show, but let's just say that it did, indeed, steal the show at times.
One more feature of note on the sub: kudos to Monitor for putting the most oft-used controls (volume, EQ switching, the microphone input, etc.) directly on top of the unit. I didn't realize this until I'd very carefully placed the sub and was lamenting having to move it to access the microphone input ... needless to say, it was a pleasant surprise.
Before moving on to some lossless 5.1 music, I watched a bit of the Valspar Classic (that's golf, for those of you mercifully not in the know) and made a couple of notes regarding the full, natural vocals put forth by the C150 center channel. The Monitor system even made some commercials more palatable, with the My Pillow spot being the notable exception. Nothing can make that one palatable.
Click over to Page Two for more Performance observations, as well as The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...
For the next experiment, I auditioned some lossless 5.1 concert music by dusting off an old Dolby TrueHD demo disc from CES. While listening to Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds sing "Crash Into Me," I noted that the Monitor speakers displayed strong imaging and, especially given their price point, were markedly transparent. The system had pretty remarkable coherence and, again, had no problem filling a large room. Moving on to The Police and "Message in a Bottle," it was the subwoofer's time to shine as it blended seamlessly with the other speakers while still providing deep, taut bass. Sting's vocals were rendered accurately, conveying all of his rasp and texture with aplomb. I also noted the wide and convincing soundstage. Crowd noise was rendered with realism, helping to create that elusive you-are-there experience. For music and film soundtracks with heavy surround encoding, the Silver 50s didn't draw attention to themselves but complemented the rest of the Monitor system brilliantly. The coherence of the system is no surprise, given the fact that all of the speakers possess the same tweeter and, in various sizes, the same woofer.
For the next round, I connected the Silver 100s directly to my Sony HAP-S1 music player for a bit of hi-res two-channel freshness, with just the Silver 100s. I began with an old standby, the DSD recording of The Dave Brubeck Quartet's "Blue Rondo à la Turk" from Time Out (Columbia/Legacy). Put simply, I was stunned by the midrange and mid-bass prowess of the Silver 100s. It's easy, with eyes closed, to mistake them for a pair of modestly sized floorstanders, in regards to the size of the soundstage they produce and their bass performance. Despite their size, the Silver 100s don't back down when the volume is cranked, and they image exceedingly well, especially with hi-res material. The highest praise one can bestow upon a speaker is to say that it's transparent, although finding one (without spending a fortune) that's also lively and engaging is difficult--as it's a delicate balance for a loudspeaker. So I'll make this pronouncement, knowing it's a bold statement: when properly system-matched and with proper placement and some well recorded music, these are some of the best-sounding stand-mount speakers I've heard at this price point and beyond. They absolutely smoked my admittedly smaller and much less expensive B&W 686 stand-mounts across the board--in their bass extension, midrange articulation, vocals, etc.
For the last session, I threw some vinyl at the Silver 100s in the form of The Black Key's "Fever" from their album Turn Blue (Nonesuch Records). It was here that I found the limit of the Silver 100s while getting nutty with the volume, as I pushed them to the point that the bass bottomed out and they lost coherence. But, at human volume levels, I was again impressed by their midrange resolution and overall low-end prowess. Again, their transparency was apparent, reflecting the general darker character of vinyl music.
No matter how solid and impressive the engineering may be, a pair of stand-mount speakers is never going to be the sonic equal to floorstanders. As such, for those people who have larger rooms and/or those wanting to glean every last detail from their source material, you might want to consider the Silver 200 floorstanding speakers. Obviously, this would also make an already versatile 5.1 system even more so, at least in terms of two-channel listening.
Competition and Comparison
For well under five grand, you're not going to find too many systems that stack up well against the Monitor Audio Silver Series. That said, I've had solid hands-on experience with systems from GoldenEar; if you mix and match properly, you could put together something quite nice for roughly the same amount of money. For instance, if you mated the Triton Five towers with the SuperCenter XL and a pair of AON 3s as surrounds, you'd be looking at a formidable system that could, conceivably, be used sans subwoofer for a total system cost of $3,800. If you wanted to bring a sub to the party, that would push your cost another $700, if you went with their ForceField 4. However, given the bass produced by the Tritons, I'd suggest trying them without a sub first.
If your budget can go north a bit, you might look at another manufacturer that's been hitting it out of the park for years: Dynaudio. The comparable line would be the Excite line, specifically the X18 stand-mounts ($1,800/pair) and X24 center channel ($849). You can explore the full Excite line here.
Conversely, if spending just over $4,000 for a 5.1 system is beyond your reach, you might take a look at the Bowers & Wilkins 600 Series. Start with the $650/pair 685 S2 stand-mounts and then system match accordingly within the series.
All I can say is wow. This Silver Series 5.1 system is well engineered, aesthetically pleasing, and well priced, based on its price-to-performance ratio. Beyond the system's sonic prowess, I'd say its second most righteous virtue would be its versatility--particularly with regard to how well the Silver 100s function as standalone speakers in a two-channel music setup. Pair them with well-recorded music, and you won't believe that you're listening to $1,000 stand-mount speakers and not $3,000 floorstanders--they're that good. I've been reading about Monitor Audio speakers for many moons, but to finally experience them in my listening room, with my reference equipment, was a true pleasure. I highly recommend this system to anyone with discerning taste and roughly four grand to spare.
• Visit the Monitor Audio website for more product information.
• Check out our Bookshelf Speaker Reviews page to read similar reviews.
• Monitor Audio Debuts the Studio Bookshelf Speaker at HomeTheaterReview.com.