All-metal drivers are nothing new. Anyone possessing old copies of the missing-in-action Hi-Fi Yearbook can rattle off a list of forgotten manufacturers who offered metal woofers and tweeters of myriad shapes and sizes. The current revival in metal as a driver material, concentrated so far on dome tweeters, has been made possible because of advances in metallurgy and manufacturing techniques, but few makers have been tempted to create modern-day metal woofers. With only Acoustic Energy springing readily to mind, I'm here to tell you that the number of makers has doubled with the introduction of Monitor Audio's Studio 10.
Like the Acoustic Energy models, a couple of Celestions and legends like the LS3/5a, the Studio 10 is a classic example of what is primarily a British specialty: costly, 'high end'
compacts. The Americans still can't understand why British consumers are so enamoured with pocket rockets, but few of my compatriots have experienced life in a 10x12ft listening room. Whatever others think, I'm particular fond of the genre and welcome most new entries.
Monitor Audio's candidate features the now-(painfully)-familiar 26mm gold metal dome which has already appeared in at least five 'MA' prefixed models. Briefly, then, the tweeter consists of a magnesium/aluminium dome with an anodized layer of gold (hence the colour), fitted to an ABS-plastics plate. The anodising improves the rigidity and pushes the first breakup mode to beyond 28kHz, in contrast with breakup modes occurring at around 21kHz in earlier metal dome designs. For high power handling (Monitor Audio eschews protection circuits), better cooling and improved damping, the tweeter employs a vented coil former, ferrofluid cooling and specially selected surround material.
The news is what's down below, a development which means that Monitor Audio's new speaker sports two drivers made from the same material. The 170mm cone is formed from soft, pure magnesium/aluminium sheet, anodized on both sides with a special ceramic coating. This differs from other, spun-formed metal woofers because the press forming (in one piece, as per polypropylene drivers) ensures the consistency of the thickness
from the centre out to the edges and with no tolerance variations. The cone is strengthened on the outside rim through the formation of an integral lip. The manufacturing process
ensures that the cone opening is perfectly spherical for superior coupling to the 32mm high temperature voice coil; this also improves heat transfer. Other benefits of both the forming
process and the ceramic anodizing include greater cone stiffness as well as superior scratch and corrosion resistance. The finished cone weighs in at 5g, which MA mainman Mo Iqbal reckons is the lightest in the galaxy. Another feature of the cone is a first breakup mode above 6kHz, well beyond the 4kHz crossover point (at 6dB/octave).
The woofer also uses a vented pole magnet like the tweeter and is fitted to a 10mm-thick diecast chassis. The crossover is a simple two-element design using a ceramic resistor to correct the tweeter sensitivity. The main ingredients are polyester capacitors and custom-made 100-strand wire. The Studio 10 is supplied ready-to-biwire, with the bass and treble pairs of five-way binding posts linked by short lengths of wire.
The drivers are fitted to a rear-ported cabinet fashioned throughout from 18mm Medite, veneered inside and out and 'bituminized', which is Mo's way of saying that he's damped the
cabinet with the same stuff used to deaden car body panels. The cabinets measure 400x200x240mm (HWD) not counting the removable grilles; they're perfect for mounting on 24in stands of the chunky variety.
I'd rather not waste any calories typing out a justification for high-priced mini-speakers, because the perceived value of such boxes will always pale alongside the gigantic, multi-drivered beasts available for the same money. You already know the reasons why some would prefer a small box to a floor-standing behemoth, so let's just say that the Studio 10 is typical of the breed in that it's solidly built and packs a wallop not available from like-sized speakers at 1/10th of the price. I'll tell you now that the Studio 10 sells for a few pence less than a grand, and that it is not a rival for the more substantial floor-standing bass generators. As I fully comprehend the notion of niche marketing and am in favour of judging products in context, I have assessed the Studio 10 only in terms of other quality 'minis'. To judge them in terms of dipoles or floor-standing phone kiosks is a useless exercise.
The Studio 10 was auditioned with amplifiers ranging from the solid-state Aragon 200-watter to 50W valve amps to the 50W Solen Tiger tube/tranny hybrid. The Studio 10s proved relatively easy to drive, but the prospective user is advised to go for more rather than less power. While reasonable levels could be obtained from small amplifiers, in keeping with an 88.5dB sensitivity at 8 ohms, the Studio 10's real virtues were only apparent with ample reserves of power. Smallish amplifiers with even the most minute traces of clipping will be shown up by the Studio 10s, and I'd find it quite tragic if you misjudged these speakers because of the amplifier.
The Monitor Audio Studio 10s, like all world-class minis, have the capability of
fooling you into thinking that they're huge boxes. This is done in one
of two ways, and you can guess which most of them
employ. The first is to deliver bags of bass, which the Studio 10s do
not do. The second is to create a soundfield in three dimensions, with
scale which dwarfs the speakers themselves. In
this the Studio 10 is something of a miracle worker, because it created a
stage with width, depth and height of convincing and realistic
dimensions. By comparison, the vista created by my cherished LS3/5as
seems like a 3/4 scale model.
Don't let my reference to the inability to produce 'bags of
bass' suggest that these sound in any way 'light'. For a speaker of this
size, the Studio 10 is on a par with the best and is not
embarrassed by champions like the much dearer Sonus Fabers. The Studio
10 may lack extension when compared with much larger speakers but it
compensates for this with exceptional slam and control. And it's this
characteristic, directly attributable to the super-stiff metal bass
driver, which gives the Studio 10 its own special appeal in a sector
crowded with fine products. And when that sector includes a couple of
Acoustic Energy faves, the Celestion SL6/600/700, the Sonus Fabers, the
Ensemble, the SOTA and a few others, you can see that a new contender
really does need an edge.
The bass performance tends toward the 'dry' or 'lean', in
part because small speakers can only ameliorate this characteristic with
a minimum of weight as a distraction. But this impressive control is a
desirable enough virtue to allow some listeners to forgive the lack of
extension. Compared to true minis like the LS3/5a, though, the Studio 10
is a headbanger's dream and easily on a par with the more ample minis
of SL6-ish dimensions. The only way you'll extract the maximum from the
this speaker is to fix it to a substantial support. I used the
Partington Dreadnaughts, but Monitor Audio has released a dedicated
stand (to sell for #299 per pair) which wasn't available when I
pushed for this scoop. One can assume that it will be up to the task;
it weighs enough at 25kg...
The upper registers, while easily recognizable to those familiar with
other recent Monitor Audio designs, improve on the rest of the family
because they integrate far more smoothly with the lower registers. The
transistion from metal to metal is far more homogeneous -- as you'd
expect -- than a transition from metal to plastics, so the argument
about using identical materials for both drivers holds true. The Studio
10 just might be the most coherent and consistent of the high-end
mini-monitors when it comes to top-to-bottom seamlessness. This is not
to diminish the achievements of the competition, most of which are
crafted to allow for a discontinuity in materials. It must be said,
however, that a critical listener can detect the character differences
(however subtle) which help to identify the cone or dome materials. If a
perfect speaker would incorporate a single, full range driver, then the
most readily apparent 'second choice' would be a two-way employing
drivers of similar construction. That's why multi-way electrostatics or
ribbons seem more coherent that panel/cone hybrids; the Studio 10 shows
that it also applies to speakers employing dynamic drivers.
My penchant for crystal-clear female vocals (Juice Newton,
Connie Francis) or soul which drips with emotion (Aretha, Howard
Tate, Aretha, Sam & Dave, Aretha) naturally forces me to focus
on mid-band performance. The Studio 10s, while not a match for my 'vocal
reference' LS3/5as, did a marvellous job with both the textures of
throaty male voices and the burr-free sweeps of distaff country
warblers. Sibilance was tolerable rather than indetectable; the absence
of extra 'warmth' in the midband meant that the Studio 10s sounded more
life-like with valve amps than solid-staters for most vocal material.
Curiously, the Studio 10s' lack of warmth was not apparent when dealing
with acoustic instruments, so I'd suggest that you audition them with
both uncluttered vocal recordings and small scale acoustic works before
you form an opinion about this particular characteristic.
Intentionally or not, the Studio 10 lives up to its name because the
aforementioned dryness and bass precision combine to lend the speaker an
analytical air -- just what you'd want when monitoring recordings.
Fortunately for music lovers, this characteristic falls short of being
clinical. A good sense of decay, ambience and smoothness keep the edges
from intruding, while the benefits of surgical precision mean clear-cut
images and bullseye positioning.
Cautions are few and mainly concerned with the choice of ancillaries.
The Studio 10 is not a forgiving design; by comparison, the Sonus Faber
is 'easy'. If you don't choose carefully, the Studio 10 can spit and
produce a graininess which many will find intolerable. With solid
speaker stands and a hefty amplifier, though, the Studio 10 is yet
another dream solution
for those who want or can only house small systems. Mo Iqbal may not
appreciate my saying this, but I reckon that the Studio 10 is the most
complete product Monitor Audio has produced since the MA6 over a decade
ago. I just hope that it's demonstrated with the care it demands.