A Review of the Perfect Loudspeaker: Monitor Audio Gold Reference 10

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Jeff D., Nov 21, 2001.

  1. Jeff D.

    Jeff D. Supporting Actor

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    Review: Monitor Audio Gold Reference 10 Loudspeaker
    [​IMG]
    I think we often forget just how many good products there are in the audio marketplace today. Anyone involved in the hobby will develop a discerning ear relatively quickly. Over time, there will be a tendency to become over-critical when auditioning gear. Sometimes it is useful to stand back and realize that the majority of products available to the consumer today are pretty darned good – and quite reasonably priced. Of course this makes the purchasing decision that much harder.
    Even with all these great products at our disposal, it is still rare that one would consider any product “perfect”. Once in awhile though, a miracle will come along. A product that is absolutely perfect in every sense and that sets a new standard for performance at its price point and far beyond. Such a miracle has occurred with the arrival of the Monitor Audio Gold Reference 10 Loudspeaker.
    The Gold Reference 10 is the starting model in Monitor Audio’s new high-end line. The series is the British manufacturer’s flagship line, with the Silver and Bronze series doing an admirable job of bringing up the rear. This stand-mounted speaker is a ported design, with a 6 ½” mid-bass driver and a 1” dome tweeter. The mid-bass driver incorporates the company’s new RST (Rigid Surface Technology) cone. RST manifests itself as a series of dimples on the cone surface. Along with the white colour of the C-CAM cone material, the new driver has more than a passing resemblance to a large golf ball. The idea behind RST is to prevent the cone from bending. Monitor Audio claims RST will eliminate any standing waves that may be encountered on the cone surface. The cone maintains a constant shape and size throughout its working frequency range. The mid-bass is finished with a solid aluminum phase plug.
    C-CAM refers to the cone material in the drivers of the Gold Reference 10. Aluminum and Magnesium form the alloy and are then coated with 50 microns of ceramic in order to prevent ringing, so common in other metal-based drivers. C-CAM is used for both the mid-bass and tweeter and moves the break-up points of each driver well beyond their crossover frequencies.
    [​IMG]
    The Gold Reference 10 is solidly built. A rap of the knuckles on the top and sides proves it is completely dead. The speaker is bi-wireable and includes heavy duty gold-plated binding posts on its rear panel, directly beneath the port. You can get the speaker in several finishes, including black oak, natural cherry or rosewood mahogany. Of all the choices, the rosewood mahogany is certainly the most elegant. The Gold Reference 10’s do include acoustically transparent cloth grilles, but they tend to be rather cosmetically obtrusive. This speaker is so gorgeous it must be considered sacrilege to allow the grilles to cover the elegant craftsmanship.
    Monitor Audio lists the frequency response of the Gold Reference 10 as 40 Hz – 30 kHz. Sensitivity is rated at 88 dB with a nominal impedance of 8 ohms and a minimum of 5 ohms. The speaker can handle 100 watts RMS and peaks of 300 watts. Monitor Audio recommends an amplifier in the range of 50 to 250 watts. Each speaker tips the scales at 20 pounds and measures 14 7/8 by 8 7/8 by 11 ½” (H x W x D). It goes without saying that a product of this class deserves a top-notch stand. The list price for the Gold Reference 10 is listed at CDN $2,000.
    The Gold Reference 10 is the smaller sibling to the Gold Reference 20 and Gold Reference 60 floorstanders and can be mated with the Gold Reference Centre channel loudspeaker for home theater application. A subwoofer is also available and Monitor Audio plans to introduce a dedicated surround speaker system in the near future.
    Once you’ve tired of looking at these speakers and taking in their beauty – and this could take awhile – you will be anxious to give them a listen. For placement, I would definitely recommend good clearance from the rear wall. The small port at the back is very active and the speaker will tend to boom if placed too close to this boundary. Depending on your listening distance, a small amount of toe-in may be beneficial, but they do quite well without it.
    After everything is set up and running, the first thing that will become apparent is the shocking amount of bass coming from these little speakers. This bass is not only plentiful, but it is of the highest quality as well. Never before have I heard such deep, clean bass from such a small package. Of course, the reality of the physical world will eventually set in – no, these speakers cannot take the place of a subwoofer. Yet they can go a lot lower than anyone would imagine. I also enjoyed how they let go when they finally ran out of resolving power. Many speakers do their damnedest to get as low as possible, no matter the sonic penalty for their efforts. The Gold Reference 10’s know their limits and they let go gracefully when it is time. This has a wonderful effect of keeping the low end clean and clear. Deep bass is no doubt the cleanest and most articulately defined I have ever heard. Control over decay time of bass notes is also remarkable. Also, don’t think that turning the volume up will foul the Gold Reference 10’s, because it won’t. No matter how hard you push them, they just keep delivering. No confusion and no distortion – just a lot of that great sound. I was unable to bottom these speakers out. Perhaps there was some cautiousness in my attitude – I didn’t want to damage them. Still, it is clear these speakers are more than capable of keeping up with anything you give them.
    Bass isn’t the only quality the Gold Reference 10’s have nailed. My impressions of the midband are just as great. This is simply the most fluent and natural sound I have ever heard. For the majority of my time with them, I rarely even considered that I was actually listening to a pair of mere loudspeakers. The Gold Reference 10’s refused to acknowledge their existence. They simply presented, with a measure of accuracy I have never encountered, the sounds they were being fed from my amplifier. Once again the control over decay time was evident in the midband. How these speakers managed to sound so technically accurate while at the same time not sucking the music of its timing and emotion is a complete mystery to me.
    Moving up to the high end, nothing changes really. Even here, the Gold Reference 10’s continue to be stubborn and refuse even the mere suggestion of criticism. The top end is the hardest to get right. The line between detail and harshness is the thinnest in existence. Too many products fall on the wrong side of the line and force their listeners to suffer the effects. The Gold Reference 10’s walk this line perfectly. In fact, one can almost see them being so cocky as to run right down the bloody line and do cartwheels, without ever falling off! The tweeter in this speaker is a divine creation, I am sure. I have never experienced such a wonderful, open and detailed high frequency sound without any sign of harshness. My close proximity to the speakers in my listening room makes this test especially hard. The Gold Reference 10 is not the first speaker I’ve heard that isn’t harsh, but many choose the easy way out by shooting for warmth. The Gold Reference 10 is neither warm nor harsh. It is, in fact, the perfect balance. Decay timing, once again, was staggering. It capped off the most amazing listening experience I have ever had.
    With all the bits in place, all I could do was sit back and take in the wonderful sound of the Gold Reference 10’s. Having convinced myself that they were indeed perfect, with everything ranging from jazz to hard rock to classical, I let myself become quite familiar with their character. The easiest way to describe their character is to say they have none. Closing my eyes, the speakers completely disappeared. With lesser products, I can often convince myself that the speaker has disappeared, only after a certain amount of time – and even then I know the truth. The Monitor Audio’s were too smart for that. They disappeared instantly. It was a surprise every time when I opened my eyes and saw two small stand-mounts in front of me.
    I have yet to touch upon the imaging characteristics of this speaker. I have saved the best for last. Imaging is another tricky aspect of sound reproduction. A lot of newcomers to the hobby are surprised when they hear their first really good set of speakers. They are amazed that two speakers on the left and right can create an image in the middle. While I suppose that could be amazing, that isn’t what imaging is about. Imaging is about creating a complete soundstage, not just an image in the middle. Precious few speakers can fill in the entire area of a soundstage. The Gold Reference 10’s perform the task admirably. Of course, having been blown away by every other aspect of their performance, I was not surprised to note that the Monitor Audio’s were more than capable in this regard. Imaging was downright scary good. I can’t imagine it getting better than this. The actual performance? Perhaps, but then I don’t have my comfy sofa to sit on. Nah, I’ll take the Gold Reference 10’s over the original.
    It would be remiss of me not to explore just how the Gold Reference 10 will fit into a home theater installation. Home theater has become just as important to many as good old 2-channel stereo. Monitor Audio has kept this in mind by offering the necessary home theater speakers in their Gold Reference series. The good news is that the Gold Reference 10’s are equally at home in a home theater system as a dedicated audio system. Pumping out the intense opening battle scene of Gladiator at reference level did not faze them for a moment. In fact, I do think I heard them chuckle a bit after that demo. All of their qualities make the home theater experience completely enveloping and take the medium to a new level of performance.
    I hope there don’t appear to be too many superlatives in this review, because the reality is there can’t be too many. This speaker is simply that good. Even considering it merely good is a complete insult. This speaker is transcendental. It has raised the bar of performance to previously unimaginable heights. The price is the killer – CDN $2,000 is an absolute steal. You would have to move up to the CDN $4,500 Gold Reference 20’s to make even the slightest improvement. Unless deep bass response is of primary importance, one might even consider the Gold Reference 10’s to be the better deal.
    My time with the Monitor Audio Gold Reference 10’s has come to an end. It is a sad moment for two reasons. First, I have to go back to my old speakers which, frankly, don’t even compare. It is also sad for my savings account, as I have no choice but to move on from here. I suppose every story has a happy ending though, as in no time I will have my own pair of the world’s “perfect” loudspeaker – and will find myself hearing what audio nirvana is really like.
    ----
    Jeff
     
  2. Andrew Pratt

    Andrew Pratt Producer

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    I had the oppertunity to hear this amazing speakers at jeffs place this past weekend and I must say if I had to move away from my maggies these would be the first I'd look at buying.
     
  3. DavidY

    DavidY Supporting Actor

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    Has anyone compared this speaker with the Energy Veritas 2.2 (list CDN$2200/pair), Paradigm Active/20 or Active/40 (list CDN$2000-$2400), B&W CDM 1NT (list CDN$1800), or B&W N805 (list CDN$3000)?

    Dave
     
  4. Jeff D.

    Jeff D. Supporting Actor

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    David:

    I can say with confidence that the Gold Reference 10 will blow away the Paradigm's. In a totally different league.

    ----

    Jeff
     
  5. Dustin B

    Dustin B Producer

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    Are you saying the Ref10 will blow away the Studio 20/40 ($800 and $1100 list CDN) or the Active 20/40 ($1850 and $2250 list CDN)? Sadly the Actives are still being rumoured as being discontinued soon on this and other forums (whether it's true or not I'm not 100% sure either way). Those two sets of speakers may look very similar, but they are two very different animals.

    Also remember that each Active speaker has two built in amp channels (so 4 for a pair of speakers). So the Ref10 are $2000, plus you still need to buy an amp for them. Depending on how you look at that, could be a good thing or a bad thing.
     
  6. DavidY

    DavidY Supporting Actor

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    At CDN$3K (list CDN$5K), I would definately consider the Energy Veritas 1.8, Audio Ideas Guide's reference speaker. Wish that I had the bucks and the system components to drive them properly.

    Jeff, I will definately try to audition the Monitor Audio GR series...if I can find them the next time I visit Vancouver.

    Dave
     
  7. Trevor Schell

    Trevor Schell Supporting Actor

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    Very Nice reveiw Jeff..

    At 88db efficiency a nice high current seperate amp would most likely take these to yet another higher level of performance quality.
     
  8. Rob Tomlin

    Rob Tomlin Producer

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    Great review! I really think that Monitor Audio speakers are often overlooked by people looking to purchase loudspeakers. They make excellent speakers!

    I am still in love with my Monitor Audio Silver 5i's! Superb clarity, and fabulous imaging! Anyway, glad to hear that their Gold line is what I expected that it would be...Superb! Of course, I will have to try to find some to listen to myself!
     
  9. Doug_B

    Doug_B Screenwriter

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    FWIW, the GR20s (floorstanders, US $3K retail) were on the top of my list, but I recently decided to order a pair of ribbon speakers for a home trial. My view of the 20s sounds similar to what Jeff wrote up on the 10s. I'll add a few things, as I've demoed the 20s witha few different setups in a few different stores.

    I think the 20s need a decent amp to really bring out an appropriate level of articulation. I was less than impressed with the Parasound 855 I heard with them. I think it was a combo of its warmth and lack of juice. Also heard them with a 75Wx2 integrated amp, and they still didn't open up enough. The best I had heard with them was with an Anthem MCA-5 (and AVM2 pre). They really opened up across the freq spectrum. I didn't hear them with a more powerful amp, though. I would imagine they'd do great with the amp I have on order (Odyssey Stratos). Note that it's possible that the 10s don't require as much juice, as the 20s have an extra driver.

    If the 10s are anything near what the 20s are IMO, then the price (US $1500 retail, I think) makes this a helluva speaker. Add the Gold Center (US $1K ?) and a pair of Silver Surrounds or their upcoming Gold Surrounds, and one could be in for both music and HT treats (don't forget the SVS).

    Doug
     
  10. Adil M

    Adil M Supporting Actor

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    Ok, I have the same ? as others. Sorry. I really like the Monitor Audio Silver 5i's. However, I liked the Paradigm Actives more. They are the same price. Silver5's are 900. Active 20's are the same and Active 40's are 1100. The Monitor Audio Gold 10's are a 1000 then. These are all US converted. Can you please give me some details about the differences in the Gold Line and the Active line. I know you Canadians have dealers that probably have both. I am really interested in the gold line now. Great Review BTW. Thanks for your help. Which looks to be the best deal? Are the MA Gold really in another class then the Actives, b/c the Actives were pretty up there, built-in amps by Paradigm too. Just have to buy a good Pre. This may be moot if I don't find a dealer who knows for sure if he can get these. Thanks. Gotta find a dealer to test out the Golds.
     
  11. Brett DiMichele

    Brett DiMichele Producer

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    Great review and a great looking speaker.. I am sure they

    sound fantastic. But to say they are perfect? That's a bit

    of a stretch. There is no perfect speaker, only what the

    buyer feels is perfect for him/her..

    One other thing.. 88Db is considered high efficiency?
     
  12. Jeff D.

    Jeff D. Supporting Actor

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    Dustin:
    The Gold Reference 10 will blow away the standard Studio 20/40. They are also significantly better than the Active series. A completely different philosophy, resulting in a completely different sound quality. Incidentally, there is no rumour about the discontinuation of Paradigm Active. It is fact.
    I recently had a chance to hear the Energy Veritas 1.8 (I think they said 1.8b, not too sure). I don't understand what the fuss is about with these Veritas. They look pretty (if you like that style), but its really all style and no substance. Lots of quantity in all the departments, but no quality. I would consider it an insult to compare the Gold Reference 10 to the Veritas 1.8. I have not heard newer iterations, so I will refrain from commenting there.
    Trevor:
    Absolutely! These speakers are SCREAMING out for high quality amplification. They can go even further than I have heard them...what an exciting thought! [​IMG]
    Rob:
    Yes, Monitor Audio is completely underrated. Their Bronze 2 in their entry level Bronze series is an amazing product - easily my favourite in that price area.
    The Silver 5i is the absolute killer in the Silver series. I also like the somewhat darker sound of the Silver 8, though the Silver 5i is the better value.
    To be honest, I have yet to hear a Monitor Audio speaker disappoint me. They are so great, I thought it was time to bring some attention to them.
    Doug:
    The 20s are an amazing product. They are also more than double the cost. Factoring that in, I still stand by my statement that the 10s are the better value.
    As I mentioned in my review, there is a limit to the 10's bass response. The 20's serve to fill in this gap. They've got everything the 10's have, plus the same qualities in their deeper bass.
    The Anthem amps are an excellent match. My favourite, however, is the Musical Fidelity product. Especially the Nu-Vista amp. I heard this powering the 20's - and wow. Literally plastered to my seat - the wall of sound was shocking!!
    Adil:
    Of course, everything comes down to personal taste. The Paradigm is a Canadian product and the Monitor Audio a British product. Two completely different philosophies of sound reproduction.
    The British lounge tends to be smaller, so they don't necessarily have to fill large rooms with sound. Many British products have a "warm" sound when compared to North American products. I don't think they are warm - rather less bright. North American products are what I like to call good "rock and roll" product. This doesn't mean they don't have finesse or resolving abilities, but they are much more forward then their British counterparts.
    The Gold Reference 10 is going to offer a lot more detail than any of the Paradigm Active product. You're going to hear the actual texture of the instruments and voices - not just the basic sounds themselves. The 10's are completely in control from start to finish. The Paradigm's will tend to get lost if things get too confusing. I also find the 10's much more at ease with classical material than the Paradigm.
    ----
    Jeff
     
  13. Earl_C

    Earl_C Agent

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    Jeff,

    Just curious; what's your experience with the Active series?
     
  14. Adil M

    Adil M Supporting Actor

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    I went and auditioned the GR10's. They sounded great. All the equipment it was hooked up w/ was top class. I listen to the Monitor Audio Silver 5's again and I like them. They are a little laid-back, but not in a negative way. The Gr10's were very detailed. BUT, I was equally impressed w/ the Actives and unless I can A/B them I don't think I would be able to differentiate them. This is a tough call. That's my experience. I am still auditioning and I am that guy who walks in w/ a mini-notepad and pen and tells the SA to go away for a while and I take notes. As a note either speaker would need a good sub to match up w/ it. And if I win that SVS, hint to God , I'll have enough saved to go buy my entire HT setup.
     
  15. Doug_B

    Doug_B Screenwriter

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  16. Jeff D.

    Jeff D. Supporting Actor

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    Earl:

    I work for a dealer that carries (or carried) the Paradigm Active line.

    Between the Gold Reference 10 and the Active product, there is a clear cut winner to my ears. The Gold References beats out the Active series, no question.

    Saying that, however, does not mean the Paradigm Active is a bad product. It isn't. It is an excellent product. Simply put, the Gold Reference 10 is better - but that recommendation does not eliminate every other product in and around this price range. This was an idea that I hinted at in my review, but didn't elaborate on.

    We have a tendency, whenever we read a review, to say "but what about such and such?". A good review does not mean that everything that came before is now rubbish. It means we have a new reference for performance - but those previous products are still just as good as they were before.

    Someone mentioned earlier that the Active line includes amps and therefore is the better deal (or at least there was that implication). This is also a trap too easily fallen into. I could very well counter that with the fact that, since they fall at the same price point (or roughly), that the Active product's speaker components are of a lesser quality than the Gold Reference 10 - because the money used in development has had to be spread across more components, namely the amps. In addition, the amps in the Active product may not perform as well as separate amps powering the Gold Reference 10's - again, the cost factor. Arguments saying the Active is the better value can just as easily be countered with arguments saying the Gold Reference is the better value.

    Now, as to my own observations between the two. The Paradigm Active is a fine product and at its heart is a very fine speaker (Paradigm Reference Studio 40). This speaker is, in fact, what I currently have in my setup.

    The best part about the Paradigm is the midrange quality. Very, very close to the level achieved by the Gold Reference 10. In fact, it is this midrange quality that drew me to the 40s, and it is the reason I still say the 40s are the best speaker in the Reference line. The Active 40s maintain this wonderful midrange, perhaps giving it a little more freedom and air than the regular model. The Gold Reference 10, however, is just ever so slightly less "boxed in" in the midrange, and has much better control over decay times.

    Bass quality between the two speakers diverges a bit. Technically the 40s have lower bass extension. Listening to them, however, one would think the difference between the two is greater than the numbers suggest. Closer examination reveals that the bass of the 40s is not quite as clean and controlled and suffers a bit from the "trying to go too low" syndrome I mentioned in the original review. This gives the impression of the 40s having a lot more bass - but the reality is there is just a little bit more, but not so well controlled. It is an illusion. The Monitor Audio's, while not going quite so low, are in complete control of their bass line.

    The high end is where you will hear the biggest difference between the two. As with most Paradigm product, their balance leans on the bright side of that fine line. Partnered with the wrong amp, this problem can be magnified. The amps in the Active series highlight the brightness of the tweeter ever so slightly - giving them a slightly edgy feel at times. The high end of the Active product will be much more fatiguing in the wrong situation. Fatigue was never a factor with the Monitor Audio.

    ----

    Jeff
     
  17. PatrickM

    PatrickM Screenwriter

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    Jeff, thanks for the review. I've always been intrigued by the Monitor Audio line. I think I may have to give these a listen.

    David, in Vancouver their carried at the HiFi Centre on Seymour. They also carry B&W so you can do some comparisons.

    Patrick
     
  18. Earl_C

    Earl_C Agent

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    Jeff,

    I hear you. Speaker preferences are subjective and I can't tell you you're wrong but you don't sound very sensible with statements like "perfect loudspeaker" and "different league" or "just blows away". The term "prefect loudspeaker" is an oxymoron: it doesn't exist at any price point. But I can disagree with you on the value of the Active system. You wrote:

     

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