Audition # 8
Monitor Audio PL300
After a speedy lunch with my wife we headed out to Brookfield, WI to audition the newly released Monitor Audio PL300's. The PL300's retail for $9000/pair, so they are one of the most expensive and sophisticated speakers I've auditioned to date. I have auditioned a few pricey speakers in the past, but I generally try to stay "reasonably" within my price range so I can actually save for the speaker if I really connect with it. However, after doing some research and reading up on the engineering and technology involved, my interest skyrocketed and I just had to nab an audition. Well, that day was today, but let me talk a little about why this speaker interested me.
Monitor Audio's previous offers to the Platinum Series were pretty decent, but nothing mind blowing. I think the Silver series offers good performance for a reasonable price, but after hearing the Gold series (I got a second audition today), I feel they are a little pricey for the amount of performance they offer. This is one of the reasons my favorite local dealer doesn't carry anything higher than the Silver Series; they feel anything above that doesn't offer enough performance for the steeper asking price, and I am inclined to believe that, until now.
The new Monitor Audio Platinum series seems to have been re-engineer from the ground up (as gear-heads would say). The specifications that drew my interest were (as taken from Hifisponge and stolen from rydenfan's post):
1. No MDF in the cabinet, instead they use multilayer ply,
2. Synthetic marble front baffle covered in leather to provide a resonant free mounting surface for the drivers,
3. Torsion screws that attach the front and rear baffle, tightened to a specific torque setting to further reduce cabinet resonances,
4. Real WBT binding posts,
5. Custom ribbon tweeter with excellent dispersion and 100KHz extension,
6. Dedicated midrange in it's own conical enclosure made of synthetic marble,
7. Driver diaphragms that have a center made of non-resonant Nomex to reduce the ringing typical of metal drivers.
I guess Hifi and Ryden appreciate the same qualities that I do.
I arrived around 4:30, 1.5 hours before the store closed. I expected to only listen for 30 minutes but ended up staying for an hour. Thank God my wife was patient and, while she did listen for a little while, ended up watching the NFL draft with my daughter on the many flat screen panels the store had on display.Aesthetic impressions
Other than the not so attractive fat and squatty look, the PL300's are simply gorgeous. The display pair featured the Santos Rosewood veneer, coincidentally the same Veneer my wife chose for my future Song Tower's. The veneer was simply gorgeous; the pictures I took don't do them justice. The veneer seemed to be covered in a high gloss finish, which I am a sucker for I might add. A knuckle wrap on the sides resulted in a deadness among the best I've heard on any speaker. These are some very solidly built speakers!
Another feature of the aesthetics I liked were the horizontal bindings and magnetic speaker grills. It just oozed of class, which may or may not be a contrast to me and my personality; you'd have to ask my wife to get a definitive answer on that one.
All in all, the bases, veneer, fit and finish and binding posts were all very solid; nothing cheap looking with these speakers. Score 1 for Monitor Audio.Music Used
I only brought 3 CD's with me for auditioning. I meant to finish up my future audition CD, but my daughter and I were having so much fun jamming to tunes and dancing around that I totally lost track of time. Oh well!
The artists, albums and song tracks were as follows:
Patricia Barber - Live: A Fortnight In France
This track is called "Gotcha," of which has great macro and microdynamics and has a lot of instrument work going on all throughout. It is also a good tune to use for testing female vocal clarity and accuracy. Finally, it has a lot of symbol and bass work to put a speaker through the paces.
Dream Theater - Awake
The two tracks chosen from this album were "Scarred" and "The Mirror." I chose these track because they have everything a "Rock 'N Roll/ Heavy Metal" band should include in their music. They have a truly gifted keyboardist/pianist, the greatest guitarist to ever live (my opinion, of course), possibly the greatest bassist to ever play in a Rock/Metal band, the best drummer every to walk the earth,topped off with a pretty darn good singer considering the genre of music. Needless to say there is a lot involved in their music. Picture "Yes" meets "Journey" meets "Pink Floyd" meets "Metallica" and you'll have an idea of what you're in store for. Well, I chose this band because of the micro and macrodynamics involved, because they have decently recorded albums for a rock band and due to the bombardment of musical information coming at you; it can easily cause a speaker to show its weaknesses by distorting and clumping all the instruments together.Howard Shore - The Lord Of The Rings Soundtrack: Return Of The King
I originally planned on listening only to "Minas Tirith," but this album sounded so good on this speaker that I also played "The White Tree" and "The Steward Of Gondor." As many of you probably already know, Howard Shore used an orchestra to record the soundtrack for the LOTR movies. The recording is well done and includes a lot of brass/horns and symbols/high hats. There are also some pretty powerful hair raising passages that I can easily emotionally connect with, thus being a good test for the PL300's.Listening Impressions
I first fired up Patricia Barber's
"Gotcha" because I was excited to hear how the speakers reproduced the female voice and the catchy bass passage. The bass started and I'll admit, it was a little less punchy and deep than I was used to. This could have been due to the setup but nonetheless I craved more depth. Continuing on, Patrica's
voice came on and overpowered me. The presentation was BIG, very BIG, as if I was front and center in the arena where the album was recorded. Her voice was captivating and had more depth and bass than I've heard before at the lower midrange. In my seated position (dead center between the speakers about the same distance away as they were apart) the vertical dispersion was among the best I've heard on a speaker using a ribbon tweeter. Her voice went high and wide, better than most presentations I've heard before. The midrange was very lush, and detailed. I never once had to struggle to hear the detail of each instrument, thus providing an amazing separation of instruments. I'll have to echo Tim's review when he said the separation of instruments was mind blowing. The experience immediately made me think of the Song Tower's and had me wondering if the PL300's implemented a transmission line design (of which they do not). Besides the Vandersteen 5A's and the Salk Song Tower's I'd never heard a midrange this detailed.
While focusing on the drum work, specifically the symbols, I again heard a very open sound with a lot of air. I love that open, airy sound, so I was totally diggin' the song at this point even though its not really my style, per se. The ribbon tweeter was smooth most of the time, but sometimes it walked the border between extremely detailed and a too bright. This was later confirmed with the other recordings. Nonetheless, the transition from the mid to the tweet was better than I've heard on most ribbon tweeter based speakers; no obvious distortion or colorations detected.
After enjoying the previous track I changed up the pace with the heavy hitting Dream Theater.
This is the one band that my close friends, family and I actually agree on; we all love DT's stuff. I fired up "Scarred" which starts off with a bass line and amazing guitar harmonics. Again that BIG overpowering sound enveloped me. I could hear the distortion of the bass and the rattling of the strings - very cool. James Labrie's
vocals sounded clear and concise, almost in a spooky manner that gave me chills. Like Patricia's
voice, his was big, full and created a long and high wall of sound. It was at this point (early on in the track) that I stood up and moved left and right to check the 300's imaging and dispersion capabilities. When I stood up the wall of sound stayed about tweeter level. As I moved left and right the imaging certainly changed and it was easy to pinpoint where the sound was coming from. Upon sitting back into my seating position I closed my eyes and pointed to where the sound extended to. Unfortunately it didn't extend too far beyond the boundaries of the speaker. Due to this I would say the listening window is small and the imaging could be better.
As the track continued on I just got drawn in, and rather than listening intently I got lost in the music. Other than remembering the guitar solo which made the hair stand up on the back of my neck, the next thing I remember was the song ending. That guitar solo is so amazing, as if John Petrucci
was told by God himself what notes to play. Every note was exactly how it should
have been, and it sounded awesome on this speaker. The distortion of the guitar was just "right," like John
was giving me a personal guitar lesson. Electric guitar sounds good on these speakers
After finishing "Scarred" I quickly played the beginning of "The Mirror." This track kicks off with a brutally deep, crunchy and heavy riff, true Rocker/Heavy Metal style. Again the distortion was perfect, providing the right amount of crunch and bass. But when the kick bass drums broke in I wished they had more impact and depth. With a band like Dream Theater
I crave punchy bass, just as it would sound if Mike Portnoy
was playing his giant drum set in the room before me. Unfortunately the bass was a little shy, for lack of a better word. Just a hair more and I would have had a bigger smile on my face. Oddly enough, the bass guitar sounded pretty spot on, but admittedly was lacking some on the Patricia Barber
My final album was "The Return Of The King" Soundtrack. I chose his because I just happened to have it in my car and had forgot my Igor Stravinsky
piece at home (DOH). I began with the third track and intended to stop there, but I ended up cruising through the forth and fifth as well. While listening to these three track I again got lost in the music, more emotionally than anything. It totally took me back to certain scenes of the LOTR movie. The brass instruments sounded strong and realistic, though with a bit of harshness at times. The bass was deep and enveloping but not as full as I was hoping for.
While nearing the end of audition I was in the middle of a track called "The Steward Of Godor" in which a female voice begins to utter an almost euphoric trance, but in the form of a song. The hair stood up on my arms and the back of my neck and I was memorized by how spooky it sounded (maybe a little ubrealistic, though), as if I was Froto being sung a lullaby. I stopped the CD and just sat for a spell trying to think of how I'd describe what I heard. I hope my experience was well described, but some things just can't be put into words but rather need to be experienced. Needless to say, this soundtrack sounded good on this speaker.Summary
In summary, I enjoyed my time with the PL300's. My quib was with the bass and occasional harshness of the upper mids and treble.
Finally, to offer a second perspective, my wife had a few opinions of her own. She felt that the speakers provided a "circumferencing" experience as if the sound was being hurled at you rather than you actually being there as a part of the show. She said the symbols in Dream Theater's
"Scarred" were ear piercing, which is why she left the room. Her experience was that the speaker's high frequencies were headache inducing, thus ruining the speakers good attributes. You know...its funny...when we got home I wanted to listen to the same tracks on our system (The Rocket 850 Sigs) while they still rang fresh in my mind. After finishing up, my wife, whom sat through all of them with me, said she now truly appreciates our current speakers more than ever. She actually enjoyed them and felt they provided a more "you are there" experience. A good word in comparison would be smooth; just a smoother and easier to tolerate sound (her words). I'm very happy she took the time to experience what I did and that she now appreciates what we currently have. Not to mention we chatted about audio, concepts and design for some time after.
Tim, Ryden, and every one else, the PL300 is a good speaker and should finally provide Monitor Audio with some stiff competition for that every-growing price range. Its ability to provide a HUGE 3-Dimensional holographic sound stage put me in sheer awe, especially considering how bad the room was acoustically.
Edit: After reading about Rydenfan's and Hifisponge's listening impressions of these speakers, and after numerous conversations with them, we agree that the midrange and tweeter harshness and sibilance is not due to the room acoustics (at least not when I was listening). Unfortunately the harshness I heard was the speaker's characterisitic. I should not have been so quick to blame it on the poor room (even though the acoustics sucked). Iwish the acoustics were better in the room, hence I wouldn't have been so quick to recommend this speaker. In lieu of this, the speaker drops down a notch for me. It is still a great speaker for the price, however.