Monitor Audio Platinum PL200 loudspeaker Page 2
But my reviewing system still had not fully evolved. I looked at the interconnects I had on hand and realized that I lacked the requisite two identical balanced pairs: one pair for CD player to preamp, the other from preamp to power amp. In fact, the interconnects I'd been using were a bit of a hodgepodge, and some of them were no longer madeperhaps it was time to upgrade. But there are lots of interconnects out there, and I had no interest in trying all sorts of models from different manufacturers. The cables I've used more than any other are from Nordost: Valhalla speaker cable, still current in their line; and Quattro Fil interconnect, discontinued some time ago. My positive experience with them led me to think that Nordost would be the logical choice. I talked to Nordost's vice-president of marketing (and sometime audio scribe), Roy Gregory, who offered to loan me some Valhalla interconnects and power cables to supplement the Valhalla speaker cables I already had. Replacing my stock Linn Ittok tonearm cable with Nordost's Frey (the Valhalla is too stiff for the Linn turntable's suspension) completed the Nordost cable loom. (See Art Dudley's discussion of the "loom" concept in "Listening" in the December 2009 issue.)
Over the years, I've found that speakers sound best when placed within a fairly circumscribed area, away from the front and sidewalls and along the 16' length of my 14' by 16' by 7.5' room, forming close to the classic 60° angle,when perceived from the listening position, or even a bit wider. (I like a wide soundstage.) Within that area, moving the speakers by small increments from the front and sidewalls and varying their toe-in allows some tuning of the tonal balance and optimizing the width and depth of the soundstage.
Sheldon Ginn of Kevro International, Monitor's North American distributor, came by to help me with the setup. He tightened the bolts that keep the enclosure rigid, and adjusted the feet so that the spirit level indicated that both speakers were level. Together, we moved the speakers around a bit until the soundstage came into good focus. I was told that my review samples had had a fair amount of break-in time, but more never hurtswhenever my wife and I were away from home, I programmed Monitor Audio's break-in CD (supplied with my review samples) for repeat play. Over a period of several weeks, the bass improved and the sound generally seemed to become more relaxedbut since the audio electronics and the cables were new in the system as well, I can't definitely attribute this change to speaker break-in alone.
As I kept listening to the PL200s after the initial setup, I had the feeling that although their soundstage was fine, the tonal balance was a little bass-shy. I moved the speakers a few inches toward the wall behind them (too close and you exacerbate room modes), which resulted in a better balance of the bass with the rest of the range. The PL200s come with metal grilles that conveniently attach with magnets. I compared their sound with the grilles on and off, and found the focus to be better with the grilles off, so that's how I listened to them. (This was also Sheldon Ginn's recommendation.)
For me, the two most important attributes that define loudspeaker quality are resolution and transparency. By resolution I mean the ability of a speaker to communicate the fine details of the music encoded in the recording, while transparency refers to a speaker's ability to present a "clear window" on the music, free of distortions and colorations. These characteristics are important for any audio component, but are particularly importantand particularly difficult to achievein a mechanical product like a loudspeaker. Some speakers that offer a detailed presentation also have a distinctive sonic personality that keeps reminding you that you're listening to speakers, not live music. Other speakers are pleasantly "musical," with little in the way of a distinctive "speaker sound," but gloss over the music's finer details: such speakers are high in transparency but low in resolution. It's hard to get both in the same speaker. My Avantgarde Uno Nanos have very high resolution, but they also have a distinctive sonic personalitythe well-known "horn coloration," which, while lower in the Uno Nano than in other horns, is still audible.
My usual test of resolution is to play highly familiar recordings, listening for any details I had not been aware of before. One disc that I find very useful for this is All Star Percussion Ensemble (CD, Golden Strings GS CD 005), an early digital recording (1982) selected in 1993 by Home Theater magazine's Thomas J. Norton, then my colleague at Stereophile, as a "Record To Die For." It's a sonic spectacular in the best sense: "balance is superb, detailing is precise and at times striking, dynamics wide, and the soundstage is particularly broad and deep," to quote TJN. I don't know what equipment Tom used to come up with that assessment, but I've listened to this recording many, many times, and through the PL200s I heard details of orchestration that simply had not been apparent before. For example, in the arrangement of Pachelbel's Canon in D, I noticed for the first time that a percussion instrument enters the fray (at 2:42 into track 3) making "clucking" sounds. Could I have heard it through other speakers if I'd listened more attentively? Perhaps. All I can say is that with the PL200s in this system, the presence of this instrument was very obvious, and an effective part of director Harold Farberman's arrangement.
The PL200 also sailed through my other tests of resolution, such as revealing the editing glitches in Sylvia McNair's Sure Thing: The Jerome Kern Songbook (CD, Philips 442 129-2). These details didn't sound exaggerated, like a digital photo with the sharpening control turned up too high; they were just there.