Monitor Audio Platinum PL200 loudspeaker Page 3

Another way to assess a speaker's resolution is to listen to how it reproduces any changes in sound produced by changes in other components or tweaks. This opportunity presented itself when I was replacing my interconnects and AC cords with Nordost Valhalla products. Because I wasn't doing a cable review as such, I didn't spend a lot of time switching cables back and forth, but I did listen carefully before and after each swap (having first unplugged and replugged the original cable, to make sure that any sonic difference was not merely a function of cleaning the contacts, a natural byproduct of this process). In every instance, I could hear an improvement. The high resolution of the PL200s—and, of course, of the rest of the system—allowed me to hear differences that might have been obscured with other speakers. What most surprised me was that substituting the Nordost Valhalla power cords for the better-than-average (albeit an obsolete model) PS Audio cords at the input to the PS Audio Power Plant Premier produced a significant improvement in clarity and dynamics. But the Power Plant Premier actually regenerates the AC supply—why should the cable between the wall outlet and the Power Plant make a difference? Search me . . .

Soundstaging was simply superb: wide, deep, and precise in the spatial definition of sonic images on the stage. The soundstage was also quite high, seemingly located above the speakers. I would expect this from a taller speaker, and/or one that has an extra, upward-facing tweeter—but, of course, the PL200 isn't and doesn't. I really liked this effect—it made me feel as if I were sitting in the front of the orchestra section, rather than farther back or in the balcony.

When it came to transparency—defined as an absence of coloration or a distinctive "speaker sound" added to the music being reproduced—the PL200 once again performed like a champ. Colorations created by cabinet resonances can be problematic with floorstanding loudspeakers, but in the case of the PL200 were conspicuous by their relative absence. The midrange was essentially neutral, which was effective in communicating the distinctive characteristics of the voices of various singers; they sounded, as I noted in my April 2007 show report on the PL300, "arrestingly lifelike."

To the extent that the PL200 had a distinctive sound, it was in the direction of a slight brightness. If you consider tonal balance to be on a continuum, with warm/lush/soft at one end and airy/cool/bright at the other, then the PL200 was closer to the latter. The treble was highly extended—my hearing falls just slightly short of extending to 100kHz, so I'll have to take Monitor's word for that spec—and very clean, to the benefit of the sound of percussion instruments. In fact, at least some of what I heard as extra brightness might have been due to other components in the system. This is a perennial problem in evaluating the contribution of one component in a system, which is why it is best to switch out only one at a time. The Nordost Valhalla cables, which offer superb neutrality and resolution, aren't known for being forgiving or sounding soft. The Simaudio preamp and power amp are excellent products, but in John Atkinson's review of the Moon Evolution P-7 in the March 2009 Stereophile he noted that it had a "slightly more forward, slightly more robust" sound than his reference preamp, the Mark Levinson No.380S; that may have been part of what I heard.

I also briefly drove the PL200s with tube electronics—Convergent Audio Technology's SL-1 Renaissance preamp and PrimaLuna's ProLogue Seven power amplifiers. The results were interesting: The sounds of voices and musical instruments took on a decidedly softer, more rounded quality that was most attractive—more "musical," if you like—but the resolution was a notch lower, and the bass was not as tight or extended. On balance, I preferred the Simaudio Moon Evolution combo of P-7 and W-7.

With the Simaudio electronics, the PL200's bass was nearly as impressive as its treble. Played at a fairly high level, the bass drums and synthesizer on Mickey Hart's Planet Drum (Rykodisc RCD 10206) came over with enough impact to not sound wimpy, and the bass had excellent clarity and articulation. The double-bass line in "I Won't Dance," from Sylvia McNair's Sure Thing, was easy to follow without overwhelming the singer. As one might expect given the PL200's size and driver complement, the extreme lows (20–30Hz) weren't there—the speaker's claimed low-end limit is 35Hz, which seems about right—but the bass that was there held up to fairly high levels without sounding strained. Those who want more extended, more powerful bass might consider Monitor's matching PLW-15 powered subwoofer—or the PL300, whose larger cabinet contains, along with the same midrange and tweeter as the PL200, a pair of 8" rather than 6.5" woofers.

Which leaves us with dynamics—another of the PL200's strengths. With the appropriate recordings the speakers sounded "quick," and music had a subtle ebb and flow that resembled that real thing. Many speakers must be driven to high levels to get much of a sense of dynamic contrasts—not so the PL200. Some of my most memorable times with the Monitors were when I listened at night, with the volume set to what most people would consider a background level. The PL200 maintained its resolution at this level—even the softest musical passages had the appropriate dynamic variations. In this respect, the PL200 resembled the original Quad and KLH 9 speakers that I used to have. The PL200s were also able to play pretty loud—at levels that would have resulted in the Quads or the KLH 9s going up in smoke. At very high levels, the PL200s couldn't match the sense of dynamic ease that characterizes the Avantgarde Uno Nanos, but the same thing might be said of just about any speaker of similar size and driver complement.

Conclusion
The ideal loudspeaker would have no sound of its own: the sound that it made would simply reflect the input signal, communicating all of the detail and nuances present in the source. If such a speaker exists, I haven't heard it—but the Monitor Audio Platinum PL200 comes closer to this ideal than most. The product of a design process that has apparently examined every aspect of loudspeaker performance, the impeccably finished PL200 uses drivers that are unique to Monitor Audio, features high resolution and a high degree of transparency, and does an excellent job of getting out of the way of the music. It offers a balanced performance from top to bottom, with perhaps a slight bias toward the upper end of the range—but not so much that it sounds "etched." At $8000/pair the PL200 is by no means cheap, but neither is it crazy-priced—the price is justified by the design, the quality of components, the obvious care taken in manufacturing, and, most of all, by the sound. It's a lovely speaker.

Company Info
Monitor Audio Ltd.
US distributor: Kevro International, Inc.
902 McKay Rd., Suite 4
Pickering, Ontario L1W 3X8, Canada
(905) 428-2800
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