Monitor Audio Silver 8 loudspeaker
For all the years I have been aware of Monitor Audio, I had never had a pair of their speakers in either of my systems. Now, however, I had an ulterior motive: I've been shopping for new speakers for my weekend system, in Connecticut. They need to be three-way floorstanders (my wife hates stand-mounted boxes), not require the support of a subwoofer, be no taller than 40", and have a retail price in the vicinity of $2000/pair. Monitor's new Silver series includes three floorstanders of similar configuration. The Silver 6 ($1500/pair) is a 2½-way speaker, and the larger Silver 10 ($2500/pair) stands just under 42" tall, including its plinth and feet. But the three-way Silver 8, at just under 40" and $2000/pair, seemed just right. As soon as I read about it, I asked for a pair for review.
The Silver 8 is simply gorgeous, with a fit and finish that are probably impossible to achieve at the price without production in the Far East. My pair were in a perfect High Gloss Black Lacquer on all surfaces, including the bottom, which adds $200 to the price of a pair. A similarly finished and substantial plinth firmly bolts to the bottom and can receive spikes or soft feet, both adjustable. The four drivers are mounted with single-bolt fixtures from the rear, and are held in place by tension applied with a keyed nut on the back. The generously sized and accessible terminals made it very easy to get a firm grip on the spade lugs with only a modicum of finger pressure. No mounting fixtures mar the beauty of the front panel, and the cloth-covered grille is attached by hidden magnets.
All of the Silver 8's drive-units are made of Monitor's proprietary ceramic-coated aluminum-magnesium (C-CAM) material. The dual 6" woofers have dished diaphragms with a hard skin but are internally damped, and are loaded by separate chambers in a very rigid cabinet of MDF that's braced both across and radially. Each driver has a support brace that extends from its magnet to the rear panel. Each woofer's chamber is vented to the rear via a tapered port with a textured surface, called by Monitor Audio HiVeII, to smooth the flow of air. The 4" midrange's underhung voice-coil permits long excursions with low distortion. The tweeter has a vented diaphragm and a damped rear chamber. The outputs of the four drivers are integrated by a three-way crossover (500 and 2700Hz) with premium-grade polypropylene capacitors and wired with silver-plated, oxygen-free copper. The Silver 8's three-way design was one of the things that attracted me to it in the first placeI hoped for better midrange clarity and dispersion than is usually achieved by the 2.5-way designs that are nearly ubiquitous at or near this price.
I installed the Silver 8s in my Connecticut system, hooked up as both a stereo pair and as the front L/R speakers of my surround system, driven by a Marantz AV8801 preamplifier-processor and a Bryston 9BST or Rotel RMB-1585 power amp. Audyssey EQ was set to LR-Bypass so that, in stereo or surround, the Silver 8s were not subjected to equalization.
Talk about hopes realized! From the second the system was powered up, the Silver 8s impressed me. I heard a welcome clarity in the midrange that gave all music a natural presenceprecisely why I'd wanted a three-way with a dedicated midrange driver. The Silver 8's 4" cone reproduces the upper midrange, from 2.7kHz down to 500Hz, so the integration of its output with that of the woofers (at unspecified crossover slopes) is critical for proper balance with voices and instruments whose fundamentals fall below 500Hz. I think Monitor has achieved thatI could hear no fault with the Silver 8 with voices that span the crossover frequency. My reference for this integration, mezzo-soprano Marianne Beate Kielland in her Come Away, Death, with pianist Sergei Osadchuk (free 24-bit/192kHz PCM download from SACD/CD, 2L 2L-064-SACD), had a warmth I had heretofore heard only from my Manhattan system, with its big Bowers & Wilkins 800 Diamond and Bryston Middle T speakers (review of the latter underway). This high-resolution recording has always sounded deliciously fresh and sweet, but all of the recent speakers that have passed through my Connecticut system have offered a slighter rendition of Kielland's rich tones. That's not to say that the Silver 8s were artificially enhancing the lower midsmale voices didn't suffer, and didn't sound overripe in any way.
A pair of 6" woofers does not suggest stygian bass, even if Monitor specifies the Silver 8's lower limit as 32Hz, unqualified by any rolloff spec. At low levels, the speaker's low end was in good balance, as suggested above, and the louder I pushed them, the more power and impact the Silver 8s delivered, without boom. Even Gustav Stenz and the Cologne Gürzenich Orchestra's warmly powerful cycle of Mahler symphony recordings was just fine without my having to send in the subs. Try the last movement of Symphony 6 (SACD/CD, Oehms OC-651), with its weighty "hammer blows" and its truly devastating, anguished final chord. I found an abiding source of pleasure in how the Silver 8 was never caught out by the bass information in any recording; my cursory examinations of in-room frequency responses suggested that it was less affected by room modes and placement than are my resident Paradigm Studio/60v3s. John Atkinson's measurements will tell us the real numbers, but I found the Silver 8's bass remarkably solid and satisfying. I think some of that success was probably due to the critical damping of the drivers in their individual enclosures, which may have made possible the 8's well-controlled bass extension to its reasonable lower limit. Of course, adding a subwoofer or two further endowed the Monitors' sound with prodigious bass, but that was significant with only a minority of recordings.
There's little to say about the Silver 8's treble. Although it was detailed and extended, it was also smooth and untiring. Indeed, as with the best speakersthose costing far more than the Silver 8's $2000/pairthe high frequencies, almost all overtones, were unobtrusively integral to the music, not distinct from the midrange fundamentals. I greatly appreciated this with recordings of both small and large ensembles. For the former, I listened to the latest release from the Los Angeles Percussion Quartet, The Year Before Yesterday (BDA/CD, Sono Luminos DSL-92180). Particularly with percussion pioneer William Kraft's Fore!, the Silver 8s provided, from the CD, a precise spatial delineation, as in a good chamber-music performance, coupled with remarkable impact and presence from each instrument. For a large ensemble, I immersed myself in the world of Robert Kyr via his The Cloud of Unknowing and Songs of the Soul, performed by the wonderful vocal ensemble Conspirare with the support of the Victoria Bach Festival Orchestra, under the direction of Craig Hella Johnson (SACD/CD, Harmonia Mundi HMU 807577). What a marvelous way to take flight to a world of beauty from the reality of a rainy day! While the harmonies may be complex, the perception is of effortless flow, even in two channels. One can succumb happily or listen analytically, but either way, one does so with the feeling that nothing separates one from the music and the musicians.
Of course, both of these recordings benefit immensely from multichannel playback, but I can't say that listening in stereo via the Silver 8s was anything less than delightful. Their soundstage was deep and, if I wanted to focus on instrument placements instead of the music, there was a wealth of stable detail to appreciate. Soundstages weren't much wider than the space defined by the speakers' outer edges, but this might be the only tiny fly in the Silver 8's ointment. If so, it's one I'd gladly accept in return for the speakers' well-defined stereo presentation and almost ideal tonal balance.
All of the above notes reflect my current listening interests. However, the Monitor Silver 8s were also great with more wide-ranging music. I popped in Sara K.'s Hell or High Water (SACD/CD, Stockfisch SFR 357.4039.2), B.B. King and Eric Clapton's Riding with the King (DVD-A, Duck/Reprise 45024-2), and Oscar Peterson Meets Roy Hargrove and Ralph Moore (CD, Telarc CD-83399). My, did the Silver 8s deliver. I pulled out Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Festival 2010 (2 BDs, Rhino 525668) and played through both discs, randomly switching between stereo and multichannel. Regardless of track or changes in players, it all sounded more alive and engaging than I remembered.
Sure, much more exalted and expensive designsperhaps even its own sibling, the Silver 10can produce greater power, bass extension, and ultimate resolution. But compared with my admittedly older and discontinued Paradigm Studio/60v3s ($1699/pair when last available), the Silver 8s were strikingly cleaner in the lower midrange, more open in the upper midrange, and had a subtler treblethough the Studio 60s do have more heft at the bottom. The pricier and even more beautiful Sonus Faber Venere 2.5 ($2498/pair) had an equally spacious upper end, but I give the palm to the Silver 8 for its midbass smoothness. The KEF Q900 ($1598.98/pair) also gives the Silver 8 a run for the money at the upper end, but has a notably lighter balance and is not so handsomely finished.
This review is so brief because I'm at a loss to point to any way in which, for its size and price, the Monitor Audio Silver 8 disappointed. I've been looking at speakers for $3000/pair or less for a while, and have not heard any that I would prefer to the Monitor Audio Silver 8.