Monitor Audio Platinum PL300 II loudspeaker Page 2

The sound heard from a loudspeaker can be thought of as having two components: the music the speaker is supposed to reproduce—ie, the recording—and the characteristic sound of the speaker itself, which is a function of the speaker's mechanical and electronic components. The ideal speaker, of course, would have no sound of its own; every sound made by the speaker would be a precisely accurate reproduction of a sound originally contained on the recording. The ideal speaker doesn't exist—or if it does, I haven't heard it—but speakers vary in the extent to which the sound they produce is their own, as opposed to a faithful reproduction of the recording, with nothing added and nothing taken away.

The first speaker I heard that impressed me with its lack of "speaker sound" was the original Quad ESL. Compared to the Quad, with its planar electrostatic drivers, speakers with conventional woofers and tweeters in a box sounded like . . . well, speakers. Of course, the Quad had its disadvantages—it wouldn't play loud or go low—so some people combined it with a subwoofer, to extend the bass and, with a suitable external crossover, increase its dynamic capability. But this had a cost: it brought back some of the "speaker sound" the Quad hadn't had to begin with—and the ESL still couldn't play that loud.

The decades that have passed since the introduction of the ESL-57 have seen many advances in drive-units, based on a variety of technologies. As speaker designers have become more aware of the importance of controlling cabinet resonances and spurious resonances within the drivers themselves, speakers have come to have less "speaker sound." The PL300 II is an outstanding example of this trend; it had less "speaker sound" than any loudspeaker I've reviewed.

My favorite musical instrument is the human voice, and I find that vocal recordings are particularly revealing of "speaker sound." With the PL300 II—again, more than with any other speaker I've reviewed—the sounds I heard from vocal recordings were overwhelmingly those made by the singer, not the resonances of the speaker reproducing the voices. The Wilson Sabrina, while undoubtedly excellent, and a speaker that I greatly enjoyed listening to, sounded more like a speaker. In the PL300 II, Monitor Audio has managed to reduce distortion and nonmusical resonances to a degree that made it easier to imagine that I was listening to live singers.

This was apparent not only when I played audiophile recordings, but also when listening to recordings that can make no such claim. One of the latter was a recently purchased set of early recordings by Fritz Wunderlich, A Life—A Legend (10 mono CDs, Intense Media LC 12281). The accompanying documentation is minimal, but I figured that, at $21 for the set, I could take a chance. I'd first listened to this recording through the Sabrinas and found that, though the singing throughout was glorious, the sound had more of an edge than I hear from other, more expensive Wunderlich recordings. By then I'd concluded that the Sabrinas were very fine speakers, so I assumed that any audible deficiencies must be intrinsic to the recording—that, basically, I'd gotten what I'd paid for.

The Sabrinas were gone by the time the PL300 IIs arrived, so I wasn't able to do direct A/B comparisons. But listening to the Wunderlich set through the PL300 IIs, my persistent impression was that, while not of audiophile quality, the sound of these recordings was better than I'd thought: not as harsh, with smoother highs. Wunderlich was known for the unique quality of his voice, which combined sweetness and strength; through the PL300 IIs, I could hear these qualities even in mono recordings from the 1950s.

This ability of the PL300 II to allow recordings to be heard with their best foot forward was not accomplished by glossing over details. The sound was highly detailed: playing familiar recordings, I repeatedly heard things I hadn't before been aware of. A very specific test I use for detail is the cymbal at 57 seconds into Ana Caram's "Viola Fora de Moda," included on the Jazz Sampler & Audiophile Test Compact Disc (CD, Chesky JD37). Through the PL300 IIs, the onset of the cymbal transient, its decay, and the placement of the instrument on the soundstage were as good as I've heard, sounding just . . . natural. The PL300 II also responded appropriately to changes in my system, neither glossing over them nor presenting them in an unforgiving way. Late in my auditioning of the Monitors, PS Audio released Torreys, the latest iteration of their DirectStream DAC operating system. I try to avoid making any changes in my system during the critical listening for a review, so I waited to download and install Torreys until my evaluation of the PL300 II's sound had solidified. When I did, the PL300 II let me clearly hear the changes wrought by the new OS.

In any play, musical, or opera, the success of the production depends not only on the individual performances but on how they work together as an ensemble. Similarly, each component part of a loudspeaker must not only be excellent on its own, but work together with the rest to produce a successful whole. This, I believe, Monitor has achieved in the Platinum PL300 II. The speaker's sound was exceptionally coherent, approaching in this respect that of a single-driver speaker like the Fujitsu Ten Eclipse TD 712z, but without the Fujitsu's limitations in dynamics and bass.

Continuing the ensemble simile: Just as, in an effective theatrical ensemble, there may still be an individual "star" performance, so might be the case for one of a loudspeaker's component parts. Considering only the PL300 II's drivers, the star was the tweeter. The contribution of the PL300 II's tweeter was subtle: it presented high frequencies in a way that precisely mimicked the sound of musical instruments and voices, particularly the overtones. Depending, of course, on the recording itself, the treble range was smooth and extended, with a natural quality that neither emphasized nor diminished this part of the audioband. And, in true ensemble fashion, the contribution of the tweeter blended well with the midrange.

In my review of the Platinum PL200, I described its sound as being slightly on the bright side; indeed, in writing of his measurements of the PL200, John Atkinson noted that "the ribbon tweeter looks as if it is a couple of dB too high in level." Stereophile writers don't get to see John's measurements until after a review has been submitted, but I would bet that his graphs don't show a similar emphasis for the PL300 II's tweeter. The sound—again, depending on the recording—was ultraclean throughout the audioband, supporting Monitor's claim of reduced harmonic distortion.

1016monitor.2.jpg"Ensemble player" also aptly describes the PL300 II's twin 8" woofers. With both ports open—again, my preferred configuration—the bass was extended and powerful, and blended well with the rest of the range. The synthesizer note at the beginning of "Temple Caves," from Mickey Hart's Planet Drum (CD, Rykodisc RCD 10206), was there, with no evidence of doubling, at a level that bordered on uncomfortable. The bass was tighter and more powerful with the Theta Prometheuses than with the McIntosh MC275LE, but the difference was evident mostly when I made direct comparisons.

According to Monitor's Dean Hartley, one of the design goals for the PL300 II was that it "stay composed" when playing loud music. In evaluating a speaker, I sometimes play music at levels higher than I would play just for enjoyment, and when I did, the PL300 II did indeed "stay composed." To push the PL300 II to well above my normal listening level, I used a recording that for me is a guilty pleasure: A la Carte Brass & Percussion's Boogeyin'! Swamprock, Salsa & 'Trane , with guest singer Chuck Brown (CD, Wildchild! 02452). This CD begs to be played loud. I first tried "Papa Was a Rolling Stone" at my normal "high" level, which I think most people would find loud enough, then increased the level two notches on the CAT preamp: an increase of 3dB. The sound itself through the PL300 IIs was merely louder, not distorted. (For this test, I used the Theta Prometheus monoblocks.) My AudioTools sound-pressure-level app measured 100dB on peaks (C weighting, Fast Response, Internal mic1 high range, iPhone 6 held at ear level). This is not the sort of calibrated measurement that JA makes and discusses in his Measurements sidebars, but it gives you an idea of what I was hearing. I wouldn't want to listen at this level for a prolonged period, but it's good to know that the Platinum PL300 IIs are up to it. (Larger rooms than mine would place greater demands on the speakers' loudness capability.)

The PL300 IIs' depth of soundstage and precision of imaging within the soundstage were apparent the first time I heard them, and continued to impress. To quantify the effect of spatial depth, I like to use the "Depth of Image: Acoustic Clicker" tests (tracks 34–42) on The Best of Chesky Jazz and More Audiophile Tests, Volume 2 (CD, Chesky JD68). I've used these tracks, which record a clicker at distances from the microphone ranging from 5' to 80', many times. With most speakers, the difference in the sound of the clicker from 60' and 70' away becomes iffy, and 80' sounds pretty much the same as 70'. Through the PL300 IIs, I was, first of all, surprised by how well the sound of David Chesky's voice defined the space of the recording venue as he announced each distance. And when it came to discriminating among the clicker's sounds at the farthest differences, through the PL300 IIs I was able to distinguish not only 60' from 70' away, but also 70' from 80'. This is outstanding performance.

A New Reference
I've been writing for Stereophile since 1991—my, how time flies when you're having fun—and in those 25 years have owned just three pairs of speakers: 1) Quad ESL-57 (with Cizek MG27 subwoofer), bought before I joined Stereophile; 2) Dunlavy SC-IV/SC-IVA; and, most recently, 3) Avantgarde Uno/Uno Nano.

In those same years I've reviewed a good number of speakers, several of which I was tempted to buy. Recent such models include the MartinLogan Montis, the GoldenEar Technology Triton I, and the Wilson Audio Specialties Sabrina. If you're familiar with any or all of these speakers, you'll know that, while not inexpensive, none is in the Price No Object category. For me, a reference loudspeaker should be one that offers a combination of high performance and high value, and these speakers all qualify in various ways. When it was time to return the review samples to the manufacturer, I often did so with a feeling of regret, but I was never quite motivated to reach for my checkbook.

Until Monitor Audio's Platinum PL300 II. This is one I won't let get away. As I write this, it occurs to me that the PL300 II combines some of the best aspects of my previous reference speakers: the Quad's relative lack of "speaker sound," the Dunlavys' precise imaging, the Avantgarde's dynamics. The PL300 II is also, by a considerable margin, the most physically beautiful of all of these speakers, with the highest decorator acceptance factor. It can be driven effectively by tubed or solid-state amplifiers, and will reveal, without exaggerating, the sonic characteristics of those amplifiers and of other system components. Monitor Audio has always been known for the solid quality and value of their speakers; with the Platinum PL300 II, they've hit one out of the park. It's my new reference.

Monitor Audio Ltd.
North American distributor: Kevro International Inc.
902 McKay Road, Unit 4
Pickering, Ontario L1W 3X8, Canada
(800) 667-6065

brenro's picture

This is the size loudspeaker I'm currently shopping for my listening room. My current front runner is the Revel Performa3 F208. As soon as I find them I'll audition these Monitors but at three times the price are they that much better?

findcount's picture

bro....don't bother.....just grab American speakers like Ryan, Aerial Acoustics, Silverline among a host of many many others.......they'll be far better than Monitor Audio

w1000i's picture

I doubt they can outperform the platinum, and what I think set the platinum apart from other is there midrange/woofers

findcount's picture

oh yeah......if you want those AMT tweeters......just get Elac or Legacy

deano2812's picture

Clearly you have nothing interesting or knowledgeable to say.I think you will find ELAC is a German company not American.

findcount's picture

amazing Monitor Audio hasn't gone out of business..........they haven't a chance to compete with the good brands in USA

Puresound's picture

I never read such nonsense for a long time. Most brands in the USA are inferior. Wanna bet? In drivers and response Europe is a long distance further. Take a look at this video

In other things in audio US companies are the best. But in drivers and tweeters mannn they can lear a lot of the Europian companies. When you use amps and sources which are able to create a 3 dimensional stage, Monitor Audio speaker will take a big distance from their competitors. The silly thing is that most Monitor Audio speakers are demoed with 2 dimensional amps. This is based on the fact that the knowledge and insight in audio has become rather poor

deano2812's picture

Why would you assume MA would go out of business? I think this shows a relative uneducated view of the world. I bet you don't even own a passport. You will find that MA operate in almost 100 countries, far more than most U.S brands. MA also happens to be the strongest sales in the U.S of any foreign speaker brand,except for B&W. I would check your facts before you spout such drivel.

volvic's picture

The Energy Veritas 2.8 which I missed purchasing a few years back. Have heard many Monitor Audio speakers including their higher priced ones and always loved them. Enjoy!

funambulistic's picture

Every time I listen to Monitor Audio, I have been overwhelmed. My favorite (cost vs performance) line is the Silver line (RS6, RX6 - whatever they are calling it now). Each time I audition them, the little voice in my head says "Do it!" but I love my current speakers too much. It would take an in-home audition to steer me away.

Puresound's picture

First of all many Americian loudspeakers look like S.In the US many speakers are not the like the best looking ladies. The Pl-300 is even the one of the Platinum series who is the least good looking. This has to do with the proportions of the loudspeaker. But in material use and in technique they are superior to all in their price range. The new AMT tweeter they use can reveal a level of realism what I never auditioned with any dome diamond and beryllium tweeter. It brings highend to a much higher level. This is based on the fact that it can easily let you hear the differences of height of voices and instruments. But what is most unique is that it is able to let you hear so much more diversity in sound. This is based on the technique and material use. In the last months I had clients with Wilson Audio speakers. We in Europe see them as ugly women. But this is looks and some men like ugly women. So who am I to judge!! Based on all parts you judge sound for the new Platinum outperformed the Wilson Sasha with ease. I know for sure that magazines never will do shootout of these togheter. Because Wilson will go crazy!! The tweeter of the Wilson Audio speakers show still harshness in the high freq. The AMT tweeter shows us that this is all gone. The biggest difference is based on the fact that in stage depth and width the New Platinum outperforms the Wilson in this part. Use Pass Labs amps and the Platinum will show you a wider and deeper stage. This has nothing to do with taste. The stage is bigger, so the level of this part is better, end of discussion. The Platinum goes so much further than this alone. It outperfroms the Wilson in the level it can show you the differences in height of instruments and voices. It is able to let you hear instruments at the height you hear it in real. Wilson even uses paper (are you still living in the 80's?) in their mid-drivers. The low and mid drivers of the new Platinum are superior in speed and response. It has so much more controle but it also reveals more layers. With recordings of a double bass the Sasha showed us difficulties in layering and control. With the new Platinum series the realism in control and layering is of a new level. The energy of a bass drum or the strings of a double bass is fully free from the speaker. The same recordings with the Sasha showed us that the energy still was comming from the (very slow) drivers. Audio is ruled by money. Let me put it this simple: would you like to hear the truth or the thing you would like to hear? Audio need to become much more open and honest. Battle between Platinum and Wilson Audio. Or a battle between the new Platinum series with the 800D3 series. This is how audio needs to be shown and presented. Because it is al about shootout. The thing I love most in audio is that the best and most convincing sound always will win. So let the best win!!

leec's picture

Thanks for acknowledging that speaker looks are a design thing and in no way related to the much maligned WAF BS the generic audiophile community subscribe to. Simply put, speakers like the PL300 MII, KEF Blade, Raidho and a few others dispel the old image of a speaker having to look like a speaker: in a fugly box. From the vast majority of "man-cave" listening room pictures I see posted, most of the owners belong in a cave. Monitor Audio should be applauded for producing reference quality sound in a package that can be incorporated into a real-world living space.