Monitor Audio Silver 9i loudspeaker Page 2

Right out of the box, and before I'd even worked on their proper positioning, the Silver 9i's felt comfortable—like putting on a favorite pair of well-worn jeans or sneakers. In other words, they sounded good, in a way that kept me listening without anything—good or bad—sticking out to call attention to itself (footnote 1).

The Silver 9i offered detail a-plenty without sounding strident. On "Mami," from Master Sessions 1 by Up, Bustle and Out (Ninja Tune CD Zen CD46), the flute of Richard Egiies ("Cuba's Number 1 Flautist," as the jacket affirms) had, especially when Egiies really wailed, a sweetly piquant, silvery metallic ring that made my ear/brain/soul say "Flute!" instead of "Yow! What is that? It hurts!"

The Silver 9i displayed a somewhat forward perspective; one way this manifested itself was that instruments and voices that play in and above the upper midrange were somewhat more prominent. This isn't to say that they were edgy, glassy, or hot—they weren't—but things like bells, cymbals, flutes, and high-pitched singers had a power to them that was eye-opening. The Thiel CS.5s, by comparison, played such passages softer, and sounded slightly less detailed. On "Baião de 3," by Rosanna & Zélia (from Test Tracks 01, TAG McLaren 4101; also available on Passagem, Peregrina Music PM50101), there is percussion tingly and high as well as low, significant bass, and a sharp, clear woman's voice swooping and shrieking over, around, and through the other sonic layers. Both sets of speakers did an excellent job of sorting out this mix, but the Silver 9i's placed it all a little more forward, with a more exciting, lively presentation.

Bass response was very good—taut and full, especially from the upper bass through the midbass. The lowest octave was strongly hinted at—there was enough there to make the more hip-hoppish tracks from Up, Bustle and Out rock well—but reproducing full-on train wrecks in a home-theater setup might require some help (footnote 2). Even so, a friend who is a committed bass freak was surprised at the bass produced by these slender towers' small drivers.

The Silver 9i had an affinity for voice. The Cuban vocalists on "Mami"—male chorus and lead—all had a heft to them that allowed each to occupy his space in the mix, centered within the Latin percussion and swirling piano figures. Mose Allison singing "Seventh Son" (Mose Alive!, Edsel ED 153, reissue LP) was a presence in the room. I could practically see him lean into his microphone (as the album title implies, it's a live date), this made apparent by the slightly exaggerated sibilance and occasional mild overload that goes with close miking in a less-than-pristine recording setup.

Recordings made in a more controlled environment also showed vocals well. Diana Krall, working out on "Lost Mind," a Percy Mayfield tune usually associated with Mose (Love Scenes, Impulse! CD IMPD-233), hovered seductively between the Silver 9i's, every bit of her finely nuanced delivery laid bare without excess sibilance or overload.

The Silver 9i's provided an excellent sense of place for the performances of Arcangelo Corelli's Concerti Grossi, Op.6 by Nicholas McGegan and the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra (Harmonia Mundi 7014, LP). This Peter McGrath recording has an acoustic that is anything but dry. The Silver 9i's put me near the front of the hall (if not quite the first row), obviously closer to the violins, violas, and theorbos, with the bass, cellos, and harpsichord farther away. The more forward strings were precise and well-defined, those toward the back were less so, and the reverberant bloom and fade put me there.

The Silver 9i's also did a good job with artificial spatial arrangements, as on Billie Holiday's "One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)" (Songs for Distingué Lovers, Verve/Classic MG VS-6021, LP). Of course, Billie was front and center, but the drums and piano loped along in the far left, slightly past the left speaker and somewhat behind; the muted trumpet punctuated the proceedings in a similar location, but on the right. Even so, it must be noted that the Thiels placed each of the participants just a little more exactly—and a little farther out and back.

The next track, "Just One of Those Things," picked up the pace, and the Silver 9i's moved right along with it—there was pace a-plenty, inspiring involuntary head-bobbing by yours truly. Moving forward a decade or so, the alternate take of "Purple Haze" that leads off the boxed set The Jimi Hendrix Experience (MCA 08811 23162) moved in a more deliberate fashion than how I remembered it in my own admittedly hazy purple mind, but it unfolded as being stately and urgent. I also took this as an opportunity to jack up the volume, which was a pleasure—the tonal colors and animal power of Hendrix's roaring, distorted guitar are best appreciated when they're in your face. The Silver 9i's didn't disappoint, and showed no strain in dealing with Jimi's onslaught.

Looking back through my notes, I don't see anything really bad about the Monitor Audio Silver 9i. So it must be perfect, right?

Well, no—it's a long way from "nothing bad" to "perfect." The Thiel CS.5s performed the image-and-space tricks slightly better. There was that somewhat forward presentation, which is a matter of taste; I found it invigorating, but others might prefer a more laid-back style. Bass performance was excellent, within the expectations of a system of this size. Besides, if the 9i was perfect, it'd reproduce earthquakes faithfully, wouldn't it?

So, no—the 9i isn't perfect. But it's pretty damned good, you can drive a pair of them with a receiver or even a single-ended triode amp, it's visually stunning, and, at $1999/pair, I'd call it a heck of a deal.

Footnote 1: The fact that Monitor Audio's David Solomon burned them in for a week before sending them to me certainly helped in creating this "they played okay right away" experience.

Footnote 2: Remember, however, that Monitor Audio recommends placement closer to the rear and side walls than I used, which would provide more deep bass; in my room, I opted for less extension for a smoother overall response.

Monitor Audio
P.O. Box 1355
Buffalo, NY 14205-1355
(905) 428-2800