Monitor Audio Studio 2 loudspeaker Page 3

Stravinsky, as though responding, said, "The trouble with music appreciation in general is that people are taught to have too much respect for music; they should be taught to love it instead." Or, as Confucius really did say, "Those who know the truth are not equal to those who love it."

Quite a dialog we've got going here, eh? But pertinent, I think, to my high regard for the Studio 2s—the degree to which I received musical meaning, emotional response, and aesthetic reaction is directly attributable to the strengths of these speakers. No, I'll go further: that is the strength of these speakers.

Whoowee, masked man. You could talk the ass-end off an elephant. Does that mean that these Monitors are the perfect speakers? No. These guys aren't unique in having this quality—I've heard speakers with even more of it. But, good grief, we're talking about a pair of $1200 loudspeakers here. Where's your sense of proportion?

Throughout the time that I auditioned the Studio 2s, I never took one single simple note that was just about how they sounded; the legal pads scattered all over my listening room and office are instead filled with images, memories of feelings, musical reactions—the very stuff of music itself. The two examples that follow are only slightly edited versions of those notes. I use them primarily to show the level at which the Monitors engaged me—not by charting some sonic checklist, but by confronting the music as music.

Richard and Linda Thompson's Shoot Out the Lights CD (Hannibal HNCD 81303)—did I detect slightly spitty vocals? After being sensitized to this while listening to the Palestrina—I thought I was hearing a lot of sssing—I reacted immediately. But I was forced to conclude that, in both cases, what I heard was probably a pretty accurate reflection of what was going on. Richard Thompson does really bite down on the beginnings of words, and I've heard the Tallis Scholars and Ensemble Organum perform in churches, where I've noticed the aspirant sssing—it's inevitable in hard, reverberant spaces. Also, there was no evidence of the sibilance on Linda's voice, which one would think there would be when dealing with an additive distortion.

Cymbals sounded impressive—clear, detailed, properly zingy (but not tizzy), with good decay—and the Stratocaster manifests bite galore. "Just the Motion" featured very convincing guitar harmonics, whether damped (as on the acoustic) or ringing (as with the Strat during the solo bridge). Resolute acceptance—the emotional tenor of the song—was convincingly communicated.

In writing about Shoot Out the Lights, it's impossible to ignore the circumstances surrounding the recording itself. The Thompsons' marriage was in the process of disintegrating, adding an undeniable current of tension to their already bleak world-view. To those of us who were fans, the announcement of their divorce was anticlimactic. We'd heard it in the grooves of this record. And it comes through the Monitors loud and clear.

"Cumbia & Jazz Fusion," on Thirteen Pictures: The Charles Mingus Anthology CD (Rhino R2 71402), opens with bird calls prefacing a drum ostinato, which in turn underpins a folk-like theme carried by soprano sax and oboe. More percussion leads to a loping (as opposed to walking) bass, which develops into a call-and-response between the soprano sax/oboe and the Mingus band. In the space of just a few minutes, the piece manages to incorporate entire sonic worlds ranging from the empty jungle to roaring big band, alternating sinewy propulsion with massive inevitability. Delicate, massive; quiet, thundering; dancing, running all out—the world that the work conjures is built upon contrasts—that is, if your system isn't sitting on them. Confounding rational expectations, the Studio 2s prove more than up to the task.

It's true that Mingus's string bass lacks some of the authoritative presence that it should exhibit, and also that the massed band doesn't have that last little bit of stomp that the group had live. But the basic truth of the contrasts written into the score is well served. As in any Mingus performance, the bass is the key—it's the heart driving the body's pulse. You can almost hear the band listening and responding to Mingus's changes in touch, pace, and humor—there's a helluva lot more going on in the bass than low frequency alone, and that is the art of the matter.

What IS the point?
Poetry, they say, is what gets lost in the translation. And, as Roy Campbell jibed, "Translations (like wives) are seldom faithful if they are in the least attractive." The Monitor Audio Studio 2s remain true to the poetry that informs the music; but, like any good translator, this doesn't necessarily mean that they render—strictly speaking—the most literal translation. I greatly valued their articulation, detail, and coherence, as well as the sense of involvement I experienced listening to them. I listened in a variety of settings, with expensive reference gear as well as real-world, reasonably priced, integrated amps, and, while I certainly got more of everything with the reference system—no surprise—I found these speakers profoundly engaging with the Arcam and NAD amps as well.

If I was convinced that the addition of a 20Hz bottom end would nevertheless preserve those qualities that so entranced me, then I would demand that Monitor make the change immediately. Sad to say, I suspect that the magical balance of attributes in this speaker is bound to its very modesty. In case you skipped the body of the review, I will again caution that, while the Monitors play loud, they won't satisfy those who demand loudness as their first priority. Nor, despite my willingness to accept their low-end limitations, are they going to satisfy listeners who feel music is enervated by the loss of a deep musical foundation.

Having cautioned the dubious, however, let me urge the rest of you to experience music through these remarkable overachievers. The qualities that I value most in music—articulation, grace, communication, and truth—are well served by the Studio 2s. In addition, I found them remarkably easy to get along with, reliable, and good-looking as well—which is a pretty good set of characteristics, if you expect to be settling down with them for the long haul.

If you do, remember that careful placement, the right stands, and attention to setup and associated equipment are necessary and will reward you with a direct connection to the music that's rare at any price point. The Monitor Audio Studio 2s are easy to love, hard to explain, and true to the head, heart, and soul of music. While there are other speakers out there that offer a lot of value for the same money, these are very, very special.

And you can take my word for it, if you don't believe me.

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