Monitor Audio Studio 6 loudspeaker Page 2

The nasal coloration noted on the very revealing pink-noise signal could be heard as a slight "clankiness" to the sound of recorded piano. Emanuel Ax's 1992 Liszt recital (Sony Classical SK 48484), recorded by Bud Graham using just a pair of B&K omni mikes fed via Jensen preamps straight to 20-bit Sony A/D converters, sounded more forward, with more midrange character, than I'm used to on the Thiel CS 2 2s.

The low frequencies extended subjectively down to 40Hz, below which the rollout seemed very quick, even for a reflex speaker. The organ pedal on my recording of Elgar's Dream of Gerontius on the second Stereophile Test CD, for example, was inaudible. The bass guitar on Michael Ruff's Speaking in Melodies album (Sheffield Lab CD35), however, was both even-balanced and had a good feeling of power down to its lowest note.

The Studio 6 had excellent dynamics, a sense of slam. Normally, reflex-loaded speakers suffer a disadvantage in this area compared with sealed-box designs, tending to sound "puddingy" rather than tight, slow rather than quick. Yet the Studio 6 had no problem with the kick-butt kick drum on Speaking in Melodies. And Pat Metheny's "Last Train Home," from Still Life (Talking) (Geffen GEFD 24145-2), came over with an excellent sense of pace, the speaker well able to keep up with the urgency of the repeated-eighth-note bass line. The pitch definition on my Fender bass tracks on Test CD 2 was excellent, with an excellent feeling of transient attack. The instrument also had a good sense of weight, without the "fuzz" developing on the low sustained E typical of even good minimonitors.

Midrange pitch definition was also excellent; the different tom-toms on Robert Harley's drum recording on our Test CD 2 sounded very distinct from one another. (On some speakers, the pitches of these drums are rendered almost alike, due to the presence of cabinet resonances in this general region.)

However, even when the speakers were well-broken-in, the snare drum and hi-hat cymbal on this recording were both too "sniffy," while Richard Lehnert's speaking voice was too sibilant, a pointer to the presence of some mid-treble problem. This was generally not intrusive, however, though high-level choral voices occasionally acquired extra hardness that mandated a leap for the volume control. The superb Tallis Scholars Tavener recording that I nominated for this issue's "Records To Die For" (Gimell CDGIM 005), for example, sounded acceptably wonderful only at moderate levels.

The Monitor Audio's transparency contributed to an excellent sense of reproduced space. The Troy Savings Bank Music Hall acoustic surrounding Ulrike-Anima Mathé's violin in the new Dorian collection of Reger sonatas for unaccompanied violin (DOR-90175) sounded warm and enveloping without smearing the direct sound of the instrument. Similarly, the different ambiences captured on both the first and second Stereophile Test CDs were delightfully differentiated. And the reproduction of the depth dimension on the Chesky Test CD (JD37) was unambiguous, the apparent image depth closely tracking the stated distance from the microphone.

Despite the speakers' general spatial excellence, the choir on my Gerontius recording was not set as far back as I'm used to, this perhaps being a function of the Studio 6's forward midrange balance and slight mid-treble peakiness. Soundsources that should have been reproduced beyond the outside edges of the speaker positions also folded behind the speakers to give a U-shaped stage. And the LEDR test signals on the Chesky CD revealed worse than average height performance. (This is generally an indicator of treble coloration problems, as well as non-time-coherent performance.)

Such criticisms aside, the Studio 6's clarity and general transparency kept me listening. The time I spent with the speaker was almost always enjoyable. A true high-end loudspeaker's goal should be to be maximally informative without becoming, in Lewis Lipnick's famous phrase, "ruthlessly revealing." The Monitor Audio Studio 6 almost pulled this off, its slight mid-treble glare and forward balance only occasionally conspiring to attract attention away from the music. Fed with a high-quality signal—the new Mobile Fidelity release of Muddy Waters, Folksinger, for example—it makes you forget the audiophile vocabulary of "palpable midrange," "transparent highs," and "lean but tight low frequencies" in favor of just getting off to the music.

Mellow in the high treble, a touch of character in the mid-treble, and a slightly forward midrange don't detract from the Studio 6's superb transparency, excellent sense of pace, and clean, relatively extended low-frequency performance. It's not a speaker for everyone, however, and even without counting its need for high-quality stands, it's expensive. The Studio 6 comes under heavy competition from domestic floorstanding speakers at or near the same price that offer greater dynamic range and more extended low frequencies—the Martin-Logan Aerius, Thiel CS2 2, and Vandersteen 3 readily come to mind. And for less money, the Totem 1, Harbeth HL-P3, and B&W Matrix 805 offer some of the same performance.

All things considered, Monitor Audio's Studio 6 is still one of the most musically satisfying two-way miniature loudspeakers I've had the pleasure to listen to. In its piano-lacquer-finished version, it's also an exceptionally beautiful piece of furniture, which might well add to its perceived value.

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