Monitor Audio Silver RS6 loudspeaker

I was just about to wrap up my British Invasion Tour of affordable speakers when I got a call from Fearless Leader John Atkinson.

"I have this very interesting speaker from English company Monitor Audio I'd like you to audition."

306mon.jpgSounds good, JA. At Stereophile's Home Entertainment shows, I've been favorably impressed every time I've heard a Monitor Audio speaker, whether expensive, affordable, two-channel, or home theater.

Nor are Monitor speakers all that expensive. In addition to a number of home-theater speaker models, the company currently makes 19 different two-channel designs that range in price from $200 to $4000/pair. JA was referring to the RS6, a $1000/pair floorstander from the company's affordable Silver RS Series.

The Silver RS Series refines the C-CAM (Ceramic-Coated Aluminum Magnesium alloy) driver technology, which Monitor developed for its original Silver S Series. The RS tweeter is based on Monitor's 25mm C-CAM Gold Dome, used in the more expensive Gold Reference Series, and boasts extended frequency response to 25kHz. The bass and mid drivers' nonmagnetic, cast-polymer chassis damps residual energy, and houses connections and the magnet structure in a single unit with no screws or loose parts, which, according to Monitor, improves consistency and reliability.

The RS6 incorporates the aforementioned tweeter, a 6" C-CAM bass/mid driver, and a 6" bass driver loaded with a reflex port. The speaker looks elegant and refined, and has a very small footprint of 7¼" wide by 97/8" deep, with a metal base that bolts to the bottom. The base has four spikes with wide flanges that make fine-tuning the speaker's height and level a snap, even with the speaker already positioned on the base. Overall, the RS6 was easy to set up. The speakers presented a more detailed midrange and airier high frequencies with their black grilles removed, which is how I auditioned them. Besides, they looked sexier that way.

Normally, any review of a $1000/pair loudspeaker would include a discussion of its flaws—the compromises necessary to meet that relatively low price point. But after several weeks of listening to dozens of recordings through the Silver RS6, I could find not a single shortcoming—no deviation from neutrality, or any other compromise that I would normally expect to find in a cost-constrained design. So I thought the logical next step would be to talk in detail about those performance parameters in which I felt the Monitor excelled, and that would place it ahead of the budget crowd and make it really special...

Oh, the hell with it. Let's talk about music.

First, pop music. I've played some of my reference discs so often that they've become hard to get excited about. Over the last four years, with each review of an affordable speaker, I've ended up playing certain tracks from Janis Ian's Breaking Silence (CD/LP, Analogue Productions CAPP027) several times. The opening riff of any tune from this album now causes my wife to leave the house.

But with the Monitor Audio Silver RS6, I rediscovered some of the excitement I'd originally felt about this recording. Ian's voice was rich, warm, and vibrant, with tremendous ambience and natural decay. The speaker was silky and seductive but without coloration. Electric bass was slightly warm, as it should be, but clean, fast, and extended. The speaker's pristine, detailed highs revealed perfectly articulated sibilants in Ian's voice. In percussionist Jim Brock's delicate work I heard where on each ride cymbal he struck the instrument. "Some People's Lives," the only track recorded "live to two-track," enabled me to follow the fingering of each piano note—the RS6's linear, organic dynamics ranged from the softest pianissimos to the most forceful fortes. From my listening notes: "Gobs and gobs and gobs of midrange detail. Simply extraordinary. No criticism."

Although I felt the Silver RS6 was a perfect speaker with which to forget about audio-geek stuff and just kick back and enjoy the music, I found myself drawn to very familiar recordings as I heard details I hadn't noticed before. When listening to the silky, pristine voice of Madeleine Peyroux on Dreamland (CD, Atlantic 82946-2), I was able to estimate the distance she stood away from her mike. On Sade's Love Deluxe (CD, Epic EK 53178), the amount and shapes of digital reverb applied to Sade's voice, as well as how much gating and limiting, were clearly evident. The bass-synth portamentos on this recording, usually my acid test of midbass clarity and definition, were perfectly fast, convincing, and clean. Likewise the electronic percussion and bass on Kraftwerk's Minimum/Maximum (CD, EMI 60611). Even at high volumes, this live recording was clean, tight, fast, detailed, uncolored, and dynamic. I could readily discern the individual envelope settings on this completely digitally synthesized recording.

Male vocals also sounded extraordinarily natural. But on "The End," from the Doors' eponymous first album (LP, Elektra/DCC Compact Classics LPZ-2046), I focused not on singer Jim Morrison but on the low-level dynamic articulations of Robbie Krieger's technique as he finger-picked his Gibson SG Special guitar.

The Silver RS6 may be the perfect affordable jazz speaker. On Vijay Iyer's Reimagining (CD, Savoy Jazz SVY 17475), Iyer's piano was detailed, warm, and vibrant, and percussion was fast and clean. And the RS6 presented the least colored replication of the lower range of the double bass that I've heard from a speaker at this price point. Normally, when I cue up Sonny Rollins' Way Out West (CD, RCA/JVC VICJ 60083) with a really revealing speaker, I get glimpses of reminiscences of my father. Although I didn't spin my first Rollins disc until 15 years after my father's death, about 10 years ago I began to note how similar his tenor-sax style was to Rollins'. With the RS6, my notes read: "That's my dad."

I then mined classical recordings that I thought I'd long ago memorized. On Tomiko Kohjiba's The Transmigration of the Soul, from Festival (CD, Stereophile STPH007-2), I noticed the complete lack of distortion in the high frequencies, the perfect transients on the plucked harp and malleted marimba, and the cello's ideally delicate blend of rosin, wood, and silk. But I was really spooked by the entrance of soprano Kendra Colton at the piece's outset—for a second, I thought she was in the room with me. On George Crumb's Quest (CD, Bridge 9069), I heard inner details from the percussion I hadn't noticed before—and, for the first time, I heard the guitarist breathing. It was while listening to this recording that I noted that the Silver RS6 had the widest dynamic range of any affordable speaker I have reviewed.

In the wide, deep soundstage heard on John Rutter's Requiem, with Timothy Seelig leading the Turtle Creek Chorale (CD, Reference RR57CD), I was able to hear each individual vocalist in the choir as a three-dimensional being surrounded by air—but I was most impressed with the realism of the organ-pedal notes. I eagerly await JA's measurements to see how low the unassuming RS6's bass actually extends.

Of all of the recordings I auditioned with the Monitors, I most enjoyed David Chesky's Violin Concerto, from his Area 31 (CD layer, Chesky SACD288). Tom Chiu's violin was natural, searing, sweet, extended, and vibrant. The attack, the rosin on the bow, and the wood of the violin were all present. I was able to clearly follow each instrument in the Area 31 orchestra (led by Anthony Aibel), as I was with every classical record I played through the Silver RS6s.

Of all the wonders this loudspeaker produced in my living room, which impressed me the most? First was the bass. I was impressed by the dynamics and the bass extension of which the small-footprint RS6 was capable. I was also floored by its lack of coloration in the midbass, a characteristic I normally don't expect to hear from a speaker costing less than five figures. But I was most impressed by the RS6's unusually low overall distortion. Loudspeakers are the components likely to add the most distortion and coloration to an audio system's sound, but the RS6's distortion was very, very low.

I compared the Monitor Audio Silver RS6 ($999/pair) with three other loudspeakers: the NHT SB3 ($600/pair), the Epos M5 ($695/pair), and the Amphion Helium2 ($1000/pair).

The NHT SB3 was sweet, warm, and romantic in the midrange, but with less inner detail and less extended highs than the Monitor RS6. The NHT's midbass was more colored and sluggish, and its overall transient articulation was not as fast or as clean as the Monitor's. Dynamics, overall, were better through the Monitor.

The Epos M5 was clean and crisp, with a rich midrange and extended highs, but the Monitor's highs were more delicate, and its bass extension and high-level dynamics were superior. The Epos's inner-midrange detail was excellent, but the Monitor's was slightly better. The two speakers' low-level dynamics and lower-midrange neutrality were equal.

The Amphion Helium2's midrange detail and neutrality were as good as the Monitor's, and the Amphion's highs were as extended and detailed—but the Monitor's highs were a touch more delicate. The Amphion's midbass was uncolored, but the Monitor's bass extension and high-level dynamic slam were superior.

Summing up
When John Atkinson suggested that I review the Monitor Audio Silver RS6, I never expected the level of realism I ended up hearing from this loudspeaker. There's nothing much more I can say—the flawless and exceptional Silver RS6 gave me more listening pleasure than any other loudspeaker I have reviewed for Stereophile. In my more than 20 years of reviewing, I have not reviewed an audio component that produced greater sound quality per dollar than Monitor Audio's Silver RS6.

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