Monitor Audio Gold Signature GS10 loudspeaker

I had intended that my recent exploration of what was available in the world of high-performance minimonitors—the Era Acoustics Design 4 ($600/pair) in January, the Stirling LS3/5a V2 ($1695/pair) and Harbeth HL-P3ES2 ($1850/pair) in April, the PSB Alpha B1 ($279/pair) in May—was to end in July, with my review of the American Acoustic Development Reference Silver-1 ($1550/pair). But there was one more real-world–priced, stand-mounted model that piqued my interest before I return to cost-no-object floorstanders in the substantial form of Sonus Faber's new Cremona Elipsa ($20,000/pair): the Gold Signature GS10 from Monitor Audio ($1495/pair).

Monitor Audio's design team is led by experienced speaker engineer Dean Hartley, and the English speaker company has been producing a range of excellent, affordable speakers since its management buyout in 1998, including the Reference Silver RS6 tower ($1000/pair), which so impressed Bob Reina in March 2006. The GS10 is the smallest model in MA's more expensive Gold Reference Series. It combines a 1" tweeter of Ceramic-Coated Aluminum Magnesium (C-CAM) alloy with a 6.5" metal-cone woofer, these mounted vertically in-line on the front baffle and clamped with a diecast plate formed from an aluminum-zinc alloy. This in turn is rabbeted into the baffle and held in place with no fewer than 12 bolts!

Both drive-units are proprietary Monitor Audio designs. The gold-anodized tweeter dome is recessed behind wire mesh to protect it from probing fingers, and the unit is said to have a response extending to 43kHz. The woofer is constructed on a diecast chassis, carefully profiled to minimize the acoustic obstruction to the diaphragm's backwave, and the stationary phase plug on the front of the pole-piece features a glossy chromium finish. The woofer cone is dimpled, to reduce the amplitude of out-of-band cone breakup modes, and is terminated in a substantial rubber roll surround for high dynamic range. The unit is reflex-loaded with a flared 2"-diameter port at the top of the rear panel. This features longitudinal ridges—which Monitor calls HIVe2—to reduce turbulence and increase the speed of air flow through the port, though its inside opening is not flared to the same extent, which might work against the effort to reduce wind noise.

The internal wiring is of substantial gauge, though the connections to the drivers and crossover are push-on rather than soldered. Electrical connection is via two pairs of gold-plated binding posts on the rear panel. The crossover, comprising two capacitors, two air-cored inductors, and one ferrite-cored inductor, is carried on a circular printed circuit board mounted on the interior of the terminal panel.

The GS10's cabinet is constructed from MDF, using tongue-and-groove corners rather than the usual 45° butt joints. A vertical H-brace is fitted midway between the front and back panels, and the interior surfaces are lined with relatively dense gray foam. The cabinet walls are veneered on both sides, and all the edges are radiused, resulting in a look and feel of very high quality. An aluminum "Monitor Audio" name plate on the rear of the top panel highlights the speaker's feeling of elegance.

Jay O'Brian, of Monitor Audio's North American distributor, Kevro, had told me that he'd used the review samples about eight months before their being shipped to me, so they should have been well broken in. Nevertheless, I found that the speakers at first sounded rather bright. The sibilance of Richard Lehnert's speaking voice on the channel-identification tracks on Editor's Choice (CD, Stereophile STPH016-2) was somewhat exaggerated; it took a week of playing music before the GS10s settled down to a more neutral if still rather forward balance in the mid-treble.

My first reactions to the GS10's sound were of clarity, cleanness, and rather restricted lows, impressions that remained constant throughout the review period. The sound of the direct-injected Fender bass on Editor's Choice had impressive upper-bass weight—more than the similar-sized AAD Silver-1 I reviewed in July—although, as with the American speaker, the fundamental frequencies were a little suppressed. Listening to the 1/3-octave warble tones on Editor's Choice, the GS10's output above 80Hz was full and rich. The 63Hz band was a little down in level, with the 50 and 40Hz bands progressively weaker, but the 32Hz band was, as usual, reinforced by my room's lowest-frequency mode.

Monitor Audio offers foam plugs for use in rooms where the speaker's upper bass will be found excessive. In my room, however, these made the speaker sound too lightweight, though they cleaned up the definition of bass-guitar transients. Without them, Chris Jones' fretless bass on Attention Screen's Live at Merkin Hall (CD, Stereophile STPH018-2, see p.47) sounded a bit too plummy. With them, the plumminess was minimized, but the instrument now sounded too lightweight. The rear-facing port's surface is finished with longitudinal ridges intended to smooth out air flow. However, with mid-bass–heavy music played at high levels, the ports occasionally emitted audible chuffing from the high-velocity air blasts. For example, I've been listening a lot the past few months to live techno/ambient albums from Attention Screen's Chris Jones, who DJs with Flávinho Megabyte under the name Snowflake. There are some mighty sampled low-frequency bass lines on these recordings, and while the Monitor Audios got the mid and high frequencies right even at high playback levels, the woofers had to work very hard to keep up. (In the speaker's defense, this recording has very little energy in the two octaves above the bass notes to mask the port noise.)

This was less of an issue with classical orchestral recordings, of course. The double basses underpinning the introduction to Ralph Vaughan Williams' haunting Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis, with James Judd conducting the New Zealand Symphony (SACD, Naxos 6.110053), had sufficient "grunt" in both pizzicato and bowed passages to present the music unscathed. The organ pedals in Herbert Howells' Master Tallis's Lament, on Pipes Rhode Island (CD, Riago CD101), a recording John Marks was involved in making and has discussed in recent "The Fifth Element" columns, sounded rich and warm, if a little lacking in ultimate definition and weight via the GS10. Even so, the speaker had sufficient low-frequency extension to allow the rumble of distant traffic to be audible. So, with the GS10's clarity in the treble, was the air noise from the organ of S. Stephen's in Providence.

The Monitor Audio's high frequencies may have been forward-balanced, but they were clean-sounding and grain-free. I've been rediscovering the Beatles since learning that the 96kHz PCM tracks on Love (DVD-A, Capitol 9463-79810-2) are available at full resolution and sample rate at the digital output of my Ayre universal player and can be fed to my Levinson No.30.6 DAC. The a cappella mix of "Because" that begins the disc was reproduced with crystalline clarity by the Monitor Audios, and the bass, while sounding a little gruff in absolute terms, was powerful and deep—surprisingly so on the older recordings, such as "I Want to Hold Your Hand," selected by the Martins, Sir George and Giles.

Naturally recorded piano sounded superbly natural with the GS10. This issue's "Recording of the Month" (see p.133) is the Zenph "re-performance" of the late Glenn Gould's 1955 recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations (SACD, Sony Classical 8697-03350-2). Played back through the Monitor Audios, it sounded rich and inviting, with a superbly real-sounding midrange and sufficient lows to satisfy. The speakers sounded equally impressive with my set of Robert Silverman performing the complete Beethoven piano sonatas (OrpheumMasters KSP830), made with similar DPA mikes. Bob's Bösendorfer sounded more extended at the high end than the Yamaha used by Zenph, and the image of the piano within the rather too small a room in Santa Monica where I had made the recording was convincingly realistic.

However, when it came to precision of stereo imaging, I was somewhat puzzled by what I heard from the Monitors. The difference in the presentations of the dual-mono image between the in-phase and out-of-phase Fender-bass sounds on Editor's Choice was not as clearly delineated as usual (though the low-frequency cancellation of the latter signal was easily audible). When I listened to dual-mono pink noise, the stage was somewhat wider at frequencies in the mid-treble than in the midrange. Puzzled, I checked the polarities of all four drive-units, only to find that the two speakers were wired correctly (see "Measurements" sidebar). Such ambiguity is sometimes the result of resonances, but the cabinet modes I describe in "Measurements" are too low in frequency to have this effect, and the tweeter's dome resonance is too high in frequency. Early reflections can also be to blame, but there were no reflective surfaces close to the speakers in my listening room. This behavior remains an enigma, therefore.

Image depth was excellent. In the wide-angle perspective of Live at Merkin Hall, the fact that the piano and the guitar at the extreme left and right of the stage were closer to the audience than the drums and bass guitar was readily apparent. And the drums on this CD were reproduced with satisfyingly realistic dynamic range. I could play Mark Flynn's solo drum intro to "Blizzard Limbs" at an extraordinarily high level without the speakers sounding dynamically compressed. In fact, its ability to play loud without apparent strain distinguished the GS10 from the other minis I have reviewed recently (though its high resolving power also revealed pianist Bob Reina talking during this intro).

The GS10's forward balance gave a satisfying solidity to the sound of solo male voice—for example, Neil Diamond singing "Evermore" on the Rick Rubin–produced 12 Songs (CD, Columbia 8-2876-77508-2). John and Paul sounded exquisitely like John and Paul on Love (though George acquired a bit of lower-midrange gruffness in the orchestrated demo version of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"). Massed male voices, however, such as those of Minnesotan male choir Cantus singing spirituals on Deep River (CD, Cantus CTS-1203), took on a bit of a hard edge when played very loud, with a touch of chromium plating at climaxes. This became less pronounced when I switched to the Parasound Halo JC1 monoblocks—a testament to the performance of that John Curl–designed amplifier. But the effect didn't completely dissipate.

The upside of this balance was that recorded detail was laid bare. I bought Sting's Songs from the Labyrinth (CD, Deutsche Grammophon B0007220-02) with high hopes, my love both for the music of the Police and for the singer's solo albums being matched by my love for the music of John Dowland, which I got to know playing viola da gamba in an early-music group in the late 1970s. But my goodness, did this CD sound like crap through the Monitor Audios! The speakers did nothing to ameliorate the closeness of his voice, the inconsistent stereo perspective, the sometimes terminally dry acoustic, or the disparity between the focus on the voice and the accompanying lute and theorbo. Ugh. I had to then play the Police's Every Breath You Take: The Classics (SACD, A&M Chronicles 069 493607-2) to get the taste out of my ears, and to remind myself of what Sting was once capable of (footnote 1). The GS10s allowed me to hear 30 years of decline, from the great analog sound of Roxanne (1977), with its paradigmatic drum balance (footnote 2), to the sonic dreck of the Dowland collection (2006).

Monitor Audio's Gold Signature GS10 is a lot of loudspeaker at a relatively affordable price. It is beautifully finished, and provided it is listened to on or just below the tweeter axis, it offers a superbly clean treble, excellent retrieval of detail, weighty, reasonably extended low frequencies, and a dynamic range capability that belies its small size. However, its slight propensity to brightness will require careful choice of amplification, cable, and source components so that that brightness is not exaggerated. In the right system, the GS10 will give much musical satisfaction.

Footnote 1: We have tickets for the Atlantic City stop on the Police reunion tour in the fall. I am putting Messrs. Sumner, Summers, and Copeland on formal notice that they had better kick ass!

Footnote 2: Surpassed by the snare-drum sounds on de do do do, de da da da and Spirits in the Material World, of course.

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