The Monitor Audio Bronze Reference BR5 loudspeaker has its roots in a hallowed tradition. Making goodsounding compact speakers has long been a specialty of British manufacturers, going back to the legendary BBC LS3/5a minimonitor, versions of which have been issued by several manufacturers, including Rogers, Spendor, and Sterling Broadcast. Unlike the LS3/5a, Monitor Audio’s diminutive two-and-a-half-way floorstander ($599 per pair) can actually play loud and generate real bass.
U.K.-designed and Chinese-made, the BR5 is a slim column less than three feet tall, with ports fore and aft--something new for me--and bi-wire terminals at the back bottom. Its driver complement includes a ceramic-coated aluminum/ magnesium dome tweeter, and a 5.5" mid/ bass and 5.5" woofer--both with stiff lightweight polymer cones, the apparent difference between them being that the mid/bass driver has a bullet-shaped phase plug and the woofer, a flat dust cap. Dedicated chambers within the larger cabinet, which is heavily cross-braced for resonance control, optimize the performance of both drivers.
The BR5 comes with foam plugs to tame the ports’ output. Using them both (front and rear) reduces low-frequency extension while making the midbass a tad punchier. Using one only in the rear allows you to place the speakers closer to the wall without excessive boominess. Break-in seemed to have little effect on the Monitors. Unlike many speakers, they didn’t sound much different after a week of playing than they did fresh out of the box. The review pair was finished in a pretty cherry veneer--vinyl, according to the Monitor Audio Web site, but a very skillful imitation of real wood.
I put the Monitor Audios through a fairly rigorous musical obstacle course--a mix of pop, rock, jazz, and classical intended to reveal their strengths and weaknesses. Although I played them loud and louder, I didn’t push them into the distortion range. And I had my James 10 SG subwoofer on and ready, to ascertain how it might aid the presentation. (The “mute” and “volume” functions on the James’ remote control were quite handy for this.)
The first hurdle was Teena Marie’s “Lovergirl” [Lovergirl: The Teena Marie Story, Epic/Legacy], one easily cleared by the BR5, which delivered this rough-sounding thumping pop tune with great drive and punch. Vocals were good, if a tad recessed, and the upper registers were none too bright, an artifact of the recording, as was proven by the next cut, “Put a Lid on It” by the Squirrel Nut Zippers [Hot, Mammouth]. A tougher test, and a more detailed, more recent recording, it imaged nicely with the BR5--not deeply, but lobing forward from the speakers, which did a lovely job of reproducing the fat, funky sound of the baritone sax, the screech of reeds, and the rhythmic drive of strummed guitars.
The rounder, mellower sound of Ike Quebec’s saxophone on “The Man I Love” [Ballads, Blue Note] was clearly differentiated from the honking characteristic of the Zippers’ horns--a good indication that the BR5s might be true hi-fi products rather than inexpensive pretenders. On the Quebec recordings, the Monitors generated a surprisingly large, open soundstage, again mostly lobing in front of the speakers rather than deeply behind them. That proved to be the case with most of the recordings I played through them, indicative of a more forward midrange than many midmarket loudspeakers exhibit. Inexpensive speakers often tend toward zippy treble and boomy midbass, in a conscious effort by the manufacturers to generate excitement among potential buyers. Such loudspeakers prove both tiring and dissatisfying to listen to long-term.
Listening fatigue was never an issue with the Monitors, which beautifully revealed the layering of instrumentals in many pop songs. Richard Marx’s ballad “Hazard” [Rush Street, Capitol] came through with all its tragedy intact. The BR5 seemed to have a slightly up-tilted frequency response with this track, but offered articulate vocals, deep bass, and great imaging. The BR5 was also adept at separating the violins of Stephane Grappelli and Yehudi Menuhin in their improvisational cover of the Cole Porter classic “Embraceable You” [The Very Best of Grappelli and Menuhin, Angel], as well as unveiling the plaintive earnestness of Petula Clark’s “Don’t Make Me Over” [The Burt Bacharach Songbook, Varese Vintage]. This is a wonderful collection of Bacharach tunes by a superstar assortment of performers.
Female vocals are the sonic and emotional truth test for loudspeakers. China Forbes’ virtuosity [Pink Martini’s Sympathique, Heinz] was as apparent through the BR5s as through many more expensive and elaborate loudspeakers that have graced my listening room. In addition, the Monitor Audios revealed something I haven’t always heard through other speakers: Forbes’ inhalations before each phrase. Likewise transparent was her haunting “Song of the Black Lizard.” Toni Braxton’s huge and hugely moving rendition of “Un-Break My Heart” [Secrets, LaFace] lacked ultra-low bass foundation until the subwoofer was engaged--this is a recording with tremendous bottom end--but, once again, the Monitors offered excellent vocal articulation and image depth. The very bottom octave isn’t really achievable by a speaker whose lowfrequency cutoff is specified at 36Hz.
Not surprisingly, given their size and driver configuration, the BR5s have a tendency toward glassiness when pushed very hard--that is, to uncomfortably loud levels. These are not speakers intended to fill stadiums, but at moderate to very loud levels--their natural acoustic environment--they are good performers.
The Monitor Audio line is worth investigating; there’s not a clunker in the company’s lineup, as far as I know, and this one is a fine example of engineers having made all the right design decisions to extract the most performance for the least amount of money. The BR5 has good bass extension for its size, excellent articulation, and good soundstaging. It’s a lightweight that performs like a serious middleweight contender—one highly recommended at its $599-per-pair price. TAS