Monitor Audio is a British speaker maker whose reputation was in many ways built on its signature speaker drive units, which in most cases feature light, stiff, responsive diaphragms (that is, cones or domes, etc.) made of metal alloys. But apart from advanced driver technologies, the firm also appreciates visual style, as is immediately apparent when you first see Monitor’s Radius series speakers. Radius speaker enclosures are beautifully proportioned and offer sleek, Scandinavian-looking lines with gently radiused cabinet edges (hence the product’s name), plus expensive-looking finish options that include black, white, or silver lacquer, or walnut or “rosemah” real wood veneers. In fact, the speakers look like such upscale products that I initially wondered if a Radius system could even be put together for under $1500, but happily one can.
Our $1480 test system consisted of a pair of twoway R90 bookshelf speakers, a two-way R180 center channel, a tiny (really tiny) pair of two-way R45 surround speakers, and a 100-watt R360 Series 2 powered subwoofer. In keeping with Monitor Audio tradition, the R45s, R90s, and R180 all use metal or quasi-metallic drivers, with MMP II (Metal Matrix Polymer) midbass drivers and C-CAM (Ceramic Coated Aluminum/ Magnesium) tweeters. Both the R45s and R90s come with cast metal wall-mounting brackets—a thoughtful touch, though optional floor stands are also available. The R360 sub features a “hand-treated” paper cone woofer loaded in a HiVe (High Velocity) reflex enclosure whose port design is said to reduce air turbulence and “chuffing” noises on loud, low notes.
From the outset, the Radius system impressed me with three qualities: powerful and expressive dynamics, smooth and very revealing midrange, and delightfully articulate (though not extremely deeply extended) bass. Put these qualities together and you’ve got a compact system that can really sink its teeth into almost any movie soundtrack, and that works well on many kinds of music, too. Interestingly, the system’s dynamic prowess is not so much a matter of playing loudly (though the system holds its own in that department), but rather involves its uncanny ability to expose subtle dynamic contrasts. In short, the Radius system makes the most of the energy and life in most recordings.
There are only two drawbacks to the system, and they are not always apparent on all material. First, the system’s highest treble frequencies are overly prominent, which tends to disrupt imaging and can make fast-rising transient sounds become overly harsh or edgy. Proper break-in and a good room EQ system can mitigate, but not eliminate, this problem. But even so, those who prefer high-frequency details rendered with a touch of larger-thanlife drama might well love the Monitor sound. Second, the system’s low bass (unlike its superb mid-bass) can sometimes sound loose and diffuse— something you’ll occasionally notice when powerful, well-recorded lowfrequency effects or super-deep bass notes come along.
On one soundtrack after another I found myself marveling at the way the Radius system brought heightened levels of energy and dynamic expressiveness to movie watching experiences. Through the Monitor Audios, dialog seems clearer and more intelligible, actors’ vocal inflections seem more apparent and emotionally moving, and sound effects— even quite subtle ones—take on extra vividness and snap. In the final wizards’ duel in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix the Radius rig makes the sizzling, scorching sound of colliding magical spells seethe and writhe all around you, adding drama to an already powerful scene. But in the midst of all that cacophony, the system also did a good job with small details. At one point, for instance, an errant spell blows some black ceramic tiles off the walls of the Ministry of Magic, and the system simply nailed the sound of those tiles shattering as they hit the floor. For reasons like these, the Radius system quickly became one of my favorites for watching movies.
The system performed well on music, too, at least to a point, though on music I felt it never quite achieved the almost magical qualities it exhibits on movie soundtracks. The system sounded great on material that favored midrange and mid-bass frequencies, such as the delicious interplay between Viktor Krauss’s acoustic bass and Bill Frisell’s jazz guitar on “Playground” from Far From Enough [Nonesuch]. The Radius system captures every nuance as Krauss bends notes, applies extra pressure to make notes “growl” a bit more, or adds delicate bass harmonics, and it does a fine job with Frisell’s smooth, lithe guitar commentary, too.