We can talk about the details of specific tracks in a second, but we should start with a broader view. At CES this year many of our reviewers heard an excellent demonstration of the new Magneplanar 1.7 (a planar, quasi-ribbon-type loudspeakerpriced at about $2000/pair). During and after the show, this demo was easily the most talked about item. And, really, there wasn’t much debate, everyone was simply amazed at the quality of sound that the Magnepan (and Bryston) system produced at such a reasonable price.
While testing the RX1, I listened to the Shelby Lynne disc Just A Little Lovin’ [Lost Highway]. I found myself thinking back to that Magneplanar demo because, again, I kept thinking, “this RX1 system sounds amazingly musical, so much so that it is hard to imagine any system doing much better.” If one gets analytical one can find flaws (as I can on my $200k mbl rig), so my central point here is that on medium and small-scale music those flaws are musically trivial.
Breaking things down a bit, let’s start with the title track of the Shelby Lynne disc. First, it is a vocal track and the RX1s do an admirable job presenting Shelby’s voice clearly, while also creating the sense of resonances and overtones that are parts of real singing. The RX1s also convey the relaxed flow of the track’s pace. I was impressed with the way the rim shot that drives the track along has impact and yet the initial impact doesn’t smear over the decay of the reflections.
The electric bass on some of these tracks is detailed and clear, but as the bassist moves down the scale some of air and depth is missing. Thankfully, being a subtractive thing, this may not annoy. This is, however, not the speaker (at least without a sub) for bass aficionados.
On the Gillian Welch disc Time (The Revelator), Dave Rawlings guitar work comes through with superb pace. To create a sense of naturalness, you need to hear the guitar body resonances decay clearly, and the RX1s really shine at this. Rawlings plays a 1935 Epiphone Olympic, which is pretty rare so I don’t really know what it sounds like. The key point here, though, is that if you know what an acoustic guitar sounds like, the RX1s give you the impression that you’re hearing a real if distinctive one as recorded.
Switching to the Alison Kraus track “Choctaw Hayride” from Live [Rounder], we get to see the superb instrumental separation that the RX1s can deliver. This track starts with a Dobro intro, but quickly overlays banjo and acoustic guitar. Alison’s band sports superstars at all three positions (Jerry Douglas, Ron Block and Dan Tyminski), and pretty soon we’re in “million notes per second” territory. A speaker that can allow you to hear each line, and know which instrument is which, can fairly be characterized as something special. The RX1 qualifies, and frankly I though it outperformed even the Sennheiser HD800 headphones on this track.
The Monitor Audio RX1 is an exceptional speaker, no doubt about it. Its combination of midrange clarity and smoothness gets to the essence of a lot of music. For a listener with a small-ish room (or a high-quality desktop system) who favors music of soloists, small groups and acoustic bands, the RX1 is so good it might do everything you need. No speaker does everything well, certainly not one at this price, so you should know that the RX1 has bass limitations and doesn’t present the largest possible soundstage.
Monitor Audio Silver RX1 2-way, bass reflex stand-mount speaker
Driver complement: One 1-inch C-CAM gold dome tweeter, one 6-inch RST mid/bass driver
Frequency response: 45Hz – 35 kHz
Sensitivity: 89 dB
Impedance: 6 ohms
Dimensions (HxWxD): 12 5/16 x 7 5/16 x 9 7/16 inch
Weight: 15 lb. each
Warranty: 5 years, parts and labor