Rodrigo y Gabriela’s Live in Manchester and Dublin is an album which keeps on surprising with its subtlety and realism, especially in the company of speakers like this. The quieter moments deliver a vivacity and presence that is uncanny. The quality of the treble is definitely a factor here; it has a naturalness that some might find too smooth but which is in fact simply devoid of the usual problems found in dome tweeters. The rewards it brings are ‘worth the candle’ so to speak. This is because it has genuine speed without edginess so the leading and trailing edges of each note are properly defined without embellishment or distortion. In practice this means that no matter how dense the material, if the amplifier can deliver it in one piece this speaker can reproduce it.
piece this speaker can reproduce it. Robert Glasper’s piano playing along with drum and bass revealed generous helpings of fine detail in the PL100’s hands, the lines from all three musician’s being easy to follow and separate without the result seeming overly analytical, the subtlest notes, delivering the musical message in as successful a fashion as the power chords, if not more so because there is more room for expression when the player is not trying to hit hard.
This Monitor Audio is also pretty handy with dynamics and dynamic range, being sensitive to both small and large changes in level and tracking them with ease thanks to its fleetness of foot. Just listen to the way Gillian Welch’s ‘Time (The Revelator)’ builds. The mid-band on this particular track can often seem a shade hard but via the PL100s this is not an issue. Instead this wellworn test track regained much of its beguiling charm. You can hear that the recording has been pushed close to the limit at some stage in its travels but the speaker stops this technicality from intruding on musical integrity.
Results inevitably hinge on the quality of the signal, more so than most because of the resolution on offer. So Burnt Friedman’s dub excursions don’t really hack it while Keith Jarrett’s solo piano does the opposite, convincing you that it’s worth putting up with his musical mannerisms to hear those fleeting glimpses of God that appear when he’s in the zone. This is when this speaker’s ability to show you what’s happening in the quietest passages is really valuable. Loudspeaker’s aren’t supposed to have a noise floor but the fact that one like this can deliver so much detail at such low levels would suggest otherwise.
It’s qualities continued to shine with female voices including those of Rickie Lee Jones and Diana Krall, the former sounding no less nasal than usual but devoid of the strain that can appear with less capable speakers. The PL100 manages to combine remarkable openness with an effortlessness that really benefits a good recording. There is a body at high frequencies that you rarely hear and this allows female vocals to deliver captivating performances with ease.
During During the course of this review I listened to a number of components from Leema including its new Stream CD player and Pulse amplifier, which seemed a good opportunity to try alternative source and amplification with the PL100. What this revealed is that the Monitor Audio is fussy about what it’s used with, the upbeat and excellently timed qualities of these c£1,000 components was not clean enough to warrant the degree of exposure offered by the speaker. Pioneer’s smoother sounding DV-LX50 universal player proved a better fit, proving that character rather than cost is the key factor with system synergy.
I also tried different room orientations to give the speaker the opportunity to give of its best, most of the listening was done with them relatively close to one another (c2m) and with the reviewer about 3-4m away. Swinging things around so I sat closer to more widely spaced speakers increased the sense of energy they could deliver. Led Zeppelin’s live rendition of ‘Immigrant Song’ coming across in such effective fashion that one got a good impression of the awesome experience that being at the live event might have offered, without playing back at silly levels. John Paul Jones proving as ever to be the lynchpin, fleshing out the sound behind the explosive antics of Bonham and Page. Mind you Bonzo’s onslaught on ‘Over The Hills’ is something to behold. I also got to briefly compare the MA with a passing pair of Focal 816WSE floorstanders. At £900 less expensive this wasn’t a sensible comparison, but it was interesting to hear that the extra bass extension of the Focal could not compensate for its relative shortcomings in terms of speed and dynamics. I have to admit that prior to hearing this speaker my hopes were not that high; as a rule I prefer larger loudspeakers with more potential in the girth department. The PL100 beat off this barrier with ease and delivered a result that is both charming and revealing. Forget cheaper alternatives, when it comes to punching above its weight, MA’s PL100 is in a class of its own.