In some ways I found myself surprised by what I heard from the latest Gold 300s—most of all by what registered as increased transparency to sources. In these pages, Jonathan Valin has long written about three kinds of audiophiles: those who seek “the absolute sound”—that is, the as-realistic-as-possible reproduction of the sound of acoustic instruments in a real space; “fidelity to source” listeners who want the truth of what’s on the original mastertape or recording replicated as the engineers/artists intended; and “as you like it” listeners who care more about what sounds pleasing to their ears than meeting these other criteria…maybe they like a little bass boost or the warm, golden signature of a particular tube, for example.
I mention all this because based on my reviews of the other two Monitor Audio speakers (each from a different generation) I’d experienced an evolution of what might be called Monitor’s “house sound” from a relatively “as you like it”—rich and substantial—presentation to a comparatively more “purist” one that seemingly strived for a more accurate reproduction of the source material. And that evolution toward accuracy is what I got with the Gold 300s.
Of course, such “fidelity to source” tendencies can reveal a recording’s finesse or flaws, whether it’s well-recorded or not especially so. This isn’t to say that the Gold 300s ever sounded sterile or analytical, but rather that they generally got out of the way to show you what was there in the source—which can often be a good thing. Of course, this also means that if you’ve never heard your favorite songs without certain “forgiving” enhancements or additions or distortions you may be surprised by what details come through. In a way, this made listening with the Gold 300s a voyage of discovery. I became curious to dig deeper into my collection, to see which recordings stood out in quality and rose to the top as the cream of the crop.
As much as this might suggest the Gold 300s skew toward favoring audiophile fare, the vast majority of my non-audiophile (but at least decently recorded) selections still drew me in with noteworthy detail and resolution, inviting me to listen more closely into the mix for ambient cues, such as those on the DG recording of the Labèque sisters I’ll describe below. Although I ran the Gold 300s in for well over a couple hundred hours before I began critical listening and placement refinements, it’s worth noting that over time some sense of the speaker’s initial impression of transparency tapered off a bit in favor of more substance, body, and musicality.
Switching between analog and digital sources offered further fun and payoffs. These speakers supported compelling investigations and explorations of the audible differences between their LP and (mostly hi-res) streaming incarnations. Obviously these aren’t apples-to-apples comparisons, but they were still interesting to explore. Tracks from the Tidal MQA Master version of Court and Spark offered crystalline clarity, though stopping short of getting too metallic or bright. (Sometimes elevated treble can give the impression of greater detail.) Cymbals taps were brassy yet clean. The wah-wah pedal effects burst forth like a kind of laughter on “Raised on Robbery”—fun, funky, and livelier than ever. Details seemed heightened but not exaggerated. Vocals were natural in timbre: The inimitable Joni sounded like Joni. Cuts from the original LP pressing played back on the MoFi ’table had a bit more depth and warmth coupled with more convincing realism on Joni’s idiosyncratic singing style and piano flair. The 300s capably conveyed the differences between the analog and digital versions, and each pleased in its own ways.
For some very different piano fare, I spun the Deutsche Grammophon LP of the Labèque sisters playing Bryce Dessner’s new Concerto for Two Pianos with the Orchestre de Paris, recorded at the Philharmonie de Paris. Right at the start, the initial strikes of percussion (flat wooden sticks) and piano attacks hit hard—and were appropriately startling. (Incidentally I recently saw the Labèque sisters perform the work’s U.S. premiere with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra at Music Hall and jumped at those first notes.) Throughout, the razor-sharp focus on transients followed by long, satisfying sustains and decays enhanced the excitement of Katia and Marielle Labèque’s virtuosity. The relative positions of the two grand pianos could readily be distinguished from the rest of the orchestra behind them, with reasonable depth of field for the other instrument sections—though soundstaging seemed slightly wider than deep. In my listening position approximately 9 or 10 feet from the speakers I got a pleasing sense of sitting mid-hall, along with ambient cues of the Philharmonie space, all of which made for compelling listening.
Changing gears radically I played Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy” from When We All Fall Asleep Where Do We Go? via the MBL N31 CD player/DAC. Call it a guilty pleasure. The drop goes kinda low. And then “Xanny” after. Talk about some phat bass with impact! The Gold 300s, which are spec’d to dip down to 30 cycles, held their own.
As far as minor points to critique, at times on good recordings even though resolution was high, the Gold 300s might not be the last word in realism (à la “the absolute sound”) or the oft-discussed speaker “disappearing act”—though for most listeners that won’t matter much. Certain instrumental layers would jump or stand out from others. It’s hard to put my finger on what the issue was, though it generally seemed to occur in the upper midrange. However, I only noticed this on certain recordings and the occasional projection of the upper mids did seem to diminish over time. Really this might only concern listeners who are seriously into realism…so it didn’t really bother me.
Soundstages thrown tended to offer good width and adequate depth—assuming the source material captured these things—though more height could have been desirable on certain recordings. Dispersion and off-axis response seemed perfectly sufficient for listening company, and hey, with the 300s satisfying low end, substance, and style, they’d be good speakers for a small party.