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Monitor Audio Gold 300 Loudspeaker

This Monitor Audio Gold 300 loudspeaker marks the third Monitor model I’ve reviewed for TAS, the first having been the previous incarnation of this speaker (which shares the same name—no Mark III, Plus, or other added designation) four years ago, and the second, the $30k flagship floorstander of Monitor’s top-tier Platinum Series, the PL500 II, a towering (it certainly towered over me),three-way, seven-driver d’Appolito design capable of big-time sonic power, energy, and overall musicality. I gave it a Golden Ear Award in 2016.

Now in its fifth generation, the Gold 300 embodies many of the technological advances and materials that have “trickled down” from Monitor’s latest flagship Platinum Series. It’s no coincidence that Monitor Audio Chief Technical Engineer Michael Hedges was involved in both the Platinum II project (under Dean Hartley, who’s since retired from the company) and this latest Gold Series model. In addition to the top-of-the-line Gold 300 under review here, the series consists of the smaller 200 floorstander, the 100 bookshelf speaker, and a W12 subwoofer (there’s an FX surround and C250 center-channel for home theater, as well). Monitor also offers a Silver Series, now in its sixth iteration, from which Robert Harley glowingly reviewed the Silver 300 (which he bestowed a Golden Ear upon last year). 

Before discussing my set-up and sonic experiences with the Gold 300s, it’s worth running through some of the driver technologies and materials that play a part in Monitor speaker sound. Starting from the top, the tweeter is a new proprietary MPD (Micro-Pleated Diaphragm) low-mass transducer with a surface area eight times larger than that of a traditional dome. It works like a tiny but very fast accordion and is said to provide smooth response up to 100kHz. It is also purported to deliver more lifelike sound with greater accuracy, which I certainly heard; this marked a key sonic difference from other Monitors. 

Next is the 2.5″ C-CAM (Ceramic-Coated Aluminum Magnesium) midrange, whose extremely light yet rigid material was originally developed for use in the aerospace industry in jet engine components. A die-cast aluminum chamber module houses both the MPD tweeter and C-CAM midrange driver below it, isolating them in a pressure vessel apart from the bass enclosure. The driver baffles are also made of die-cast aluminum for rigidity and damping. The pair of proprietary 8″ RDT II (Rigid Diaphragm Technology) bass drivers are of a three-layer sandwich construction with ultra-thin C-CAM skins bonded to a honeycomb Nomex material beneath (offering strength and exceptional heat insulation) with a woven carbon-fiber skin behind it—all housed within a cast-aluminum basket. This design is the lowest-distortion driver in Monitor Audio’s history, with cited decreases of more than 8dB above 300Hz. Interestingly, Nomex is deployed in service for another kind of driver—race car drivers’ flame-resistant suits. 

This bass-reflex design uses dual rear ports in the 18mm-thick MDF cabinets to augment low-frequency response. Foam plugs are also included in case users prefer more damping. (Though I didn’t use them, it’s nice to have the option.)

Handsome and sturdy- looking yet not too tall, the Gold 300 exudes a stately rather than showy elegance. Its aesthetics say “quality” with a kind of understated sophistication that’s less trendy, more timeless. My review samples came in an attractive piano gloss black; three additional finish options are available: satin white, dark walnut, piano ebony (the latter two are described in the product materials as “premium-quality mirror-matched wood veneers”). The tops have a nice leatherette trim—a soft touch of luxury. This brought to mind the leather top-panel inserts seen on some Sonus faber models, including the latest Olympica Nova models intro’d at RMAF. Generally speaking, I’m a non-grille gal, but the ones here attach discreetly with “invisible” magnets for an unobtrusive and streamlined appearance. They are said to be sonically inert, but without them it’s also pretty cool to see the shiny silver drivers with subtle honeycomb patterns (you have to look closely). All told, it’s apparent that Monitor Audio takes pride in maintaining high standards for its loudspeakers’ fit and finish as well as their construction, materials, and sound. (See sidebar for more on the company and its manufacturing.)

Setting up the speakers was neither tedious nor taxing. The Gold 300s ship with a pair of X-shaped, cast-aluminum outrigger feet that attach to each speaker base; their spikes can be removed for hardwood floors (like mine). Handily, all the necessary Allen wrenches and bolts are included. After I perused the small diagram and instructions in the user manual, installation took mere minutes, though on my floor it took a little more time to level the speakers by tightening or loosening the attachment bolts to the feet ever so slightly. From a marque distributed worldwide one might expect a multi-lingual user manual, but this Gold Series booklet had no fewer than twelve languages inside—impressive. 

Speaker placement proved fairly straightforward, as well. The manual recommends placing the Gold 300s at least 300mm, or nearly a foot, from the rear wall (which seems relatively close given that the ports are rear-firing); that could be helpful for systems in smaller rooms, though Monitor recommends the 300s for larger rooms. After some toe-in tweaking and minor shifts front-to-back I felt pretty satisfied with the center image, including its general scale and dimensionality (recording-dependent, of course). 

Obviously much also depends on the source components and amplification ahead of the speakers. Recalling past experiences with other Monitors I figured these too would benefit from extra power, particularly to maximize bass. And, indeed, this was the case. The 380Wpc into 4 ohms (the Gold 300 is 4-ohm speaker) MBL N51 integrated provided a pleasing match; the amp also tends toward the slightly darker side of neutral, which seemed to suit the relatively more transparent Gold 300s. The user manual recommends required amplifier power of between 100 and 250W, which I’d take to be more of a minimum. Especially if you like some slam, feed them ample power, and extra headroom doesn’t hurt, either. The majority of my critical listening—including the examples I’ll soon describe—involved a setup with a MBL Noble line N51 integrated amplifier and N31 CD player/DAC, a MacBook Air and MacBook Pro running Qobuz and Tidal respectively, a Boulder 580 phonostage, and the MoFi Electronics UltraDeck+ and Clearaudio Performance DC Wood turntables.

 

Listening
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.

 

As worthy a contender as the new Gold 300 is, there’s still plenty of competition in this category and price range. Top of mind comes the KEF R11, the flagship of the English company’s R lineup that I reviewed favorably in Issue 298. Although it retails for a couple grand less than the Gold 300, it too delivers a high degree of detail and a big, full sound. If I were pressed to offer some general impressions of the differences between the two, the Gold 300s might have had slightly more low-end heft while the R11s displayed more effortless coherence. 

The R11s with their Uni-Q concentric driver arrays and D’Appolito configuration seemed to have a slight edge on overall dispersion and off-axis response. Although the Gold 300 might look like a more expensive speaker (and it is), the R11 is still very visually attractive with a more modern than classic aesthetic. The Monitors arguably might be more traditionally “audiophile” in their approach. Your tastes and preferences in amplification and source material would likely sway you toward one or the other. Both come from trusted longtime makers and offer quite a lot of high-end speaker for the money—and deserve a spot on your short list. 

These Gold 300s really grew on me over time, thanks to their powerful presence and substantial sound output. There’s a really pleasing solidity here—courtesy of the cabinet construction and other technologies—that won me over across more and more source material. Especially if you appreciate or collect well-recorded material, the Monitor Gold 300s can enable you to reap its rewards. If want a deeper dive into your music collection and you’re in the market for a solid speaker in this price tier, go for the gold and give the new 300 an audition. 

Specs & Pricing

Type: Three-way, four-driver floorstanding loudspeaker; bass-reflex (two rear ports)
Driver complement: 1x MPD tweeter, 1x 2.5″ C-CAM midrange, 2x 8″ bass
Frequency response: 30Hz–50kHz
Impedance: 4 ohms (minimum 3.4 ohms @ 1kHz)
Sensitivity: 90dB
Recommended amplifier power: 100W–250W
Dimensions: 12½” x 43½” x 14-9/16″
Weight: 67 lbs. (30.56 kg)
Price: $7000

MONITOR AUDIO LTD
24 Brook Road
Rayleigh, Essex, SS6 7XJ, 
England 
+ 44 (0)1268 740580 
monitoraudio.com 

KEVRO (North American Distributor)
902 McKay Road, Unit #4
Pickering, ON L1W 3X8
Canada
(800) 667-6065
kevro.com

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