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Monitor Audio Silver 300

Monitor Audio Silver 300

How’s this for a recipe for a high-value speaker: Take a highly skilled designer, match him to a company with an audiophile ethos, mix in economy-of-scale manufacturing, and add the cost savings conferred by a company-owned factory in China. Put those ingredients together and you have the new Monitor Audio Silver 300, an astonishing amount of speaker for $2000 per pair. I heard the Silver 300 at the Munich show last year as a pre-production prototype, and was immediately taken by its musicality and blown away by its value. I asked on the spot for review samples.

The Silver 300 was designed by Monitor Audio’s Dean Hartley, author of the $29,000 Monitor Audio Platinum PL500 II that I heard sound spectacular a few months earlier at CES (see our interview with Dean in the Designer Roundtable elsewhere in this issue). The Platinum PL500 II was, if not a giant-killer, competitive with speakers approaching six figures. Julie Mullins favorably reviewed the speaker in Issue 268. At that speaker’s CES introduction I had lunch with Dean and Sheldon Ginn of Kevro, Monitor Audio’s North American distributor. During the lunch Dean pulled out a flight case filled with cutaway drivers and explained all the design techniques that went into the new transducers, as well as how the speakers are manufactured in the Monitor Audio-owned-and-operated factory in China. I was greatly impressed that what is essentially a mass-produced speaker had been designed and built with the painstaking attention to performance details that are usually reserved for esoteric high-end models. Monitor Audio’s large global distribution allows the company to bring high-end design to mass-market prices.

The four-driver, three-way Silver 300 is the second-to-the-top model in the newly overhauled Silver line. (This is the sixth generation of the long-running Silver series.) The Silver line consists of two bookshelf speakers, three floorstanding models, a center-channel speaker, surround speakers, and a subwoofer. The 300’s slim cabinet is supported by outrigger feet that provide stability as well as the ability to level the speaker. The rubber-coated feet will accept spikes for greater performance. (What are the three words an audiophile should never utter in front of his spouse? “Carpet-piercing spikes.”) Two pairs of binding posts are provided for bi-wiring. Each of the woofers is loaded in a separate ported enclosure, resulting in two rear ports. Monitor Audio says that the Silver 300 was designed to work well in typical rooms where the speaker must be close to the backwall. Foam port plugs are provided to tame excessive bass if necessary (I didn’t need them).

The cabinet’s appearance is nothing short of amazing in a $2000-per-pair loudspeaker—it is finished not in vinyl wrap, but in real book-matched wood veneer. This level of finish would be at home on much more expensive speakers. Six veneer options are available including black oak, walnut, rosenut, natural oak, gloss black, and satin white. The upscale vibe is enhanced by the brushed-aluminum plate housing the midrange and tweeter, as well as the magnetically attached grilles with no visible grille- or driver-mounting hardware.

Each of the drivers is made using updated versions of Monitor Audio’s C-CAM diaphragms. C-CAM stands for Ceramic-Coated Aluminum/Magnesium, a sandwich material that Monitor says provides high stiffness with low mass. Monitor Audio has been working with metal diaphragms for 30 years; the latest C-CAM design is the culmination of that history. The Silver 300 uses two 6″ C-CAM woofers run in parallel, one 4″ C-CAM midrange, and a 1″ C-CAM tweeter. The midrange and tweeter share a single front plate to bring their acoustic centers closer together. A new motor system features vented magnets and, in the midrange, an under-hung voice coil. (In an under-hung voice coil, the coil is shorter than the magnetic field it moves through. This technique assures that the voice coil remains within the full strength of the magnetic field even at peak excursion. Otherwise, the driver’s motion becomes non-linear with high-level signals as the coil leaves the area of full magnetic strength at the ends of its back-and-forth travel.) The woofers and midrange drivers are dish-shaped, which Monitor says increases diaphragm stiffness compared with conventionally shaped cones that have a hole in the middle through which the voice coil partially protrudes. The gold-dome tweeter is all-new for the Silver 300, and reportedly has as much as 20dB less third-harmonic distortion between 2kHz and 3kHz than its predecessor. All the drivers have higher sensitivity than those in the previous Silver series, making the Silver 300 an easier load for power amplifiers. Sensitivity is highish at 90dB, and the 8-ohm nominal impedance and the 3.5-ohm minimum impedance should allow the Silver 300 to be paired with a wide range of power amplifiers. The woofers cross over to the midrange at 570Hz, and the midrange operates from 570Hz to 3.5kHz.

The enclosure design benefits from research done at the National Physical Laboratory in London, where the cabinet was analyzed with a laser-scanning vibrometer. This study allowed Monitor Audio to identify cabinet resonances and then optimize the internal bracing. The laser-scanning vibrometer can detect enclosure displacement in the micrometer range. Enclosure vibration is further reduced by affixing the woofers to the baffle with a single large bolt that runs through the entire cabinet from front to back. In the interview with Dean Hartley in the Loudspeaker Designer Roundtable in this issue, you can see the vibrometer plots in the comparison of the previous-generation Silver series with the new Silver 300.

This is a lot of careful engineering and sophisticated technology for any speaker, never mind a full-range floorstander in book-matched wood enclosures that sells for $2000.

 

Listening
I’ve spent quite a bit of time with the Silver 300 in my new short-term listening room. My wife and I are building a house with a dedicated listening room, but until that home is finished we’re living in a rental. Fortunately, in the interim I have a good-sized room (20′ x 28′) just for listening. Electronics driving the Silver 300 included the $4995 AVM CS2.2 all-in-one unit that outputs 110Wpc into 8 ohms, and 165Wpc into 4 ohms (see my review this issue), and the $13,000 Esoteric F-03A 30Wpc Class A integrated amplifier.

The Silver 300 has a big, bold, and robust sound that is in sharp contrast with the lighter weight and more laid-back sound of similarly priced two-way stand-mount speakers. This is a full-range speaker capable of extended bass reproduction and wide dynamic contrasts. In fact, the Silver 300’s most salient attribute is its outstanding portrayal of dynamics—quick, powerful, and full of verve. Transient signals such as drums have real power, impact, and drive. Subtle, but musically important low-level transient information is equally well-served. The track “Stella on the Stairs” from saxophonist Gary Meek’s terrific album Originals begins with an unaccompanied piano introduction, and then drummer Terri Lyne Carrington comes in with a very unusual and intricate rhythmic pattern played gently behind the melody. The Silver 300 beautifully rendered these aspects of her playing. The Silver 300 also conveyed the percussive component of piano, adding to the lively character that I appreciated listening to Herbie Hancock on River: The Joni Letters. I also liked the fact that the Silver 300 exhibited this transient speed even at low listening levels; you don’t have to push the speaker hard to feel music’s rhythmic expression. I listened to countless hours of background music through the Silver 300 while working at my computer and greatly enjoyed these qualities.

The Silver 300’s overall balance was slightly upfront and immediate through the midrange and treble. This isn’t a speaker that creates a sense of depth through a recessed midband. Soundstage depth was good, although the Silver 300 tended to project images in front of the speaker. Image precision was razor-sharp and clearly defined. Centrally positioned vocalists were rock-solid both in their placement and tangibility of image. Commendably, this solidity didn’t collapse when I was sitting slightly off the centerline.

I was surprised by the Silver 300’s refinement and resolution through the midrange, as well as by its inner detailing. Instruments toward the back of the hall, or the back of the mix, were clearly resolved and delineated rather than disappearing into the murk. Check out Joe Sample’s piano playing behind B.B. King’s guitar solo on “Three O’Clock Blues” from Riding with the King. Every note was clearly articulated and spatially distinct from the rest of the mix. Most speakers at this price lack this ability to resolve individual instruments and portray such inner detailing. I also heard this quality on Keith Johnson’s recording of The Rite of Spring; the very quiet woodwinds in the back of the orchestra were fully fleshed out with textural detail and imaged distinctly in space instead of just sounding like undifferentiated noise.

The Silver 300’s bottom end is remarkable in extension and articulation. This speaker plays much bigger than its size and delivers a satisfyingly solid bottom end. I was shocked that a $2000-per-pair speaker could sound so clean, fast, and defined in the bass and midbass. On the opening track of the aforementioned Originals, Brian Bromberg tears off a solo on standup bass that would put any speaker to the test. The Silver 300 deftly conveyed every aspect of that large resonant wooden instrument, from harmonic texture to pitch definition to dynamic expression. I had the distinct impression of hearing those aspects thanks to the Silver 300’s resolution of timbre and density of textural detail. The bass was not accompanied by bloat, overhang, thickness, or slowness. The entire range the acoustic bass spans was also remarkably continuous and free from discontinuities as the instrument traversed different registers. Throughout my entire time with the Silver 300 I also heard this smoothness and lack of artifacts on left-hand piano lines. The dynamic agility of this speaker through the bass regions, both in the way notes start and stop, is off-the-charts great.

Given the Silver 300’s stunning overall performance for the asking price, I feel a bit churlish pointing out specific shortcomings. But that’s my job, and you should take these comments in the context of the rest of this review. The lower treble tends to be on the dry side with a bit of hardness. The Silver 300 is not a lush, sweet, and forgiving speaker that makes everything sound “beautiful.” Rather, it leans toward an upfront and lively treble balance, though I wouldn’t call the treble bright. Second, when pushed hard, the bass can get a bit congealed and lose some of the fabulous pitch definition I heard at normal to fairly loud listening levels. Again, these criticisms should be considered in the context of a $2000-per-pair speaker.

I have hundreds of enjoyable listening hours on the Silver 300 and consider these shortcomings minor in light of the overall sound quality. A hard and bright treble would have been a disqualifier for me, no matter how good the rest of the sound. That certainly wasn’t the case with the Silver 300 but you should know that this speaker isn’t a shrinking violet.

 

Conclusion
The Monitor Audio Silver 300 is an extremely accomplished product that offers a level of sound quality unexpected at this price. I was especially impressed by the fact that the overall design is so well balanced and complete. The speaker doesn’t excel in just one or two areas, but performs admirably across the board. Some similarly priced mini-monitors may have a lusher midband or silkier treble, but they won’t begin to match the Silver 300 in bass articulation, low-frequency extension, and dynamic contrasts. Moreover, the Silver 300 plays far bigger than its cabinet size, driver complement, and price would suggest, with robust dynamic authority. It’s also very easy to drive; the Esoteric F-03A’s 30Wpc was more than enough power.

Even after coming off a mega-system in my previous house I always found the Silver 300 musically communicative, expressive, and satisfying. With many inexpensive speakers there’s always that nagging feeling of having to listen past some flaw that detracts from the music. Not so with the Silver 300.

I must reiterate my comments about the build and finish quality. You can spend five times more for a pair of speakers and not get book-matched wood veneers—and with six finish options to boot.

I once read in a car magazine about how the seats in a prosaic Ford were better engineered than those in an exotic luxury car. Ford could simply spend more time and money on the design because the seats would be manufactured in vastly greater quantities. There’s a parallel with the Silver 300 (and presumably Monitor Audio’s other speakers); great design doesn’t add much to the per-unit cost with economy-of-scale manufacturing. The catch, however, is that the design must be driven by an audiophile ethos that values musical expression rather than sonic fireworks.

 That audiophile ethos was on full display in the Silver 300. And when combined with skilled technical design and efficient manufacturing, you end up with a speaker that makes true high-end sound eminently affordable.

Specs & Pricing

Type: Three-way, four-driver floorstanding loudspeaker
Driver complement: Two 6″ woofers, one 4″ midrange, one 1″ tweeter
Loading: Dual-port reflex
Frequency response: 32Hz–35kHz
Sensitivity: 90dB (1W/1m)
Impedance: 8 ohms (3.5 ohms minimum)
Maximum SPL: 116dBA (pair)
Power handling: 200W (RMS)
Dimensions: 7.5″ x 39.5″ x 11.8″ (not including grille, outrigger feet, or binding posts)
Weight: 44 lbs.
Price: $2000/pr.

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

Associated Equipment
Amplification:
Esoteric F-03A integrated amplifier; AVM CS2.2 all-in-one system
Sources: AVM CS2.2; Berkeley Alpha Reference Series 2 MQA DAC; Berkeley Alpha USB; Aurender W20 music server; Pro-Ject 6PerspeX SB turntable with Sumiko Blue Point No.2 cartridge
Speaker cables: Kimber 4TC, Wireworld Mini Eclipse 7
Interconnects: Wireworld Eclipse 7
Digital interconnects: Audience Au24 USB, AudioQuest Wild
AC Power: Shunyata Denali, Shunyata Sigma AC cords
Room: ASC 16″ Full-Round Tube Traps, Stillpoints Aperture Panels

By Robert Harley

My older brother Stephen introduced me to music when I was about 12 years old. Stephen was a prodigious musical talent (he went on to get a degree in Composition) who generously shared his records and passion for music with his little brother.

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