It’s easy to love beautiful things. I believe we all know this, whether it’s comfortable to admit or not. It’s why our culture obsesses over youth and attractiveness. It’s why I spend too much time thinking about design. But sometimes, a beautiful product can be written off as shallow, all flash and no substance. There’s always a temptation to look at a beautiful pair of speakers and think to yourself, there’s no way those sound as good as they look. It’s a bad thought, but probably a thought we’ve all had.
Fortunately, that’s not the case here. I love the design of Monitor Audio’s new Studio stand-mounted speakers, because they’re straight-up nice looking. Pure white, with a surprisingly narrow yet relatively deep profile, they’re solid without being absurdly hefty, and beautifully designed without sacrificing substance. The figure-eight central indentation houses the two identical 4″ mid/bass drivers, top and bottom, suspended over a rectangular MPD (micro-pleated diaphragm) tweeter right in the middle. The driver array also happens to be based on the updated designs and materials developed for Monitor’s Platinum PL500 II flagships (for more, see Julie Mullins’ review of the Platinum PL500 II floorstanders in Issue 268). I honestly didn’t know what to expect when I unboxed the Studio speakers, but I’m genuinely delighted with their aesthetics. They’re almost like futurist chic and would easily look at home in any lovingly decorated living room, modern office, the Starship Enterprise, or really wherever you decided to stick them.
I should note upfront that Monitor Audio sent me the matching speaker stands ($500 per pair) and, after some internal debate, I decided not to use them. They’re very, very attractive stands, finished in the same satin white as the speakers themselves with the same contemporary design. The stands are hollow and can be filled with sand or lead shot, and the Studios bolt right in on top. In the end, I decided that a more accurate and fair review would use my own stands, and since I’m writing with a budget in mind, I would personally allocate my money where it matters: the speakers themselves.
Which brings me to the all-important matter of cost. This is the most expensive product I’ve reviewed to date, clocking in at $1400/pair. I know, I know. Lots of seasoned audiophiles are rolling their eyes right now. I realize that’s actually pretty modest, relatively speaking, for high-end audio, but still definitely not entry-level by other standards. Most people would hesitate before dropping that kind of cash. But the Monitors are very clearly a cut above other speakers I’ve looked at in the past, both in build-quality and in sound. I’m not thinking of this as a part of my other entry-level reviews, but more like an extension. This is a review of a product that’s the next step up on the audio chain. You could definitely start with something like the Studios and be very, very happy, but I suspect most people won’t. Still, it’s good to know where to go when you get that upgrade itch, which is as inevitable as death, taxes, and the United States not making the World Cup.
All that out of the way, it’s time to set these beauties up. I drop them on my stands, very gently of course, and plug them into my Cambridge Audio CXA80 integrated amplifier. The Studios are rated at 4 ohms with a moderate sensitivity of 86dB, which means I think they’ll likely benefit from some solid wattage. My First Watt J2, which is only rated at 13Wpc into 4 ohms, can’t keep up with the Studios and really isn’t built to do so. Fortunately, the CXA80 has enough juice, and handles them just fine. That said, the more I listened, the more I thought they’d benefit from a little more power, a little more headroom to open them more. Unfortunately for me, I don’t have any monster amps hiding in my closet, so I relied heavily on my old trusty CXA80 with no complaints.
I’m happy with these speakers even before I dive into some close listening. I have them on in the background while I work most days, just playing whatever random record I throw on, nothing serious. But I’m pleased every time I see them perched on my little black stands. They look really nice in my office and they match my white-painted built-in shelving like they were built for the space. I know I’ve complained about high-end audio design in the past, but there aren’t any complaints here. The Studios are sleek, thin, and contemporary. They’re pretty, even.
That said, they are deep. If you’re looking to keep them on a shelf somewhere, make sure there’s enough room plus a little extra for their back ports. You don’t want them right up against a wall; there should be at least some clearance. On stands and in the middle of an open space, obviously this is not a problem, but it’s definitely something to be aware of.
In the end though, being pretty doesn’t matter if the speakers can’t sing. After a reasonable amount of background music to loosen everything, I fire them up for some serious listening, starting with the underrated third album by Tears for Fears, The Seeds of Love. I’m immediately drawn to how clear and concise they sound. Pino Palladino’s bass in “Badman’s Song” is tight, taut, and extended. For such small speakers, the Studios have remarkable depth in the low end, likely helped along by the dual mid/bass drivers and the two slot-loaded ports in the back. The bass is satisfying and controlled, not remotely wooly or bloated. The gorgeous, lush vocals by Oleta Adams are smooth and avoid any displeasing harshness when she hits those high notes. Later in the song, when it’s just toe-tapping drum and rolling piano, the cymbals stay tight and the bass really thumps. The kicks aren’t exactly shaking the floorboards, but the sound is satisfying and accurate, and I’m having a good time.
I think that’s the strength of these speakers. Their clarity is almost startling. Soundstage extends to the edges of the enclosures and just beyond, filling my new and fairly large listening room. Along those lines, I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention Phil Collins’ drumming on the opening track, “Woman in Chains.” The snare clap has such nice reverb, and the Studios do a good job extending that decay, letting it fade just until the next snap. Especially during the first chorus, cymbals sparkle just outside the speaker’s width. Background vocals float throughout the mix, sometimes coming from all directions, sometimes from just off to my left.
These are the sort of speakers I want to crank up. The CXA80 can get them pretty loud, and I don’t feel like they lose any resolution or cause any annoying fatigue when I have them turned up to eleven. Fortunately for me, my listening room/office is above the garage and I’m home alone three days a week, so I can blast away as much as I want. Maybe my neighbors don’t love getting subjected to my fantastic taste in music, but oh well, can’t win them all.
Next up on the turntable is a new reissue from one of my favorite companies, Vinyl Me, Please. If you like monthly deliveries of really beautifully packaged and well-pressed records, check it out. My current obsession is Malik by the Lafayette Afro-Rock Band, a really solid funk-rock record. On the third track “Conga,” voices mesh with complex rhythms and in the background—almost lonely in the middle of all this frenetic forward movement—are these little clapping hands. It’s the sort of detail a very finely resolving speaker can bring to life. I feel like I can pinpoint just where those hands are coming together in front of me. On top of all this rhythm are the horns, blaring away but never shrieking. Horns at high volume can definitely get tiring, but I don’t find myself reaching for the remote.
The B-side opens with a track called “Darkest Light,” a nice little downtempo jam with some smooth horns playing the same little melody over and over. In fact, I’d describe the whole midrange as smooth and clear. I don’t detect any colorations, not to my ears at least, and I’m finding the Studios can reproduce a serious groove. I’m into this music, keeping time with my fingers on the keyboard, and a large part of that is because the Studios avoid any sort of upper-end harshness and keep the midrange easy-going. I’m not exhausted by the horns’ repetitions, and actually invite more of it. Toss in a healthy dollop of tight, surprisingly extended bass, and you have the kind of sound that makes me want to play this record over and over again.
Monitor Audio’s Studio speakers are solid-sounding beasts with really superb design aesthetics. They’re sleek and modern and would look good in any living room. They’re more expensive than other products I’ve reviewed in the past, but not absurdly costly, and it’s not unreasonable to imagine they would be a really good second step up the audiophile ladder. If you can justify the cost, then this is where you should be putting your dollars, though remember to keep the Studio speaker’s cabinet depth in mind. I absolutely recommend these to anyone looking for their first big upgrade, anyone who loves sleek modern design, anyone who wants great sound, really anyone who loves good audio.
Specs & Pricing
Type: Stand-mounted loudspeaker
Driver complement: 2 x 4″ mid/bass; 1x MPD (micro-pleated diaphragm) tweeter
Frequency response: 48Hz–60kHz (-6dB)
Impedance: 4 ohms
Loading: Dual-slot bass-reflex
Finish options: Black, White, Gray
Dimensions: 13 3/8″ x 6 1/8″ x 14 3/16″
Weight: 16 lbs., 9 oz.
Price: $1400/pr.; optional stands $500/pr.
KEVRO INTERNATIONAL (North American Distributor)
902 McKay Road, Suite #4
Pickering, ON L1W 3X8
Tags: MONITOR AUDIO
By Drew Kalbach
I have a degree in English from Temple University and a Masters in Fine Arts with a specialty in poetry from the University of Notre Dame. I’m a full-time self-published author with over 100 books in both romance and men’s adventure fiction.More articles from this editor