Monitor Audio Bronze 50 Standmount Loudspeakers Review
Stephen Dawson samples the latest sixth generation of this popular budget box…
Bronze 50 Standmount Loudspeakers
AUD $699 RRP
Many people start their high-fidelity journey as a cash-strapped student. It was when I was in high school that I become entranced by high fidelity music, but finances were limited to that generated by eight hours per week as a shop assistant. Value was paramount then, which is why I wish there had been something around like Monitor Audio’s new Bronze 50 loudspeaker!
As many readers will know, this British name sprung up during the UK’s hi-fi boom of the nineteen seventies. Now, nearly fifty years later, the brand is still going strong making classy, high value hi-fi speakers – indeed, in the case of the Bronze series, they’re now into their sixth generation. This Bronze 50 standmounter is said to replace the previous era’s Bronze 1.
A classic two-way reflex-ported design, it measures 166x281x265mm (WxHxD) and weighs 5kg. Unusually perhaps, its tweeter is set a behind flexible protective grille which is covered in hexagonal perforations which, Monitor Audio promises, has “as little impact as possible on the high frequency acoustic performance”. The 25mm C-CAM high frequency unit sports a dome made from aluminium/magnesium alloy, and coated with gold-coloured ceramic – of which you can see hints through that grille. A vented neodymium magnet is fitted, and the company’s so-called Uniform Dispersion Waveguide is used, which is a curved surround that looks a little like a shallow horn. Interestingly, the C-CAM 140mm mid/bass driver also has a ceramic-coated aluminium/magnesium alloy cone – this time silver rather than gold coloured.
The neat-looking cabinet is constructed from 15mm thick MDF, and appropriately braced. Bass-reflex loaded with the port to the rear, this speaker is bi-wirable via gold-plated five-way binding posts. There’s a choice of black, white, walnut or ‘Urban Grey’ finishes; inevitably at this price all are vinyl, the latter two having a wood-grain look. A grille to cover both drive units is also provided for each speaker; this is held in place magnetically, but I found the Bronze 50 more than handsome enough to run as nature intended…
The manufacturer quotes a frequency response of 62Hz to 25kHz in a free field (i.e. without room boundaries) and 40Hz to 30kHz in-room; cheekily though this is at -6dB points which rather flatters the figures. A growing number of manufacturers are moving away from the standard -3dB points, for some strange reason. Still, you could argue this is a little academic; the more important real-world measurements are nominal impedance (specified at 8 ohms, so it’s an easy load) and sensitivity (85dB/2.83v/1m, which is on the low side, so you’ll need a reasonably powerful amp to drive it).
After putting my review pair of Monitor Audio Bronze 50 loudspeakers on a suitably sized pair of stands, I then had to decide how to power them. I tried my premium priced Schitt Audio Vidar power amp and it worked fine, but I also felt duty-bound to try them with something a bit more ‘real world’.
One option was to use a current model stereo network receiver from Yamaha, the R-N303D – a modest but decent thing, rated at a hundred watts per channel. The other was to enlist the services of my ageing Cambridge Audio A1Mk3 SE that’s been giving sound service since 1998. Despite offering just 30W RMS per channel into 8 ohms, I preferred its smoother and more rounded performance. For sources, I used a Rega Planar 3 turntable and Rega Exact cartridge feeding the amp’s phono input, and a Denon DNP-730AE audio streamer for line-level input.
For the most part, the Monitor Audio Bronze 50 sounded big. Given its diminutive dimensions, it shouldn’t have, yet it did and offered up a classic English sound. By this I mean there was a certain refinement thanks to a carefully balanced midrange and treble. At times, the bass seemed extended beyond what speakers of this size should be able to deliver – but it wasn’t boosted upper bass disguising the lack of any deeper stuff. Quite the reverse, because it went lower than perhaps it has a right to, and stayed even and smooth when so doing.
Despite the Bronze 50’s relative smoothness, the sound wasn’t bland. Indeed it was bristling with lively detail, exemplified by a lack of restraint in the delivery of drums in track after track. That generally added to the excitement of the listening experience. Stereo imaging was solid with regard to left and right (as indeed are all competent speakers), but was also delivered with a pleasing sense of space and a depth in the soundstage.
Let’s talk specifics. I broke out the Japanese pressing of King Crimson’s Starless and Bible Black I bought many years ago and played side 1. In Lament, Bruford’s cymbals gave a hint of what was to come, located precisely in space in the soundstage, clearly floating above the rest of the music. Oh so three dimensional!
However, it was the next track that I was really waiting for. We’ll Let You Know assembles a song over three and three-quarter minutes, adding notes and elements as it goes. When the drum kit kicks in solidly, it’s ridiculous. Was that the kick drum I heard, with a good solid thump? Why yes it was – every strike of every object in Bruford’s kit was placed, well, just there. The next track – The Night Watch – again had that little tick of a cymbal floating above Fripp’s guitar and Wetton’s voice. And again, the latter’s bass laid a solid foundation under all that was happening.
While the tunes are generally pretty good, Too Low for Zero by Elton John is far from an audiophile demo recording. Nonetheless, despite the dated nineteen eighties production values, the Bronze 50 extracted a performance pretty much as good as one could possibly get from this disc – certainly for a loudspeaker of this price. Sir Elton’s voice showed impressive timbre for such a small speaker, and showed up nicely placed dead-centre in the recorded acoustic. On One More Arrow his piano had a pleasing texture that survived the primitive audio processing of those days, making the track all the more enjoyable.
Sometimes though you can have enough of a good thing, and I moved from the processed eighties pop of Elton John to the altogether more earthy delights of Nina Simone’s eponymous debut album, recorded in 1959. Because post-editing involved razor blades and sticky tape to physically splice the master tapes together back in those days, it was generally avoided if possible. Instead, the music was committed to tape live and directly, in one take.
The version on Tidal has no tape hiss, so must have been processed digitally. But as delivered by these speakers, there was an intimate presence and seemingly a window through six decades back to the young Simone, still yearning to become a classical pianist even as she was channelled by society into becoming a jazz and blues singer. The tone on her piano in Love Me or Leave Me was perfect, as it slipped smoothly from jazz into a baroque fugue, then back again. The bass line – from the accompanying double bass, that is – was effortlessly easy to follow.
Jumping forward sixty years to Billie Eilish performing Bad Guy, and this little loudspeaker impressed me with its power handling capability and ability to keep its composure when pushed hard. With extraordinary levels of bass on this album, I could see the Bronze 50’s mid/bass driver doing some serious aerobics; indeed it looked like it was flinging itself back and forth. Even though it was stoical at such high levels, it like all of us is subject to the laws of physics and so I duly backed off the volume control a little bit, at which point it settled down to sound a tad more relaxed. Overall it was an impressive performance, even to someone who’s used to listening to 70kg behemoth loudspeakers. The only real clue that this speaker is a little ‘un was its lack of any real low bass.
Overall then, Monitor Audio’s new Bronze 50 is an impressive small stand mounter. It may be compact and inexpensive, but it hides its tracks better than you might expect – and when it’s given a decent source and amplifier, it really spreads its wings. It’s a testament to just how much better budget speakers are than they were half a century ago, when they were truly the stuff of hi-fi nightmares. A remarkably capable budget box, how I wish it had been around in my cash-strapped formative hi-fi years!
For more information, visit Monitor Audio.
Stephen Dawson started writing full time about home entertainment technology just weeks before the DVD was launched in Australia. Since then he has written several thousand product reviews amounting to millions of words for newspapers and magazines around Australia.