Monitor Audio Gold 100 Standmount Loudspeaker Review
With trick drivers and a cabinet finish to die for, there’s a lot to like about Monitor Audio’s new Gold 100 standmounter, says David Price…
2-Way Standmount Loudspeaker
AUD $3,290 RRP
Twelve years ago, as the Western World was being knocked for six by the so-called ‘credit crunch’, yours truly found himself reviewing the Monitor Audio PL100. The baby of the company’s then-new flagship Platinum range, it was one of the few loudspeakers of that period that jumped right out at me. Costing £2,300 in the UK, it was one of the best sounding standmounters I’d heard for a while – and also an arresting visual statement. A truly modern loudspeaker, there was the sense of it being designed as something people would actually want in their living rooms.
Today’s latest AUD $3,290 Gold 100 – the smallest standmount design in the company’s fifth generation of Golds – circuitously leads me back to the PL100. Of course, it’s a good deal cheaper – especially allowing for inflation – and it is one range below, also. So this little loudspeaker is in one sense, a PL100 that’s shrunk in the wash. You might say that Monitor Audio has distilled out a lot of what made that aforementioned standmounter special, and re-engineered it in a more affordable package. Oh, and the company has also tweaked its technology since then, so the Gold 100 is bang-up-to-date.
Monitor Audio has been going for over four decades now, and while its early products were basically finely honed conventional designs using proprietary, bought-in drive units, in the past couple of decades it has done things differently. It is – like so very many of its price rivals – a two-way, ported design, but this is where the similarity ends. The headline news is the Micro Pleated Diaphragm tweeter – taken from the latest iteration of the aforementioned Platinum series. Although it looks like a ribbon, it isn’t; rather, it’s a folded membrane with a very large radiating area. The company says it works “like a high frequency accordion”, which is an unusual analogy. As we shall see, it certainly doesn’t sound like one.
The mid/bass driver is a 6.5-inch RDT II coned design. This is an elaborate sandwich of ceramic-coated aluminium and magnesium, with woven carbon-fibre and Nomex. Thanks to its continuous profile that lacks a central dust cap, it looks positively ‘new age’. Behind it lurks a 50mm voice coil and diecast aluminium chassis. Both drivers are bolted through to the rear baffle to improve cabinet stiffness. They cross over at 2.5 kHz, which is pretty standard for a smallish two-way design. The 360x 195x 330.6mm, 9.1kg cabinet has – as per standard Monitor Audio practice – an immaculate gloss lacquered finish if you go for the piano black, piano white or piano ebony options, but non-glossy natural walnut is also available. This is broken up by the faux leather panel on the top surface, described as a “soft touch top trim”. The magnetic grille completes what is a swish package, along with high quality bi-wired binding posts – with jumpers supplied for those who choose to mono wire. The rear baffle also has a built-in fixing point for the dedicated Monitor Audio stand.
The company claims a frequency response of 40Hz to 50kHz, cheekily taking -6dB as the drop-off point – most manufacturers quote a figure for -3dB, which makes the speaker’s quoted frequency range a bit narrower. As per most Monitor Audio loudspeakers, the published efficiency figure isn’t spectacularly good; the company tends to voice its products more for bass extension rather than the ability to go particularly loud for a given amount of power. As a result, you’ll need a decently punchy solid-state integrated amplifier. Indeed, the manufacturer specifies between 60W and 120W. This is all the more important when you consider that the company says that the impedance dips to 2.8 ohms at 3.4 kHz, down from its nominal 4. I found the Gold 100 worked well on sturdy 24-inch stands, slightly toed-in. Spikes are available, but I used the supplied stick-on rubber feet. You can get away with placing this speaker pretty close to your rear boundary wall if you use the supplied foam bung for the port. If not, expect to move it out into the room by about 50cm; either way it responds well to a gentle toe-in.
What a surprise that the new Monitor Audio Gold 100 turns out to be an exceptionally smooth, delicate and sophisticated small speaker – said no one, ever! Anyone who has heard the latest PL100 II will recognise the company’s house sound. To me, it strives to bring hitherto unheard levels of refinement and detail to any given price point. This loudspeaker duly obliges, for three reasons. Firstly, the tweeter is a gem – a thing of true sonic beauty considering the price of the speaker overall. Indeed I would go so far as to say that it’s the best sounding high frequency unit you can get anywhere near this price. Secondly, the mid/bass driver is none too shabby and, importantly, the designer has managed to marry the two very well. There’s little sensation of ‘buy one, get one free’ here; even though the crossover works bang-smack in the middle of the midband, it’s highly finessed. Third, the cabinet is a relatively shy, preferring not to join in with the festivities – which is of course just as it should be.
If you like your music served with exceptional civility, this is the small standmounter for you. Whatever you play, the Gold 100 finesses the rough edges off. Interestingly though, that doesn’t mean the speaker makes everything sound bland and generic – as we shall see. Steve Hackett’s haunting Star of Sirius is a classic rock track that’s a little dry and thin in absolute tonal terms, and Phil Collins’ lead vocals can sound a tad strident through some of this speaker’s price rivals – especially on the crescendos with the soaring overdubbed harmonies. Not so here though; this speaker was a model of decorum, showing a smooth upper mid that makes almost all of its rivals sound crude. I loved the way that on the highly modulated parts of the song, this speaker just kept on picking out more subtle aspects of the recording like Hackett’s acoustic guitar – rather than delivering a summary ear-bashing to the listener.
Indeed, this speaker is tonally quite conservative. It doesn’t shout out at you, and won’t rely on an artificial edge to keep your attention. Instead, the great delicacy of the drive units comes into play – those light transducers give super-fast attack transients. This, in turn, means that the speaker is very quick off-the-mark, capturing the delicate rhythmic inflections of whatever music you care to play. I put on some classic drum’n’bass in the shape of Manix’s You Held My Hand, and the Gold 100 made the most of it. It’s a murky and crude recording, likely done on an Atari ST and mastered to DAT. Yet this speaker didn’t draw the listener’s attention to this, and instead honed-in on the drama of the complex percussion work.
The result was a transfixing listen. It’s not the fastest small speaker in town – the new Acoustic Energy AE500 gives it a real run for its money here – but is still highly lithe, and one can never get enough of that tweeter’s agility. This high frequency unit helps out with another of the speaker’s strengths, too – it images better than it should for a standmounter of this price. You’ll need to run it for a week or two, but this done it delivers an extremely spacious sound for something so small. For example, Prefab Sprout’s Bonny is a beautiful slice of eighties pop, produced by the masterful Thomas Dolby. He sets up a transfixing stereo soundstage, and this loudspeaker proved well able to carry it. I loved the power with which the snare drum work panned far left and right in the choruses, and the ethereal feel of the backing synthesiser work as it swirled around. It’s impressive left to right, but the Monitor Audio also showed surprisingly good depth perspective too.
Downsides? Well, it was never going to shift that much air considering its compact cabinet dimensions and standard-sized mid/bass unit. This Monitor Audio puts up a valiant job handling high listening levels, but still cannot match a floorstander for going really loud in an even, uncompressed way. It’s perhaps a slightly churlish point, but this speaker fools you into thinking it can do almost everything – because at anything other than seriously high listening levels, it barely puts a foot wrong.
Monitor Audio’s new Gold 100 standmounter is history repeating itself, déjà vu all over again. The company is simply continuing its successful formula of making superbly finished small speakers that are refined beyond their price point. As such, this new model is a complete success, as it equals or betters several rivals costing well over $3,500. Recommended then, because what’s not to like?
For more information, visit Monitor Audio.
David started his career in 1993 writing for Hi-Fi World and went on to edit the magazine for nearly a decade. He was then made Editor of Hi-Fi Choice and continued to freelance for it and Hi-Fi News until becoming StereoNET’s Editor-in-Chief.