REVIEW: MONITOR AUDIO BRONZE 6 LOUDSPEAKERS
Just what can you expect from Monitor Audio's Bronze 6 loudspeakers for just $1599 pair? Read on and discover why Peter Familari suggests the Bronze 6 is a candidate for StereoNET's 'Best In Class' award for 2017.
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Floor Standing Loudspeakers
After months of reviewing expensive speakers, the arrival of Monitor Audio’s entry-level Bronze 6 floor-standers priced at $1599 provided a pleasant reality check.
Pleasant thanks to the 6’s generous tonal quality and even-handed frequency response, and a delightful sonic nature that makes them an enjoyable experience with a wide variety of music.
This is admittedly a big accolade for what’s essentially a budget priced floorstander from an established and well credentialed company the calibre of Monitor Audio. But one any curious reader can easily and quickly suss out at a local specialist.
You can buy cheaper, of course. But you won’t get the poise and the musical magic the 6’s deliver on tap, and in spades.
This isn’t by all means just my solitary opinion. Speaking to several Monitor Audio stockists simply confirms that a conga line of happy buyers shares what I enjoy about these unobtrusive speakers.
The stores say that once auditioned, consumers generally snap up the Bronze 6s making them an easy and rewarding sale.
Easy thanks to the 6’s tonal quality and even-handed music making already alluded to, and rewarding in the satisfaction a sales consultant feels whenever a buyer takes a great sounding, value-for money audio product home for keeps.
Having managed two specialist hi-fi stores (George Hawthorn Hi-Fi and East Coast Audio) and after working in a total of four (Encel Stereo and Northern Electronics) many years hence, I can say products as good and as value laden as the Bronze 6 reinforce what an honest audio salesperson’s mission ought to be.
They’re also a reminder that all things being equal, speakers across the board are better now than they were even ten years ago.
Leaving aside the fact that there are some real worthless bangers out there, today’s generation of speakers are more transparent, more dynamic, have better timing and are finished far better than similarly prices models sold in the past.
The Bronze 6s confirm this theory straight out of the cartons and even without a burn in period, they provide oodles of listening pleasure and caboodles of fun.
The latter is no mean feat given so many more expensive models perform better, but at the expense of requiring some serious equipment matching to dispel any level of anxiety about their sonic potential.
The Bronze 6s, it’s fair to say deliver great sound driven by well chosen mid-fi amplifiers that are deemed to have less than stellar performance compared to the high-end heavy weights that set the amplification benchmark.
Truth is, mid to upper mid-fi components of real worth differ from the top shelf models only by degree. And price. Which is a hoot because the law of diminishing returns ensures the amount of satisfaction the mid-tiered models deliver for many music lovers, is only a bee’s wing removed from those models carrying a blistering price tag, subjectively experienced.
We expect less from inexpensive equipment. So we’re more relaxed about our listening. We have no angst about the last bit of fine detail not emerging from a pair of budget tweeters. Nor do we harbour a longing for the ultimate palpable midrange or the tightest most informative bass. Not when the overall musical presentation is so emotionally satisfying and dare we say it, so much fun.
That’s the beauty of budget and mid-priced components that deliver a swathe of the sonic quantities typically the provenance of the high-end models.
Which is not to say all mid-priced components exhibit the same level of musicality. Stores are packed with rows and rows of bland sounding mid-tier models that are overwhelmingly boring. End of story.
That’s the beauty of the audition process and of course, novices need the help of an experienced consultant to navigate through the dross to find the gold, or in this case, the Bronze.
Point is, most of us don’t have oodles of cash to splash on top-shelf models. What we’re after is a model or combination of models that delivers a hint of what’s on offer from the insanely priced gear.
So when a nicely priced component the calibre of the Bronze 6 delivers a sound quality audibly above what its price point would suggest, surely that’s a cause for celebration.
And that’s the Bronze 6 in the proverbial nutshell. A cleverly designed speaker that manages to bring its best qualities to the fore, whilst keeping its price-constrained foibles fairly well hidden.
This kind of sonic conjuring requires decent levels of drivers, crossover, cabinetry and most vitally, the experience accumulated only after years of canny loudspeaker design and manufacturing.
Monitor Audio has changed hands since the heady days when the colourful Mo Iqbal ran it from its inception in 1972. Iqbal sold the company more than a decade ago. The brand is still British owned but production is done at its own factory in China by a staff of about 350 people.
From the start Monitor Audio employed some of the most talented audio designers. Two were Martin Colloms engineer and reviewer, and the other was Robin Marshall of Epos Loudspeaker fame.
The collective expertise gained over the decades is still very much extant at Monitor Audio. And this shows in the overall design of the Bronze 6.
The Bronze 6 is a two and a half way model using dual C-CAM 6.5-inch woofers, one C-CAM 6.5 inch mid-bass driver and one 25 mm gold dome C-CAM tweeter per speaker.
Sensitivity is 90 dB, nominal impedance is 8 ohm and the frequency response is stated as 34 Hz to 30 kHz. Power handling is 150 watts and the Bronze 6 is 1033 mm high, 235 mm deep and 350 mm deep measured with grill, terminals, plinths and spikes.
As night follows day, speaker cones flex and add audible amounts of distortion. Monitor Audio’s solution is to give the Bronze 6 C-CAM drivers with cones made from a material used in the aerospace industry. It’s light and resists bending stresses.
Also novel is the mating of the speaker’s driver and voice coils with a mechanical configuration that is pliable called DCF (Dynamic Coupling Filter). Rivals still use a rigid coupling technique that Monitor Audio says is not as good at dampening any extra energy created by the driver.
The Bronze 6 Gold Dome C-CAM tweeters have metal domes that are aluminium magnesium but anodised and ceramic coated. This makes them thin, light, very rigid and quite efficient.
Ports used are HiVel types designed to increase airflow and minimise turbulence. There are two per speaker.
One of the more interesting innovations employed on the Bronze 6 is a single bolt-through driver fixing system that is an effective driver to baffle decoupling system and one that yields better bracing and overall rigidity. This single bolt-through system is used on all the Bronze 6 drivers.
The bolt runs from the back of the driver and fixes to the inside rear of the speaker cabinet. This is a really clever and efficient method to decouple the driver and increase the bracing of each speaker cabinet. The Bronze 6 cabinets are made from 18mm MDF and each speaker has a vinyl veneer finish.
While the Bronze 6 is an easy sell for stereo systems thanks to its immediate and complete audio performance in the confines of an audio store demo room, stores report it also sells well as a home cinema front channel solution.
The good news here is that the Bronze range also includes a matching centre channel, rear speakers, and a sub-woofer. Either way, you won’t read a negative word about the Bronze 6 in any audio forum.
Trawl the Net and you’ll soon have ample numbers of testaments mainly from enthusiasts, informing you just how satisfying the Bronze 6 really is. These unsolicited reviews are gold.
Professional reviewers are saying much the same thing even if they tend to do it in a convoluted way. The reviews praise the ‘6s lively, entertaining and balanced audio performance. And as with the forum mini reviewers, they’re not slow to point out the Bronze 6 pricing makes this model an outstanding bargain for its $1599 price point.
I still find myself hanging out at Melbourne’s retail stores these days. I first heard a pair while a potential buyer at a Melbourne audio store was auditioning them. The audition took about 45 minutes, but we all knew they were sold five minutes into the demonstration.
Liking what I was hearing, I asked the consultant if the Bronze 6 didn’t sell itself? His reply was that they did. Almost every time they were played, the consumer bought a pair.
Compared to what’s out there at $1599 the Bronze 6 is a bit of a benchmark. Buyers soon work that out and from there it’s a case of smiles all round,
It also helps that he Bronze 6 works with a large range of mid-tier solid state and valve amplifiers. Transistor models by Marantz, Denon, Rotel, Rega and Cambridge are the typical go-to brands. Though a lot more expensive, valve devotees can opt for amps from Prima Luna, Quad and others without totally breaking the bank.
Either way, the minimum power to feed the Bronze 6 is about 65 watts per channel if opting for a transistor amp, and about 35-watts for those with enough taste to choose valves.
Up the ante and head for an 80-120 watt solid-state amplifier or a 75-watt valve amplifier and the Bronze 6 will reach its potential. Either will have you enjoying your music collection a lot more than you thought possible because the Bronze 6 is a low anxiety model with loads of character.
You really can’t ask for much more for $1599. A fact reinforced by long listening sessions using CD, SACD and vinyl as music sources. And yes, streaming was also used via some Sonos gear malingering around our place looking for a reason to be useful.
The Bronze 6 was used in a system comprising a Marantz SA15 SACD player, SME20/2 turntable with SME V tonearm and Garrott P77i cartridge. Amplification was a Conrad Johnson PV10B preamplifier and VS55 valve amplifier. Speaker cables were Inakustik’s dazzling LS1603 and NF803 single ended and balanced interconnects.
The SA15 was second top of the Marantz player range more than a decade ago. I bought it as a preloved mint condition unit from Len Wallis. Tonally a bit dry, but otherwise a sonic revelation thanks to its low distortion, natural tonality and an ability to drill deep, detail wise.
I’d bought the Inakustik LS1603 speaker cable from Len on his recommendation. To say I was smitten by this cable’s lack of colouration is to make a huge understatement. It’s by far the most superior speaker cable I’ve auditioned at its price point of about $3200 for a 3-metre pair.
The Conrad Johnson pre and power combo have the classic valve sound that is smooth, slightly warm and oh so tonally natural. The combination goes a lot louder than its modest 55 watts per channel would suggest. But that’s valve gear for you. And one of the reasons most of us covet it.
With all the connections made it was time to hear the Bronze 6’s strut their stuff with some vinyl.
Whenever I want to hear how deeply (or not), a review component pulls the emotional heartstrings, the late Jesse Winchester is one of my go-to singers.
He wrote Wintery Feeling during his time in exile in Canada as a Vietnam War draft resistor in the 70s. And an apt track given the depth and duration of this year’s Melbourne winter. Winchester grew up in the Southern States of the US and this track has all the exile’s regret and longing for home.
Cheap speakers present the gentle emotional tension of the track in what appears to be a matter-of-fact way, courtesy of their lack of dynamics, transparency, and tonal veracity to say nothing about the lack of detail that’s a hallmark of every cheaply made loudspeaker.
Winchester’s music is a fusion of delicate, understated lyrics delivered by a mellow, all too human voice. So human it’s as if you and Winchester were enjoying a little glass of wine together and enjoying each other’s company.
It demands to be heard on equipment that can communicate its subtleties without drawing attention to itself.
To be fair, it can’t be said the Bronze 6 conjured as intimate a soundstage as my smaller, twice as expensive, ProAc Response 1S delivers. When used in a near field position its speed of delivery and magical, transparent midrange are on full display.
But gosh, the 6’s slight midrange warmth brought the track to life preserving much of its inner detail and moreover delivered the music and performers within and throughout a large soundstage. Much larger than the ProAc’s which had much less height and width, as you’d expect comparing a well-designed large floorstander with a diminutive stand mount speaker.
The imaging via the ProAcs had sharper, more defined outer edges. These were smoothed over by the Bronze 6. Not an unpleasant presentation though, and one that may pay dividends when used with mid-tier solid-state amplifiers that can generate a touch of shrillness that’s clearly audible from the upper midrange and throughout the treble.
But the Bronze 6 sailed through the subtleties of the track and whilst not completely disappearing in my room, were none the less satisfying. Not bad for $1599.
Changing It Up
After replaying the Winchester track I had an inkling that the Bronze 6 matches best with amplifiers that preserve music’s leading edges, and generate copious amounts of treble detail.
So I briefly powered them with my Elektra pre and power amp fed them Rolling Stones’ eponymous track You Can’t Always Get What You Want on vinyl and then on SACD.
A difficult song for most mid-priced systems because they generally have a deal of trouble handling all the music’s disparate strands including a torturous boys’ choir that introduces the first few bars of music.
The Bronze 6 kept most of the tracks elements separate but importantly preserved the unity of the composition. A feat that left me and several other listeners mightily impressed.
Not so worthy was the 6’s rendition of the boys’ choir that starts the track and closes out its end. At the opening of the track the boys’ massed voices had an edge not present via the ProAcs and toward the end of the track these voices were really just a blur on vinyl and not much better via SACD.
But this track highlighted the Elektra gear’s neutrality and overall vice like grip on the Bronze 6 drivers. The Elektra amps also confirmed my theory about the Bronze 6’s slightly rounded upper frequencies requiring amps that preserve music’s leading edges.
On a brighter note, the Bronze 6’s solid soundstage and its prodigious ability to convey the scale of the performance belies the price tag. The Bronze 6 generated a life-sized soundstage with Mick Jagger to the left of the soundstage, and a similarly realistic rhythm guitarist on the left during the opening stanza.
As for the urgency and frenetic pace and timing of You Can’t Get What you want, what can be said is the Bronze 6 boogied by exhibiting a fair degree of responsive speed. As the music swelled and fell away, so did the Bronze 6’s drivers.
Bass wasn’t the tightest or the most informative, but it was fast and had real body.
From the Stones to a Bach and Bocelli CD is all in a day’s work for most hi-fi journalists. But this is where the Bronze 6 showed they are an all-rounder and voiced for most genres of music.
Bocelli’s rendition of Bach’s Ave Maria is so sublime it has the power to defray if not enjoin the most ardent denier to believe in the great architect. Where the Bronze 6 treble was pushed to its outer limit by the boys’ voices during You Can’t Get What You Want, it sounded sweet, smooth and wonderfully detailed during Ave Maria’s ethereal harp introduction.
As Bocelli’s voice soars throughout the opening stanza, the Bronze 6 kept pace with it exhibiting nary a hint of breakup at what was quite a loud listening level. I can’t say the Bronze 6’s imaging and soundstage are so accurate that they put Bocelli in your listening room.
They won’t. But the midrange is almost monumental and tonally enjoyable so what you’ll get is a good approximation of Bocelli and the accompanying musicians and more importantly, most of the grandeur and pathos the track has to offer.
And speaking of grandeur and majesty in music, there are oodles of these qualities presented by Joni Mitchell’s The Sire Of Sorrow, especially on vinyl.
With the track playing, the Bronze 6 immediately picked up the beat of the percussion on the left and right of the soundstage and preserved the solidity of Mitchell’s voice in the centre.
Brass, harp, bass drum and the powerful interjecting male choir counterpointing Mitchell’s distressed lyrics, emerged from the Bronze 6 and into my modest listening room. And here’s the thing, despite this $1599 speaker’s obvious limitations, what is delivered is so emotionally satisfying it leaves you wondering if there’s a more communicative floorstander at the price point.
The answer is, I simply don’t know. But I can tell you I spend loads of time trawling hi-fi stores and I haven’t yet found the Bronze 6’s rival.
A Worthy Contender
As for the flaws noted above, these only became crystal clear when I removed the ProAcs from my room and replaced them with my usual pair of Wilson Audio Series 1 Sophia speakers, powered by the Conrad Johnson valve gear. The Sophia was priced about seven times more than the Bronze 6 when Wilson released them more than a decade ago.
As you would expect the same tracks played via the Sophia were more refined, had scads more detail and transparency than the Bronze 6 could muster. The soundstage had a solidity and size not matched by Monitor audio.
The Sophias had superior imaging with performers occupying clearly defined positions in a cavernously sized soundstage. And lower frequencies that were a bit soft and mellow via the Bronze 6 emerged from the Sophia tautly and with immense speed.
The Sophia and other speakers of this calibre are thin on the ground at anything less than $16,000 in today’s market so its worth keeping in focus what the Bronze 6 delivers at the modest price of just $1599.
This amount of money buys an eminently satisfying loudspeaker that has a huge midrange presence, plenty of feet tapping pace and a tonal quality that’s believable and what’s more, totally enjoyable.
Whilst the Bronze 6 simply doesn’t have reference class transparency, imaging, soundstaging, detail or tonal neutrality it has enough of these audiophile qualities to keep you listening long into the night.
With a dynamic response way above what the price indicates, and an innate ability to communicate the core of the music’s message, what you have is a loudspeaker that has to be considered a red-hot bargain.
So much so, until I hear a similarly priced speaker better the Bronze 6, I feel compelled to suggest this model is the leading candidate for StereoNET’s ‘Best in Class’ award for 2017.
For more information visit the Monitor Audio brand page.
One of the veterans of the Australian HiFi industry, Peter was formerly the Audio-Video Editor of the Herald Sun for over two decades. One of the most-respected audio journalists in Australia, Peter brings his unparalleled experience and a unique story-telling ability to StereoNET.