Monitor Audio Bronze 5.1 Speaker Package Review
Sometimes Bronze means the top spot
What is the Bronze Series?Recent AV Forums podcasts have featured a lively debate over the prospects for 4K Blu-ray. One of the more persuasive arguments has been that while streaming services and satellite and cable providers have been making strong progress at delivering 4K video, the soundtracks for streaming material still lag behind that for optical disc. There's something to be said for this, a good Blu-ray soundtrack - even without height information - is exceptionally good and has the potential to sound smoother, richer and more refined than the more compressed offerings that streaming services currently use.
Of course, at the same time, true home cinema speaker packages are not as numerous as they once were. While we review a number of speaker packages on AVForums, the overwhelming majority over the last few years have comprised a stereo pair of speakers for the front and another stereo pair at the rear tied together with a centre speaker. This can work extremely well but for really effective rear channels, dedicated diffused surrounds are what you need. Sadly, these are increasingly uncommon. As the sales of full size AV speaker packs have declined, many companies have ceased to make speakers of this type.
That means that what you see here is something to celebrate. Monitor Audio has been producing the Bronze line of speakers for many years now and the latest version has now broken cover. The range is extensive and as well as a dedicated centre speaker and subwoofer it includes a specialised surround speaker. This makes it a rare beast in 2015 but can it do enough to justify a higher asking price than some outstanding packages we've seen recently?
Design and SpecsThe Bronze range is the entry level full size offering from Monitor Audio and this is now the fourth version of the range. The seven strong range comprises two standmounts, two floorstanders, centre, sub and effects speaker. All of them are built around evolved drivers that have been around in a fundamental form since the first version of the Bronze range. The midbass unit is a new version of Monitor Audio's long running C-CAM (Ceramic-Coated Aluminium/Magnesium) technology. This generation is now a completely smooth steel dish with no dust cap or other breaks to the lines. This has been achieved by thermally coupling the voice coil and magnet to the dish and is intended to increase the strength of the driver and improve the uniformity of its behaviour. This is used in 5.5 and 6.5 inch versions and both see use in this package.
The mid bass is partnered with a 25mm gold dome tweeter used in all members of the range. This offers an extended frequency response to 30kHz which initially sounds more than a little pointless but needs to be taken in two different ways. Firstly in the same way that as car capable of 150mph generally offers higher levels of refinement and control at 70mph than a car capable of 90mph, this should mean that the tweeter is more refined and happier generating audible high frequencies. There is also an argument that these super high frequencies have an effect on the perception of more audible ones but this is a little harder to quantify.
Other areas of technology include the use of the company's HiVe bass port that is designed to allow for faster movement of air through the cabinet with less audible noise and cleaned up cabinet that is almost entirely free of visible fittings and fasteners and looks impressively smart as a result. The latest range might be seen to be evolutionary rather than revolutionary but as the Bronze series has been successful and strong selling across the various iterations, there will be little incentive on the part of Monitor Audio to mess about with it.
All the speakers are available in their respective pairs or as single units depending on their function so you can assemble any combination you like as a surround set. Monitor Audio offered the choice between a set incorporating a floorstanding front or one that used the Bronze 2 standmount for the front. I chose the latter as the £1,220 price of this pack was closer to that of some recently reviewed packages and the use of a standmount front places greater demands on the subwoofer which is handy for reviewing.
This means that the package here comprises the Bronze 2 standmount, Bronze Centre and Bronze FX surround speaker underpinned by the Bronze W10 subwoofer. The Bronze 2 uses the larger 6.5in version of the C-CAM driver while the Centre and FX use a 5.5 inch one. Only the Bronze 2 makes use of a bass port. The other speakers are sealed which means that they are entirely unfussy about their positioning. In fact, the whole set including the Bronze 2 and the W10 subwoofer are not especially fazed by their positioning. The trick port on the Bronze 2 genuinely does seem to reduce noise and the sense of air movement. The W10 is sealed but seems benign even allowing for this.
The speaker that sets the pack apart from the bulk of its rivals though is the FX. This is a two and a half way design with a single 5.5inch mid-bass driver at the front of the speaker and a pair of the tweeters set on the diagonal sides of the cabinet. These tweeters can either work in phase as a dipole or out of phase as a bipole and are adjusted between the two states via a switch on the back. Monitor Audio supplies a template to help you get the FX on to a wall which is the best place for them as they look somewhat ungainly on stands. In a purist sense, a true bipole/dipole would have two 5.5 inch drivers as well as two tweeters but the FX should be able to generate a wider spread of effects than a conventional standmount rear and wallmounts a great deal more easily while it does so.
The W10 finishes off the set. This is a sealed 200W active design that mates a forward-firing powered woofer - in this case a 10 inch version of the C-CAM driver - with a passive radiator. This is common enough in subwoofer design but Monitor Audio has been clever enough to put the radiator on the underside of the cabinet that ensures that the W10 only needs one side given much in the way of space rather than two that would be the case if the radiator was on a horizontal surface. The W10 is DSP controlled but this refers only to the crossover and phase settings being adjusted in the digital domain and not to their being any form of EQ present on the sub.
As a package though, the Monitor Audio comes across well. All of the Bronze ranges have been fairly good looking speakers but the effort that Monitor Audio has put into these current cabinets coupled with this being the first time I have seen them in the walnut vinyl finish makes for a handsome looking speakers. Design touches we increasingly expect at the price like magnetic trim tabs and the absence of visible 'ends' to the wrap have been achieved and the result is a handsome and well thought out package of speakers. Where I think that Monitor Audio has been very clever is that the overall aesthetics look like the Bronze range was 'finished' before the temptation to over-style or add unnecessary flourishes took over. As a final welcome bonus, the packaging the speakers are supplied in is excellent and easy to extract the speakers from.
The result is a handsome and well thought out package of speakers
Any downsides to the Bronze Series?Against this positivity, there isn't much to criticise. The Bronze 2 finds itself fractionally more expensive than rivals from Acoustic Energy, Tannoy and Q Acoustics but the finish probably does enough to justify the extra money. Against some more compact rivals, the Bronze series can be viewed as slightly large but not unduly so and this extra size seems to help the sensitivity which is benign across the range. There is also no true light wood finish this time with a choice of dark walnut and slightly less dark 'Rosemah.' I'm not really a fan of light finishes but many people are and this time around there isn't one available. The sub also does without a remote control which is now something being supplied by some rivals.
How did we test them?The Bronze pack was attached to a Yamaha RX-A3040, Cambridge Audio 752BD, Sky HD box and Panasonic GT60 Plasma all connected to an IsoTek Evo Aquarius Mains filter. An Amazon Fire TV Stick also saw some use. Both the Bronze 2 and the FX speakers were placed on Soundstyle Z60 stands. Material used included Blu-ray, broadcast and on-demand TV, lossless and high-res FLAC and Spotify.
Monitor Audio Bronze - Performance with Film and TVThe review speakers arrived looking absolutely brand new but it seems that the good folks at Monitor Audio were able to run them in and repack them to this standard. As a precaution, I left them ticking over handling normal TV duties for a few days before making any serious judgement. To their credit, the overall presentation changed very little in that time but it is possible that a completely new set might be different.
Returning to my default test disc Unstoppable, the Bronze pack puts in a strong showing from the off. Success with this disc means combining decent bass weight and integration with the ability to handled the layers of sound - on screen, score and newsfeed in an intelligible and cohesive way. The Bronze goes about this in a wholly satisfying way. The fine detail retrieval is excellent and the pack has no trouble layering the information up in the way that was intended.
Underpinning this is a confident and authoritative bass performance. The W10 deals with the sustained low frequency effects extremely well and there is the same impressive detail retrieval to the bass channel that there is to the higher frequencies. The W10 manages to produce meaningful weight with the movement of locomotives as it does with crunching impacts and explosions. There is no sense of bloat or boom and the W10 manages to do the all important job of any sub and load a room with a believable sense of pressure.
At the back, the FX does a fine job of simply generating a greater sense of a rear soundfield. The effect is rather clever - at no time does the FX draw attention to itself but simply returning to the permanently in-situ Elipson Planet M's has the effect of shrinking and beaming the rear channel information straight at you rather than creating a space with the effects in it. It never sounds forced or unnatural, it just works. I generally sided with using them in dipole mode but this will largely come down to personal preference.
Most importantly, the speakers integrate extremely well. There is seamless integration across the front three speakers and thanks to the FX rears throwing a portion of their information forward, the front to back cohesion is extremely good too. With the final drum sequence of Whiplash, the performance and the sense of the space that it is in is perfectly handled. It also allows the Monitor Audios to demonstrate their serious transient speed across the frequency range that keeps everything together.
The more you listen, the more it becomes clear that the Bronze Centre is a bit of a star. It never draws attention to itself but effortlessly fills the space between the left and right channels and does an especially fine job with dialogue. Everything stays clear and easy to understand and it serves to lock information to the screen extremely well.
None of these traits really change when you switch to broadcast TV. The same excellent integration and clarity remain intact. The Monitor Audios do a fine job of being as effective with serious on-screen action as they do with more refined material and the good news is that the FX is as effective with stereo material encoded to Pro-Logic II as it is with dedicated rear channels of information.
Complaints by contrast are fairly limited. While sensitive, the Monitor Audios are happiest at medium to high listening levels and can sound a little recessed run at lower volumes. The W10 subwoofer is a fine example of the breed judged against rival speaker manufacturer products, it also has to be judged against the phenomenal and £130 cheaper BK P12-300SB. This does an equally fine job of working with the Bronze speakers and manages to go a little lower and hit a little harder while it does so. While I appreciate the aesthetic benefits of going 'all in' with a manufacturer, it is possible to achieve a little more low end shove with the BK and have £130 to spend on something else.
Monitor Audio Bronze - Performance with MusicThe Bronze range has generally been seen as a safe pair of hands for two-channel audio since the original range broke cover and this latest version is no exception. The same detail, speed and cohesion that sees the Bronze package deliver the goods with multichannel is present when the Bronze 2 is run as a stereo pair. With a claimed low end extension to 42Hz (which seems slightly ambitious but by not as much as you might expect), the Bronze 2 is able to work without subwoofer assistance and it works brilliantly.
This means that with the sumptuously recorded and pleasingly groovy Shockwave Supernova by Joe Satriani, the Monitor Audio is in its element. There is plenty of power, effortless drive and smoothness to the performance and consistently believable tonality. With more vocal driven material, the Bronze 2 shows a realism and refinement that has sometimes eluded older members of the Bronze range and there is a sense that this is one of the most competent and assured speakers that Monitor Audio has turned out at this price point.
A final welcome addition to this strong performance is that the W10 sub puts in a strong showing if you want to augment the already perfectly reasonable low end of the Bronze 2. With the Yamaha handling bass management, the W10 simply and unobtrusively adds another octave to the performance and does a commendable job of keeping pace with the Bronze 2. If you are looking for an all-rounder, the Monitor Audio does a more than reasonable job.
The Bronze package puts in a strong showing from the off
- Excellent sound in multichannel and stereo
- Impressive build
- Room friendly appearance
- Sub faces strong competition
- A little soft at low levels
- No light wood finish
Monitor Audio Bronze 5.1 Speaker Package ReviewAs one of the diminishing number of brands still producing genuine home cinema package of speakers, I had hoped that the Bronze Series would turn in a respectable performance but in reality it does more that. Monitor Audio has managed to create a set of speakers that delivers a convincing cinematic performance that is a cut above the competition at the price. If you want speakers to deliver real excitement and a sense of the action on screen and your budget is £1,200-1,500, this is the one. As a bonus, you will also be buying some of the best built, most attractive and musically satisfying speakers at the price point. Monitor Audio has delivered a gold medal performance with the latest Bronze speakers.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £1,220.00
Value For Money9
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