HOME THEATER & SOUND -- www.hometheatersound.com



January
2001

Reviewed by
Doug Schneider
REVIEWERS' CHOICE 2001




Monitor Audio
Silver Series
Full Metal
Theater

Features SnapShot!

Description

Model: Silver 9i speakers
Price: $1999 USD per pair
Dimensions: 39"H x 7.5"W x 10.5"D
Weight: 52 pounds each

Model: Silver Center 12i center-channel speaker
Price: $799 USD
Dimensions: 8"H x 22"W x 8"D
Weight: 25 pounds

Model: Silver FXi surround speakers
Price: $899 USD per pair
Dimensions: 9.5"H x 10"W x 6"D
Weight: 16 pounds each 


Description (continued)

Model: ASW 210 subwoofer
Price: $999 USD
Dimensions: 20"H x 14"W x 14"D
Weight: 55 pounds

Warranty: Five years parts and labor

Features

  • Ceramic Coated Aluminum Magnesium (C-CAM) drivers
  • Real-wood veneers (mains and center)
  • Magnetically shielded (mains and center)
  • 1" gold-dome tweeter (mains, center, surround)
  • Bi-wireable (mains, center, surround)
  • 200W built-in amplifier (ASW 210)

The considerations in buying and setting up a home-theater system are vast and confusing. How big should the speakers be? How much output do I need? How big of a room should I have? Where should I place the subwoofer? Does my amplifier have enough power? The list goes on and on. However, the biggest consideration for hard-core music and film aficionados is: Do I need two systems?

Music and video

Although most speaker designers will tell you that a good speaker will serve equally well for music or home-theater playback, more often than not I’ve personally heard loudspeaker systems that work better for one or the other. And too often I’ve heard friends who are disappointed with their home-theater purchases say, "I bought this expensive home-theater system, but my CDs don’t sound that good on it." As a result, people either live with the compromise or, as many enthusiasts do, are forced to set up two systems, each optimized for music or home theater. I actually do that in my own home -- I have the music room and then the video room (which is also the living room).

But Monitor Audio’s Silver Series proves that music and movies aren't mutually exclusive. In fact, these speakers have turned my video/living room into my music-listening room for the past few months. The Silver Series Full Metal Theater is quite simply the best surround system I’ve had in my house because it serves music and video equally well.

Description

The heart of the Silver Series is in what Monitor Audio calls their C-CAM drivers. This stands for "Ceramic Coated Aluminum Magnesium." It’s not new. In their literature Monitor Audio says they introduced it some 15 years ago in other speaker models, but it is new to the company's home-theater lineup of speakers. They claim many advantages to this driver technology -- notably, low distortion. The woofers look rather sharp with a whitish-silver appearance.

There are numerous speakers in the Silver Series lineup, all seemingly built upon the same design principles and technology but with different sizes and numbers of woofer drivers. The woofer diameter depends on the speaker model and they range from 5.5" to 6.5" in diameter (the subs have bigger drivers, mind you). All speakers in this series also use a 1" C-CAM gold-dome tweeter and are biwireable.

Monitor Audio sent me the biggest of the bunch: Silver 9i speakers for mains (with dual 6.5" woofers, priced at $1999 per pair), a Silver Center 12i (again with dual 6.5" woofers, $799), Silver FXi surrounds (5.5" woofers, $899 per pair), and then an ASW 210 powered sub (with two 10" drivers, $999 each). The system, as configured above, is priced at $4696 and is most suitable for medium- to large-sized rooms since it has serious output capability. If your wallet is tighter or your room is smaller, you can look at the Silver 3i, 4i, 5i or 7i for main speakers, a Silver Center 10i, and an ASW 110 sub. What’s nice about this lineup of speakers is that although some models are lower in price, they appear to all have the same level of build quality. As you go up in price, what you pay for is increased output and bass capabilities. And since these speakers are designed similarly, mixing and matching a system is a snap.

The main and center speakers come in black oak, rose mahogany, and natural cherry finishes. These are real-wood veneers, and the speakers come finished on the front, top and sides. The back is finished nicely, but painted black. The bottom is actually a screw-on black MDF panel that finishes off the speakers nicely. Monitor Audio sent my review set in natural cherry, and I was very impressed by the fit, finish and appearance. They’re elegant speakers, and the main speaker’s tall and narrow appearance compliment a room nicely. Like almost all center-channel speakers, the Silver Center 12i rests on its side on top of your TV. With or without the grilles, the speakers get high marks for aesthetics.

The surround speakers are a dipole or bipole design, depending on how you wire them at the terminals, finished in what Monitor calls "black silk." Essentially this is a handsome matte-black finish that allows the surround speakers to "disappear" to the back sides.

The odd-man out is the ASW 210 sub. Unlike the other speakers, it is finished in a fake-wood, vinyl veneer. Quality is good, but it simply doesn’t have the elegance of appearance that the other speakers have. This doesn’t detract from its performance, mind you, and you can easily cross it over low and tuck it to the side. It boasts two 10" woofers, one front and the other on the bottom, with a 200W internal amp. Monitor Audio says the ASW 210 is rated down to 25Hz and will output 115dB! Suffice it to say that it is far more than sufficient in terms of its output capabilities for my mid-sized room.

Sound

My first encounter hearing the Silver Series came at HI-FI ’99 in Chicago. Overall, I found the sound exquisitely detailed, full range, but a bit bright and brash-sounding in that setup. After living with this system for some time I would suspect that at that venue Monitor Audio was pushing the speakers beyond their limits because this system is anything but bright and brash. The top end is smooth, sweet and as wonderfully extended as that of any high-quality speaker I’ve heard. The rest of the frequency range has that character too.

For me, the key to the outstanding quality of this system lies in the sound quality of the front speakers. When I first connected the system, I listened to two-channel music. From the start, the startling clarity and detail that the Silver 9i produces blew me away. Forget the fact that Monitor Audio puts these in what they term their "theater" system. In its price range it is as good a music speaker as I’ve heard. As a result, in the months that followed, I listened to plenty of music on this system.

The midrange sound of the 9i is neutral and exceedingly clean. There is a level of purity and transparency that is almost uncanny. The speakers don’t seem to "bump up" anything for a perceived increase in presence, nor do they "recess" anywhere to make them sound polite. From the bass to the pristine highs they are even and balanced. Male voice is never bloated or chesty. Sibilance, which usually shows up on female vocals, is non-existent. Instruments like the sax show outstanding texture, but are never harsh or raspy. The speaker can show extreme detail, but at the same time does not exhibit any type of excessive high-frequency bite or tizziness. It’s possible that people who enjoy a very warm or voluminous sound, perhaps accompanied by an extreme richness in the midrange, may find the 9i a little lean. But I find its balance spot-on and exceedingly neutral.

With excellent dynamic prowess, the speakers were suitable for anything from folk to jazz to rock. Bass is tight and well-controlled (Monitor Audio rates them down 3dB at 30Hz), and I never really found myself yearning to use the sub for music. Bass freaks might disagree with me, but I suggest trying it out with this or another system, just to see how it sounds. Marc Mickelson told me that he listened to Thiel’s MCS1 surround system without a subwoofer and was more than impressed with what it could do, despite the fact that it wasn’t hitting the lowest of the low. Bass, if uncontrolled, can muck up the sound in a room, so experimentation to achieve what sounds best, not necessarily what goes lowest, is important.

In stereo, the ability to cast a huge and precise soundstage is excellent. I recently purchased Enya’s A Day Without Rain [Warner Brothers 47426]. Like all of Enya’s work, there is a huge sense of space and excellent portrayal of depth. Even with the speaker set up some 9" apart and no center channel enabled, the stage is enormous and precise with excellent center fill. Depth and resolution of space are top-notch, on par with some of the best I’ve heard in my room, a collection that includes the likes of Waveform’s Mach MC, Mirage’s MRM-1, and the wee but mighty NSM Model 5. Is this all due to the C-CAM drivers? It could well be, but frankly I don’t know. Like any good speaker it’s probably a result of materials, technology and good engineering.

The speaker I find this one most comparable to is Revel’s high-tech Performa M20, an excellent bookshelf-sized speaker that just arrived for review. Priced roughly the same, these speakers share some strong similarities. The 9i goes deeper in the bass than the Revel, but the Revel also has some tricks up its sleeve that differentiate it too. What’s key about both these designs, though, is how their exceptionally neutral response allows them to swing through music and movies. From their pristine midranges to the highly extended top end, there is no exaggeration apparent anywhere -- they are wholly natural. As well, unlike some speakers that bloat the bass to give a warmer, more fleshed-out sound, these two are rock-solid, and that’s why I suspect they work so well for music too.

What’s heard in two-channel listening translates precisely when listening to surround. All the speakers have the identical tonality of the Silver 9i. As a result, movie soundtracks are incredibly precise, wonderfully detailed, and thoroughly enveloping. Dialogue has extremely good detail through the Silver Center 12i, and with the high level of detail the surround effects become all the more apparent and realistic. When movie tracks rely heavily on music, Magnolia and Boogie Nights for example, the Silver Series sounds stunning.

Some soundtracks are mixed with an exceedingly sharp or brash top end. While the Silver Series certainly won’t tame that down if it's in the recording, the fact that the upper registers are rendered without any extra bite or sizzle of their own means that any of these problems in the recording won’t be exaggerated. I watched movies, listened intently, and came away with nary a criticism. As a system, it works splendidly and will easily satisfy even the most discriminating audiophile tastes.

I’ve heard some systems offer this level of detail and finesse, but at the expense of all-out power and attack. This system is not one of them. The Silver Series has high output capabilities and can really slam it home when need be. High volumes and low-end frequency extension are achieved without a hint of strain (except, perhaps, the personal strain of relationships with your neighbors who may not appreciate your system’s ability to play so loudly). Like I mentioned, the ASW 210 is way more than me or my room can handle and much of the time, with the excellent bass extension that the 9is are capable of, I never really need to subwoof. That’s right, much of the time, even when watching movies, I just let the 9i speakers do their thing and that was wholly sufficient to me. However, admittedly there are some who are hungrier for bass and will want to exploit the bottom end as much as possible. Whatever your flavor for listening, one thing I cannot criticize is the cohesiveness Silver Series has as a whole. This is truly a loudspeaker system.

Conclusion

I give nothing but the highest marks to Monitor Audio’s Silver Series. The system I reviewed is suitable for a medium- to large-sized rooms. The only caveat is that the system could overload a room that's too small. If this applies to you, you should definitely look into the smaller speakers in this series since it’s important to match the speakers to the room itself. For my own room (which measures about 14' by 18') even though these speakers worked fine, I would even consider scaling down to the Silver 7i main speakers, the Silver Center 10i, and the ASW 110 since I didn’t come close to taxing its overall output capability. Why not save some money? Then again, at under $5000, you may not care to save more because what’s included here represents tremendous value.

Whether it’s the build, sound, or appearance there is little to criticize and plenty to praise. In the end, though, what I can’t stress too much, and it’s really the crux of why I am so enthusiastic about this system, is its ability to play music and movies. Whether I am watching Planet of the Apes or listening to the latest from Sade, I never felt myself lacking in the least. Time and time again I was impressed by the quality with which this speaker system serves both. If you’re in the market for a first-rate music and film system at what is, in my estimation, a very reasonable price given its level of performance, the Silver Series Full Metal Theater gets nothing but an enthusiastic recommendation.

Review System
Amplifier - Simadio HT-5 multichannel amplifier
Processor - Nakamich AV-10 (only used as a processor)
Source - Kenwood DVS700 DVD player, Redgum RGCD5 CD player
Cables - DH Labs, Nordost, Blue Circle Audio
Monitor - Sony Trinitron direct-view
 

Manufacturer contact information:

Monitor Audio USA
902 McKay Road, #4
Pickering, ON L1W 3X8
Phone: (905) 428-2800
Fax: (905) 428-0004

E-mail: goldinfo@monitoraudio.com
Website: www.monitoraudio.com

 


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