The British loudspeaker maker Monitor Audio has been a leading proponent of using drivers that features light, stiff, and highly responsive metal diaphragms. In fact, one could argue that high tech metal drivers are as much Monitor's design signature as, say, horn-loaded drivers might be for a firm such as Klipsch. But an equally strong element in Monitor's corporate identity is a laudable commitment to value—a commitment that translates directly into product lines that consistently offer disproportionately large helpings of high-end technology at sensible prices. Nowhere is this commitment more obvious than in the firm's new "entry level" Bronze BX-series speakers, which were announced as the CEDIA 2010 show last fall. I put the term "entry level" in quotes here simply because the new Bronze BX models frankly do not look or sound like "entry level" products at all, but rather seem to be cut from finer cloth (which is precisely the impression Monitor Audio hopes the speakers will create).
How exactly does Monitor Audio pull this off? Well, part of the answer lies in the firm’s practice of using its own mid- and high-priced speaker lines as the performance targets for which its newly revised lower-priced models can aim. There is, at Monitor Audio, historical precedent for this sort of thing. Two great examples would be the firm’s Silver RX range, w- current Gold GS-series models, and also the new Gold GX-models, which quite obviously draw design influences from the firm’s top-tier Platinum speakers. Now, we come to the new Bronze BX models, which take more than a few design cues from the critically acclaimed Silver RX series.
I once spoke with the head of Monitor’s engineering team, Technical Director Dean Hartley, about whether it ever became problematic to update lower-priced ranges of speakers such that they became competitive with the firm’s existing mid- or high-priced models. I don’t recall Hartley’s precise words, but I found his answer refreshingly candid, in that he told me he believed designers had a moral and ethical responsibility to design the very best products they possibly could at any given point in time, subject only to the constraints of intended build cost and the available design know-how, and to let the chips fall where they might. To do anything less, Hartley argued, would simply be wrong. “Besides,” I remember him adding with a grin, “if you build great low-priced products that simply means you get a chance to reach that much higher and push yourselves that much harder when you go to revise the next product range up the line.” My thought: when designers (and companies) challenge themselves in this way, we all win.
The Perfect Vision’s Monitor Audio Bronze BX review system consists of two Bronze BX5 2 ½-way, three-driver floorstanders ($749/pair), a Bronze BX-Centre 2 ½-way, three-driver center channel speaker ($299), two Bronze BX-FX 2-way, three-driver, bipolar/dipolar surround speakers ($489/pair), and a Bronze BXW-10 200-watt subwoofer ($629).
At this stage, Monitor’s Silver RX speakers have raised the mid-priced performance bar sufficiently high that it probably is not realistic to expect the much lower-priced Bronze BX models to equal their more expensive siblings and they don’t, though the Bronze BX models do narrow the performance gap considerably. In fact, as you’ll learn in this review, the new Bronze models now manage to channel much of the sonic goodness of the Silver-series speakers, but at a pennies-on-the-dollar price. And as you can see from the “FEATURES” section below, a great deal of Silver RX technology trickle-down has found its way into the Bronze BX range.
Bronze BX speaker system technical highlights:
- All models share 1-inch C-CAM (ceramic-coated aluminum/magnesium) gold metal dome tweeters that are similar to the tweeters used in Monitor’s more costly Silver RX-series speaker.
- All models share 5.5-inch aluminum/magnesium C-CAM bass or mid-bass drivers.
- All Bronze BX drivers were refined using semi-proprietary Monitor Audio FEA (finite element analysis) design tools—tools that took a big step forward with the advent of the Silver RX series speakers, leading to a big jump forward in the overall sound quality of Monitor’s products.
- The BX5 floorstander features “a series of internal chambers providing the optimum operating environment for each driver and lending further rigidity to the cabinet.”
- The Bronze BX5 floorstanders are designed to be able to produce ample bass output in moderately large rooms, which means their low-end output might actually be excessive for use in smaller spaces. Recognizing this, however, Monitor supplies the speaker with foam rubber port “bungs” or stoppers that can be used to reduce low-end output to help make the speaker a better fit for small and mid-size listening space. (We used these port “bungs” in The Perfect Vision listening room, and found that they worked beautifully.).
- Ported models feature the turbulence-reducing HiVe II port system, said to “speed the transit of air from the cabinet, resulting in more dynamic bass.”
- Borrowing a construction detail from the Silver RX range, Bronze BX drivers are fastened in place by beefy tension rods that pass all the way through to the back sides of the speaker cabinets to reduce unwanted cabinet vibrations and to contribute to a more rigid structure overall.
- Floorstanding models feature strong and handsome floor plinths that come with easy-to-use floor spike hardware that makes the speakers a joy to install.
- The Bronze BX-FX surround speaker can be wall-mounted and features switch selectable bipolar/dipolar modes of operation.
- Bronze BX models are offered in a variety of matte/satin-textured, wood grained vinyl finishes that, quite impressively, manage to look uncannily like real wood veneers (you have to scan the panel surfaces pretty carefully before realizing they’re not made of wood).
Bronze BXW-10 technical highlights:
- Features a 10-inch C-CAM subwoofer driver with long throw voice coil.
- 1-inch (25mm) thick cabinet walls with heavy internal bracing.
- 200-watt Class D amplifier.
The Bronze BX speakers are, in a sense, difficult to characterize, in that they are defined partly by the good things they do, but also by the not-so-good things they refrain from doing. Another way of stating this would be to say that this low-priced system reaches quite high up the high-end sonic performance scale, and where it falls short of what the best mid-priced speakers can do, it does so in a graceful way. So, let’s first consider the speakers’ strengths.
First, let me mention that the Bronze BX models offer an unusual degree of overall refinement and—especially—sonic coherency for their price. By “refinement” I mean to say the speakers offer a very well-balanced combination of detail, textural acuity, and transient speed, with no one performance attribute pressing forward to the detriment of the others. The key, here, is balance. By “coherency” I mean that the Bronze’s offer very, very good integration between their mid-bass drivers and tweeters, so that you have the sense that the fundamentals and harmonics of individual notes always remain “in sync”—a quality that I’ve rarely heard so well executed in speakers in this price range.
Perhaps as a direct result of the aforementioned refinement and coherency, the imaging characteristics of the Bronze models are astonishingly good. There is really no sense of the sound “clinging to the speaker cabinets,” as is so often the case with speakers in this price range. Instead, the sound easily breaks free from the speaker boxes to create believable soundstages that wrap smoothly behind and between the speakers to create large, 3D soundscapes. In this specific respect, the Bronzes do as well or better than many mid-priced speaker systems do.
Voicing for the Bronze models is generally neutral—particularly so from the middle of the midrange on up, but with just the slightest tilt toward the warmer side of strict neutrality. This design choice makes perfect sense to me in light of the fact that Bronze model speakers will likely be used with lower-priced electronics that may have a somewhat colder or brighter-sounding sonic presentation overall.
One point I want to emphasize is that, in the Bronze BX range as well as in the Silver RX range that preceded it, Monitor Audio has taken huge steps forward in overall performance, relative to the sound of its products from, say, five or six years ago. If you know some of those earlier model ranges, you might have found—as I did—that their sound was promising yet not quite right, in particular because of subtle midrange-to-treble range discontinuities and occasional hints of treble edginess (problems some listeners blamed on Monitor’s metal drivers). Well, those problems have been thoroughly banished in both the Bronze BX and Silver RX models, leaving us to enjoy the speed and textural agility of the metal drivers, while also savoring a newfound degree of smoothness and overall balance.
Dynamic capabilities of the Bronze BX system are very good, especially in light of the system’s modest size and price. While these speakers perhaps won’t be the ticket for those who like music or movie reproduction at head-banger volume levels, they will fill even fairly large space with ample output and can handle (most) over-the-top action film sound effects without becoming flustered. If your standards are the overwrought output levels encountered in most theaters, then no, the Bronzes won’t play quite that loudly, but if you ask if they will play as loudly as (or even more loudly than) most homeowners would ever want them to the answer is an emphatic yes.
What don’t the Bronze BX models do? Well, relative to their own more costly Silver RX siblings, I would say that they sound just slightly less extended up high in the treble range (though this is a very subtle difference) and also a touch less sharply or finely focused overall (though once again, there is an unmistakable family resemblance between the two product lines). Similarly, the bass of the Bronze floorstanders is not as deeply extended or quite as tightly controlled as that of their Silver RX counterparts. Finally, the speed and acuity of the Bronze BX C-CAM mid-bass drivers, though excellent in its own right, is not quite the equal of the even better speed and agility of the Silver RX models’ RST mid-bass drivers. But to put these comments in perspective, let me add that in a broader sense, the Bronze BX models sound more like the Silver RX range than not, and for only a fraction of the price, meaning that the Bronze BX offers superb sonic value for money. Remember, too, that differences between the Bronze and Silver models are A) subtle, and B) beautifully balanced and judged, so that the effect when listening to the Bronzes is that of hearing imaginary “Silver Juniors” at play.
As is so often the case in evaluating surround sound speaker systems, the true cinematic worth of the Bronze BX system becomes most apparent in scenes whose soundtracks deliberately contrast small, detailed, and highly realistic sounds (often including delicate moments of dialog) with much more dramatic, large scale sound effects or swells in the musical score. Some systems are good at one end of the spectrum or the others, but the most desirable systems can handle both with equal aplomb, which is certainly the case with the Bronze BX package. Let me provide a good example drawn from the film Batman Begins.
An intriguing and quietly dramatic scene unfolds early in the film as League of Shadows member Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson) stages a softly spoken yet intense confrontation with Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) in the midst of a swordsmanship lesson being conducted upon the surface of a frozen pond. In between sword strokes, where the Bronze BX system faithfully reproduces the whistling sound of blades slicing through the air, and the penetrating, gong-like “clang” of blade striking blade, Ducard softly but somberly informs Wayne that the death of his parents was attributable to failure on the part of Wayne’s beloved father to show the appropriate “will to act” at the critical moment. To Wayne, the comment is an outright provocation, and his sword blows at once become fiercer but less well controlled, so that Ducard beats him easily. All the while, the ice underfoot emits periodic loud, low-pitched groans and creaks, captured with ominous power by the Bronze BX main speakers and subwoofer, reminding us that the footing for both swordsmen is far from solid. Ducard persists in his comments, however, asking Wayne if he would have allowed himself to be thwarted—as Ducard insists that his father was—by a lack of will. Suddenly, Wayne’s fiery anger is transformed into icy fury, so that he regains self control (or at first seems to), makes a daring move to reclaim the sword he has dropped, knocks Ducard’s sword aside and stands over Ducard, demanding that he “Yield!”
Ducard smiles knowingly and, looking up at Wayne, softly informs him that not only has he not prevailed, but rather that he has “sacrificed secure footing” in hopes of achieving “a killing blow.” Ducard then gently touches the tip of his sword to the ice at Wayne’s feet, which immediately shatters, allowing Wayne to plunge into the frigid water below. What makes the scene click is the soft but persistent power of Ducard’s words as contrasted against Wayne’s more loudly expressed emotions, all set against the backdrop of natural sounds from the environment (in particular, the low-pitched warning groans from the ice), which has the last say. The crackling collapse of the ice near the end of the scene sounds positively terrifying. The Bronze BX system has more than enough refinement to reveal the subtle shades of meaning and emotion in the actors’ dialog, while also showing sufficient power to show the danger inherent in the frozen pond. This, of course, gives Ducard’s final word in the scene, as he offers this simple warning: “…always mind your surroundings.”
To hear how well the Bronze BX system can handle complex, large-scale orchestral material, I put on the Tilson Thomas/San Francisco Symphony recording of the Beethoven Symphony No. 5 (SFS Media, multichannel SACD), focusing in particular on the symphony’s powerful opening movement (Allegro con brio). Several aspects of the Bronze BX’s performance were noteworthy. First, they did a fine job of capturing the weight, sonority, and power of the low strings on the movement’s signature descending theme (“bom-bom-bom-DOM”). They also did justice to the incisive and penetrating yet also golden-hued voices of brass instruments taking up the melodic theme later in the movement, capturing the “bite” of the horns with overdoing things. Finally, throughout the movement, I was enchanted by the way this relatively inexpensive system caught the sense and sound of a muscular orchestra performing a vigorous symphonic piece within the confines of a large recording venue. The Bronzes conveyed qualities of spaciousness and dynamic expansiveness as few small systems can.
But to explore the quieter and more intimate side of the Bronze BX system, I played the Blue Chamber Quartet’s interpretation of Chick Corea’s “Children’s Song 12” as captured on BCQ’s debut album, First Impressions [Stockfisch, multichannel SACD]. Producer Günter Pauler is known for his uncanny ability to capture beautifully and precisely focused, wraparound 3D soundstages with spectacularly vibrant tonal colors, and that certainly is the case with this recording. But what I didn’t see coming was the seemingly effortless and almost offhand grace and ease with which the Bronze BX system would capture the voices and stage positions of the instruments used by the quartet. BCQ could be consider a “chamber jazz” quartet and as such its instrumentation is a bit unusual; here you have classically trained musicians Julia Bartha on piano, Angelika Siman on harp (the stringed kind, not the handheld “harp” blues players use), Thomas Schindl on vibraphones, and Holger Michalski on acoustic bass (which, in Michalski’s skilled hands, can sound at times almost like a giant cello).
“Children’s Song 12” captures the quartet in an intimate setting, with the first notes sounded by an almost otherworldly phrase played on the vibraphones (which in this instance manages to sound a bit like a glass harp), which lingers on the air for a good while before the other instruments join in. The sound of the vibes, as presented by the Bronze BX system, is simply gorgeous—rich, ringing, and full of beautifully balanced high-pitched harmonics. What is more, the sound of the vibes seems to float on the air in a literal way, so that the sound seems to emanate from a point above and between the front-channel speakers. Throughout the track, in fact, the imaging qualities of the Bronze BX system are superbly showcased, showing just how engrossing a low-cost speaker system can be once it is able to get the sound “off the boxes” (which, for many systems, is something easier said than done).
As the track unfolds, I noted the ease with which the Bronze BX system maintained clear-cut separation of the often complexly intertwined voices of the quartet’s instruments—in particular, the often overlapping voices of Bartha's piano and Siman's harp. When I use the word “separation”, here, I’m referring to both the timbral and spatial characteristic of the Bronze BX system. It offers sufficient textural and timbral refinement to allow you to distinguish voices of instruments playing at or near the same pitch, and it offers sufficient spatial resolution to also let you know those instruments are positioned at different points on stage. Finally the Bronze system did a great job of capturing the focused intensity of Michalski’s acoustic bass, creating an especially vivid image of the instrument as it takes its turn for a few bars as the center of attention. My point is that the Bronze BX system makes the most of sophisticated and well-made recordings, in the process showing that it really is something more than a traditional “entry level” speaker system.
Consider this system if: you want most, though perhaps not quite all, of the sonic riches of a great mid-priced speaker system, but at an entry level price. With the Bronze BX rig, the sonic sophistication/dollar ratio is pretty much off the charts.
Look further if: you like your music or movies played at earsplitting volume levels; raw (and I do mean raw) loudness is not this system’s forte.
Ratings (relative to comparably-priced surround speaker systems)
- Transparency and Focus: 9.5
- Imaging and Soundstaging: 10
- Tonal Balance: 9
- Dynamics: 9
- Bass Extension: 9
- Bass Pitch Definition: 10
- Bass Dynamics: 8.5
- Value: 10
The Bronze BX system represents a deliberate and methodical attempt on Monitor Audio’s part to build an “entry level” speaker system that in many (indeed, perhaps most) respects sounds more like a very sophisticated mid-priced speaker system. It is, quite simply, a brilliant success. The longer you listen to this system, the more “right” it sounds, and for not a lot of money.
SPECS & PRICING
Monitor Audio Bronze BX5 2 ½-way, three-driver, bass reflex floorstanding speaker
Driver complement: One 1-inch C-CAM gold dome tweeter, one 5.5-inch C-CAM mid/bass driver, one 5.5-inch C-CAM bass drivers
Frequency response: 36Hz – 30 kHz
Sensitivity: 90 dB
Impedance: 8 ohms
Dimensions (HxWxD): 34.19” x 8.44” x 11.125” (main speaker with floor plinth installed)
Weight: 26 lbs. each
Warranty: 5 years, parts and labor
Monitor Audio Bronze BX-Centre 2-way, three-driver, center-channel speaker
Driver complement: One 1-inch C-CAM gold dome tweeter, two 5.5-inch C-CAM mid/bass driver
Frequency response: 60Hz – 30 kHz
Sensitivity: 90 dB
Impedance: 8 ohms
Dimensions (HxWxD): 6.56” x 18.125” x 6.5”
Weight: 13.6 lbs. each
Warranty: 5 years, parts and labor
Price: $299 each
Monitor Audio Bronze BX-FX 2-way, three-driver, bipole/dipole surround speaker
Driver complement: Two 1-inch C-CAM gold dome tweeters, one 5.5-inch C-CAM mid/bass driver
Frequency response: 65Hz – 30 kHz
Sensitivity: 88 dB
Impedance: 8 ohms
Dimensions (HxWxD): 11.31” x 10.875” x 4.525” (depth dimension includes wall-mount bracket and grilles).
Weight: 8 lbs. each
Warranty: 5 years, parts and labor
Monitor Audio Bronze BXW-10 powered subwoofer
Driver complement: One 10-inch C-CAM woofer with long-throw voice coil
Integrated amplifier power: 200W RMS, Class D
Dimensions (HxWxD): 12.525” x 12.525” x 13.25”
Weight: 24 lbs.
Warranty: 5 year, parts and labor, main subwoofer components; 3 years parts and labor, subwoofer amplifier
System Price: $2166, as tested