Monitor Audio is a British speaker maker whose reputation was in many ways built on its signature speaker drive units, which in most cases feature light, stiff, responsive diaphragms (that is, cones or domes, etc.) made of metal alloys. But apart from advanced driver technologies, the firm also appreciates visual style, as is immediately apparent when you first see Monitor’s Radius series speakers. Radius speaker enclosures are beautifully proportioned and offer sleek, Scandinavian-looking lines with gently radiused cabinet edges (hence the product’s name), plus expensive-looking finish options that include black, white, or silver lacquer, or walnut or “rosemah” real wood veneers. In fact, the speakers look like such upscale products that I initially wondered if a Radius system could even be put together for under $1500, but happily one can.
Our $1480 test system consisted of a pair of two-way R90 bookshelf speakers, a two-way R180 center channel, a tiny (really tiny) pair of two-way R45 surround speakers, and a 100-watt R360 Series 2 powered subwoofer. In keeping with Monitor Audio tradition, the R45s, R90s, and R180 all use metal or quasi-metallic drivers, with MMP II (Metal Matrix Polymer) midbass drivers and C-CAM (Ceramic Coated Aluminum/ Magnesium) tweeters. Both the R45s and R90s come with cast metal wall-mounting brackets—a thoughtful touch, though optional floor stands are also available. The R360 sub features a “hand-treated” paper cone woofer loaded in a HiVe (High Velocity) reflex enclosure whose port design is said to reduce air turbulence and “chuffing” noises on loud, low notes.
From the outset, the Radius system impressed me with three qualities: powerful and expressive dynamics, smooth and very revealing midrange, and delightfully articulate (though not extremely deeply extended) bass. Put these qualities together and you’ve got a compact system that can really sink its teeth into almost any movie soundtrack, and that works well on many kinds of music, too. Interestingly, the system’s dynamic prowess is not so much a matter of playing loudly (though the system holds its own in that department), but rather involves its uncanny ability to expose subtle dynamic contrasts. In short, the Radius system makes the most of the energy and life in most recordings.
There are only two drawbacks to the system, and they are not always apparent on all material. First, the system’s highest treble frequencies are overly prominent, which tends to disrupt imaging and can make fast-rising transient sounds become overly harsh or edgy. Proper break-in and a good room EQ system can mitigate, but not eliminate, this problem. But even so, those who prefer high-frequency details rendered with a touch of larger-than-life drama might well love the Monitor sound. Second, the system’s low bass (unlike its superb mid-bass) can sometimes sound loose and diffuse— something you’ll occasionally notice when powerful, well-recorded low-frequency effects or super-deep bass notes come along.