The British firm Monitor Audio is known for building loudspeakers based on exotic metal-alloy drivers, and for some years Monitor's Silver S models have been quite successful in the marketplace. At CES 2005 the company announced a new Silver RS-series intended to take "the performance of the award-winning Silver S range to the next level." The flagship of the new line is the Silver RS8—a two and a half-way, bassreflex, tower-type speaker. I found myself mesmerized by the review samples' gorgeous "Rosenut" enclosures, and by their driver array: a 1" gold-dome C-CAM (Ceramic-Coated Aluminum Magnesium alloy) tweeter, a 6" C-CAM mid/bass driver, and two 6" C-CAM woofers. The drivers are mounted in non-metallic cast-polymer frames whose matte silver matches the appearance of the speaker diaphragms. The RS8s are certainly beautiful, but do they sound as good as they look?
First, the RS8s offer unusually extended frequency response, with bass that reaches down into the midto- low 30Hz range and treble that extends beyond audibility. They also have quite good driver integration, with crossover points for the most part seamless. They, along with other affordable new near-full-range speakers such as Revel's Concerta F12s, dispel the myth that full-range sound has to cost the earth. Second, the RS8s offer spacious imaging (though traces of treble "zing" occasionally peek through) with good image height and width. They also produce deep soundstages that consistently draw favorable comments from guest listeners.
Third, the RS8s are easy to drive, and so work well with moderately powered, moderately priced electronics. They also sound dynamically alive, so you may find yourself playing them at higher volumes than you would (or could) with most competing speakers. The RS8s are downright happy playing ebullient jazz and rock material; they did a fantastic job of capturing the exuberant, punchy sound of "Vertigo" from U2's How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb [Interscope].
Finally, the RS8s possess an updated interpretation of the Monitor Audio "house sound," which emphasizes bright (but not painfully bright) well-defined treble response, a lively yet smooth-sounding midrange, and hearty, robust bass. It's this sound, which— more than any other single characteristic—defines the RS8s. If you believe the stereotype that all British speakers sound "polite" or "subdued," the Silver RS8s will change your mind—they love to boogie.
These four characteristics reflect significant aspects of the sound, but they don't really convey the overall gestalt, which might be summed up in one word: transparency. At least that's the word many guest listeners have chosen to describe the speaker. In "Texas Sky" from Lori Lieberman's Monterey [Drive On], Lieberman sings lead vocals and, in some choruses, adds her own subtle background harmonies. These are so subtly interwoven that through some speakers they are difficult to hear, but the RS8s reveal them with crystalline precision. Similarly, when you listen to "I Could Eat Your Words" from Patricia Barber's Verse [Blue Note], the RS8s let you hear the way Barber controls the smallest inflections and colors of her voice to convey the song's cerebral and yet seductive message, and to hear the way delicate, finely textured brushwork and cymbals and a snare drum give the track a dark, sultry feel. The RS8s make small textures and details explicit and easy to grasp.
Having praised the RS8s for achieving a certain measure of transparency, though, I offer the criticism that they fall just short of an even more desirable and profound kind of clarity. One reason is that the speaker's resolution levels aren't uniform across all frequencies; instead, clarity and definition seem to increase with frequency, meaning the woofers sound moderately clear, the mid/bass driver more so, and the gold dome tweeter clearest of all (though some find the tweeter more bright than clear). On some almost subliminal level, your ear knows this isn't quite faithful to the sound of live music. It's not that you hear large topto- bottom discontinuities that throw you off in any abrupt way, but rather that the speaker's many virtues never quite manage to gel to produce hopedfor moments of musical lucidity.
Another reason the RS8s can sound unclear is that, at low to moderate levels, their bass is quite forward and slightly under-damped. While it is not overpowering, it is prominent enough that it sometimes obscures soft, delicate midrange details. Oddly, as the volume is raised the RS8s become better balanced, eventually achieving pleasing neutrality. If you don't feel like turning up the volume, you can try trimming the RS8's lowbass output by repositioning the speakers, by installing bass damping materials in your listening room, or by installing the foam port "bungs" Monitor provides as bass-tuning tools
of last resort. In my listening tests, the first two approaches worked well, but the port bungs did not; though they reduced unwanted bass, they also forced an audible reduction in overall bass and midrange clarity. Stick with the other two approaches, and things should turn out fine.
My other precaution for potential buyers is to exercise great care in choosing an amplifier or receiver for use with the RS8s. I believe that the speakers were voiced to sound their best when driven by modest electronics, so don't assume that investing in a big palooka amp will make the RS8s sound better (in practice, the opposite could be true). For an excellent match, try driving the RS8s with Arcam's new $1599 Solo stereo receiver/CD-player. This combo produces legitimate highend sound at a level you wouldn't think possible for the price.
Monitor Audio's RS8 is a lot of speaker for the money, offering dynamite looks and a fine mix of sonic virtues, centering on a dynamically alive and transparent sound. It is a speaker well suited for use in moderately large rooms, and it has enough moxie to handle high volumes with grace. I recommend arranging an inhome trial with a local dealer—just to make sure the speaker's substantial bass output won't overdrive your room. And should the RS8s turn out to be too much speaker for your listening space, remember that Monitor also offers the RS6s, which are essentially the same speaker, but with a little less low bass output. Monitor's hope is that there will be a Silver RS model that's right for you.