In fairness, it’s probably unfair to expect more from a budget system. While the Creek combination was a likely partnering, it was clear the speakers could do better, given a chance. So out went the Creeks, and in came my dCS Puccini and Albarry pre/power combination. Not the most obvious of bedfellows, perhaps, but the exercise shows just how much more the Monitor Audios are capable of giving, when faced with a system of the first water. Put simply, beefing up the electronics helped a lot!
Now, Gretchen Peters’ vocals on ‘Idlewild’ from Hello, Cruel World [PRPCD094] has much more sense of storytelling, mostly due to the way she handles those subtle little inflections and micro-dynamics. The vocals are better focussed, the instruments are played with more sensitivity, and the song is more meaningful and affecting as a result. It’s also more obvious that it is Gretchen Peters doing the singing than it was in the Creek set-up;the timbral differences between voices are much better resolved. Similarly, Abdullah Ibrahim and Kramat from Ekapa Lodumo [TIP-888 840 2] is lively and tuneful, the percussion has clear timing and balance, and there is more sense of the piece building to a climax and conclusion than the Creek/MA system could deliver, not least due to the increased awareness of the nuance and inflections in the playing. The bass tends more toward ‘impressionistic’ than ‘explicit’, but overall this is a significant step up in intelligibility and communication – the band has regained its mojo, but remains under control – and the whole is simply more foot-tappingly enjoyable.
It was an fascinating exercise, because it was clear that the speaker had the capability to resolve a lot of the improvements to the upstream end of the system. A sure sign of a good loudspeaker is that it can rise to the occasion, and the Silver 8 certainly did just that. However, the loudspeakers never sound like a pair of £12,500 loudspeakers trapped in a £1,250 body; they are fine value for money, but the Silver 8s are not audiophile giant-killers. In terms of overall presentation, there is an air of mild airbrushing of fine detail, which might almost be thought of as a form of coloration, a sort of papery sheen to proceedings which overlays the music. Any compromises are perhaps most evident in the bass, which trades a little solidity, timing, and tunefulness in favour of a more broad-brush sense of scale and weight. Compromises are also manifest in a loss of fine-grained subtlety, sweetness, and precision in the upper registers.
In many ways, these are not criticisms but simply observations. Such observations begin to fade when you consider that vast Monitor Audio audience out there in the real world – not every Silver 8 buyer is going to pamper these loudspeakers with the finest quality audiophile-grade musical material, and where those seeking filigree detail might pass up the Silver 8, those with more eclectic tastes that go beyond the best recordings might find the tonal balance is a benefit, not a hurdle.
The Monitor Audio Silver 8s are designed for all kinds of music (not just audiophile music) and even, gulp, multichannel movies. In such contexts, the generous bass and the impact and drive from those two paired bass drivers will satisfy many, and will do so more adroitly than walking a high-end tightrope where a microphone placement half a centimetre out of place is left baldly exposed. Granted, playing something understated like Melody Gardot is going to sound faintly glossed over, even to the point of sounding gauche, but many recordings will benefit from the Silver 8’s handling of loudness as ‘quantity’ rather than ‘intensity’.
Sure, speakers costing many times the price can comprehensively better the Silver 8’s but such comparisons are always invidious. Not least because better loudspeakers might well tell you things you’d rather not know about your source, amplification, or cabling. We need to keep in mind that a £1,250 pair of loudspeakers is likely to be called upon to partner equipment at the budget-to-sensible end of the market, and building in a bit of forgiveness or compliance is likely to be the kinder and ultimately more enjoyable approach.
I think Monitor Audio has produced an all-rounder in the Silver 8, one that will impress in an AV system, while still satisfying with two-channel. What the Monitor Audio Silver 8 does do, and what I found most engaging about these very likeable loudspeakers, is to convey a broad sense of why we bother about all this stuff. They’ll root out the fundamental sense of joy and fun, or drama and magnificence, or pathos, in a recording and make you remember why you decided to invest in a decent hi-fi system in the first place. They are perfectly capable of raising the hairs on my arms, or making me grin like a loon.