Monitor Audio Platinum Surround Speaker System Real-World Performance
It's been a long time since I last auditioned a Monitor Audio speaker with the traditional Monitor Audio golden dome tweeter, but it's hard to imagine that tweeter performing up to the level of the ribbon that distinguishes the Platinum line. I began my listening with 2-channel music using the PL300s and the PLW-15 subwoofer, and the first thing I didn't notice was the high frequencies. Ironically, that's what makes the tweeter special. I didn't "hear" the highs so much as sense them as an integral part of the overall sound.
The PL300s are not at all bright, but I was constantly amazed at the quality of the detail they brought to the fair. Sweet, yes, but sweet can be a euphemism for soft, which These speakers definitely are not. They are incisive without being fierce or biting. As the Brits might say, there's no sting in the tail here, given program material of decent quality. The gorgeous percussive detail on Mokave's Afrique was immediate yet relaxed. Transients started and stopped on a dime, but never overshot the mark into zing or raspiness. Strings were silky smooth.
The PL300s also threw an impressively wide soundstage. While their great imaging was no surprise—in my room most good speakers image exceptionally well. Nevertheless, the center image was so tight on 2-channel material I'd swear the center speaker was playing when it wasn't.
The PL300s' balance was a little more forward than I'm accustomed to. But despite this, they produced as fine a sense of depth as I normally get in this room, though not noticeably better. (The illusion of depth I can generate is helped by the fact than my setup has the speakers significantly forward of the front wall).
On 2-channel music, the midrange was clean and neutral, with no evidence of obvious coloration. But on the occasional passage, I did sense a touch of glare located somewhere, I would guess, in the upper midrange. But guesses are for financial advisers, so we'll have to see if it shows up in the measurements, which have yet to be taken as I write this. The glare anomaly didn't raise its head often, though loud brass and complex, loud passages featuring a full symphony orchestra were more prone to it than pop, jazz, and most vocals. The latter music genres often sounded stunningly natural.
I never experienced the glare issue at all when the system was fired up in full multichannel mode. The Platinums handled the most challenging soundtracks, from explosive sound effects to full-bodied symphonic orchestral scores (even at silly-loud playback levels) without breaking a sweat.
To sub or not to sub? During the music listening, I found the PL300s to be surprisingly extended in the deep bass without a subwoofer. Most music listeners will be delighted with their extended low frequency performance. And if your taste in movies runs toward lighter, Armageddon-free fare, the PL300s alone just might satisfy all of your home-theater bass needs.
But a good separate subwoofer will go deeper—particularly for those passionate about organ or synthesizer music—and handle more challenging deep bass material at higher levels, which is particularly important on those action-movie soundtracks. And if the sub is properly set up and blended, the overall bass performance could well be tighter and better defined than even the very good bottom end performance of the PL300s alone.
As always, placement is key, and the optimum placement for the front speakers, particularly when you must accommodate an HDTV set or projection screen, might not produce the best bass. A sub, which offers more placement options, will help get around this problem.
So what about movies? Outstanding. My taste in demo material often includes animated fare, not only because I love the medium, but also because animation producers have given us some great-looking and great-sounding discs. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is one of the best (and most underappreciated) soundtracks out there, particularly the uncompressed version on Blu-ray. It covers all the bases from the subtle to the explosive, with a soundstage as small or immense as it needs to be. The bass digs deep, and the highs are as detailed as you could want. The Platinum speakers did it all here, with full-bodied and extended bass without bloat, a natural midrange, and crisp and precise highs without edginess.
Another great but also little-heralded animation soundtrack is Chicken Little. The film opens with the familiar Chicken Little story, wanders around episodically for its first half, then plunges into a bizarre riff on E.T. and War of the Worlds. It's hilarious, though perhaps a bit scary for the 8-year-old set. While the soundtrack doesn't have the bass extension of Final Fantasy, it's loaded with other treats. The interior of the alien spaceship, in particular, is richly layered with subtle sonic detail, intermittently interrupted by explosive transients. There are also a number of songs (part of the score, the movie is not a musical), all of them well recorded, including the audiophile-worthy "All I Know." All of this was great fare for the Platinums, and they didn't let me down in any way.
Just before deadline, I was able to watch most of the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight, on Blu-ray. Apart from the deepest loudest bass, which was satisfyingly deep, precise, and tight but just a little short of gut-wrenching (more on this below), the experience was totally awesome—to use a cliché that has largely lost its meaning but really does apply here. Even when I played it louder than I felt entirely comfortable with, it blew me away with its ease and lack of strain on the soundtrack's greatest challenges. I was never tempted to turn down the volume when the going really got going. This particular audition was done late at night, and the action got so intense I was a bit concerned that the neighbors might call the cops to report gunshots coming from my house! Fortunately, they did not.
The PLC350 center channel and PL100 surrounds also held up their ends of the bargain. (The PL100s are also suitable for front channel duties, though you will need a subwoofer with them for any respectable home-theater grunt.) But while the center is a good spectral match for the left and right PL300s overall, it did sound a little forward when I was directly on axis. It was better balanced when I moved a few degrees to the left or right. Fortunately, I sit a little off-center for movie watching, so I was not bothered by this characteristic.
In only one respect did I find the Platinum system less than stellar. The PLW-15 subwoofer is, without question, a good one, with excellent extension, tight response, and many useful controls. But considering its price, there may be better, and more affordable options. And I just happened to have one on hand: the Revel B15. Which brings us to...