Monitor Audio Silver 500 7G loudspeaker


Monitor Audio Silver 500 7G loudspeaker



 When I learned that I was to review the new seventh generation of Monitor Audio's Silver 500 loudspeaker ($3200/pair), descendants of the original Silver-series products launched in 1999, I thought back on what I knew about the company and then refreshed my memory. Monitor Audio was founded, in 1972, in Teversham, England, a town bordered by farmland located some three miles from the epicenter of its more famous neighbor, Cambridge. The founder was businessman/sound engineer Mo Iqbal; Iqbal was assisted by Martin Colloms (before that venerable critic turned to writing about hi-fi) and Michael Bean. In 1997, Mo sold the company to a group of audiophiles, one of whom—Andrew Flatt—stays on today as the company's sole owner.

In 1976, Monitor Audio moved its operations to Essex, home to Rega Research. Not long after that, they relocated again to larger digs in nearby Rayleigh (also in Essex). Today, Monitor Audio employs 100 people at that location, keeping the business running and designing and developing new products. The manufacture of Monitor Audio speakers was moved to China over a period of several years; Silver-series manufacture was moved to China in 2004—about which, more later.


I remembered reading a couple of favorable Stereophile reviews of Monitor Audio speakers, written by Kal Rubinson. I looked them up: Kal reviewed the $2000/pair Silver 8 in 2014 and the similarly priced Silver 300 in 2018 (footnote 1).




Monitor Audio Silver 500 7G loudspeaker


In 2018, Monitor Audio bought Roksan, the British company behind 1985's legendary Xerxes turntable; I'd lost track of the company rather quickly after. I mention this not because it's directly relevant to this review but because I remember it fondly. Monitor + Roksan seemed like an auspicious marriage. It felt earthy, rootsy, principled.


"Phenomenal audio is more than the sum of its parts." These words greet visitors to the "About" page on the Monitor Audio website. "Yes, it's about the finest metals and craftsmanship, but it's also about the warmth: the flesh and blood of the listener. The connection. That's why, at Monitor Audio, our mission is to make audio human."


Nuts and bolts and other parts

Over the course of this review, I had several exchanges with Charles Minett, Monitor Audio's product design director, and Michael Hedges, the company's technical director. Both insist that the best cones are made of metal and metal composite—that such drivers have the greatest potential for lifelike sound. When I asked if Monitor Audio ever considered using paper or plastic as a substitute, the idea was dismissed out of hand (footnote 2).

"There are generally two types of cones," Hedges said. "Soft, well-damped ones and hard, less well-damped ones. The design aim for a soft well-damped one is to accept that the material will ripple and cause distortion in the passband and work with that. In the case of a harder material, like metal, the idea is to create a cone rigid enough so that the audible effects of cone-rippling occur outside the passband so that the frequency response sounds very smooth. We've become very good at achieving this."

Monitor Audio uses Multiphysics simulation software—Hedges wrote a conference paper on the software a dozen years ago—to perform complex simulations that start at the electrical input and end at its acoustical output, allowing the company to test in silico a multitude of crossover/cabinet/driver scenarios. The most promising virtual designs are pursued outside ex silico, in real life. "The simulator gets us in the vicinity of very good sound, but listening tests are still critical when it comes to fine-tuning a design to sound its best," Hedges said.

The three-way, four-driver, bass-reflex Silver 500 7G is top dog in the company's Silver series. Like its smaller siblings, the 500 incorporates proprietary features in its cones, most notably the C-CAM (ceramic-coated aluminum/magnesium) material, said by the company to be "extremely rigid, yet light enough to yield high overall efficiency," and Rigid Surface Technology (RST), now in version II, which refers to the cones' shape and the dimpled hex pattern across the surface, said to "allow the radiating surface to resist mechanical bending forces, which can twist the shape of conventional driver cones to produce distorted sound. The RST patterns also help to displace standing waves that can collect on the cone's surface."



Monitor Audio Silver 500 7G loudspeaker


I asked Hedges to name the biggest differences between the 6G and 7G versions. "These are hard questions to answer," he cautioned, "because we design a speaker as a system, so it's less about a better tweeter or midrange and more about how changes in these areas bring greater improvements in other areas. I would say though that the biggest changes are in the all-new tweeter and its waveguide, and the midrange driver, which is now smaller"—it's 3"—"and uses a neodymium magnet. These changes allowed us to build a better crossover, which is really where we got the biggest benefit, specifically when it comes to the 7G's tonal balance."

Changes were also brought to the cabinet design and its finishes, mostly wood veneer. Two new finishes were added; the speakers I received were in the new Black Oak. The 500s are said to be ideal for midsize to large rooms, in stereo or home theater setups.

The 500's frequency response is specified as 27Hz–35kHz, –6dB, with crossovers at 800Hz and 2.7kHz. The specified sensitivity is 90.5dB/2.83V/m. The nominal impedance is 8 ohms, with a dip at 150Hz to a minimum of 4.1 ohms. That should make the Silver 500 a fairly easy load for an amplifier, although Monitor Audio recommends an amplifier that outputs 80Wpc or more.


Listening

The owner's manual, which is included in the box (yes!), recommends placing the speakers 6'–10' (1.8m–3m) apart, with front-wall proximity set by listener preference. The manual is adamant, though, that the speakers should be a minimum of 3' (91cm) from the sidewalls—not a problem in my basement listening room.


I hooked the speakers up to the Grandinote Shinai integrated amplifier, which was fed by the Cambridge EVO 150 streaming integrated amplifier via its line-level outputs. The manual says to allow 50–70 hours for the speakers to loosen up and start sounding their best. With the Cambridge's volume low, I pressed play to start the run-in process, fully prepared to leave the room and go about my daily business for a few days as the speakers settled in.

"Sit your butt down and listen," the Silver 500s said to me. I did. And what these speakers said was spoken with a clarity and expressive ease that slid out to me as if from a backyard water slide—as if their sound had flown past the cones, independent of them. Dynamic and transient-fast, it sounded almost hornlike.

Which made me wonder if I wasn't imagining things: With their shiny, dust-cap–free surfaces, these cones did sort of look like horns. A little, in the right light; was this the power of suggestion? I stopped the music, stood up, and paced while trying to wash out my mind with thoughts unrelated to audio. (Should I prune the pole beans today?) Then I sat back down in a Samurai state. No, it wasn't my imagination; there really was a sense of clarity and ease to the sound—a pristine effect that seemed to originate some distance from the cones. And yes, it reminded me of horns.

Was this, as Monitor Audio's website says, the result of metal that's been molded until it's "capable of extraordinary things"? Maybe. I was getting ahead of myself. It was too early to tell anything. I got off my dilapidated orange couch and returned to my family.

Ten days later, I adjusted the 500s' placement with the aid of the Stereophile Test CD 2 (CD, STPH 004-2, no longer available), particularly the pink noise track, #15, and the "Music Articulation Test Tone" one, #19, the latter intended to help evaluate listening room/speaker interactions but that also happens to be a fun subterranean romp that rises from the gurgling depths through the floor like a spaceship beam into the heavens.

With my Simaudio Moon CD transport plugged into the Cambridge Audio's S/PDIF digital input, I started my review listening with "Utopic Cities" by Solis Lacus, off one of my favorite jazz releases of 2021, the compilation Utopic Cities: Progressive Jazz in Belgium 1968–1979 (CD, Sdban SDBANCD15). Through the 500s, this live-in-Brussels concert sounded sophisticated—clarion-clear, elaborately alive, with tones finely layered above and below the primary one. Richard Rousselet's trumpet solos flared out with real-world √©lan and bite then shifted away and broke off into shards—all clear as a bell. Synthesizer notes rolled fast and free, loping and scrambling. Every parcel of the bigger picture that my stimulated mind landed on was laid bare, but then it left just as soon, running off to somewhere else. I'd never heard sound travel so fast across longer distances. It was like hearing light.

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