Product Review - Monitor Audio Home Theater Speakers - June, 1995

By John E. Johnson, Jr.


Monitor Audio Home Theater Speakers. MAG 903, two 5 1/4" low frequency drivers, one 1" dome high frequency driver, frequency response 35 Hz - 30 kHz + 3 dB, sensitivity 90 dB/W/M, size 36 1/8"H x 6 1/2"W x 8"D, weight 22 pounds, $2,299/pair (black); MAG 902, same driver configuration as 903, but size is 19 5/8"H x 6 1/2"W x 8"D, frequency response 45 Hz - 30 kHz + 3 dB, sensitivity 89 dB/W/M, weight 15 pounds, $1,599/pair (black); MAG 901, one 5 1/4" low frequency driver, one 1" dome high frequency driver, frequency response 50 Hz - 30 kHz + 3 dB, sensitivity 88 dB, size 12 3/4"H x 7 1/8"W x 8"D, weight 10 pounds, $1,099/pair (black); CC900, same driver configuration, frequency response, sensitivity, size, and weight as MAG 902 but designed for horizontal positioning (center channel) with low frequency drivers at each end and ports on either side of the tweeter, available in black only, $799 each. 903, 902, and 901 available in black lacquered oak or rosewood veneer. All speakers are magnetically shielded for video. Monitor Audio USA, 902 McKay Road, Pickering, Ontario, CANADA L1W 3X8, (905) 428-2800.

Monitor Audio, long famous for their very excellent speakers which render music so beautifully, has now produced speakers designed for home theater. The MAG 903, 902, 901, and CC900 represent their entry into this market.

The set we reviewed were finished in black oak (real wood, not vinyl), which is a desirable color for home theater if you don't want the speakers to be conspicuous. They are also quite slender, adding elegance to any room decor, and since they are all magnetically shielded, they can rest immediately adjacent to, or in the case of the center channel speaker, directly on top of the television monitor.

The driver cones of these speakers are made from an aluminum- magnesium alloy sandwiched between layers of ceramic, which are then gold anodized on the front and back. The gold provides not only an oxidation prevention, but incredible looks with the grille cloth removed. The grille cloth is very sound transparent, so there is not much excuse for removing it, except to admire the extraordinary gold and black fronts and bring back the small amount of treble that is absorbed by even the most loosely woven grilles (but these are perfectly good excuses). In the case of the low frequency drivers, the voice coil is 20 mm in diameter. The magnet is of a low distortion design, and a phase plug is attached. The tweeter has a ferrofluid cooled, vented voice coil. In essence, all the speakers in this series have the same low frequency drivers and tweeter arranged in various configurations (number of drivers and size of enclosure). This insures a constancy of sound tonality in a home theater environment. The four gold plated binding posts allow for bi-wiring or bi-amping on all of the speakers including the center channel and rear surrounds. The enclosures are of very high quality veneer construction. Knocking on the sides of the enclosures does not give that satisfying stone dead sound, but there is some polyurethane foam-like damping material inside, and there is no obvious cabinet resonance when using the speakers. The 903s have a metal plate on the bottom rear of the enclosure, which may be removed so that sand or lead shot can be added for increased damping.

The MAG 902, 903, and CC900 have a (rated) 200 watt power capacity, while the MAG 901 has a 100 watt capacity. All the speakers have a nominal impedance of 6 Ohms. The 902 and 903 are designed for the front left/right stereo channels, the MAG 901 is for the rear surround, and the CC900 is for the center.

We tested these speakers with amplifiers capable of delivering 600 watts per channel, so we were able to drive them to full power without clipping the signal. All of the speakers performed superbly even when driven hard. For home theater use, where high level, low frequency sounds come fast and furious, we feel that the published power ratings are a bit high, and would suggest the user keep a judicious hand on the volume control. Our listening tests indicate about 75% of the rated power handling (still quite a lot of power) is a safe bet.

The main difference between the 902s and 903s, for the additional $700, is a noticeable bass extension and a more definitive mid- range in the 903s. However, the 902s are still excellent in their own regard. The CC900 delivered very natural vocals, which is a problem for many center channel speakers. The human ear and brain are very sensitive to voices, and the slightest aberrant characteristic to their reproduction will be noticed. The MAG 901s were also great performers in their rear surround positions. As all of these speakers are ported on the front, they can be considered as unipolar in the purist sense. Since they are unipolar speakers (as opposed to dipolar or bipolar), placement of the 901s is not critical. We found that putting them behind the sitting position at ear height, toed outward at 45 degrees gave the most pleasing effect, but of course, placement is matter of personal taste. The 902s and 903s sounded best when placed about 3 feet away from the rear wall.

In fact, these speakers sounded great no matter where we put them (except for the CC900, which must go on top or beneath the television). Even when the 902s and 903s were placed several feet away from the monitor, the sound was still enveloping and locked into the surround sound tracks. There is a break in period, perhaps some 20 hours, and the speakers are designed with a tightness because of their intended use: high level movie sound tracks. Even after the break in time, they still had a very tight, immediate sound driven at full volume, while other speaker designs would have long since started to lose detail. In this regard, we felt that they sounded best when played at moderate to loud levels, which is the ideal situation for surround sound listening. Our standard test laserdisc, Jurassic Park, exploded into the room, and the sounds of the ancient beasts crackled with amazingly accurate crispness. Other laserdiscs tested included Blue Thunder, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Time Cop, and Terminal Velocity. We should say here that a good subwoofer is needed in all home theater setups regardless of the type of main speakers in use. The Monitors are no exception, and we understand that Monitor Audio will be releasing a metal cone subwoofer this year, so stay tuned.

Metal cone drivers can deliver superb accuracy, but they are difficult to tame. After all, they are shaped somewhat like a bell, which unlike a paper cone, has a great deal of resonance and overtones. The crossover networks contain a combination of the usual components plus filtering devices to remove the resonant peak that occurs with their particular metal cone. The high pass crossover frequency to the tweeter (12 dB/octave) is at 3.1 kHz, with a low pass slope also at 12 dB/octave to the low frequency drivers.

In sum, the Monitor Audio Home Theater "Collection" is marvelous. It delivers what one would expect from a company with such an enviable reputation. These excellent speakers are highly recommended.

John E. Johnson Jr.

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