February 15, 2007
Monitor Audio Gold Signature GS60 Loudspeakers
As Monitor Audios Gold Signature GS60 loudspeakers were maneuvered around my room by Sheldon Ginn, of Kevro (Monitors Canadian distributor), I reflected on how my attitudes toward hi-fi have changed over the years. I remembered reading my first serious review of a high-end product: a Monitor Audio Gold Signature bookshelf speaker. Reading that review, Id thought that these two small boxes must be the absolute best speakers in the world -- after all, how could they not be something extraordinary when they cost over $1000 per pair!
That first exposure to the British companys products must have made a deep impression. In the back of my brain, Ive always thought of Monitor gear as very high-end, and so expensive as to be beyond the reach of all but the super-rich.
But the speakers now before my eyes didnt mesh with my long-ago formed preconceptions. The GS60 ($3995 USD per pair) is the top model of Monitors Gold Signature line, and is therefore the most expensive speaker they sell. In the flesh, it manages to look both stately and modest. The combination of its 42" height and small (8 1/8"W x 13"D) footprint mean that the GS60 wont overpower a room of modest size, as have some far larger speakers that have squatted golem-like in my basement listening room.
The GS60s reasonably compact dimensions are offset by beautiful real-wood finishes. The finish on my samples immediately distinguished itself by what it wasnt. Nowadays it seems almost de rigueur for a high-end speaker to be lacquered and polished within an inch of its life. The GS60s came delivered in a gorgeous, delicious walnut veneer with a matte finish more in line with high-quality antique furniture. The striations in the grain were easily visible, and the finish gave off a sense of old money that stood in stark contrast to the ostentatiously nouveau-riche gloss of some other speakers. That appearance of quality is more than skin-deep -- the cabinet panels are joined tongue-and-groove for strength, and each reasonably svelte GS60 weighs a substantial 59.7 pounds. Its sensitivity is specified as 90dB with a nominal impedance of 6 ohms so they should prove reasonably easy to drive.
As I stared at these slim, attractive floorstanders, my perception of them metamorphosed from unattainable high-end wet dream into reasonably achievable reality. What didnt fade was my assumption that the GS60 is a genuinely high-end speaker. Its most immediately familiar driver is its gold-colored, 1" dome tweeter, visually similar to the one found in the speaker covered in that age-old review that was my introduction to the brand. Made of Monitors proprietary ceramic-coated aluminum magnesium (C-CAM) alloy, the GS60s tweeter was designed to lower the drivers fundamental resonant frequency to a claimed 500Hz; according to Monitor, this results in a smoother response and lets them use a simpler crossover.
The midrange and low-frequency drivers are also made of C-CAM, though theyre not gold-anodized. The 6.5" midrange is run full range up to its natural high-frequency rolloff point, as Monitor believes that a capacitor would degrade the sound; the caps absence results in increases in clarity and small-scale detail. According to Monitor, their Rigid Surface Technology (RST) cones, which feature a dimpled surface, add sufficient stiffness to the assembly to allow for more linear high-frequency performance and better power handling.
The GS60 comes with a nicely made grille that looks quite natty when attached. The speaker is attractive without the grille, however -- the contrast of the rich wood, the silver midrange and woofer cones, and the tweeters gold dome enhances its appearance without appearing overly ostentatious. I left the grilles off. The fairly tall, narrow cabinet is stabilized by a metal plinth that is an inch or so wider and deeper. Monitor supplies the GS60 with a set of nasty-looking spikes that should have no trouble piercing the thickest carpet. I have hardwood floors, so I especially appreciated the inclusion of a set of rubber-damped feet that screw into the bottom of the plinth instead of the spikes. The GS60 has two sets of nicely made and widely spaced binding posts, but I single-wired them with the supplied jumpers.
System and setup
I evaluated the GS60s in my main system, driving them with my Anthem Statement P2 amplifier by way of single-wire Acoustic Zen Satori speaker cables. For most of the review period I used the most excellent Song Audio SA-1 preamplifier, with my Sonic Frontiers SFL-2 also seeing some duty. My Benchmark DAC1 received bits from a Toshiba SD-3750 DVD player by way of a homebrew Canare digital cable.
A Pro-Ject RPM 10 turntable (review forthcoming) did most of the source duties. Early in the review period I used a Shelter 501 Mk. II cartridge, but about halfway through I remounted my long-neglected Roksan Shiraz -- too long had we been apart. Phono-preamplification duties fell to my Ayre P-5xe phono stage.
Interconnects were, for the most part, Analysis Plus Solo Crystal Oval for balanced signals, and Acoustic Zen Matrix when running single-ended. AC was transmitted via Shunyata Research Taipan or Cardas Hexlink 5 power cords; a Shunyata Hydra Model-6 line conditioner filtered the power and protected my gear from surges.
After Sheldon Ginn had left, I spent quite a while searching for the best locations for the GS60s. My listening room is fairly small, but its bass-hungry -- its 230 square feet open onto a much larger room by way of a staircase, and behind my listening seat are shelves holding more than 2000 records. The WLM Duo 18 subwoofers two 18" drivers never overload the room; conversely, a smaller speaker such as the GS60 needs a bit more boundary reinforcement than might seem ideal. Whereas some larger speakers have been comfortable 36" out from the front wall, I had to shove the GS60s about 7" farther back. That still gave them plenty of breathing room, and neither their imaging nor their soundstaging suffered. After Id got them situated to my satisfaction, I sat down for a listen. According to Sheldon Ginn, my review samples had already had some serious playing time, so I didnt worry about break-in.
Ive noticed over the years that certain albums shine when played through a particular piece of audio equipment. When I began regularly swapping gear in and out of my system (read: reviewing), I tried to give all different forms of music a fair shake, which meant steering myself away from repeated listenings to one particular album. Nowadays I dont care what I listen to, and let my instincts tell me what record should find its way onto the turntable. If the same album spins repeatedly, well, that tells me something about what the component is doing. Think of my turntable as a musical Ouija board.
Jazz recordings of all kinds seemed especially suited to the Monitor GS60s adept way with space, and the speakers led to my possession by Miles Davis -- specifically his Filles de Kilimanjaro [Columbia PC 9750]. Throughout my time with the GS60s, Filles was never far from the turntable, and this oddball album epitomized all that these British speakers did so well. My first impression was of a lively, quick, revealing sound, with a tight, tuneful bottom end and exceptional imaging, and it took me only a few more minutes to thoroughly appreciate the GS60s ability to re-create an enveloping acoustic space in my room. The rhythm section holds Filles together, and while the GS60s definitely tilted toward the lean end of the spectrum, they delivered tight, tuneful, authoritative bass. The GS60 is claimed to extend down to 28Hz (no rolloff is specified), and from my listening, the claim seems reasonable. But more important, in my opinion, the bottom end politely refrained from intruding on the midbass, which worked just swell with Ron Carters low-level, always-working electric bass, while keeping each whack of Tony Williams kickdrum a distinct event.
Exceptionally tight bass without bloat can at first sound somewhat unimpressive, but ends up being much more satisfying over the long haul than a tubby, flatulent low end. The GS60s low end was definitely of the self-effacing type -- but then, when I least expected it, in would slam a deep, resonating bass note right where it needed to be, and up would go my eyebrows as these svelte columns cranked out some serious low end. My initial impression that the GS60 was a bit on the lean side gradually modified itself with the qualification that they also delivered serious heft when it was called for.
Up through the midbass and into the midrange the GS60 really began to shine, strutting its stuff with poise and self-assurance. Staying with Filles de Kilimanjaro for a little bit, I found it exceptionally easy to differentiate between the often entangled musical lines in the busy and rhythmically complex "Frelon Brun (Brown Hornet)," which is no small feat -- this track has tripped up many a component in my system.
But while the GS60s did a bang-up job on "Frelon Brun," my estimation of their performance moved up a big notch when I heard them render the spacious "Tout de Suite" with double helpings of space around Davis ethereal trumpet. In relation to Williams crisp cymbals, the trumpet and Wayne Shorters tenor sax took on a bit more of a distant quality than Im used to, which may well indicate that the midrange was somewhat down in level compared to the octaves above. No matter -- the very slightly recessed midband only helped underscore the delightful manner in which the GS60s re-created an acoustic space.
After laying it aside for a few months, I decided it was time to put Giant Sands Chore of Enchantment back in regular rotation. Those of you whove read my reviews over at SoundStage! know how highly I think of this album, and nothing much has changed. This combination of Southwestern desert rock and acoustic folk, seasoned with a dash of thrash metal, has to be one of my favorite albums of the last five years. Howe Gelbs granular tenor can prove problematic for some speakers, but the GS60 exhibited absolutely zero overhang on male vocals -- no resonance, chestiness, or thinness, even on such tracks as the exceptionally close-miked "Dirty from the Rain," in which Gelb sounds as if hes just swallowed the microphone.
For their vinyl edition of Neil Youngs Greatest Hits [LP, Reprise/Classic 48935-1], Classic Records has worked wonders with some of the older tracks, exhuming more crispness and clarity than Id have ever thought possible. "Cowgirl in the Sand" was never one of my favorite songs, but it took only one spin on the table to seriously invigorate my ears. Young and his band are possessed of an almost sloppy looseness that entirely belies the deep groove in which they lock themselves. The Monitor GS60s locked into that groove themselves, presenting it with an exciting feeling of immediacy. Classic has mastered Greatest Hits a touch on the hot side, and the highest notes of Youngs extended electric-guitar solos could get a bit more bitey than through my Hales Audio Transcendence Five speakers. In fact, with many recordings I was aware that the highs tended to be quite prominent. Poorer recordings that were themselves somewhat bright gained a tiny bit of extra presence in this region, but, contrary to my early expectations, the GS60s didnt tilt my listening choices toward only well-engineered, neutrally balanced recordings.
Although the GS60s highs were very slightly prominent, they were truly grainless, and among the purest Ive heard. Cymbal overtones were extraordinary in their purity, and the speaker uncovered startling layers of harmonics. My Canadian edition of Tom Waits Blue Valentine [LP, Asylum 6E-162] isnt exactly an audiophile pressing, but its the music that matters, right? Waits was in fine form in 1978, and on "$29.00" the GS60s pulled it all together to present him at his smoky best. Every cymbal stroke stood out in crisp, natural relief, and although those cymbals were very slightly elevated in level, they remained engaging rather than stepping over the line to induce listener fatigue.
Nancy Wilson and Cannonball Adderleys 1961 self-titled album [LP, Capitol/EMI SM-1657] was the last I listened to through the Monitor GS60s, and it summed up everything the speakers did so well. I know this LP intimately -- Ive listened to it on every combination of gear Ive had in my house. Theres a fair bit of sibilance on Wilsons voice, and a nasty slice of glare to boot, but the album is nonetheless delicious, and the GS60s served it well. On "A Sleepin Bee," the loping bass kept tuneful pace with the crisp drums, and Wilsons vocals were well defined within a spacious, deep, equally well-defined soundstage. I played this track several times, tremendously enjoying it each time, before reluctantly unhooking the Monitors from my system and packing them up.
Theres much to recommend in the Monitor Audio Gold Signature GS60. Its a top-of-the-line speaker from a well-established manufacturer well known for producing high-quality products, and it retails for an entirely reasonable $3995/pair. While five bucks less than four kay isnt exactly chump change, its waaay easier to spend more and get less than it is to spend less and get more.
Of course, as with any speaker, I have a couple of caveats about the GS60. Those who prefer a reticent treble or a prominent bass will want to audition it before purchase, but Id wager that there are few who would buy a speaker of this pedigree without an extended listening session.
For the rest of us, its entirely possible that the GS60s combination of a thoroughly uncolored midrange, a detailed but butter-smooth treble, a trap-tight bass, and miles-deep imaging will inspire us to invite an English speaker into the house.
Monitor Audio Gold Signature GS60 Loudspeakers
Monitor Audio USA
North American distributor:
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