This 5.1-channel speaker setup from revered British manufacturer Monitor Audio hails from its recently refreshed Gold series, positioned one step below the flagship Platinum range.
As the best-but-one series, Gold offers the high-end speaker tech of Platinum but with a slightly more palatable price tag – which could be considered good value if you have this sort of money to spend.
The Gold series includes two floorstanders, the Gold 200 and 300; the Gold 50 and 100 standmounts; Gold C150 and C350 centre speakers; the Gold FX dipole/monopole surrounds; and the Gold W15 subwoofer. The system on test here uses a pair of Gold 200s at the front and the C150 centre, but since they’re all sold separately it is possible to mix and match to suit your needs.
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As you’d expect from a system at this price, every speaker is beautifully built. They all come in a choice of Dark Walnut real wood veneer, Piano Black and Piano White lacquer and Piano Ebony, the latter adding a grand to the overall system price. My Piano White samples are utterly stunning, but don’t choose this colour if you like your speakers to blend in to your surroundings.
Get up close and personal with the Gold 200s and the craftsmanship is jaw-dropping. The elegant lacquered cabinets are a solid block, with no visible seams or joins – just smooth curves and clean lines that help reduce harmful standing waves. They sit on die-cast alloy plinths with adjustable feet that cater for hard and carpeted floors.
Beneath the lacquer, the rigid 20mm MDF structure is strengthened by radial and cross-bracing techniques, designed to keep cabinet colouration to a minimum. If a truck drove into one of these units, I swear the truck would come off worse.
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Minimalists can cover the drivers with "floating" magnetic grilles that stop about two-thirds of the way down, showing off most of that stunning cabinet. Personally, I think they look better with the grilles off.
The driver array includes two 5.5-inch C-CAM bass drivers and a 4-inch C-CAM mid-range driver. The cones’ dimpled surface improves their strength and rigidity, an idea inspired by origami. Monitor Audio calls this Rigid Surface Technology.
Peeking through a black grille at the top is a C-CAM ribbon tweeter, which extends frequency response up to an impressive 60Hz.
The drivers are held in place by single bolt-through fixings that run the entire depth of the cabinet, the screws for which can be seen on the back. This improves bracing and rigidity, as well as de-coupling the drivers from the front baffle.
On the rear you’ll find Monitor Audio’s familiar HiVe II port with rifled edges that speed up airflow. Bi-wire binding posts with high-end spade link cables are fitted to a die-cast alloy panel. Not a single thing on these speakers feels like a cut corner.
The C150 follows in the same vein, boasting identical styling and flawless construction. It’s bulky and weighs a ton, but the design and construction are first-rate. The driver array includes dual 5.5-inch C-CAM drivers and a ribbon tweeter.
With six drivers on three sides, Gold FX is a dual-mode surround speaker that caters for different listening tastes. In monopole mode, only the front-firing 6.5-inch mid/bass driver and ribbon tweeter are used, emitting surround effects in a directional manner.
Switch to dipole mode and the side-firing 4-inch C-CAM drivers and 25mm dome tweeters spring in to action, producing a more diffuse sound field (the front tweeter is disabled). Dipole is better for 7.1 setups, where as monopole is recommended for 5.1 – although it’s worth experimenting.
You can change between monopole and dipole modes using the panel of switches on the front. Other switches allow you to set the position of the speaker (left or right) and cut or boost the main tweeter by 3dB. The FX surrounds can be wall-mounted using the "sloppy fit" wall bracket, which allows you to adjust them prior to fixing.
The Gold W15 subwoofer is an impressive beast, fashioned from 1-inch thick MDF with internal bracing. It’s bulky but manageable, while the elegant styling matches the other speakers perfectly.
The sealed enclosure is equipped with an ultra long-throw 15-inch C-CAM driver and a 650W Class D amplifier with DSP control courtesy of D2 Audio. On the rear are LFE and stereo RCA inputs and their corresponding outputs, plus a USB port to update the firmware and a 12V trigger input.
The W15’s DSP includes an automatic room-mode correction system called LEO (Listening Environment Optimizer). Plug in the supplied microphone, run the test tones and LEO tweaks the sub’s performance to correct detrimental acoustic effects. It stores the settings so you don’t have to run it every time.
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The sub can be controlled using the "Control Panel Encoder" dial on the front. Turn it to adjust the volume, or push it to adjust the settings that appear in a small window on the front. The poky three-digit display is a little vague, but thankfully, with three memory presets per input you can set it and forget it.
The small display shows the selected input (LFE or stereo), preset and volume level. You can also choose from three EQ settings – Music, Movies and Impact – and adjust the phase, crossover frequency and slope angle, which determines how sharply the high frequencies roll off.
These crossover settings are available only for the stereo input, since they’re determined by the AV receiver in LFE mode.
The W15 can also be controlled using the weighty, ergonomic handset. There are dedicated buttons for each preset, volume controls and a button to start the calibration process. There’s also a Night mode that limits the sub’s output without affecting quality.>
Whether you’re playing music or movies, Gold 200AV is a sublime performer. Its power, clarity and fluidity beggar belief, making Monitor Audio’s excellent Bronze system seem decidedly ordinary by comparison.
Spin the opening scene of Skyfall on Blu-ray and, as the motorbikes tear across the rooftops of Istanbul, the system shows its class right off the bat.
The throaty rasp of the engines zooms over my right shoulder quickly and smoothly. The sound sweeps from surround right to front right with complete tonal consistency, making the movement seem real.
And as the bikes smash through the window, the glass breaks with an exquisite tinkle. Monitor Audio’s systems have always impressed with their fabulous high-frequency handling, but the ribbon tweeters in this new Gold array literally take the sound to new heights.
Later, as Bond is led though the abandoned building complex before meeting Silva, the tiny chirp of crickets in the background is teased out with incredible precision and clarity. Not a single detail escapes the system’s attention, lending a real-world quality to movie effects.
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Special praise should go to the versatile Gold C150, which has to deliver dialogue one minute then jump full pelt into a meaty action scene the next. When Bond talks, his speech is authoritative and articulate, laced with realistic details – smacking lips, breaths, sibilance. It’s all there.
So when Moneypenny gives Bond a shave and his voice is reduced to a mere croak, the lines remain perfectly intelligible.
The 200AV does the subtle stuff brilliantly, but there’s no shortage of excitement either. Skip back to Skyfall’s opening and cars smash into barrels with a muscular wallop, while gunshots are fast and fiery.
The C150 and 200s team up to create a frightening front soundstage. The percussive score has plenty of attack, giving the scene energy and drama. You can feel the weight of the beating drums and the leading edge of the brass, a benefit of the MA’s musical leanings.
The W15 sub is among the best I’ve tested. Sure it’s massively powerful, but it also presents subtlety and agility. Bass is seamlessly integrated and completely non-directional, giving no indication of its position in the room. All you get is a wide spread of bass that melds into the other speakers.
Big dynamic shifts aren't a problem. The sudden explosion at MI6 HQ is startling and visceral; the W15 reacts without hesitation. Elsewhere, there’s a solid thump as the Tube train crashes into the underground chamber. The soundstage is huge.
Meanwhile, the FX surrounds muster an effortlessly immersive soundstage in dipole mode, plunging you into the action in a way that regular monopoles can’t. But if you prefer a more directional presentation then monopole mode doesn’t disappoint, delivering effects with terrific precision and clarity.
The Gold 200AV is equally adept when it comes to stereo music playback. Play "Trinkets and Things" by Ryo Kawasaki and the Gold 200s make short work of the complex jazz composition.
These insightful floorstanders expose the track’s multi-layered detail, from the distant strings to the shuffling percussion, while Kawasaki’s nimble guitar solo and the busy bassline are handled with great agility.
The Gold 200AV is expensive but justifies the price tag with its decadent design and mind-blowing performance. With a scary amount of power on board, you get a huge soundstage with slamming explosions and deep omnidirectional bass from the superb subwoofer. And as I’ve come to expect from Monitor Audio, the sound is refined, articulate, thrilling and packed with detail.
It’s a remarkably entertaining listen. Also impressive is the level of flexibility on offer. The dual-mode FX speakers give you two flavours of surround sound, while the subwoofer’s EQ modes and automatic calibration tailor bass output to your room. If you have this sort of money to spend on a 5.1 system, I really can’t recommend the Gold 200AV highly enough.
Compelling sound quality, jaw-dropping design and flexible setup make Monitor Audio’s high-end speaker system an outstanding proposition. It’s expensive, but feels like great value. Home cinema doesn’t get much better than this.