Monitor Audio hit the jackpot last year with the R90HT1, a classy compact 5.1 system made up of speakers from its ever popular Radius range. We gave it 10/10.
A year on and the company is looking to improve on its predecessor’s killer sound quality by swapping the Radius 390 subwoofer for the bigger and beefier Silver W12. But is it possible to improve on perfection? Let’s find out…
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Like the R90HT1, the R90HT12 features two pairs of R90 satellites for the front and surround channels and the R200 on centre speaker duties. The speakers’ external design remains the same, which is terrific news as it’s one of the most attractive systems we’ve clapped eyes on. It’s the sort of swanky system that becomes a feature of your living room, rather than something you try to conceal.
At 198mm high the R90s are remarkably compact and easy to accommodate. They come in a choice of High Gloss Black, White and Walnut finishes (which applies to all the speakers in the system). We were sent the black version, which looks absolutely dashing with its gleaming lacquer and smoothed edges. On the front are protruding grilles that conceal the drivers, each surrounded by a thin silver trim.
But the R90 isn’t just a pretty face – it’s backed up by fantastic build quality. The cabinet is reassuringly solid and heavy, giving out a dull thud when you tap it, and the lacquer finish feels luxurious. A pair of R90s costs £350 and they’re worth every penny.
Much the same can be said for the R200 centre, which is horizontally aligned so it’ll easily fit in a TV stand shelf. It’s bigger and bulkier than the R90 but that’s because it has to accommodate an extra mid/bass driver.
If you want something a bit bigger, a step-up version of this system (R270HT12) swaps the front R90s for R270 floorstanders and will set you back an extra £350.
Although it hails from Monitor Audio’s step-up Silver range, the W12 subwoofer doesn’t look out of place. It’s clad in an identical black finish to the satellites and even looks similar to the Radius 390 subwoofer it replaces. This cube shaped box measures 340 x 340 x 380mm, which isn’t exactly compact but not unmanageably big either.
On top you’ll find a small panel of controls including a volume dial (which is handy if the rear panel is hard to access) and a couple of buttons to activate the auto setup system and EQ modes. On the back are stereo line input and output, LFE input and output, a 12V trigger input, a phase switch and crossover frequency control.
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Both the Radius 90 and 200 speakers use Monitor Audio’s famed C-CAM (Ceramic-Coated Aluminium/Magnesium) drivers, and their outstanding performance as part of the R90HT1 system convinced the company that they could handle being paired with a more powerful subwoofer. As a result, this updated R90HT12 system now incorporates the W12 subwoofer from the step-up Silver series, which also features a C-CAM driver.
The two-way R90 features a 4-inch C-CAM mid/bass driver with a concave cone, filtered down from the range-topping Platinum and Gold GX series. The cone’s continuous rigid surface – which is coupled to a longer voice coil and larger motor by a more efficient drive assembly – is said to result in ‘cleaner, more extended and articulate bass definition’, not to mention better integration between satellites and subwoofer.
It’s joined by a 1-inch C-CAM tweeter, which is vented internally through a specially designed housing to a rear-loading chamber, resulting in lower resonance and better damping. The point at which the tweeter crosses over with the mid/bass driver is resolved with greater accuracy, too; one of the many reasons why Monitor Audio believes this tweeter delivers the widest and cleanest frequency range possible from the compact Radius cabinets.
Two of the 4-inch C-CAM drivers are found in the R200 centre, flanking the tweeter in the MTM (midbass-tweeter-midbass) configuration.
The Silver W12 subwoofer is equipped with a 12-inch C-CAM driver and 500W DSP-controlled amplifier. Its front-firing, sealed box design means it’s not fussy about where you place it. An added bonus is the inclusion of Automatic Position Correction (APC), which takes the hassle out of optimisation – it uses the supplied microphone and a series of test tones to identify detrimental resonances, and then tweaks the frequency response according to the room and position.
There are three EQ modes too – Movies, Music and Impact. These adjust the frequency response in different ways and it’s worth experimenting to find one that best suits your room and taste.
The R90HT12 builds on the stellar performance of the R90HT1, delivering on its promise of bigger, harder bass while retaining the sense of refinement that defines Monitor Audio’s speaker systems. It fills the room better than before, constructing a deep and enveloping soundstage with action movies like Edge of Tomorrow on Blu-ray.
As Cage is dropped onto the beach battlefield for the first time, the Silver W12 musters big authoritative bass notes. There’s a solid rumble as the quadcopter hurtles towards the ground, and when Cage blows the Alpha Mimic to smithereens for his first fateful death it explodes with a hard-hitting yet well-controlled thump.
Any subwoofer can do power, but what makes the W12 so impressive is the way it integrates so seamlessly with the R90s. In fact, you don’t notice it most of the time, which is the mark of a good subwoofer. If you’re distracted by flabby, distorted or disjointed bass, it’s really hard to lose yourself in the movie.
Logic tells us these dinky satellites shouldn’t be able to mix it with such a dominant sub, but it’s testament to the quality of the C-CAM drivers that they blend so tightly, with no holes in the midrange. They join together to create a unified, powerful soundstage, which is great news for anyone looking for maximum sonic impact with minimal living room disruption.
The W12 is also responsive and agile. It skilfully weaves bass depth into dialogue, music and effects, and keeps pace with quick beats – the rattling machine gun fire from the mechanised suits has a deep hum that you feel viscerally. It stops and starts quickly with no overhang.
The icing on the cake, however, is the system’s gorgeous high-frequency reproduction. The C-CAM tweeters deliver treble with directness and precision, making every scene buzz with texture and nuance. From the hiss of sand as Mimics whizz round the beach to clicking metal and shattering glass, every effect sounds remarkably crisp and natural. The R90s also lend subtlety to quiet scenes, and make it easy to pin-point the location of surround effects.
The R200 centre handles dialogue with the clarity and authority of a much bigger speaker, plus the front trio deliver effects and music with a dynamic tone without pushing into brightness. The system does err on the smooth side, refusing to get too excited during the most turbo-charged fight scenes, even when you test its limits with the volume dial. That may not suit fans of a more aggressive sound.
But this smoothness really hits the spot with music. The finessed top-end, robust midrange and nimble bass results in a spine-tingling listen no matter the genre – we played everything from acoustic jazz by Atagiin to raucous rock tracks by Nirvana and the R90HT12 handled it all with utter confidence and sophistication. The front pair of R90s presents the music with superb imaging, accuracy and depth, even without the subwoofer in tow.
The Radius R90HT12 is an outstanding speaker system, offering a highly detailed, powerful and seamlessly integrated sound – no mean feat for such a compact system. And thanks to the inclusion of the Silver W12 subwoofer, it improves on the performance of the R90HT1, delivering deeper and more potent bass.
That said, we’re not sure the step up in quality is fully commensurate with the hefty jump up in price – £500 to be precise. After all, the Radius 390 is still a damn fine sub. We reckon most buyers would be just as happy saving cash and scooping up the R90HT1.
As a result, it’s not quite the 10/10 smash hit of its predecessor, but even so R90HT12 is still one of the best-sounding and most attractive compact systems around.
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Another top-drawer speaker package from Monitor Audio, blending refined, potent sound with drop-dead gorgeous looks and luxury build quality – but you’ll need deeper pockets this time round