- Detailed yet impressively refined sound
- Beautifully built
- Easy to drive and position
- Won’t flatter poor equipment
- Possibly not always the most joyous speaker around
What is the Monitor Audio PL100II?
The Monitor Audio PL100II is the smallest member of the Monitor Audio Platinum range and like the other models, it has been updated to Platinum II specification, taking on board the feedback and further technical innovation since the launch of the original Platinum series back in 2008. Its arrival in the AVForums review process takes us into new ground for a standmount loudspeaker. The PL100II costs almost as much again as the PMC twenty5.21 that was reviewed recently and breaks the £3,000/$4,500 barrier.
Not too long ago, the number of standmount speakers that exceeded this point was fairly limited. By the time you were dropping the sort of money that buys a reasonable used car, good mechanical watch or tailored suit, the thinking went that you’d be looking for a floorstanding speaker. In recent years, this thinking has changed significantly. Firstly (and inescapably) £3,000/$4,500 buys less speaker than it did as inflation, material price rises and our own freefalling currency take effect.
There are some other considerations though. The space we have for equipment is often shrinking as houses become more expensive. There is also a change to speaker ranges. This is the smallest member of a family of speakers that goes up to a £15,000 leviathan that deeply impressed us at Bristol last year. Is it better to buy the smallest member of a high spec range or look at the biggest member of a lower spec one? (and they don’t come much bigger than the Sonus faber Venere Swhich might be seen as the other end of this program). Is small beautiful or does size matter?
The PL100II is the smallest member of the Platinum range but it contains the key technologies that Monitor Audio has created for the Platinum series. Since the original range appeared, some of these technologies have made their way into other ranges but this represents their peak application.
The main focus of attention is the tweeter. This is a unit that Monitor Audio calls the MPD – Micro Pleated Diaphragm and it is somewhat unusual. The radiating area takes the form of a diaphragm that is pleated (Monitor Audio’s exact choice of words) and equates to a flat surface that is eight times the size of a conventional dome tweeter. This generates sound by squeezing the pleats in the manner of an accordion bellows and has clean and measurable output well beyond the threshold of human hearing.
This ability is something that seems to be a source of confusion on the part of some critics. Monitor Audio (and other companies that make similar tweeters) are not claiming that their customers are X-Men with senses far in advance of mere mortals. The benefit of this extended response is two fold. The first is that a tweeter capable of such extension won’t be struggling with audible frequencies. The second is more complex but repeatable as a test. The presence of these extremely high frequencies has an effect on our perception of the audible band. By reproducing these frequencies correctly, the reproduction of the audible band is ‘shaped’ in such a way as to be more musically satisfying.
On the PL100II, this tweeter is partnered with a 6.5 ‘RDT’ (Rigid Diaphragm Technology) driver. On first inspection, this looks very much like the C-CAM drivers that Monitor Audio has been using for many years. This is a concave dome with no dust cap and in recent years, it has gained a dimpled finish for additional strength and rigidity. Here, this visible section is backed by a light Nomex Honeycomb with a carbon fibre rear section to create a driver that is still extremely light but possessed of exceptional stiffness. This rigidity is important because it means that the driver wastes no energy doing anything other than going backwards and forwards and Monitor Audio claims this is the lowest distortion driver they’ve ever produced. Coupled with an underhung, edge wound voice coil, it promises useful extension down to 40Hz.
The whole driver is then mounted in an extremely rigid enclosure made from composites that almost completely encase it. This is to prevent the formation of standing waves that would need to be dissipated via the cabinet otherwise. As the PL100II does without a dedicated midrange driver, the enclosure here is slightly different to the completely enclosed one used in other models in that it has to allow the driver to vent to the rear mounted bass port but the principal remains the same.
The cabinet and the attendant bass port are almost conventional judged by the drivers. Monitor Audio has chosen to use relatively conventional materials in a well-engineered fashion rather than do anything outlandish. The ‘HIVE II’ bass ports have been seen on other Monitor Audio products but help to control the flow of air through the port and to try and alleviate it from becoming disturbed at the mouth. The gentle curve on the side of the cabinets should help further reduce standing waves. Unusually, the PL100II supports bi wiring and does so via custom made and impressively hefty speaker terminals.
Monitor Audio has not significantly altered the appearance of the Platinum range in the move to the second generation. This is not too surprising in itself. Flagship speakers benefit from an aesthetic consistency that lets customers go “that’s an x” and there also wasn’t really a great deal wrong with the Platinum Series to begin with. The experience of unpacking and setting up the review samples represented my first real time with these speakers and it was illuminating in a number of ways.
First up, the packaging that these speakers turn up in is a fairly hefty piece of engineering in its own right. It takes the form of a reinforced carboard liner in which the speakers sit on a foam tray. It’s large and immensely solid. This solidity is nothing compared to the speakers themselves though. If we take the PMC twenty5.21 to be a well finished example of a home speaker, the PL100II is an altogether more luxurious object. What is intriguing is that in many ways, the Monitor Audio is the more subtle of the two.
Take that finish. These words are being written before any photography takes place and I’m wholly unsure how the PL100II is going to look in photos. If you glance at the Monitor Audios, you can trick your eyes into thinking they are black. When light hits them though and shows the ebony wood markings though, the effect is utterly lovely. The finish is flawless and the understated nature of how it is employed has really grown on me. It also complements other design elements. The front baffle is a rather impressively soft piece of leather that looks and feels lovely. I’ve kept the grilles on for the bulk of listening – removing them is pretty involved although the supplied tool works well enough – and the result is a speaker that doesn’t scream or shout it is expensive until you start to look at the quality of work that’s gone into it.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of this is that thanks to careful thinking, the Monitor Audio is no more challenging to live with than another large standmount. It has a dedicated stand but thanks to a decent footprint, it works perfectly happily on aftermarket ones. It needs some space around it (which I’ll cover in a little more detail in a bit) but ultimately it is a well implemented speaker that manages to make you feel special without being ostentatious.
The result is a speaker that doesn’t scream or shout it is expensive until you start to look at the quality of work that’s gone into it
How was the PL100II tested?
The Monitor Audios were used on a pair of Partington Dreadnought stands borrowed for the purpose as my own Soundstyle units were a little insubstantial for the task. They have been connected to a Naim Supernait 2, Naim ND5 XS with XP5 XS power supply and Avid Ingenium Twin with Cyrus Phono Signature Phono stage. All equipment has been connected to an IsoTek Evo 3 Sigmas mains conditioner. Material used has been lossless and high res FLAC and AIFF, DSD, Tidal and vinyl.
Although it’s generally impossible to tell from the immaculately repackaged manner in which they do it, Monitor Audio doesn’t tend to release speakers without them having had a good run in. As a result I can’t tell you what these speakers sound like fresh out of the box. I can tell you that in some intriguing ways, the performance of the PL100II mimics its appearance.
What do I mean by this? In greatly simplified terms, the performance of the PL100II is so effortless, it takes a little time and concentration to appreciate quite how good it is because there’s so few obtrusive clues to what it is doing. The only attribute that makes itself felt from the off is the bass response. For a relatively compact speaker, the Monitor Audio has exceptional bass extension. Listening to Underworld’s Everything, Everything live album, the PL100II is seriously impressive. It extends effortlessly off the lower midrange and is packed with detail and texture. Provided that you are thirty centimetres or so away from the wall, there is no sense of boom or over driving either.
Spend some time listening to the PL100II though and the bass response is actually one of the less remarkable aspects of the speaker. The upper registers of the Monitor Audio are sensationally good and the more you listen to them, the more impressive they become. Firstly, despite the very different technologies involved in the tweeter and mid bass drivers, the integration between them is perfect – something that isn’t always a given with speakers of this nature. I’ve spent a bit of time trying to find the handover between them and it simply isn’t there. The speaker then makes use of this driver complement to deliver a sound that often only really shows up its fundamental rightness when you choose to listen to the same music on something else.
What sets the PL100II apart from most other speakers is that it uses the radiating area of the tweeter to generate an immense sense of space without then overcooking the actual amount of energy it puts in that space. Returning to a routinely used test track of mine, Regina Spektor’s Consequence of Sounds, there is a totally self explanatory sense of the room that the piano is in and the confines it puts on its output. The piano itself is delivered with confidence, weight and texture but – despite having listened to this piece a great deal more than I care to think about – I don’t recall getting such a sense of the piece as a whole.
What appeals to me at least about this is how unobtrusive the process is. The PL100II manages to bring a truly invigorating level of scale and energy to music but even when provoked, it stays smooth and civilised. When used with the Naim streamer, the results are thoroughly satisfying but the results with vinyl via the Avid and Cyrus have genuinely been some of the best I’ve achieved with analogue – and this includes some considerably more expensive setups. There is an effortlessness to the way it makes music that is a true taste of the high end at an almost reasonable price.
Finding things that don’t quite work in this tidal wave of positivity is pretty tough. This is not a speaker that adds additional pace or joy to music. With the superbly groovy 1999 by Cassius, the Monitor Audio is tremendously enjoyably but – as befits the general mission statement of the whole design – it isn’t adding anything additional to the mix. If you live on a diet of high energy music (and even I don’t do that any more), you might find that the PL100II is a little too refined but the entire system I use probably contributes to this. As an all-rounder though, the Monitor Audio does an awful lot more right than it does wrong.
There is an effortlessness to the way it makes music that is a true taste of the high end at an almost reasonable price
At any price point from the most affordable to staggeringly expensive, speakers are the most subjective part of the audio chain. Designs that are performing entirely ‘correctly’ can fail to spark any level of enthusiasm with your equipment and your music. As prices increase, this becomes more and more marked. It is rare to find a speaker that purports to be in any way high end that has a truly universal appeal.
This makes what this one does rather more singular. If you partner the PL100II with any remotely compatible electronics, I will be very surprised if you can honestly find no merit in the way this speaker performs. This is an attractive, exquisitely assembled and very forgiving speaker that delivers a truly outstanding performance across a huge variety of music. This incredible set of abilities garners the PL100II a Highly Recommended badge.