Monitor Audio Bronze 100 Loudspeaker Review
David Price samples the latest in a long line of high ranking budget standmount speakers…
AUD $849 RRP
Much has changed since Monitor Audio launched its first-ever Bronze loudspeaker in 1998. The UK was in the midst of ‘Cool Britannia’ with a grinning Tony Blair at its helm, Bill Clinton was in the White House, Isis was a good name for a hippy rock band, and Corona was merely a best-selling beer. In the intervening years, the company has launched no less than six generations, proving – if nothing else – that its basic formula of a cheap, cheerful and enjoyable sounding budget loudspeaker is a popular one. Having reviewed the first generation Bronze range back in the day, I remember liking its bouncy, musical sound – but not being too impressed by its build quality.
The new Bronze 100 is the larger of two standmounters in the company’s latest entry-level range, designed by Charles Minett and Michael Hedges. On the hi-fi side, it stretches from the dinky entry-level Bronze 50 standmount to the big Bronze 500 floorstander. AV types are also well served with a matching subwoofer, centre, rear and Atmos-enabled front models. I was eager to review this 100 version because it has something that none of its price rivals possess – a full-size 200mm diameter mid/bass driver.
This goes against the trend for slimline, small-footprint designs with 165mm drive units (or less) that are all-pervasive in the mass market sector. I’m sure the marketing men don’t like flouting the rules of loudspeaker fashion, but anyone who understands speaker design will have their thumbs firmly aloft. Put simply – all other things being equal, there’s no substitute for size. When properly designed, larger drivers move more air more effortlessly, which proves to be this standmounter’s trump card.
I’m sure Monitor Audio would say that other things come into it too, such as the new Uniform Dispersion Waveguide which works with the company’s well regarded 25mm C-CAM gold dome tweeter. The acoustically transparent hexagonal dispersion pattern on the latter’s cover is certainly distinctive. It’s set into a smooth one-piece 21mm thick front baffle that’s a world away from the exposed wood screws of early Bronze ranges from way back when. Beneath sits the aforementioned oversize C-CAM mid-bass driver featuring new Damped Concentric Mode (DCM) technology. This crosses over from the tweeter at 2.2kHz, which is par for the course for this sort of two-way design. The manufacturer says that premium-grade polyester film and electrolytic capacitors are used in the crossover, along with air-core and low-loss laminated steel-core inductors.
The cabinet is respectably thick 15mm MDF, covered in a choice of four finishes – White, Walnut, Urban Grey and Black. These are pleasing enough and don’t immediately shout “budget speaker” at you when you see them. Indeed, the Bronze 100 looks surprisingly swish considering its price. Neat, oval cloth-covered grilles are supplied, magnetically attached, but I found the speaker sounded better without them.
Hit the 376x231x325mm, 7.8kg cabinet with your knuckle, and it feels reasonably inert considering its lowly selling price; Monitor Audio says that bracing is placed inside at optimal points to reduce unwanted vibrations. Round the back, you get gold-plated bi-wirable speaker binding posts, linked to the crossover inside by Pureflow silver-plated oxygen-free copper internal cabling. The company’s specially designed HiVe II bass reflex port sits at the back, with foam bungs supplied for those running their speakers close to a boundary wall.
My overall sense of the Bronze 100 is of a well designed, nicely presented modern loudspeaker that doesn’t give its modest price away – and is way better made than the first-ever Bronze. The quoted measured performance figures tell a similar tale, too. Frequency response is listed as 52Hz to 25kHz at -6dB, which is fair enough for something this size. Sensitivity is put at 87dB, which isn’t bad for a small speaker – although nothing to write home about. Monitor Audio says that the recommended amplifier power range is 30 to 100W RMS per channel, and it has pretty standard nominal impedance at 8 ohms. I found this wee budget box sounded best on 24-inch stands, a little over 30cm from the boundary wall and slightly toed in.
What in all honesty, can a $849 bookshelf loudspeaker do? Having been around the block and reviewed a lot of budget boxes in my life, I can exclusively reveal that some sound horrid. The good news is that these days this is less the case than it used to be, but even cheap moderns can be bland to the point of sucking the life out of any recording, as well as all its texture and nuance too. The mission facing the Bronze 100 is to somehow capture the essence of the music without causing undue offence – and in this, it completely succeeds.
Looked at from the point of view of someone who often reviews speakers costing over one hundred times its price, I can exclusively reveal that this Monitor Audio is not particularly detailed. It has a soft, gentle haze to it that occludes fine detail and stops you hearing right into the recording. For example, I couldn’t hear that much difference between my Vertigo first pressing of Dire Straits’ Sultans of Swing CD, and the fancy Mobile Fidelity version. There was a slight increase in bass warmth and a subtly silkier treble, but this wee box doesn’t have the focus of a good mid-price or high-end loudspeaker. Of course, the same goes for every other rival at its price, and many are worse.
Yet the Bronze 100 is a natural music maker that reproduces the original recording in an engaging, straightforward and enjoyable way. For all its sins of omission, it retains much of what’s arguably the most important aspect of music – emotion. The Bronze 100 has an open, inviting and friendly sound; it smiles at you. Play a simple movie soundtrack such as Neil Diamond’s Love On The Rocks, and you’re immediately caught by the poignancy of the song. It focuses in on the main parts of the mix – the Fender Rhodes piano and lead vocal – of which it gives a hearty, lusty rendition. Rather than the music sounding like it’s being squeezed out of a toothpaste tube, as with some rivals with smaller mid/bass drivers, things sound big. Also, Diamond’s distinctive voice comes over far less compressed than you might expect from a speaker of this price. As the song builds to a crescendo, the backing kicks in and the singer starts really belting it out; it doesn’t sound like he’s fallen down a hole.
Indeed, this big-hearted nature shines out with everything you play. Of course, it’s still small fry compared to big floorstanders, pro monitors and so on – but for its class, the Bronze 100 is quite the star. Feed it a track with a thick bassline such as Sky’s Westway, and that big syrupy synth bass is gutsier than you might expect – it makes a thick sound that’s less constrained than it could be, but more importantly, as John Williams’ classical guitar comes in, it’s never overshadowed. In other words, things are more spacious and less reined in than they otherwise might be. So alongside its emotional fluency, the second key characteristic of this Monitor Audio speaker is physical scale and space. It sets up a wide recorded acoustic and gives everything inside room to breathe, unlike some rivals with their smaller mid/bass drivers.
Tonally the Bronze 100 is warmer than many of its rivals, which I personally like. We all know that some metal dome tweeters can strip paint off walls, but Monitor Audio’s is a fairly couth one. There’s an obvious lack of subtle detail and general air and space compared to some of the company’s fancier tweeters they use in more upmarket designs, but this still gets the job done with a certain elan. Feed it the icy strains of Kate Bush’s Babooshka, and there’s no hotspot where the tweeter breaks up or fails to crossover with the mid/bass unit smoothly. Instead, it carries her voice cleanly, with just a slight hint of nasal colouration – also shared by its price rivals. In the bass, things are solid and punchy but with softness around the edges. Although you can hear some boxy colouration in the upper bass, it’s nicely euphonic. It doesn’t slur the music’s natural rhythms, nor does it overload the box until you ram the volume right up; many rivals fall apart at noticeably lower levels.
For all its faults – inevitable at this price of course – Monitor Audio’s new Bronze 100 is a likeable little loudspeaker. It does far better than it has a right to, frankly. It’s friendly and well mannered and loves to have fun. Those looking for harder, more forensic sounding designs need not apply, but most buyers in this part of the market really shouldn’t be. It’s an immeasurably better speaker than that first Bronze of twenty-two years ago, but this British company’s pleasing house sound is still there. Highly recommended then, if you’re a believer in family values.
David started his career in 1993 writing for Hi-Fi World and went on to edit the magazine for nearly a decade. He was then made Editor of Hi-Fi Choice and continued to freelance for it and Hi-Fi News until becoming StereoNET’s Editor-in-Chief.