It’s strange, but the only people who don’t realise just how mind-bendingly huge the British audio brand Monitor Audio has become… are the British. We still associate the brand with those beautifully finished loudspeakers of the 1980s and 1990s (so commonly spotted with Audiolab electronics) that represented the upgrade from Mission 770s for many a risk-averse purchaser. Today though, wherever discerning people buy loudspeakers in big numbers, they tend to buy a lot of Monitor Audio. And loudspeakers like the Silver 8 go a long way to explain that correlation.
Monitor Audio of today may remain true to the company’s roots of sensible pricing, and finishes that belie that price tag, but the intervening years have also brought significant innovation to the driver technology employed throughout. But, let’s not pussy-foot around – you still get a lot of box for the money; the Silver 8 offers a genuine three-way, four-driver design, housing those drivers in a decent-sized floorstanding cabinet finished in an impeccable wood veneer, for a frankly astonishing £1,250 per pair, or £1,375 for a sumptuous high-gloss finish.
The Silver 8 sits below the larger floorstander, the range-topping Silver 10, above a small floorstander, the 2.5-way Silver 6, and two two-way standmounts: the Silver 1 and Silver 2. AV users have surround and subwoofer options too. All the models in the Silver series benefit from ‘trickle-down’ technology developed for the Gold and Platinum ranges. The Silver 8’s all-new 165mm mid/bass drivers use aerospace technology C-CAM (Ceramic Coated Aluminium/Magnesium), in the form of dished metal cones without a centre cut-out. These are then dimpled for extra stiffness, in what Monitor Audio dubs RST (Rigid Surface Technology). The new drivers also benefit from larger voice coils and motors, and a specially designed coupling assembly. The midrange driver sits in a separate, damped, and optimised enclosure within the cabinet. The tweeter also employs a C-CAM dome, with careful attention to airflow and venting for reduced resonance and better damping. All this is said to aid improvements in breakup modes, with the aim of clean, low-distortion output.
The drivers are a ‘bolt-through’ design, fixing to the rear of the cabinet via tension rods and are effectively decoupled from the front baffle. This also creates additional bracing, to aid cabinet rigidity. The elimination of fixings to the front baffle and the uninterrupted dish of the drivers makes for a very neat and modern appearance, all the better with the grilles removed. The loudspeakers are configured for bi-wiring; replacing the supplied links with dedicated links from Chord brought a useful improvement in overall coherence, and I used the loudspeakers single-wired with either Studio Connections or Audiomica cables.
The overall presentation is hearty and generous, definitely offering a lot of sound for the money. Bass from that pair of C-CAM woofers goes very deep, even if it sounds perhaps a tad fulsome at times, but before you start to wonder if using the Silver 8s would be a bit like living with Brian Blessed, fret not; the clear impression is that this is a loudspeaker that tries hard to convey the broad scope of signal presented to it. It is far from being one of those loudspeakers that works fine within tightly constrained limits, but not well at all outside them. Instead, the Silver 8s will make a decent stab at anything you care to send their way.
They will boogie when asked: they can do scale, weight, and authority; timing is respectable; and soundstaging is generous and well-proportioned. When the price is taken into account, it’s quite a package – and as an all-rounder, the Silver 8 delivers a satisfying and well-judged performance.
I set them up in the sort of system they might typically inhabit, in this case teamed with a Creek Evo CD player and integrated amp: a combination which can, for all its modest price, deliver a lot of what I want from a system in terms of sheer music-making. If you are on a budget, this is where it starts to get worthwhile, so it was interesting to discover what the Monitor Audios brought to this particular party. And ‘party’ isn’t such a bad way to describe it – these are fun loudspeakers with a big, confident sound, deep and spacious soundstage, and respectable dynamics.
Of course, better electronics bring out better sound, especially in the bass; although the combo turns in surprising bass depth, the Silver 8 is capable of greater bottom-end definition than the Creeks can muster. The Dies Irae from Britten’s ‘War Requiem’ on the Turtle Records sampler The Spirit of Turtle [TR75538] had that deep and open soundstage, with plenty of air and space, but the dynamics relied heavily on that bass for their effect, and then mostly in terms of its weight. Dean Peer’s ‘Mars’ from the same album didn’t have enough impact because the bass, while weighty, lacked sufficient speed, attack, or precision to give that ‘right between the eyes’ effect that is so overwhelming when you hear this piece on a truly great system. That said, few systems at any price manage this particular trick, on this particular track.
In fairness, it’s probably unfair to expect more from a budget system. While the Creek combination was a likely partnering, it was clear the speakers could do better, given a chance. So out went the Creeks, and in came my dCS Puccini and Albarry pre/power combination. Not the most obvious of bedfellows, perhaps, but the exercise shows just how much more the Monitor Audios are capable of giving, when faced with a system of the first water. Put simply, beefing up the electronics helped a lot!
Now, Gretchen Peters’ vocals on ‘Idlewild’ from Hello, Cruel World [PRPCD094] has much more sense of storytelling, mostly due to the way she handles those subtle little inflections and micro-dynamics. The vocals are better focussed, the instruments are played with more sensitivity, and the song is more meaningful and affecting as a result. It’s also more obvious that it is Gretchen Peters doing the singing than it was in the Creek set-up;the timbral differences between voices are much better resolved. Similarly, Abdullah Ibrahim and Kramat from Ekapa Lodumo [TIP-888 840 2] is lively and tuneful, the percussion has clear timing and balance, and there is more sense of the piece building to a climax and conclusion than the Creek/MA system could deliver, not least due to the increased awareness of the nuance and inflections in the playing. The bass tends more toward ‘impressionistic’ than ‘explicit’, but overall this is a significant step up in intelligibility and communication – the band has regained its mojo, but remains under control – and the whole is simply more foot-tappingly enjoyable.
It was an fascinating exercise, because it was clear that the speaker had the capability to resolve a lot of the improvements to the upstream end of the system. A sure sign of a good loudspeaker is that it can rise to the occasion, and the Silver 8 certainly did just that. However, the loudspeakers never sound like a pair of £12,500 loudspeakers trapped in a £1,250 body; they are fine value for money, but the Silver 8s are not audiophile giant-killers. In terms of overall presentation, there is an air of mild airbrushing of fine detail, which might almost be thought of as a form of coloration, a sort of papery sheen to proceedings which overlays the music. Any compromises are perhaps most evident in the bass, which trades a little solidity, timing, and tunefulness in favour of a more broad-brush sense of scale and weight. Compromises are also manifest in a loss of fine-grained subtlety, sweetness, and precision in the upper registers.
In many ways, these are not criticisms but simply observations. Such observations begin to fade when you consider that vast Monitor Audio audience out there in the real world – not every Silver 8 buyer is going to pamper these loudspeakers with the finest quality audiophile-grade musical material, and where those seeking filigree detail might pass up the Silver 8, those with more eclectic tastes that go beyond the best recordings might find the tonal balance is a benefit, not a hurdle.
The Monitor Audio Silver 8s are designed for all kinds of music (not just audiophile music) and even, gulp, multichannel movies. In such contexts, the generous bass and the impact and drive from those two paired bass drivers will satisfy many, and will do so more adroitly than walking a high-end tightrope where a microphone placement half a centimetre out of place is left baldly exposed. Granted, playing something understated like Melody Gardot is going to sound faintly glossed over, even to the point of sounding gauche, but many recordings will benefit from the Silver 8’s handling of loudness as ‘quantity’ rather than ‘intensity’.
Sure, speakers costing many times the price can comprehensively better the Silver 8’s but such comparisons are always invidious. Not least because better loudspeakers might well tell you things you’d rather not know about your source, amplification, or cabling. We need to keep in mind that a £1,250 pair of loudspeakers is likely to be called upon to partner equipment at the budget-to-sensible end of the market, and building in a bit of forgiveness or compliance is likely to be the kinder and ultimately more enjoyable approach.
I think Monitor Audio has produced an all-rounder in the Silver 8, one that will impress in an AV system, while still satisfying with two-channel. What the Monitor Audio Silver 8 does do, and what I found most engaging about these very likeable loudspeakers, is to convey a broad sense of why we bother about all this stuff. They’ll root out the fundamental sense of joy and fun, or drama and magnificence, or pathos, in a recording and make you remember why you decided to invest in a decent hi-fi system in the first place. They are perfectly capable of raising the hairs on my arms, or making me grin like a loon.
These are not oafish, unsubtle loudspeakers with feet of clay and manners to match. They are, rather, big-hearted and generous partners with a sense of fun and musicality. They can raise their game when called upon to do so, but they can just as easily work within a modest system, and get more out of it than you might have expected. They will reward attention to partnering equipment and setup, and are more than capable of telling you, for example, when you’ve installed a more suitable cable. They don’t obsess about fine detail, preferring the bold, broad strokes that get your attention. I wouldn’t argue against that approach – too many systems give detail without supplying context or meaning for it; in those circumstances, you’re frankly better off without the distraction.
What I did find, during my time with the Monitor Audio Silver 8s, was that I often just put on music and enjoyed the experience. Outside of the reviewing sessions, I didn’t spend my time listening critically; I just went with the flow of the music. And that was really easy to do because the speaker doesn’t demand constant attention and fussing over; it just is what it is. And that’s no bad thing.
Type: 3-Way, floorstanding loudspeaker with twin bass reflex ports
Driver complement: 2x 6.5” C-CAM, RST bass drivers; 1 x 4” C-CAM, RST mid-range driver; 1 x 1” (25 mm) gold dome C-CAM tweeter
Crossover frequencies: 500Hz; 2.7KHz
Frequency response: 32Hz-35KHz
Impedance: 4 Ohms
Dimensions (HxWxD): 100 x 18.5 x 30cm
Weight: 23.3Kg (each)
Finishes: Black Oak, Natural Oak, Rosenut, Walnut real wood veneers; black or white high-gloss lacquer
Price: £1,250 /pair (£1,375 for high gloss finishes)
Manufacturer: Monitor Audio Ltd,
Tel: +44 (0) 1268 740580
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