Monitor Audio RX8 - Sound quality

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Monitor Audio RX8
Sound quality
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Metal cone loudspeakers need a lot of running in and I am not quite sure what Monitor Audios really need, but we gave ours forty hours of heavy music and pink noise, as well as the company's own DeTox disc to get them well down the exponential run-in curve for metal cones. B&W say their loudspeakers need far less - fifteen hours will do - and most loudspeakers will loosen up to usability in five hours or so, ten hours being enough to say they are behaving representatively. After forty hours I think my views of the RX8s are fairly representative and Monitor Audio had already put some time on them, we were told later.

monitor_audio_rx8_rearI mention this because the RX8s have a conspicuously bright aura about them that dominates their character and running in softens the sound. These loudspeakers are not neutral by any means, but shinily metallic in their patina. It’s a nice light sort of zing that infuses their sound, but it is there all the same, as it has been with many previous Monitor Audio loudspeakers. To say they cast a bright light over music is to understate the case: they make it vivid. How a listener will react to this will be a matter of taste and expectation. I somehow feel that the RX8s are for younger listeners that want music thrown at them in high energy form, for this is what you get, but after spending time enjoying the LSO playing Tchaikovsky’s ‘March Slave’ I had to re-inspect my simple prejudices. The RX8s may seem modern to the point of being just a tad brash, but their bright light suits even conservative music forms. Being temporally tight with pin sharp timing, sudden orchestral interjections and changes of tempo were extremely well resolved, and their dynamic life gave an orchestra presence in the room. I found myself simply enjoying the sound, irrespective of its distinctive character.

However, a difficulty this character introduces is amplifier matching. Surprisingly, our resident Leema Pulse integrated really did not suit; the combo was too bright. A Naim Nait XS with its warmish balance might be an appropriate choice, and our resident Icon Audio MB845s valve power amps worked well. However, the underdamped bass of the RX8s responded well to the high damping factor of solid-state and I ended up using a Musical Fidelity AMS50 Class A power amplifier, that both gripped the bass cones tightly and was sufficiently neutral to avoid adding to the RX8’s candlepower.

It isn’t just their tonal colour that is so obvious. They are very sensitive and a few Watts will produce extraordinary dynamics. The RX8s are lightning-fast and dynamically strong, giving sudden orchestral fortissimo real bite; both the vigour and pace of an ‘allegro molto vivace’ movement within Tchaikovsky's Symphony No 6 was beautifully captured. So whilst the RX8s might be brightly lit and a tad brash, they nevertheless are able to capture the spirit of music and this is important in making them a fun listen, as well as a convincingly accurate one.

Stressed by the complex percussion work within Santana’s ‘Yaleo’, from the Supernatural CD, I became aware that whilst the presentation was both forward and explicit, the soundstage did not fall away backward as far as it can do, especially with a loudspeaker like the Eminent  Technology LFT-8bs also reviewed in this issue, for example. There was a slight edginess at times - the brashness I refer to earlier - and treble was ‘obvious’ shall I say, if not spiky or peaky. I noticed also that faced with complex music arrangements such as Yaleo, or much orchestral music, the midrange unit did develop a little colour - a slight haziness - and here I suspect its rear chamber and/or the damping within was making itself known, something I have encountered in the past when mounting a midrange unit in a chamber whilst prototyping World Audio Design loudspeakers (a common solution is to use an open back chamber). Sinking back to the simpler, slower ‘Put Your Lights On’ the RX8s came across as precision reproducers, thrusting Santana’s guitar out into the room, underscoring dynamic contrasts and imposing a sharply focused sense of timing that bolted down the track’s rhythmic progression. This gives the RX8s an eye-popping sense of life and vigour, a property they possess in abundance, and conspicuous strength.


"thoroughly modern, high technology loudspeakers with a matching level of performance; in my view they achieve their promise..."

Contributing strongly to their weighty, full blooded delivery is a bass performance that will please most people I believe. Like all Monitor Audio loudspeakers bass is strong and quality very good. My usual Angelique Kidjo torture tracks had the bass cones kicking but Musical Fidelity’s AMS50 amplifier remained in charge of the situation and drove the walking bass guitar line down the frequency scale with firm authority. The RX8s have more bass scale than B&Ws, although a little less control, Monitor Audio ensuring kick drum and bass guitar are always apparent in a performance. The RX8s go low too, although whilst they have strong deep bass they do not do subsonics. Like B&W, Monitor Audio tune their ports high (55Hz) in order to preserve bass speed and avoid room boom. I was occasionally aware of box ‘whoomph’ with heavy bass though, probably coming from the front port, a small colouration that passed unnoticed much of the time, but is obvious in our measurements. The single foam bung supplied would suppress this if used in the front port.


The tonal accuracy of the RX8s was apparent and welcome in their handling of vocals. The intrinsic sheen had some interesting effects, sending Renee Fleming’s highs spiralling upward it seemed, so intensely were they projected. I’m not quite sure it was all natural; the RX8s are strong in the upper midband and seemed to make her higher notes fly. But the overall effect wasn’t unpleasant and I noticed that generally the RX8s handled female vocals very well. Tmonitor-audio-rx8_detailoni Braxton was pinpoint sharp centre stage singing ‘Spanish Guitar’ from The Heat CD, and even her whispered Spanish phrases were spotlit. Guitar strings were cuttingly fast and the slow tempo still razor sharp in its timing. Moving down the musical scale a little, Mark Knopfler’s gruff vocals were equally well described centre stage, strong in dynamic contrast against a clean background. This made for a great intelligibility.

I marvelled at the speed of Arcadi Volodos as his fingers flew over the keyboard playing Shubert’s Sonata in E Major, the RX8s giving the instrument a fine sense of scale as well as luminous presence in our listening room.



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