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Product Review - Monitor Audio Studio 20 SE Loudspeakers - December, 1995

By John E. Johnson, Jr.

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Monitor Audio Studio 20 SE

Monitor Audio Studio 20 SE Speakers; Floor standing speakers, each speaker has one 1" gold plated aluminum dome tweeter and one 6 1/2" aluminum-magnesium-ceramic cone woofer; frequency response 30 Hz - 30 kHz plus or minus 3 dB, sensitivity 89 dB/W/M, nominal impedance 8 Ohms, power handling capacity 200 watts, size 36"H x 8"W x 10 1/2"D, weight 55 pounds each; $4,499 per pair (Rosewood); Monitor Audio USA, P.O. Box 1355, Buffalo, New York 14205-1355, Phone (905)-428-2800, Fax (905)-428-0004.

The Monitor Audio Studio 20 SE is not a new model of speaker. We have seen them mentioned over and over again in European Hi-Fi magazines, but they have not been reviewed by a North American publication. We decided to find out what all the fuss was about and requested a pair, in rosewood.

When they arrived, our equipment wrangler unpacked them and pointed out that there were only two drivers in each speaker. "Forty five hundred dollars is a lot of money for these, even with rosewood," he said. "They had better sound pretty terrific." We all agreed that, although they were indeed beautiful to look at, this was expensive compared to the triple-driver speakers we were used to in this price range. Then we hooked them up and put on some music.

From the moment we pressed "Play" on the CD drive, we knew these were special. Everyone nodded their approval. It took about 20 hours of playing to break them in, as is usual for high quality speakers, and they continue to improve with age like a good wine, although it is a matter of weeks instead of years for the MA20s to reach maturity. Female voices - the ultimate test - were absolutely incredible. We played Enya's "Watermark" and "Shepherd Moons" albums, and I noticed that Jeanne Fairbrook put down a novel she was engrossed in. "They are worth the price," she said.

The MA20s sounded best with a MOSFET power amplifier, rather than bipolar. The MOSFETs made them blossom like peaches in the spring. Mind you, they did not sound bad with bipolar amps, but just not quite as musical. On the other hand, bipolar amps gave them a bit more on the deep end, but we preferred the mid-range glory that MOSFETs provided.

The MA20s are some of the smoothest sounding speakers - over the audible power spectrum - that we have ever come across. They also had astonishing detail, much more than I ever imagined possible. No wonder they are talked about so much in Europe. But, now the secret is out on this side of the Atlantic. Following are the frequency response data, using one speaker only, volume adjusted to 80 dB at 1 kHz, microphone 1 meter from one speaker on-axis midway between the two drivers, speaker 18" out from rear wall, grill cloth left on. We used normal equipment in the test circuit (CD player, interconnects, tube preamp, interconnects, solid state power amps, speaker cables, MA20s) as a "real world" response test. Because many CD players roll off near the upper limits (20 kHz), we did not measure frequency response above 15 kHz.

Frequency response of Monitor Audio Studio 20 SE:

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Frequency: 15 kHz 10 kHz 5 kHz 1 kHz 200 Hz 160 Hz 125 Hz
dB: 76.8 75.8 78.0 80.0 76.6 74.0 73.7
Frequency: 100 Hz 80 Hz 63 Hz 50 Hz 40 Hz 31.5 Hz 25 Hz 20 Hz
dB: 77.0 76.8 75.5 80.8 72.1 71.5 65.1 61.3

The response data show that these speakers are useful down to between 30 and 40 Hz. Not bad at all for a 6 1/2" low frequency driver. There was no boominess to the sound that we could tell, as these speakers are very well controlled for cabinet resonance.

A sound bite (.wav 88K) demonstrating the resonance of the MA20s.

The base of the enclosure has a sealed opening that can be unscrewed for adding sand. This would tighten the bass, but we liked them as is, without any further damping. The 6 1/2" woofer cone is made from an aluminum-magnesium alloy sandwiched between 50 microns of ceramic. Like other metal coned woofers in Monitor Audio's line, these drivers have a resonance (the first appearing at 5.9 kHz) that is removed by a R/C notch filter placed in the crossover network. The tweeter is aluminum dome with gold plating. Crossover is at 3.2 kHz, 6 dB/octave for the woofer, and 12 dB/octave for the tweeter. There are, of course, provisions for bi-wiring through the dual set of gold-plated binding posts on the rear, below the 2" diameter port.

We have no complaints about the MA20s at all. But there just had to be something somewhere to talk about, so we turned off the lights, waited for our eyes to become dark adapted, and then went over the surface of the enclosure with a small concentrated flashlight beam. Aha! We found a hair embedded in the lacquer finish. O.K. so they aren't perfect, just close to it. We also examined the inside of the enclosure, looking through the port on the rear. We could see that the enclosure has veneer on the inside surface, although it did not appear to be rosewood (it turns out to be mahogany), and we could not tell if it was lacquered. Finishing on both sides of a piece of woodwork is the sign of fine craftsmanship. It can be found in expensive furniture, and the reason it is done is so that moisture will be equally absorbed on both surfaces, and there will be no undue stresses caused by expansion. Thus, the enclosure stays tight through all kinds of weather and mileage. The cabinets are veneered on the front underneath the black grill cloth, and the drivers are really quite striking - silver and gold against rosewood - but they are, in our paranoid opinion - best left protected by the grill cloth at all times, except when showing off.

Jeanne had one comment that is appropriate here. We have seen some threads on the BBSs regarding difficulty in getting wives to let their husbands put speakers here or there in the living room, and they were asking each other what they should do. Jeanne says that the solution is very simple. Just buy your speakers with a nice veneer like the rosewood on the MA20s. Then . . . no problem!

In summary, the Monitor Audio Studio 20 SE speakers are truly wonderful. The old saying, "Listen to the music" must have sprung from these speakers. Absolutely out of this world.

John E. Johnson Jr.
Editor-in-Chief

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