Located about an hour's drive due east of London, UK, Monitor Audio quietly occupies a fair bit of space in a modern industrial park. Its office space is modern and open format, seemingly encouraging collaboration and discussion. The engineering, design, and marketing teams all struck me as being remarkably young for a modern hi-fi company as I arrived and parked my laptop and camera. Notably, it also had a non-corporate feel to it. Sure, "Monitor Audio" coffee mugs were sitting on desks, and some framed pictures of loudspeakers adorned conference rooms, but that is hardly unexpected for a loudspeaker manufacturer.
"We kind of started in the Wild West of audio. A lot of people back then were making money selling loudspeakers that weren't that good. Our methods these days are based on pure science; everything has a logical explanation. Number one thing, top of the list for us: we're trying to improve audio performance."
For many smaller loudspeaker companies, the undertaking of a brand new project, from the ground up, is a daunting prospect. More often than not, companies will outsource the industrial design of a nascent product to a third party. At Monitor Audio, however, there is a full-time team of approximately ten designers who are tasked with bringing concepts to life.
The "Made in China" tag was always one viewed with derision. I saw it that way, at the very least. And why not? China was always synonymous with cheap knockoffs, lower quality, and a way for companies to save money. So when Monitor picked up shop from the factory that I visited in Southend-on-Sea, due east of London, and headed significantly farther east back in 2004, there were some skeptics. It's arguable that at that time, such a jaundiced view was perhaps warranted. So why make the move?
As alluded to in the prior article, Monitor Audio made the manufacturing move to China in 2004, and the company has not looked back. While labor costs went down, at least preliminarily, and production numbers went through the roof, Monitor has grown ninefold since the early 2000s -- but improving the quality of their final product was always the endgame. At first they battled uphill against the prevailing sentiment about having products being "Made in China." But all it took was demonstrating their first Chinese-made products, the Silver RS line, to distributors and dealers for that to all but disappear. The reaction that Dean Hartley (shown below) recalled was "Really? Made in China? Wow."
As impressed as I was with my visit to Monitor Audio, it would all be for naught if I were not equally impressed with how their loudspeakers performed. Spoiler: they perform remarkably well. I began my listening session, which took place in Monitor's dedicated listening room, with their Silver 8 model. Retailing at $2000 USD per pair, the three-way design makes use of a 1" gold-dome tweeter -- which I'm told is the best domed tweeter Monitor has ever made -- a 4" midrange, and a pair of 6" woofers. All are made from their proprietary C-CAM material, short for ceramic-coated aluminum magnesium. At around 40" tall and 51 pounds, it's easy to see the virtues of Chinese production, as the 8s were well appointed. Simaudio and Cyrus electronics were set off to the side, while I was given free rein to play whatever music I wanted.
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