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Reviewers' Choice 1999
"Excellent quality, value, and solid performance with both music and film."



 

[SOUNDSTAGE!]Home Theater
Equipment Review

May 1999

Monitor Audio Full Metal Theater Speaker System

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

It was that marvelous opening line that made me the film junkie that I am today. I can’t remember the exact date of my Bar Mitzvah, but I’ll never forget the day my mother took me to see Star Wars in 1977. Whereas Walt Disney and his politically correct group of talking ducks and mice failed in their attempt at brainwashing me, George Lucas succeeded in opening up my imagination to a world of endless possibilities, the battle between good and evil, the majesty of film, and the lucrative world of royalty payments. Twenty-three years and more than 4000 films later, I am still deeply fascinated by movies, yet it has taken me to this point to get really excited about home theater. The demise of the classic single-screen theaters that we grew up with and the cockroach-like infestation of multiplexes that offer multiple viewings of crappy films that I don't want to see, combined with luxurious stadium-seating and flavored popcorn, have driven me into my basement home theater.

The excitement surrounding the release of Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace is rather convincing evidence that movies still have strong consumer appeal. When was the last time you heard about people planning to skip three days of work to stand in line for tickets to hear somebody sing and play the guitar? (Spice Girls don't count!) The proliferation of DSS dishes has exceeded industry expectations, and people that I spoke to in both Las Vegas and at the Festival du son in Montreal all said the same thing: "Sell us something that will make movies and sports programs look great and make music sound good too and we’ll buy it." Any manufacturers listening?

While not inexpensive, the Full Metal Theater from Monitor Audio exceeded all of my expectations and may just be the sane choice for those of you who are looking to build a superior home-theater system.

There is no try…

You are probably wondering why Monitor Audio calls this their Full Metal Theater. One of Monitor Audio’s cost advantages is that it designs and manufactures its own drivers. The bass drivers in this system are made from anodized aluminum magnesium alloy. The midbass driver is then sandwiched between a 50-micron layer of heat-dissipating ceramic, which keeps the cone light but very rigid. The drivers also use a nitrile rubber for the surrounds. Cast baskets support the drivers and further reduce any unwanted resonance. The 1" tweeters are also made from the same aluminum magnesium alloy.

The cabinets are made from 3/4" thick MDF and are extensively braced at the core. The available real-hardwood veneers (black oak, rosemah, light cherry) are on the inside as well the outside of the speakers. Each speaker also comes with two pairs of binding posts that are well spaced and easily allow for biwiring with fairly thick speaker cables. The supplied grille covers snap easily into place, and I discovered that there was only a minor improvement in sound quality with the grilles removed. A metal cap covers the tweeters, so there is little danger of junior or Felix the cat getting at them. All of the speakers arrived in solid and secure packaging, and the overall level of finish and quality control impressed me. This company delivers a well-built and professionally finished product. My only gripe would be that the monitors and the subwoofer are not shielded. Monitor Audio suggests that a distance of one to two feet from your television should suffice, but the paranoid android in me kept the monitors about three feet from either side of my Hitachi monitor.

One of the most appealing aspects of the Full Metal Theater is that you have plenty of choices. If your room is larger than average, then Monitor Audio suggests the 703PMC floorstander ($1799 a pair). For medium and smaller rooms, Monitor Audio suggests either the 702PMC ($1299) or the 700PMC ($999). Monitor also offers three center-channel speakers -- CC70, CC700, CC750 -- as well as the MA FX2 surround speakers ($1199 a pair). Two powered subwoofers, ASW 110 and ASW 210, round out the lineup. For purposes of the review, Monitor Audio supplied one pair of 702PMCs, one pair of 700PMCs, one CC70 center-channel speaker, one pair of MA FX2 surround speakers, and one ASW 210 subwoofer.

The 700PMCs (13 3/4"H x 8 1/2"W x 9 1/2"D) are two-way monitors with 6 1/4" woofers and 1" gold-dome tweeters. They are an 8-ohm load, and at 89dB efficient, fairly easy to drive. Their frequency response is quoted as 35Hz-30kHz +/- 3dB. The 700PMCs are a rear-ported bass-reflex design. The 702PMC (16"H x 8"W x 9 3/4"D) share the same drivers as the smaller 700PMC but have a larger cabinet. Their frequency response is stated as 33Hz-30kHz +/- 3 dB, and they are also an 8-ohm load. The minimum recommended power for each speaker is 20 watts. Neither a Rotel RSX-965 surround receiver (85Wpc) nor an OCM 200 power amplifier (100Wpc) had any problems driving the speakers to exceptionally loud levels. The MA FX2 surround speakers feature two 5 1/4" long-throw aluminum magnesium woofers run in a bipolar configuration and two 3/4" aluminum magnesium gold-dome tweeters run in a dipolar configuration. The MA FX2 (9 1/2"H x 10 1/2"W x 7 3/4"D) are an 89dB, 8-ohm load, and their frequency response is quoted at 50Hz-22kHz. They weigh in at a rather hefty 22 pounds a piece.

The real gem of the entire group is the CC70 center-channel speaker (note: CC700 show). The CC70 uses two of the 6 1/4" bass drivers and one 1" gold-dome tweeter. The CC70 (8 1/4"H x 22"W x 8"D) is fairly heavy, at close to 20 pounds, and is a front-ported bass-reflex design. Its frequency response is rated at 40Hz-30kHz +/- 3dB. The CC70 is a fairly sensitive speaker at 90dB, and it took very little power to get it to really open up.

For those of you with a serious desire to get evicted from your apartment, the ASW 210 powered subwoofer and its two 10" aluminum magnesium drivers will do the job nicely. The ASW 210 is not small (20 1/4"H x 14 3/4"W x 14 3/4"D), and I found it impossible to simply hide it in a corner. A 200-watt MOSFET amplifier powers the two drivers (one fires downward and the other fires outward). According to Monitor Audio, the ASW 210 will play down to 22Hz at 115dB. The ASW 210 also features a linear volume control (which came in handy), crossover frequency control, 0-180 phase adjustment, low-level inputs/outputs for running between the sub and your preamp, and high-level inputs/outputs so that it can be used with a receiver with no sub out.

The emperor's throne room…

The Full Metal Theater was connected to the Rotel RSX-965 digital surround-sound receiver throughout the review process. I also used an OCM 200 stereo amp to drive the 702PMC monitors and CC70 center-channel speaker. My Panasonic DVD-A310 was connected to a Hitachi Ultravision 35UX70B monitor with Monster Cable Super Video 3 S-video cable. A Monarchy Audio DT40A LD player was used to compare LD and DVD formats. A Sony DSS dish and receiver provided 900 channels of amusing entertainment. All components were plugged into a Chang ISO 3200 power-line filter. Cables included WireWorld Polaris III, van den Hul Revolution, and Axon interconnects and speaker cables.

System set up…

Positioning the PMC700 and PMC702 monitors proved to be extremely easy. With two pairs of 24" stands, I used the PMC702 as the left/right front channels and the PMC700 as the rear surrounds. The PMC702’s imaging was superb, and I only required a small degree of toe-in to lock in the image. With the speakers facing straight ahead, the sound (especially with music) was a tad rich, but I was more than satisfied with the level of detail and clarity with the slight degree of toe-in.

The PMC700 worked really well as surrounds while listening to Dolby Digital and DTS-encoded soundtracks, and I found that setting them up with the drivers facing me from both sides was best. When I substituted the MA FX2 surround speakers, I placed them on the 24" stands and positioned them so that the angled baffles faced the front and back of my room. I also moved the MA FX2 speakers further away from the listening position to improve the spaciousness of the sound.

Balancing the CC70 atop my Hitachi monitor (who said a few extra inches don’t come in handy?) required the use of a trio of Black Diamond Racing Cones and some Blu-Tak. It looked somewhat awkward (the cones anchored in a mound of blue, "I think the cheese has gone bad" looking stuff), but it helped to isolate the center channel speaker from the intense, ground-shaking bass of the ASW 210 subwoofer.

Subwoofers are a real pain to integrate! Take what you may have read in other reviews, where the reviewer boasted about the seamless integration of the monitor and the subwoofer, with a grain of salt. I’ve been trying for years to integrate properly a subwoofer with all kinds of speakers, and I have found the experience incredibly frustrating. The ASW 210’s bass response (both quantity and quality) is incredibly impressive, but I found that I could overload my room very easily running the subwoofer full-range. Ideally, I wanted to filter out any low-level information from the monitors below 80Hz and go from there. As long as I kept the ASW 210 more than three feet from any corner of my room and its output level fairly low, I experienced very satisfying bass performance. Experimentation is a must with subwoofers.

Great shot kid!…that was one in a million!

Any reservations that I may have had about the Full Metal Theater’s ability to perform in a large room were put to rest when I watched Oliver Stone’s Talk Radio [MCA 40841 LD]. On their own, the monitors have decent bass response, but they sound better if you roll them off at 80Hz and let the ASW 210 do its job. The gains in midrange clarity and dynamic range were very audible. Eric Bogosian’s voice was beautifully reproduced by the CC70, which made the viewing experience far more intense. Bogosian’s incessant rants against his callers make up a majority of the film’s dialog, and I was somewhat surprised by the difference in quality between the CC70 and the Coincident Triumph center-channel speaker that I reviewed previously. As good as the Triumph sounds, the CC70 is a giant leap forward in performance. Dialog had a greater degree of clarity, and I found voices to sound more natural. The Triumph sounds somewhat chesty in comparison.

No home-theater review would be complete without including (anybody see where I left that can of kerosene?) The Fifth Element [Columbia 82409] and Jurassic Park [MCA/Universal 41829 LD]. While I derive about as much pleasure from watching Bruce Willis as I do from getting kicked in the head playing soccer, The Fifth Element is both visually stunning and a surround-sound masterpiece. I watched this film using both the 700PMC and MA FX2 as rear surrounds. With Dolby Surround films and television programs like The Simpsons, I really liked the diffused, ambient sound of the MA FX2. With Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks, the 700PMC did a better job of localizing effects, and I found the overall sound more coherent.

The 5.1 soundtrack of The Fifth Element will push any home theater to the edge, and the Full Metal Theater reproduced it without even breaking a sweat. The 702PMC and CC70 sound a lot bigger than they are, and I was very impressed by the lack of coloration and distortion at room-clearing volume levels. The "T-Rex scene" from Jurassic Park had all of my guests holding onto their portion of the couch for dear life. The ASW 210’s well-defined and tight bass enhanced the overall coherency of the sound, instead of just reproducing an excess of bass energy.

One of the sleeper films of 1998 was the well-written comedy Can’t Hardly Wait [Columbia 02714]. One of the film’s strengths is its fabulous soundtrack [Elektra CD 62201 HDCD], which is a grooving mixture of alternative pop, funk, rap, and heavy metal. The Full Metal Theater’s terrific degree of pace made the background music stand out more and caused me to boogie down more than once (watching movies can be fun!).

I have noticed that television programs rarely get mentioned in home-theater reviews. Considering how many hours people spend fixated on the boob tube’s flickering images, I find that omission extremely odd. During the three months that I had the Full Metal Theater, I watched enough films, sports programs, and satellite programming to get a firm grasp on the system’s capabilities. Classic films (recorded originally in mono) such as A Night At The Opera and Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory don’t have great sound. Both of these films have fairly clear-sounding dialog, and I was amazed by how much clearer they sounded through the Monitor Audio system. I could even stomach watching Larry King more than once a week with the Monitor Audio system in place. Almost.

Listening to music through the 702PMC was eminently enjoyable. Aside from some excess warmth in the midbass, I found that its tonal balance was fairly neutral. Tori Amos’ Under the Pink [East/West CD 82567] is a good recording to test for midrange clarity and treble smoothness, and the 702PMC passed with flying colors. The 702PMCs are not the last word in speaker design as far as overall resolution and bass response are concerned, but the entire presentation taken as a whole is rather convincing and well worth the asking price.

Listening to alternative metal such as Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream [Virgin V20777-7 88267-29] allowed me to experiment with the ASW 210 subwoofer and see how well I could get it to integrate with the 702PMC monitors. With the subwoofer handling bass information below 80Hz, the monitors were able to open up and play much louder. I also felt that the monitor’s excess midbass warmth was reduced in this setup. I would not call the integration of the subwoofer and monitor completely seamless, but I have nothing but praise for the solidity and articulation of the bass response. The ASW 210/702PMC combination proved to be quite formidable with all types of music, and I think that a majority of listeners would be impressed with its ability to reproduce piano, alto sax, trumpet, and acoustic guitar.

Run Luke run…

In the past 12 months, I have had the opportunity to listen to close to three-dozen home-theater systems in both my own home and at audio/video shows across the continent. At the top end of the price spectrum, I was incredibly impressed by the Revel/Proceed/Mark Levinson system that I heard at CES. In the realm of "I want something really spectacular that I can afford," the Full Metal Theater from Monitor Audio stands near the top. If you are looking for a system that offers a range of options, excellent quality, value, and solid performance with both music and film, then you would be remiss if you didn’t take the time to try a system that is decidedly better than most that I’ve heard. Somebody pass the popcorn!

...Ian White
ian@soundstage.com

Prices: 700PMC monitor ($999 a pair); 702PMC monitor ($1299 a pair); CC70 center channel speaker ($999 each) ; ASW 210 powered subwoofer ($999 each); MA FX2 surround speaker ($1199 a pair)

Warranty: Five years part and labor.

Manufacturer:
Monitor Audio USA
P.O. Box 1355
Buffalo, New York
14205-1355
Phone: (905) 428-2800
Fax: (905) 428-0004

E-mail: goldinfo@monitoraudio.com
Website: www.monitoraudio.com


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