Monitor Audio Radius 90 - Little Audio Dynamite (Part 1)

11/23/2013 6:36:48 PM

If there’s one speaker that shows less is more, this is it. We reckon the new Radius 90 is the mouse that roars!

Loudspeakers come in all shapes and sizes, for better and for worse. Some folk love big boom boxes able to supply copious amounts of low frequencies, while others crave a light and airy sort of sound that focuses more on finesse than it does on visceral, flare-flapping volume. It’s a simple choice, and comes down to taste in the end, and if you’re the sort who is more interested in the latter approach that puts quality before quantity, then I’d respectfully suggest you audition the little boxes you see before you here.

Description: Monitor Audio R90HD

Monitor Audio R90HD

Monitor Audio’s new Radius 90 fits the latter category perfectly – indeed it epitomizes it. Measuring just 125 x 198 x 140mm (W x H x D), there are few loudspeakers on sale anywhere near as diminutive. But while that has obvious consequences for bass extension, it has real positives, too. Being so small, the Radius 90 is never going to produce bass that goes down lower than Australia. However, by going down no further than Monitor Audio’s claimed 80Hz, this speaker isn’t going to set off the resonant modes in your room; it won’t start booming and booing in a distracting manner, and so this can never sully the sound further up.

Secondly, its mid/bass unit is so tiny that it can be mounted really close to the tweeter. This brings an advantage that speakers with bigger drivers can never enjoy; the two drive units appear much get the sense of them you very much get the sense of them working very well together in both the time domain and also in terms of stereo imaging.

That tiny cabinet, with just 1.5 liters of unable volume inside, comes in a choice of real wood veneer, or piano lacquer while or black (on display here) – gone is the option of silver, which the previous two incarnations came with. The finish and construction quality of this speaker is truly excellent; it’s hard to find fault in any way. Inside, a single through-bolt fixes the mid/bass drives to the back of the cabinet for extra rigidity. Give it a rap with your knuckles and you get a dull ‘thunk’ perfectly illustrating just how little room there is in the design for unwanted resonances. This means we’re listening to the box proportionally less than an equivalently priced floor stander (or larger stand mount); there is less overhang, time-smearing and other such nefarious noises.

Description: The tweeter is superb; spacious and extended, yet smooth and delicate.

The tweeter is superb; spacious and extended, yet smooth and delicate.

The drive units themselves are impressive, and this is where the new Radius 90 really distinguishes itself from the previous incarnation. The latest 25mm gold-coated aluminums dome C-CAM tweeter is claimed to extend to 35 kHz, while the simple second-order crossover uses high grade metalized polypropylene capacitors and transitions to the bass unit at 2.8 kHz. Monitor Audio claims that the high-grade air core and laminated iron inductors give the lowest possible distortion and insertion losses. The company’s Pureflow 2.5mm square-section OFC wiring is used.

The new 100mm mid/bass driver has a cast aluminum chassis for strength and rigidity and a cone that’s constructed from metal – this is the key difference to the previous Radius 90HD, which employed glass-loaded engineering polymer.

Quoted sensitivity is a poor 83dB, so be aware that you’ll need a punchy solid-state amplifier, putting out at least 40W RMS per channel if you’re going to want to be able to produce realistic volume levels.

The new Radius range offers a choice of two active subwoofers, the 380 and 390, but in designer Dean Hartley’s words: “We tried to ensure the R90 could be used as a full-range speaker, so we set out to get a balanced, flat frequency response”. As such, the speakers can be placed on stands, and Monitor Audio makes an elegant bespoke pair that are pre-wired between terminals at the speaker mounting and at floor level through terminals mounted to the stand plinth; the top terminals neatly auto-connect with the R90 speaker terminals. If bass is felt to be limited, the speakers and stands can be rammed right against the rear wall for boundary reinforcement.

Description: The new Radius range offers a choice of two active subwoofers, the 380 and 390.

The new Radius range offers a choice of two active subwoofers, the 380 and 390.

Alternatively, this is one of the few loudspeakers you can position on a bookshelf, ideally rigidly mounted. If you choose to do this, then do make sure it’s a substantial one, preferably close to ear height and always Blu-ray the speakers firmly onto the shelf. Finally, there’s a single point wall fixing, which works with the Monitor Audio speaker mount or any standard wall bracket. Positioned in any of these ways, with just a small amount of toe-in, plus a decent source and amp that aren’t afraid of making bass, you might be surprised by just how deep and strong the Radius 90 can sound.

Sound quality

Those unfamiliar with the Radius 90 who come into a room with a pair of them playing will often do two things; first they’ll remark on how tiny they are, and then they’ll ask, “But where are the main speakers?’. This shows how they’re able to make a sound that is almost TARDIS-like – one that totally defies their physical dimensions. They can fool the ear, leaving the listener questioning the evidence that their eyes are giving them. One reason for this is the solidity and speed and articulation of the bass; given a little rear-wall reinforcement, it comes out of its shell and shows itself to be amazingly lithe and communicative. You’ll marvel at the way Bernard Edwards’ breathtaking bass guitar work modulates up and down on Chic’s My Forbidden Lover, for instance. It’s so fast and fun that you forget that it doesn’t have the physicality of, say, the equivalently priced, but vastly larger Q Acoustics 2050i floor stander. Better still, the long-throw mid/bass driver soaks up quite a lot of punishment before it begins to compress things; you’d never use it in lieu of a PA stack at a live gig, but in a medium-sized listening room it goes louder, more cleanly than you might think.

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