Monitor Audio Radius 90 - Little Audio Dynamite (Part 2)

11/24/2013 9:37:04 AM

Moving up the scale, and the new Radius 90 gives a slightly faster, more searching midland than before, making vocals even more immediate, stereo imaging more explicit and depth perspective better. Played at high volume, Kate Bush’s Snowflake is a stern test of a speaker, but the wee Monitor Audio acquits itself superbly with this superb recording, showing a richness and warmth that you might not expect from such a modest priced – and indeed sized – box. The two drive units segue way between one another seamlessly, giving a lovely, natural feel to female vocals; I’d say they’re better integrated than before, as the old Radius 90HD had a slightly softer sound to its low frequency driver than the bright, spry tweeter. The result is a lovely, all-of-piece feel to the music, and it’s not just tonally clean and smooth, but is also very good at keeping in phase – you don’t get the sense that you’re listening to two drive units doing their own thing, as you can on some equivalently priced designs. This means the new Radius projects beautifully, beaming vocals and instruments out of its box with laser-like precision.

Description: They might look small, but they pack one hell of a mighty punch

They might look small, but they pack one hell of a mighty punch

The speed of this little speaker means that it’s remarkable good at throwing you off the trail. You always know it’s limited in terms of its bass reproduction, but somehow you just don’t dwell on it. Teenage Fan club’s What You Do To Me is a fine slice of sing along indie rock, and via a big floor stander has a wonderful physicality courtesy of the energetic bass guitar and drum work. Yet play it through the new Radius 90 and instead you’ll find yourself drawn to the sweetness of the vocals and the raunchy, gurney guitar playing, plus the sweet, sparkly hi-hat work. Somehow, this speaker flatters to deceive, making the music riotously good fun, emotionally affecting and powerful even – but without actually moving the same amount of air as a larger, looser speaker. The result is a slightly different experience to that of a wider range design, but no less fun – indeed the rhythmic alacrity and ability to signpost dynamic contrasts in the music is on a higher level than almost all price rivals.

It’s only with classical music that you really feel these aren’t quite the universal panacea that you’d hoped. Anyone who’s been to a live classical concert will have experienced the visceral presence of a full orchestra; you know those heavily bowed cellos vibrating you back, that sort of thing. But the little Radius 90 simply cannot do this. What it can do – and does – with my favorite Karajan recording of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, is convey the lovely texture of the massed strings – if not the body – and also gives a wonderfully bright and also gives a wonderfully bright and airy window to the recorded acoustic. The tweeter is superb; spacious and extended yet smooth and delicate, it makes for a wonderfully open and finely etched sound. The new mid/bass unit is more detailed and faster than before and this improves things further still. The end result is a little loudspeaker that’s quite simply big audio dynamite!

Description: The Radius 90 beams vocals and instruments out with laser-like precision.

The Radius 90 beams vocals and instruments out with laser-like precision.


Monitor Audio’s new Radius 90 is practically a unique product on market. Another step down in size from speakers that are commonly perceived to be the smallest – such as the KEF C1s of this world – its diminutive dimensions actually may be a little extreme for some tastes. Many will want something that is physically bigger and less constrained low down. But by the same token, those with smaller listening rooms – which larger boxes can have a tendency to overpower – and/or people with neighbors or family members to keep sweet, will love this little box. Yes, it loses the bottom octave – or two – of the performance, but it makes up for this in spades with a wonderfully fast, engaging and incisive sound everywhere else, and is sophisticated and seamless, too. If space is limited or you don’t want your hi-fi dominating your room, this is a great speaker to try.

How it compares

There is practically no direct rival for the Radius 90, as Monitor Audio has pretty much created its own segment. So we’re left comparing it with products one size up, namely the Q Acoustics Concept 20 ($561). This has a lot more bass; indeed the whole balance of the speaker is deeper, smoother and softer – although still excellent. The Q is able to move more air more easily, so sounds a little less compressed at very high volumes and a little more ‘relaxed’ at lower ones. But it lacks the ‘up and at ‘em’ sort of sound that the Radius has; its ultimate speed and transparency. The Concept 20 is a more well-rounded product, the Radius 90 is a more characterful, fun one!

Description: The Radius 90 gives a slightly faster, more searching mid-band than before.

The Radius 90 gives a slightly faster, more searching mid-band than before.

One test

Monitor Audio specifies 83dB sensitivity for the Radius 90 – an entirely believable claim given its tiny dimensions – but our pink noise result of 84.1dB suggests that this is slightly conservative. It’s a good result for a speaker this size and what’s more it hasn’t been achieved by giving the Radius 90 a punishingly low input impedance. The minimum modulus, 20Hz-20kHz, was 5.0 ohms at 280Hz – a bit too low, really, to claim 8 ohms nominal impedance, but nonetheless an amp-friendly result. Impedance phase angles are high enough to drop the EPDR (equivalent peak dissipation resistance) to 2.6 ohms at 204Hz, but that’s comfortably higher than for many modern speakers. On-axis frequency response errors were well controlled at ±2.9dB and ±3.2dB respectively, 200Hz-20kHz, and pair matching over the same frequency range was very good at ±0.8dB. Despite the diminutive cabinet and fair sensitivity, bass extension was 58Hz for -6dB ref 200Hz and ultrasonic output extended to beyond 40kHz. The cumulative spectral decay waterfall evinced fast initial energy decay, but some treble resonances were visible – worse in one of the review pair than the other – but mostly well controlled except for a high-Q mode at around 7.5kHz, associated with a small glitch in the frequency response.

Our verdict

·         Sound quality: 5/5

·         Value for money: 5/5

·         Build quality: 5/5

·         Ease of drive: 3/5

·         Like: Super-fast, fluid and fun; sophistication; size; sound-staging

·         Dislike: No low bass; needs a powerful solid-state amplifier

·         We say: Exceptionally high performance from an extremely small speaker

·         Overall: 5/5

Technical specs

·         Product: Monitor Audio Radius 90

·         Origin: UK

·         Type: Stand mount loudspeaker

·         Weight: 2.1kg

·         Dimensions (W x H x D): 125 x 198 x 140mm

·         Features: Quoted power handling: 100W; Quoted frequency response: 80Hz–35kHz (-6dB); 1x 25mm C-CAM dome tweeter; 1x 100mm C-CAM bass driver

·         Distributor: Monitor Audio Ltd


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