Monitor Audio ASW 210 Subwoofer 
Home Theater Loudspeakers Subwoofers
Written by Kim Wilson   
Wednesday, 01 December 1999

A huge sound in a small package solidly sums up the performance of the Monitor Audio Silver 4 speakers ($849 a pair) and ASW 210 subwoofer ($999). The small 15.5-inch by eight-inch main speakers, coupled with the 200-watt self-powered subwoofer, were a welcome surprise. Sat/sub speaker systems are a dime a dozen these days and that’s what a lot of them are worth. Just as in my past experiences with Monitor Audio products, I was not disappointed in the least.

The patented cone material for all drivers, C-CAM (Ceramic Coated Aluminum Magnesium alloy), is light and rigid. The Silver 4’s are a two-way design, front-ported, with a 6.5-inch mid-bass driver and a gold dome tweeter. There are two sets of sturdy, gold-plated binding posts on each speaker for bi-wiring. The subwoofer is outfitted with two 10-inch drivers, one downfiring and the other forward-firing.

While the Silver 4’s are small and capable of sitting comfortably on a shelf, the best performance will come when they are placed on a dedicated speaker stand. (Monitor Audio no longer provides stands for their speakers.) The speakers are available in Black Oak, Rose Mahogany or Natural Cherry wood veneers. There is no price variance for different veneers.

If you have ever put together a sat/sub system, you know there are various hook-up methods. Using the subwoofers’ high-pass filter provided better sound performance than I’ve experienced with other systems in this configuration. The high-pass filter automatically filters out frequencies below 100Hz from the main speakers, which is about right for small speakers anyway. The midrange and mid-bass were exceptionally tight. It also seemed like there was less trial and error in adjusting levels and crossover frequency between the speakers and the sub.

Two pairs of speaker cables are required for this hook-up. The amplifier’s (Parasound HCA3500) output terminals are connected directly to the input terminals on the subwoofer. The subwoofer’s output terminals are then connected to the Silver 4s.

The other method hooks up the speakers directly to the amplifier. Then the output of the preamp is sent to both the subwoofer and the amplifier. While this is a more simplified and direct hook-up, fine-tuning takes considerably longer. Bass was more solid and controlled in this configuration, but it was harder to find that point where the midrange and mid-bass sounded as firm and punchy as they did in the high-pass configuration. Placing the subwoofer equidistant between the speakers helped even out and balance the bass response.

There are three adjustable knobs on the rear panel for phase, frequency and gain. The phase control synchronizes the phase between the speakers and subwoofer. Unlike some sat/sub systems, which have the phase set at either 0 degrees or 180 degrees, the ASW210 phase control is variable to ensure a perfect balance. The frequency control determines the crossover point. As this is a variable adjustment with only markings at 60Hz and 120Hz, I would guess that my final setting was around 105 to 110Hz. (Larger speakers could be set at a lower crossover.) The gain control adjusts the volume level of the subwoofer. As is common with sat/sub systems, it took some tweaking to get the perfect balance. Once I had done this, though, it was time for a real evaluation to see how this system would fare with a wide assortment of music.

The Silver 4 speaker and ASW 210 subwoofer delivered plenty of depth with a robust punch on Live’s "The Distance" from their recent release, The Distance to Here (Radioactive). Vocals were solidly centered with a transparent presence. Clean, clear and crisp aptly describes the pleasing sonic characteristics of these speakers as evidenced by the three-dimensional quality of "Speak the Word" from Tracy Chapman’s Telling Stories (Elektra). I liked how the rhythmic acoustic guitar filled the entire soundfield.

The articulate, full-bodied, and deeply resonant drum and percussion instruments throughout Mickey Hart’s Planet Drum (Ryco) were particularly impressive. Conga and timbale instruments projected outward for a realistic, live feeling. Imaging was exceptional and the soundfield is deceptively wide, given that the speakers were about five feet apart.

I’m pretty much a sucker for any speaker that reproduces acoustic bass with strong, gutsy warmth. The notes just pop on Ray Brown’s classic jazz riffs on the track "The Blues" from Duke Ellington’s Duke’s Big 4 (XRCD). I could close my eyes and just imagine sitting in some dark, dingy club as the blues washed over me. The tonal balance on Ellington’s piano is pure and accurate, without any changes in pitch or color at the higher registers.

"Powerful" isn’t a word one would think of applying to small bookshelf speakers, but Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 (Telarc) was delivered with surprising passion and agility. This level of separation and clarity within the string section isn’t always so apparent on speakers that are even twice the size (or price) of the Silver 4s. Taking it up another notch, Metallica’s foray with symphonic rock on the S&M (Elektra) recording is pure energy with a forcefulness I wouldn’t have thought possible. Moreover, the orchestra doesn’t get lost or muddy in the mix. Lars Ulrich’s drums are pure thunder for a stomach-pounding experience.

The Downside
During the period of time the system was hooked up using the subwoofer’s high-pass filter, some sources had too much bass energy, causing the low end to get muddy. Sure, I could turn down the gain on the subwoofer, but I don’t like dabbling with the adjustments to accommodate a specific source. This imbalance didn’t occur when I used the direct hookup method.

My only other negative experience was with the low quality binding posts on the subwoofer. At least they were binding posts, instead of the ultra-cheap spring action clip terminals sometimes found on comparible sat/sub systems. It seems to me it wouldn’t have added too much more to the final retail cost to put a better grade post on the subwoofer, something to match the high quality posts used on the Silver 4s. This minor detail detracts from the representation that this is a matched system that is part of a series. Of course, if you employ the direct hook-up method, you never even use the binding posts on the subwoofer.

When you listen to as much high-end audio equipment as I do, you get jaded. You figure that if the speakers aren’t heavy, huge and expensive, they just aren’t going turn you on. This Monitor Audio sat/sub speaker system provided a good lesson: don’t judge a speaker by its physical size or its price tag. When a system that retails for less than $2,000 can satisfy me musically for a couple months in place of my $10,000 reference Genesis Technology speakers, I think that speaks volumes.

The speakers really start to open up after several hours of burn-in time. A small tweak that actually opens the soundfield wider is the removal of the small grille over the tweeter. Word of warning: if you have curious creatures of the two-legged variety, leave the grilles on. The dome is very soft and can be damaged easily.

While my set-up was strictly two-channel, the Silver 4s’ video shielding ensures their integration into a home theater environment with equally positive effects. When space is limited and performance is critical - and when isn’t it? - the Silver 4s and ASW210 is a tremendous buy that should provide many hours of enjoyment, no matter your musical bent.
Manufacturer Monitor Audio
Model ASW 210 Subwoofer
Reviewer Kim Wilson

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