Note: measurements taken in the anechoic chamber at Canada's National Research Council can be found through this link.
Diego Estan reviewed a pair of Monitor Audio Bronze 100 loudspeakers on SoundStage! Access in August 2020. About three months after that, Jay Lee produced a follow-up Take 2 video review on the Bronze 100 for our YouTube channel. Last month, James Hale wrote about the 100 yet again for his “Art+Tech” column on SoundStage! Xperience. Does anything more really need to be said?
I didn’t think so until I picked up the pair of speakers that James had reviewed and hooked them up with a set of QED XT25 speaker cables to the NAD C 399 integrated amplifier that Dennis Burger had just reviewed for SoundStage! Access. The moment I heard music pumping out of the big standmounts, I knew I had to review them for this column, which is dedicated to budget hi-fi. The Bronze 100s blew me away from the very first song, and continued to do so throughout my listening.
The 100 is one of two standmounted speakers in the current Bronze Series line, now in its sixth generation, along with the smaller 50. The Bronze Series includes the 200 and 500 floorstanders, and a full range of speakers to build a Dolby Atmos multichannel surround system. When Diego and Jay reviewed the 100, it sold for $595 per pair (all prices in USD), but the price has since risen to $675 per pair—which, as you’ll find out, is still reasonable.
For a two-way standmounted speaker, the 100 isn’t just bigger than the 50, it’s bigger than most of its competitors. Its cabinet measures 14.8″H × 9.1″W × 12.8″D and houses an 8″ midrange-woofer. Typical standmounted designs today have a smaller cabinet and a 6.5″ midrange-woofer.
The 100’s midrange-woofer cone is made with C-CAM (ceramic-coated aluminum-magnesium), a material that the company has been using—and refining along the way—for decades. The 1″ tweeter, which is used throughout the Bronze Series, has a gold-colored dome made from C-CAM, and is surrounded by Monitor’s Uniform Dispersion waveguide. It’s hard to see the waveguide, though, because the entire tweeter/waveguide assembly is covered by a non-removable disc pierced by a complex pattern of hexagon-shaped holes.
Monitor Audio rates the 100’s sensitivity as 87dB (2.83V/m) and its impedance at a nominal 8 ohms with a 4.5-ohm minimum, which our own measurements of the 100 corroborated. These specs indicate a speaker that’s fairly easy to drive, so the NAD C 399, which is capable of outputting more than 180Wpc continuously into 8 ohms, provided more than enough power to drive the pair. In fact, you could probably drive the Bronze 100s to decent output levels with an amp rated at 60Wpc into 8 ohms.
The 100’s front baffle is made of what appears to be a plastic composite, but the other cabinet walls are MDF. Like the other speakers in the Bronze Series, the 100 is available in Black, White, Walnut, or Urban Grey finishes. Diego’s 2020 pair was in the White finish, but the ones that James had reviewed were in Urban Grey.
When I first unpacked James’s pair, my wife winced, because the Urban Grey color scheme looks odd, at least straight out of the box—it’s a gray-toned wood-like finish with a creamy-white front baffle. But when I set the speakers up on the Monoprice Monolith 24″ stands that you can see in the photos, she changed her tune, saying she really liked the way the 100s complemented the walls of our living room. We also thought that the racetrack-oval shape of the slim, magnetically attached grille was a welcome departure from the typical rectangular grille that often covers the entire front of a speaker. As far as styling goes, the 100 deserves high praise—considerable thought and effort obviously went into creating its tasteful, refined look.
But there are a few things that point to this speaker’s relatively low asking price. For example, the 100’s cabinet isn’t the sturdiest in the world, nor is it heavily braced. When I knocked on the side, top, and rear walls, I heard a fairly hollow sound each time. In fairness, however, how that affects sound quality isn’t clear, so I only put so much stock in the ol’ “knuckle rap” test. Then there are the sharp edges and pointed corners—there was likely not enough budget to round things off. But if the designers could’ve found a way, driver dispersion might’ve been improved and the speaker would be more durable, because pointed corners are easy to damage. Finally, the gray wood-look finish is a vinyl veneer, not real wood, which, like the previous two issues, is understandable at this price point—real wood veneer and high-quality paint finishes are typically reserved for speakers retailing at more than $1000 per pair.
Intrigued by the speakers because of their looks, my wife stuck around as I booted them up. She picked up her phone and cued up her favorite Tidal playlist to play through them. But instead of using the C 399’s built-in BluOS support for streaming, she just started playing music straight from Tidal via the Google Chromecast Audio streamer that I’d hooked into one of the C 399’s optical inputs.
I don’t know what the various songs she was playing were called, because it’s her playlist and it’s all Latin-flavored music I rarely play, but I was immediately impressed by the speakers’ clarity through the mids, their high-frequency sparkle, and the super-deep and super-powerful bass as the songs thundered out—at a low volume level initially, then at quite high levels when we decided that the speakers sounded good. I wouldn’t say the bass was extending much below 40Hz with these songs, but it was getting there with authority. That’s unusual for standmounted speakers—they usually start shelving off at about 60Hz, leaving 40Hz as quiet as a squirrel’s fart. As a result, the 100s didn’t sound like standmounted speakers; instead, they sounded like a pair of small floorstanders, in that they could deliver surprisingly deep bass and play loudly in a fairly big room—it’s 19′ long by 15′ wide, with a ceiling that’s 8′ high.
My wife’s playlist continued for a couple of hours as I listened from another room, consistently amazed by the amount of deep bass the 100s were pumping out, and the clarity of the midrange and highs. Then I returned to the room and dug into material I knew better. First up was side 2 of Bruce Springsteen’s Tunnel of Love (LP, Columbia Records OC 40999), which I played on my Pro-Ject Audio Systems X1 turntable connected to the C 399’s built-in phono preamplifier.
I listened to the whole side, but I concentrated on my favorite track, “One Step Up,” for my listening impressions. That deeper-than-normal bass was apparent, which gave this song a robust, fleshed-out sound many standmounted speakers don’t provide, but what I really wanted to know is if all that deep bass would overshadow the midrange and highs. It didn’t—Springsteen’s lead vocal and Patti Scialfa’s backing vocal were clearly rendered, as was the sound of his guitar. I also found that their voices were neither prominent nor suppressed, leading me to believe that the midrange on this speaker is voiced to be neutral. I also found both of their voices well focused within the soundstage, with Springsteen’s placed front and center and Scialfa’s sounding like it was coming from pretty far back and off to one side, which is where I would expect her voice to be placed. The highs sounded lively, but never too bright—always a good thing.
Next up was Lana Del Rey’s “Dark but Just a Game,” from her album Chemtrails at the Country Club (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, Polydor Records/Interscope Records/Tidal), which I streamed from Tidal via the Chromecast Audio streamer. As I’ve written several times before, this is the only song on this album with super-deep bass—the rest of the songs are quite thin and almost wispy-sounding. Through the 100s, the song was a trip because of how deep they could go. Whereas the previous songs weren’t extending below about 40Hz, I’m pretty sure I was getting to 30Hz with this track—cleanly—which absolutely shocked me. It was as if there was a small subwoofer in the system, too. But, even more surprising, Del Rey’s vocal was clean and super-easy to pick out in the mix despite all those deep bass sounds.
I followed that up with two tracks from the 2004 remaster of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours (16/44.1 FLAC, Warner Bros. Records/Tidal), “Go Your Own Way” and “The Chain,” again streamed from Tidal. I’ve known this album forever, but I’ve recently got interested in it again after I finished Ken Caillat’s book about it, Making Rumours. Caillat was one-third of the album’s production team (the band and Richard Dashut were the other two-thirds) and one-half of its engineering team (Dashut was the other half).
In the book, Callait described how, at about the 2:40 mark of “Go Your Own Way,” he pushed Lindsey Buckingham’s searing guitar louder and louder as they mixed it. Even before I’d read this book, I’d noticed how prominent the guitar was getting at this point and how exciting it made the end of the song sound. I would also notice how this passage challenged some speakers at high volume levels because of the amount of energy that high-level guitar sound puts into the upper midrange—so much so it can cause speakers to distort. But the 100s weren’t troubled by it, even when I pushed the volume up as loud as I could stand—they reproduced Buckingham’s guitar sound as cleanly as speakers priced many times higher.
Caillat’s book also turned me on to John McVie’s bass-guitar segment in “The Chain” (from about 3:05 to 3:20) that acts as a bridge between the first and final parts of the song. It’s a necessary ingredient, because the part of the song that follows McVie’s 15 seconds was apparently recorded long before what precedes the bridge, so they needed what he created to tie it all together. McVie’s bass guitar isn’t particularly deep in this part—I’m guessing most of the energy is in the 60–100Hz range—but I was seriously impressed by the definition of the sounds that were coming from the 100s. That big woofer on the 100 doesn’t just pump out big, floppy bass—it always sounded well-controlled on this and other songs.
Finally, I cued up Bruce Cockburn’s “Pacing the Cage,” from his album The Charity of Night (16/44.1 FLAC, True North Records/Tidal). With this song, I always listen for how robust and textured Cockburn’s voice sounds. Some small speakers don’t give it enough heft, so it sounds too thin. But that was no problem here—the 100s gave his voice the appropriate weight it needed to sound authentic, like he was singing in the room. And his acoustic-guitar plucks sounded lively and clean, like they should. The 100s also reproduced the deep sounds of Rob Wasserman’s bass capably, which many standmounted speakers flat-out miss, but are necessary to portray the song accurately.
What the 100s lacked, mind you—but only by a little bit—was some detail in the midrange. As a result, Cockburn’s voice didn’t have quite the texture reproduced by some of the best standmounted speakers I’ve heard, all of which cost a lot more than the Bronzes. And to really nitpick, the sounds of his voice and guitar didn’t quite divorce themselves from the cabinets the way they did with those better, more-expensive speakers.
This latter item about the sound not springing freely from the cabinets was something Diego pointed out in his Bronze 100 review. He refers to this quality as transparency, and defined it in that review as “the sense that voices and instruments were being reproduced realistically, free of the speaker cabinets.” In this regard, he rated the 100s as “good for the price, but not great.” Diego used “Angel,” from Sarah McLachlan’s Surfacing (16/44.1 FLAC, Arista Records/Qobuz), as an example: “I heard subtle reminders that the music was being reproduced by two small boxes—when I focused on the piano, I heard small resonances—but for the most part, the Bronze 100s convincingly cast up aural images while calling little attention to themselves.”
Any criticisms I made about the Bronze 100’s sound and build quality must be considered in the context of the speaker’s price. If it was north of $1000 per pair, they would be issues—but still only small ones. So for $675, they’re more or less inconsequential, given how much else a pair of Bronze 100s provides, both sonically and visually.
Part of my high praise for the 100’s sound is for the deep bass it can reproduce. Deeper than any standmounted two-way I’ve written about in my “System One” column, it’s a quality that allows it to stand out among its price peers. But my praise extends to the speaker’s ability to reproduce the rest of the frequency range—with neutrality and clarity, from low to high volume levels. All told, this is a standmounted speaker that plays like a floorstander, but still exhibits the refinement that audiophiles desire. It’s also styled well, which is something that can’t be overlooked if they’re to be used, as I did, in a living room. So listen to—and look at—a pair of Monitor Audio Bronze 100s if you’re shopping for high-performance, reasonably priced, standmounted loudspeakers that can come close to doing it all—you might end up as surprised as I was at what $675 can get you.
. . . Doug Schneider