A few months ago, we reviewed the most affordable 5.1 speaker package in the new Monitor Audio Radius range: the 90AV, which typically sells for £1000. Here we indulge ourselves with the somewhat more costly Radius system, which resides at the other end of Monitor Audio's narrowly-spread range.
It uses the same rear speakers as the previous system, the compact 2-way R90, and the same subwoofer, the excellent little R360. The front three speakers however are different. The main left and right positions are taken by the slender R270 floor stander, and the centre speaker, the R225, is also larger than the smaller system's R180. The relatively small increase in price for this system is even less than it seems if account is taken that the floor-standing speakers don't actually need stands, which cost around £125 a pair (they're not essential of course).
Like all systems of the kind, the 270AV is designed for those who have been sold on the idea that aesthetics count for more than anything else, and great, large-scale sound can be had from pintsize enclosures. Neither proposition stands up in the real world, but the makers have made a rod for their own backs, and are now stuck with it.
The Radius system is indeed the kind of package that most will be happy living with. Not only are the overall dimensions genuinely diminutive (the height of the main speakers and the width of the centre speaker aside), standards of fit and finish are absolutely superb. The radiused corners add real class to the black, gloss finish. The fabric grills are supplied in two colours, silver and black, so that you can ring the changes, and the enclosures are available in a wide variety of classy finishes.
Criticisms? The subwoofer's power LED is far too bright, and I wouldn't want to leave very small children alone in a room with the R270 floor-standers, or the RE90 rear speakers on the accessory stands.
On the engineering side, Monitor Audio has pushed all the right buttons. The metal/polymer matrix cone bass drivers and the 25mm gold anodised alloy dome tweeters are top of their class. The reflex loading for the three front speakers is front-mounted, which allows the speakers to be positioned closer to the walls than usual. The sub is loaded by a downwards-firing slot mounted on its raised base.
Boom and bust
This is a very impressive system when fired up and in action. There's no false emphasis of high frequencies, and the mid-band is solid, with a real sense of depth and power when called upon.
It sailed through some of the more complex effects-rich discs in my collection - the noisy bits of Black Hawk Down, and the opening segment of Saving Private Ryan for example - which it handled at high levels without ducking in the climaxes or burning out. But the system is not exactly sensitive, and it requires a solid, powerful amplifier before it delivers the goods.
Arguably more impressive than its home cinema performance was the decent results I achieved with quality multichannel recordings (eg Vaughan Williams Sea Symphony, which juggles enormous vocal and instrumental forces). Of course a bigger, better-endowed system will take this kind of music in its stride, but I was pleased by how complete and well-balanced a performance the system was able to muster from this material, even at moderately high volume levels.
If you can accommodate the larger 270AV system, I have little hesitation in recommending this over the smaller 90AV. The benefits are a bolder, fuller balance, a much more seamless transition between the sub and satellites, and more stable imagery with sounds that straddle a wide frequency range - grand piano for example, but also explosions in the surround channel.
And the R360 really is a first-rate little subwoofer; it's small, but competent, partly because it works with the satellite speakers in a much more transparent way than usual, and also because it is surprisingly well extended and tuneful, without the boom or overhang that characterises most subwoofers in this kind.