Monitor Audio once made cabinets big enough to bury a body in, but recently it's had better business from its smaller boxes, and we've seen them shrink right down to the Radius 45HD satellites that fit in the palm of your hand.
This is the slightly larger step-up Radius 90HD system – an evolution of the original Radius designs but with HD branding.
The first-generation Radius models succeeded in making hi-fi speakers that blend into the room, and the HD revisions are essentially more of the same – but better. HD doesn't refer in anyway to hi-def visuals, of course, but it's a fashionable moniker.
The Radius range is successful as it puts all Monitor Audio's strengths into one affordable speaker. The compact enclosures are finished in a choice of high quality veneers and use MA's home-grown 101mm MMP II bass drivers. It's this metal matrix polymer material that gives the speakers a matching metallic finish and fast and accurate response.
But it's the characteristic 25mm gold dome tweeter that's the most distinctive component. No, Monitor Audio didn't choose this material for its bling value – it's more to do with its ultra lightweight and durable properties.
Monitor Audio has been further refining its various metal alloy cones, including this tweeter, to achieve an ever-wider dynamic range.
Get set, go
In this 5.1 package, the compact R90HD speakers form the front pair and rear channels (they're sold as pairs), while the elongated R180HD is the centre channel, and the R370HD subwoofer supplies the bass.
Their modest scale make them ideal for placing around a flat panel TV, and in this gloss black finish they suit the current trend for shiny black TVs rather well.
The R90HDs can be wallmounted, if you leave room for the rear ports to breath, while the front-ported R180HD even has its own wall bracket. There are also optional tall speaker stands, which provide just the right amount of lift for the rear speakers, and, although they look unstable, provide a very steady platform.
Part of the system's attraction is its flexibility, so it should suit most small to medium sized cinema rooms. Each speaker feels well-crafted, and if you use the supplied tool to prise off the metal grilles, you'll appreciate the precision engineering of the metal drivers. At the back of each satellite is a single pair of robust binding posts for your cables.
Connected up to a reasonably powerful AV receiver, in this case a Marantz SR-6003, I found it easy to get the five speakers singing in tune. The identical drive units are perfectly voice-matched, despite the different orientation of the centre speaker.
Persuading the little subwoofer to play in time takes a little longer. Relying on your amp's auto-calibration isn't quite enough to bring the bass into sync with the speakers and some additional tweaking is needed to stop it sounding disjointed. Get it right, though, and you'll be listening to a remarkably open and revealing sound system.
The new Radius speakers are slightly more sensitive than the originals. A wider dynamic range makes them more expressive in the mid to high frequencies, with a quick and punchy pace and an enjoyably snappy presentation.
This makes the centre channel very good at delivering precise dialogue, so even Mulder's mumbles in the X-Files: I Want To Believe Blu-ray, are decipherable.
But what's missing is bass. If set too high, it sounds disembodied and unsuitable for explosive action flicks. The sub has auto shut-off when there's no signal and top-mounted controls. But while punchy, it's not especially deep and won't add the bass weight you need in a large room.
But it's still an engaging and immersive system, and its incisive tone is well suited to atmospheric soundtracks.
The rears, like the fronts, are uncannily adept at conveying fine detail. The fast timing and expressive mid-band is perfect for acoustic music.
On Nick Drake's Treasury Super Audio CD I heard every nuance of his whimsical melodies, but with more beat-driven stuff there's a danger of leaving the subwoofer behind.
Monitor Audio is clearly hoping its new Radius speakers will have universal appeal, and they're certainly flexible enough to install almost anywhere bar a really large living room.
But while I enjoy a subtle soundtrack laid bare by a revealing set of speakers, I suspect there are others who will prefer a warmer tone than these metallic cones deliver. It's a case of suck it and see.
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