Alexandria Audio The Monitor Loudspeaker Review
Eric Teh auditions a well-engineered and fine-sounding large standmounting loudspeaker…
The Monitor Loudspeakers
Alexandria Audio was founded in 2019 in Bali, Indonesia, by Kenneth Lin and Henry Kristanto. Both have been involved in audio since the nineteen nineties, and have a stated goal of using technical know-how to deliver products that allow the enjoyment of music. The company's product line-up consists of two loudspeakers and an amplifier, while another company founded by Kenneth Lin – Kenkraft Labs – concentrates on cabling and accessories. The subject of this review is The Monitor, a large bookshelf speaker.
I met up with Henry Kristanto while he was visiting Singapore to discuss The Monitor's design philosophy over coffee. He tells me that it seeks to provide a realistic musical performance at home, in a compact size. Alexandria Audio set out a few specific parameters required to achieve this, including a small box size to fit the chosen 200mm woofer, controlled directivity, and low distortion. The company also designed in high sensitivity to make it easy to drive and maximise compatibility with amplifiers, including single-ended triode tube designs.
The woofer is custom-made exclusively for Alexandria Audio by Sinar Baja Electric in Indonesia. This factory also manufactures drivers for SB Acoustics, a collaboration between Sinar Baja and Danesian Audio of Denmark. SB Acoustics drivers have found success in several high-end speaker designs, attesting to their sonic quality. It would be safe to assume that Sinar Baja has the technical know-how and expertise to produce a suitably high-quality driver.
The woofer was designed to have high sensitivity over a wide frequency range from 35Hz to 3kHz, which is no mean feat. Its design includes a low damping surround for transient speed and a low inductance copper-clad aluminium wire voice coil for reduced moving mass and midrange purity. The 28mm fabric dome tweeter was sourced from an Italian manufacturer, having emerged victorious from a group test that included many well-known and expensive contenders. It boasts a neodymium motor and is set in a short waveguide. The claimed result is excellent controlled directivity, and transients with low distortion down to 2kHz.
Extensive testing was apparently carried out to arrive at the design of the parallel thirteen element crossover, which is a fourth-order Linkwitz-Riley design using high quality parts such as air-core inductors and plastic capacitors in critical areas. According to Henry, it was conceived with the goal of good sonic dispersion with uniform off-axis roll-off in mind.
Similarly painstaking attention was paid to the cabinet, which is constructed out of Birch plywood instead of the usual medium-density fibreboard. Birch plywood has excellent strength-to-mass ratio, being stiffer and lighter than MDF. Most manufacturers opt for the latter due to cost reasons and sonic uniformity; it's a homogenous product that is reconstituted wood fibre bonded under pressure. The braced cabinet sounds suitably solid when subjected to the knuckle test.
This is a large bookshelf speaker with dimensions of 280x450x330mm and a weight of 14kg. The striped wood veneer is finished in glossy lacquer that highlights fingerprints at every opportunity. While the gloss finish does catch the eye, I found it overly distracting and would have preferred a matt lacquer option.
A single pair of binding posts and a large reflex port are located on the rear panel of the speaker. The five-way binding posts appear to be generic Chinese parts, but Alexandria Audio informed me that future models would use CNC copper binding posts. Magnetic grilles are supplied, which leaves the baffle smooth and free of mounting holes – a nice touch. Finally, Kenkraft Labs wiring is used internally.
Alexandria Audio claims that The Monitor has a frequency response from 35Hz to 20kHz. Specified impedance and sensitivity are put at 8 ohms, with a minimum of 6.3 ohms at 140Hz, and 90dB. These are good, benign figures and show the speaker should be very amplifier-friendly.
I set up The Monitor on a 24” pair of Partington Super Dreadnought speaker stands. Twenty inch-tall stands would have been ideal in my view, so I raised my listening height to cater for this. The speakers were placed about two metres apart with about fifteen degrees of toe-in. A variety of amplifiers were used ranging from 8W to 150W.
The Monitor proved as easy to drive as the manufacturer claims. It went plenty loud with the 8W from my Concert Fidelity DHS-300B single-ended triode amplifier, although you could hear the strain on more complex music. The solid-state First Watt SIT-3 was a reasonable compromise at 18W, offering more dynamic headroom and tighter bass. One caveat is that careful matching was required to get the midrange to sound right. Vocals sounded a bit bare and lightweight when the speakers were paired with my Apollon Purifi 1ET400A amplifier, for example. Aided with the fuller midrange of my tube amplifiers and the First Watt SIT-3, things filled out nicely.
From the get-go, The Monitor comes across as a seriously special speaker. Music sounds warm and inviting, with plenty of detail despite any obvious harshness. This speaker is also able to convey physical scale and dynamics in a way that belies its relatively modest size.
Bass performance is impressive for a standmounter. Cueing up the Stray Original Sound Track by Yann van der Cruyssen brought me back into the mysterious underground city in the computer game. On Hatching, the mood starts out on a suspenseful and foreboding note, before progressing to a threatening and urgent one as the Zurks hatch and attack. The electronic bass notes were deep, strongly articulated, and fast. Some warmth and extra energy in the upper bass filled out the low notes, giving The Monitor a hefty and firm foundation.
Few bookshelf speakers have sufficient low-frequency energy to do justice to large-scale musical performances. While The Monitor is unable to deliver subwoofer-like lows, it does go down deep enough to satisfy most listeners. This means it's especially useful for those with space limitations, such as apartment dwellers or people otherwise unable to accommodate larger speakers or a sub.
Harry Belafonte's Man Smart (Woman Smarter) live performance at Carnegie Hall is a good test of instrumental separation and soundstaging, another of The Monitor's obvious talents. Belafonte's unique voice was beautifully backed by the choir, and the percussionists could be clearly made out across the stage. I was transported to the venue in a most convincing way, especially during the laughter and applause of the audience as they echoed and faded into the acoustic space of the concert hall.
This speaker has a natural and unfettered sound, then. Listening to Home by Kit Chan (recorded live at The Marina Bay Sands) brought an immediate emotional and goosebump response. Her soulful vocals were matched by the incisive plucking of the acoustic guitarist. As they were joined by the pianist and the rest of the musicians, there was a certain rightness and tonal purity to the music. The coherence between The Monitor's two drive units was impressive, with the speaker effectively singing as one.
The relative lightness of the drive units, plus the excellent real wood cabinet, make for a snappy and engaging sound. Gnomus from Pictures at an Exhibition composed by Mussorgsky and performed by Alice Sara Ott showed off the latter's deft fingerwork at the piano. The Monitor adeptly reproduced the stop-start tempo of the piece as well as the dynamic contrast between the loud left-hand notes, and the quiet passages. I was impressed at the dexterity of the drivers – not bad for staid paper and fabric diaphragms! And unlike many loudspeakers I have auditioned, The Monitor did not have a sweet spot in terms of volume. It sounded lively and engaging at low listening levels and retained its composure at louder volumes, too.
Some supposedly musical speakers sound overly smooth and rolled off in the treble to my ears, but not in the case of The Monitor. The crispness and speed of its high frequencies were impressive; it produced clean transients that were extended, without the harshness and sizzle of lesser tweeters.
The Monitor's trump card is its ability to dissolve into the listening room. It is excellent at recreating space within a recorded acoustic, and its image height is class-leading. Many high-end speakers are able to provide pinpoint imaging and staging, but few are able to accurately render the acoustic space around instruments and voices as well as this. As an example, with guitar work, the reproduction of fast plucked strings and the instrument's natural timbre is excellent.
The Monitor by Alexandria Audio is superbly voiced, and duly delivers a highly detailed and musical experience. It has a special ability to reproduce a stunningly realistic soundstage that eludes many of its competitors. The compact cabinet size and potent low-frequency performance will allow its owners to enjoy large scale and dynamic music even in small living spaces. Its relative ease of drive also means that you won't have to break the bank to get the best out of this speaker.
Tinkering since he was a wee little Audiophile, Eric also collects fountain pens and watches. He is on a never-ending journey to find the meaning to life, the universe and everything.
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