Monitor Audio Bronze 200 & Fyne Audio F302
What is the most important component in your stereo system? Most people struggle with the answer because it probably doesn't seem that obvious; certainly not to people who don't obsess over all things audio. The short answer is – the room. We will take a much closer look at this in future articles, but your room is the single most important component in your system. It influences the sound and dictates which loudspeakers are appropriate for your space. The size and acoustics of my specific room favor floor-standing loudspeakers; and my wallet requires that they are modestly priced. Enter two excellent but very different sounding loudspeakers; the Fyne Audio F302 and Monitor Audio Bronze 200.
Floor-standing speakers are generally more expensive than stand-mounted speakers, if nothing else, simply because more materials are required. On the other hand, you don't have to invest in a decent pair of speaker stands. For this reviewer, a pair of 'modestly priced' loudspeakers means anything priced below $1000.
Every reviewer, new or old, needs a toolbox of components to compare to other components. One of the things I'm missing in my toolbox are an entry-level pair of loudspeakers to compare to other loudspeakers in the same category. Accordingly, I went out and bought two different pairs of speakers: the Monitor Audio Bronze 200 ($995) and the Fyne Audio F302 ($745).
The Monitor Audio Bronze 200
The Bronze 200 are 2.5-way speakers, with a single 1" gold dome tweeter and two 5.5" C-CAM mid-bass drivers. Visually, they are quite small, slim, and rather elegant looking. Each loudspeaker (including the supplied grilles and binding posts) is 34" H x 6.5" W x 10.5" D and weighs 28 pounds; which is rather heavy for such a small cabinet.
At 88dB/W/m sensitivity (8 Ohms), the Bronze 200 are relatively easy to drive but don't skimp on the amplifier quality. You don't need anything more than 50 Watts with these loudspeakers, but they can handle 100-150 Watts if you already have an amplifier in that range. They do suffer a dip into 4 Ohms, but this a relatively benign load. Their quote frequency response (in-room) is 35 – 30,000 Hz (-6 dB).
The Monitor Audio Bronze 200 are easy loudspeakers to like. They sound affably rich and smooth. That makes them amplifier and source agnostic speakers. They sounded good with all of the combinations of amplifier and DACs / streamers that I tried. Why? Because their presentation is naturally full and creamy and they're rolled-off in the treble. This is not a loudspeaker with an aggressive treble and that opens the door to more amplifier options.
They are also not polite; music has a great sense of pace with the Bronze 200 and that makes them engaging to listen to. Our living room is 645 square feet, and I was impressed by how the Bronze 200 was able to fill the room with sound. Bass response of these slim loudspeakers is first-rate.
It is deep and well-controlled. For a floor-standing speaker in this price range, it was very impressive. They easily pressurized our living room without overloading the space. But they do need room to breathe. To have the Monitor Audio Bronze 200 play at their best, they should be positioned well into the room. In my room, that ended up being more than three feet from the wall behind them. Tubes versus solid-state amplification? I would stick with something like the Schiit Audio Vidar ($699) that had zero difficulty driving these loudspeakers and matched them very well from a tonal perspective.
Too Much of a Good Thing?
Poor recordings are something that I own a lot of: In my very wasted (in every meaning of the word) youth, I crawled into a dark place and listened to a lot of black metal from Norway. The albums from the early 1990s are the ones that resonated with me.
From bands like Burzum, Ulver, Dødheimsgard, Isengard, Satyricon, Darkthrone. Norway? Black Metal? Yes. Think church burnings and Fårikål. There are several landmark albums from this time. Invariably, they all sound terrible by varying degrees – and intentionally so.
One of my favorites is Aske (Qobuz, 16-bit/44.1kHz) by Burzum which was release in 2008. This is a violent and harsh sounding recording with beautiful and brutal music. And, from my point of view, if not the birth of a new (sub)genre, then at least an album of impressive artistic originality. It didn't sound like anything that had come before, and it doesn't sound like anything that has come since. The first three (maybe four) Burzum albums are singular in their mixture of melancholy and brutality. Not for everyone.
Aske And The Omega?
In most other comparisons, the Omega are much better loudspeakers; tone, timbre, transparency, imaging, and overall resolution – but the Monitor Audio Bronze 200 make terrible recordings bearable without being (too) woolly or unfocused. It's a trade-off and something that is both music and room dependent.
I mentioned at the beginning of the review that the "room" is the single most important component in your system. After spending considerable time with the Bronze 200 in our larger living space, I moved them into my smaller listening room in a different part of the house which measures 270 square feet. It is a much smaller room but with better acoustics. The Bronze 200's bass response was so strong in this particular room that I had to stuff the rear ports with the supplied foam plugs.
This resulted in a better behaved loudspeaker in the space with significantly tighter bass, but it also caused the Bronze 200 to lose some of its charm; it didn't excite me the same way with music. The reality is that the Bronze 200 needs the foam plugs in a smaller room – and I suspect it will be the same for most listeners.
Over a period of time, I realized that the bass response was starting to overwhelm even in the larger room unless I moved them a considerable distance from both the side walls, front wall, and corners.
Tie A Chord Around It?
I tried several different amplifiers and actually ended up preferring the Schiit Vidar fed by the Chord 2go + Hugo 2 ($3,790) DAC / streamer / preamplifier. There was a synergy between all three products that was quite outstanding.
The Vidar is powerful and very clean sounding – sometimes a little rough around the edges. It is also an amplifier that benefits immensely from a better quality pre-amplifier. The Chord combination is a marvel of modern engineering; it combines excellent resolution and world-class detail retrieval.
I also drove the Monitor Audio Bronze 200 with my Exposure and Croft Acoustics amplification but neither system excited me in the same way.
This Is Fyne. Perfectly Fyne.
Fyne Audio is both a "new" loudspeaker brand but also one with some of the most experienced loudspeaker designers in the world. In 2015, Tannoy (one of the oldest and most-respected loudspeaker companies in the world) was purchased by an international holding company and their operations moved from Scotland to Asia.
The most predictable conclusion to this dramatic change was the departure of some rather key employees. What do talented people without a home usually do? That build a new one. A better one.
Enter Fyne Audio. The ironic twist to this story is that while the development and manufacturing of the more expensive models happens in Scotland, the more affordable products are made in China. It's the only way to stay competitive in a market where rivals like Wharfedale, Quad, Mission, and KEF have long-established factories overseas.
The Fyne Audio F302 are the least expensive floor-standing loudspeakers in their lineup but don't let that scare you away. They are made in China and come in at $745. That does not make them the most affordable floor-standing loudspeakers in the world, obviously. But it does make them the most affordable floor-standing loudspeaker I've listened to at home since high school.
As you'll discover (as I did), the Fyne Audio F302 may be one of the biggest bargains in high-end loudspeakers. Stick that in your kilt Tannoy.
There's Nothing Shite About These Loudspeakers
Their 90dB/W/m sensitive (8 Ohms) sensitivity rating makes them very easy to drive, but unlike the Bronze 200, they are far pickier when it comes to amplification and source components. Drive them with the wrong combination and they will not impress.
The F302s are available in walnut, black ash and light oak finishes – described by Fyne as 'superior vinyl'. These are understated finishes, which are offset by a glossy black headband framing the top of the cabinet and tweeter.
Their quoted frequency response is 36Hz – 28kHz (-6 dB in a typical room) and their recommended power range is between 30 – 120 Watts.
Each loudspeaker weighs 30 pounds and they are not on the small side for this type of entry-level floor-standing loudspeaker. The F302 are 39" H x 9.2" W x 12" D.
The cabinet sits on a supplied plinth and the F302s utilise a 1" polyester dome tweeter and 6" multi-fibre mid / bass driver in each of their sturdy cabinets.
I've been listening to the F302 for several months and nothing about their sound quality is entry-level. It's hard to believe that they are this affordable considering the levels of refinement, coherency, and low end bass response.
They are vivacious and slightly forward sounding, with satisfying bass extension that stays firm all the way down. No wool here. Not one ounce of it.
Groovin' With Miles
No, it doesn't sound like the band is there in room with me, and no, it doesn't sound like I'm in the studio with them. The album just sounds energetic and alive. Much more so than the Bronze 200. The Bronze 200 does not have the same forward, energized momentum. Not at all.
The Bronze 200 trade momentum and sparkle for a richer, deeper, more casual delivery of Seven Steps to Heaven. We might say that the Bronze 200 offer a lean-back-in-your-couch-and-relax kind of sound; and the F302 offer a lean-in, edge-of-your-seat kind of sound. The Bronze 200 are mellow and groovy; the Fyne Audio F302 are toe-tapping, attention-grabbing fun.
Alas, even the most patient member of my household (the cat) has had just about enough. No more Miles (or jazz even) in our shared space. – Good thing then that the F302 make what is one the best electronic albums of 2020, Fading by Pole, sound vibrantly, unnervingly poignant. It is an immaculately produced album. That first track and the way the drums kind of sneak in reveals a master producer at his best. I think it's probably his best album.
On the Bronze 200 it becomes a very enveloping experience. The bass surrounds me in a way the F302 does not. But the F302 counters that with a more precise presentation where bass is tighter and there's more detail in the midrange and treble. The Bronze 200 feel a bit clumsy whereas the F302 are quicker and more nimble sounding.
Keep The Heid!
The ethereal keyboard notes had a somewhat garish sounding reverberance that made me switch out the tubes for some solid-state amplification from Exposure, Quad, PS Audio, and Schiit.
Neither the LTA or Croft amplification could ever be described as being overly lush sounding; both excel at clarity, detail, transparency, and tone. They do put flesh on the bones in their portrayal of music.
I couldn't figure out why this splendid ambient album made me cringe here and there until I simply concluded that there are some albums, regardless of amplifier, that will challenge the Fyne Audio F302. That conclusion didn't dawn on me until I had gone back and forth between various amplifier combinations and reinserted the Monitor Audio Bronze 200 back into the two systems.
If I still listened to a lot of Norwegian black metal, I would prefer the Bronze 200. No contest. But I don't. I mostly listen to electronic music and jazz, and most of that sounds exceptionally great through the Fyne Audio F302.
Which One Did I Keep?
The Bronze 200 is a smooth speaker that sounds bigger than it is. It is challenged in its transparency and its treble extension. I said that the Bronze 200 are easy speakers to like, which is true, but perhaps they are hard speakers to love. They're affable and make everything sound nice. That also makes them in my opinion – rather conventional.
The Fyne Audio F302 are anything but conventional. Compared to the Bronze 200 they have a reverse case of treble issues. They are forward, but certainly not aggressive. With the right amplification they have an energy and airiness that isn't common at this price point. Music has a vitality to it that is addictive. With jazz and electronic music, it can be downright hypnotic when you get the amplifier and source correct.
The Bronze 200 were fun. The F302 made me want to listen to music all day.
I know which loudspeakers will be staying.
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