Monitor Audio Studio 20 loudspeaker

April 3, 2023 0 By JohnValbyNation

A review of the Monitor Audio Studio 20 loudspeaker is a study in contrasts. Compared with most other loudspeakers in the $4500/pair range, this 6.5″ two-way from England is a mere pup. Perhaps this observation was sparked by the fact that I’d just finished reviewing the similarly priced Snell Type B, a huge, six-driver, four-way system. The two loudspeakers couldn’t be more different, both in physical characteristics and sound.

But $4500 for a 6.5″ two-way?! I’m sure that’s what many of you are thinking. I had my own doubts that this little speaker could compete with the likes of the Hales System Two ($3000/pair), Mirage M-1 ($5000/pair), or other similarly priced and highly regarded contenders. Could any small two-way be worth this kind of money? Surely, the little Studio 20 would be no match for these larger systems, I thought.

Until I listened to them.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s first look at what’s inside the Studio 20.

Technical description
The Studio 20 is very attractive—no, gorgeous. Its dimensions have considerable visual appeal, complemented by extraordinary cabinet quality. The exotic wood veneer, beautiful craftsmanship, and attention to detail exude elegance and quality. The Studio 20s wouldn’t be out of place in any home.

Starting with the rear panel, the Studio 20 provides two pairs of gold-plated posts for bi-wiring. These posts, custom-made for Monitor Audio, have a knurled screw-down with provision for spade lugs, banana plugs, or bare wire. I found them fairly easy to use, but prefer using a ½” nut driver to pliers for tightening. A removable 3¼”-square plate toward the cabinet bottom allows the enclosure’s lower portion to be filled with sand or lead shot. This increases the system’s mass and reduces the effects of cabinet resonances. Filling the otherwise top-heavy 20s with sand, as I did, also made them more stable. The top of the rear panel has a 2″-diameter port, revealing the 20’s reflex design.

A black grille snaps into place, covering almost the entire front baffle. The 20 looks as good with the grille on as off; the baffle is also finished in exotic veneer, and the silver and gold drivers have a visual appeal.

Both drivers are designed and built in Monitor Audio’s factory and bear the Monitor Audio logo. Much attention has been paid to the drive-units’ materials and construction. The 6.5″ woofer features a cast aluminum basket, 1¼” voice-coil, vented magnet, and unusually, an aluminum/magnesium alloy cone. This unique cone material is reportedly very rigid and resonance-free. During manufacture, the woofer’s metal alloy is fabricated in a three-stage drawing process, with stress relieved at each phase to ensure molecular consistency. The cone is electrochemically coated with 50µm-thick layers of heat-dissipating ceramic. This reportedly increases strength and rigidity, while also aiding in heat dissipation. The cone is thermally coupled to the voice-coil, acting as a large heatsink. An aluminum dome acts as a dustcap, and the surround is made from nitrile rubber.

The tweeter is equally sophisticated in design and materials. The 1″ dome is made from an aluminum/magnesium alloy similar to that used in the woofer, but with the alloy anodized a gold color. The benefits of this construction, according to Monitor, include low mass, high rigidity, efficiency, and better self-damping properties. Ferrofluid cooling and a vented voice-coil former help reduce voice-coil temperatures and thus dynamic compression.

Cabinet construction is ¾” MDF, damped internally with a close cell foam and a bituminous pad. Two vertical braces support each sidewall, and a horizontal brace about a third of the way up the cabinet acts both to reduce cabinet resonances and to form a chamber for the sand/lead-shot loading.

The crossover is a simple first-order type (6dB/octave) at 3.2kHz. Capacitors are custom polypropylene units made to Monitor Audio’s specifications. Internal wiring is Monitor Audio’s stranded copper cable.

Stock finishes include Bombay rosewood, California oak, walnut, and black ash. The special finishes listed in the specification block above are available on a custom basis at additional cost. (My review sample was Bombay rosewood.) I must reiterate the comments about the Studio 20’s extraordinary build quality, attention to detail, and elegant appearance: There was clearly an effort to build a product that would complement any decor.

After some experimentation, I found the Studio 20s worked best exactly where Apogee’s Jason Bloom found his Centaur Minor loudspeakers sounded their best in my room. (A full review of the Centaur Minors will appear in January 1992.) During a visit a few weeks before, Jason carefully tweaked the Minors and I marked the carpet to indicate their optimum position for later auditioning. This seemed to be a “magic spot” because the Studio 20s also locked in at this position. This surprised me; the best place for a dipole is usually not where a box speaker sounds best. The Studio 20s were 54″ from the rear wall and 45″ from the sidewalls (measured to the center of the front baffle). I moved the listening chair more forward than is customary; the Studio 20s sounded better when I was sitting in the nearfield. My head was 9′ from the line between the two loudspeakers.

The cabinet bottoms were filled with sand, and the 20s were toed-in so the listener was directly on axis. The 20’s short stature meant that the tweeters were a full 6″ below my listening height of 36″. Monitor Audio has presumably taken this typical height differential into account in the 20’s design.

Because I have thick carpet and padding and the 20s aren’t very heavy, the spikes supplied with the 20s didn’t provide good contact with the concrete slab. I substituted pointed cones for the spikes, which made the loudspeakers more stable, yet still did not achieve intimate contact with the slab. The sound, however, was superior to no spikes or the supplied spikes.

Before filling the 20s with sand, experimenting with placement, or even fitting the spikes, I connected them for break-in and background listening while writing. Even with these disadvantages, and sitting far away from the sweet spot (not to mention just-turned-on electronics), the Studio 20s made it immediately clear to me that they were a loudspeaker to be reckoned with. Their transparency, detail, and three-dimensionality were all apparent even under these ridiculously poor conditions.

If I was impressed by the Studio 20s under these circumstances, they really sang when properly set up (and driven by warm electronics). What I really found engaging and compelling was the Studio 20s’ superb ability to disappear. I use the word “disappear” in several ways. First, they seemed to disappear literally by their small size, instead of creating an imposing presence in the listening room. Second, the Studio 20s gave the impression of a soundstage existing independently of the loudspeakers—the antithesis of sound emerging from a box. Finally, they were able to disappear musically, making me forget I was hearing mechanically reproduced sound. This last characteristic is an essential quality of any high-end loudspeaker and one in which the Studio 20s excelled. I felt drawn into and captivated by the music, rather than feeling that I should listen for specific performance attributes. It was so easy to just sit back, forget about reviewing, and enjoy the music. These are always signs of a good product.

Getting to specifics, however, the Studio 20s had a fairly flat tonal balance, with surprising extension and feeling of weight for such a small loudspeaker. They did not sound as neutral as the reference Hales System Two Signature or the Meridian D6000, but nevertheless had no serious colorations that interfered with the music. I did, however, detect a few irregularities. First, there was a slight trend toward a lack of warmth in the lower midrange, accompanied by what sounded like a rising response in the upper mids. This had the effect of reducing the feeling of body and warmth from some instruments, especially sax and vocal. There was sometimes a slightly thin or threadbare characteristic to lead instruments. In addition, the treble had a slight degree of “whiteness” with a reduced sense of body and fullness. Cymbals, especially, had a wispy character rather than a round fatness. Their texture could be described as chromium instead of burnished brass. This treble characteristic could become fatiguing after a long session, but seemed to diminish as the Studio 20s logged more and more hours. I suspect that they would continue to sound sweeter after longer use.


The midbass was a little on the lean side, but very tight and articulate. I much prefer this type of presentation to an overbearing bass with poor definition. The 20s had good extension and sense of power in the lowermost registers, especially considering their size and driver complement. Even at high playback levels and music with significant amounts of low-frequency energy, the 20s showed no sign of strain. I especially enjoyed solo piano like Dick Hyman Plays Fats Waller (Reference Recordings RR-33CD). The 20s had the ability to present left-hand lines without confusion or congestion. There was a tautness and palpability to the sound that was very true to the actual instrument. Many loudspeakers’ downfall when reproducing solo piano is a smearing and confusion in the lower registers. It was thus a joy to hear such precision and finesse from the Studio 20s on this and other solo piano recordings.


Acoustic bass also had an excellent sense of pitch definition and “speed,” characteristics especially important when listening to virtuoso bass players. Listen to Eddie Gomez on the Chick Corea record Friends (Polydor PD-1-6160). His intricate and driving playing never got lost on the Studio 20s, instead adding to the sense of pace and making his melodic contribution more apparent compared to lesser loudspeakers. There was, however, one coloration apparent on acoustic bass: some notes had a “wooden” quality. Although not excited very often, the change in timbre at certain frequencies was noticeable. I heard it most on John Clayton’s bass on the first track of Monty Alexander’s Montreux Alexander (MPS 817 487-2). Overall, however, it was infrequent enough and not severe enough to significantly distract from the 20’s performance.


The midrange had a similar change in character at certain frequencies, perhaps when a cabinet resonance was excited. This was manifested as a greater forwardness to some notes, accompanied by a slight glare. Again, it was not a serious coloration and was apparent only with certain program, especially piano. The just-mentioned Monty Alexander record was a good example; on ascending or descending piano lines, the image seemed to move slightly forward and then recede as the problem frequency was momentarily excited.

The Studio 20s had a remarkable sense of speed through the entire spectrum. They never sounded sluggish, slow, or tired. Instead, they went a long way toward conveying the dynamic impact of live music. Drums had a believable “suddenness,” with razor-sharp transient edges. There was a distinct impression of the stick hitting the drum head, rather than just the sound of the drum itself. This component is often lost in reproduced music, robbing it of a sense of life and palpability.

Similarly, other types of transient detail were sharp and lively. Percussion instruments just sounded more lifelike, with their transient character intact, rather than being smeared in time. The 20s also had the ability to present finely woven detail without sounding etched. Further adding to the impression of detail, the 20s didn’t fuse disparate musical lines into a synthetic continuum, instead keeping the various threads of the musical fabric distinct. The intricate layers of percussion on the LP Cascades (Milestone M-9109) from the Brazilian trio Azymuth—a tough challenge for loudspeakers—were resolved as individual instruments and with their transient qualities preserved. I believe the Studio 20’s sense of speed and ability to differentiate musical lines from the whole are largely responsible for their engaging immediacy and musically satisfying presentation.

I would, however, caution prospective buyers about matching the Studio 20s with components that tend toward dryness or forwardness in the treble. The 20s are close to the edge of being analytical, and some electronics and source components may push them over that edge. I found the 20s worked better with the tubed VTL power amps than the Rowland Model 1, and suspect they would really like a somewhat softer-sounding amplifier (the VTLs are not mushy and rolled off in the treble). Solid-state amps that tend to be dry and etched are definitely not recommended for the Studio 20s.

I’ve saved the best for last: the Studio 20s were soundstaging champs. They threw a wide, three-dimensional representation of the music that made the rear third of the listening room seem to vanish. Vocals and lead instruments were clearly defined images, existing solidly between the loudspeakers. The sense of depth was superb, with instruments clearly existing behind—yet not obscured by—other instruments. With eyes closed, it was impossible to point at the loudspeakers as the source of the sound; the Studio 20s’ ability to disappear was as good as that of the best loudspeakers I’ve auditioned in my room. I really enjoyed this aspect of their performance—music replaced the loudspeakers.

Soundstage width extended beyond the loudspeaker boundaries, giving the presentation a “big” character. Adding to this feeling of openness, the 20s had remarkable transparency and clarity. There was a clear view into the music and the soundstage rear without a trace of murkiness or opacity. Instrumental outlines were surrounded by a cushion of air and space, further reinforcing the feeling of depth and palpability. I also got an unusual feeling of height: the soundstage appeared to extend above the loudspeakers, with some images originating several feet higher than the cabinet.

Overall, my criticisms of the Studio 20s are minor in relation to their strengths; they were unfailingly musical, involving, and enjoyable. The highest compliment I can pay them is that they filled the listening room with music, not just sound.

I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent listening to the Monitor Audio Studio 20s. They never failed to convey the music’s essence, making it easy to forget about the playback system and become involved in the music. Specifically, they threw a spacious, well-focused soundstage with a superb sense of depth and three-dimensional layering. Images had a realism and palpability that greatly added to the 20’s ability to disappear. In addition, they were highly detailed, with a sense of quickness, yet weren’t etched or analytical. Finally, they had a very satisfying overall tonal balance. Although they lacked the low-frequency extension and weight of the largest systems, they nevertheless reproduced the lower octaves with musically satisfying fullness.

Compared to these strengths and the 20’s overall musicality, my criticisms are minor. The slight lack of warmth in the lower mids/upper bass could be a distraction with some program, and the somewhat “bleached” upper treble tended to become fatiguing after a long session. The Studio 20s should therefore be driven by the highest-quality electronics and source components to realize their full potential. Further, associated components that lean toward the dry and analytical should be avoided; a sweet-sounding tube amplifier will ameliorate the treble whiteness and reinforce the 20’s superb soundstaging.

If size and appearance were not considerations, would the Monitor Audio Studio 20 top my list of favorite loudspeakers around $4500/pair? No, but they would be among a handful of contenders for the crown. However, for those seeking a musically satisfying experience in a small and elegant package, the Monitor Audio Studio 20 may be hard to beat.

NEXT: Sam Tellig April 1992 »


Monitor Audio Ltd.

North American distributor: Kevro International Inc.,

McKay Road, Pickering, Ontario L1W 3X8


(416) 428-2800


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Sam Tellig April 1992
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