A powerhouse bookshelf speaker from Monitor Audio

Monitor Audio's Silver RX1 may be just 12 inches high, but it sounds like a much bigger speaker.

The Monitor Audio RX1 speaker. Steve Guttenberg/CNET

When I dropped by the Park Avenue Audio NYC showroom, I was on a mission to find an audiophile bookshelf speaker that wouldn't break the bank. The store's selection covers a wide gamut, but the majority of speakers are $1,000-plus per pair. Then I ran across the Monitor Audio "Silver" RX1; it's a medium-size bookshelf speaker, measuring a tidy 12.3 x 7.3 x 9.4 inches. At 15 pounds, it feels surprisingly heavy for its size. It has a 1-inch ceramic-coated aluminum/magnesium-alloy dome tweeter and a 6-inch metal woofer. The speakers sell for $650 a pair.

I listened to the RX1s hooked up to a Rotel stereo 60-watt-per-channel RA-1520 integrated amplifier, and the sound was so full and big I really thought there was a subwoofer in the system. There wasn't -- the little speakers just made a lot of bass. The score to the film "Birth" has some deep tympani drum thwacks in the opening sequence, and I heard real weight and substance in the low frequencies. Few speakers this size could sound like this while filling Park Avenue Audio's 17-by-26-foot listening room!

Amy Winehouse's "Live at the BBC" CD was also pretty spectacular. Her vocals were nicely handled, the RX1s have a warmish tonal balance, and switching over to a pair of Bowers & Wilkins CM5 speakers ($1,500) that were only slightly larger than the RX1 confirmed that hunch. The CM5 is a better speaker; it sounded lighter and more transparent and had superior resolution of detail, so I could hear more deeply into the mix. That's nice, but I missed the RX1s' more full-bodied sound. Bluesman Robert Cray's music kicked harder over the RX1s. I admired this little speaker's grown-up sound.

I didn't use it in a stereo home theater, but I'm sure the Monitor RX1s would really shine with movies and sound better than any similarly priced sound bar or 5.1 channel speaker-subwoofer system.

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