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Monitor Audio Controlled Performance Series Speakers

We all know that it is proverbially impossible to have one’s cake and eat it too.

The top-of-the-line CP-WT380IDC features a unique pivoting module, allowing up to 18 degrees of adjustment.

We all know that it is proverbially impossible to have one’s cake and eat it too. This certainly used to be the case with distributed audio, where if a customer wanted discreet, near-invisible speakers, then it had to come at the expense of performance, with customers settling for “good enough” audio when you cut speakers into walls and ceilings. That’s no longer the case today, with nearly every speaker manufacturer offering speakers that are not only discreet but that offer performance rivaling freestanding models.

Monitor Audio is a British-owned loudspeaker designer that has been creating high-end speakers for more than 40 years, and with its new Controlled Performance (CP) Series architectural speakers, the company addresses the biggest issue with traditional in-wall/in-ceiling designs: the whole in-wall part. With 10 speakers across four performance levels, all models in the CP Series feature integrated, fully sealed back boxes and optimized drivers for each enclosure to deliver reliable and consistent audio, regardless of the wall or ceiling cavity. Additionally, the back box dramatically reduces sound transmission between rooms and floors.

To get a sense of the lineup, I had Monitor Audio send me good, better, and best models. This included the entry-level CP-CT150 5-inch round model, the step-up CP-WT260 6-inch rectangular in-wall, and the flagship CP-WT380IDC, featuring a three-way design incorporating the company’s unique, pivoting Inverted Dual Concentric midrange/tweeter module and 8-inch woofers. And to experience the ultimate in full-range, in-wall performance, Monitor also sent its in-wall subwoofer system, complete with IWA-250 amplifier, IWB-10 enclosure, and IWS-10 sub driver.

For example, I installed the round, two-way, 5-inch driver CPCT150, the smallest speaker in the family, in my bedroom ceiling, and it fit in the same sized hole of my existing speakers with 6.5-inch drivers. The rectangular, two-way, 6-inch driver CP-WT260 took a slightly larger hole than my existing speakers with 8-inch drivers, while the CP-WT380IDC required a cut out that measured an even larger 17.25 by 11.56 inches. While the trimless bezel makes for a very sleek, discreet, finished look, just be advised that these speakers run large, and if you are replacing existing models you will either need to scale down on the driver size or enlarge the holes.

Also, these speakers are deep, with the in-ceiling pair coming in at 6 1/8 inches and the in-wall models pushing the very limits of my stud wall at a full 4 inches. In fact, getting them to fit flush in my wall cavity meant clearing out all traces of insulation and making sure the speaker wire was properly routed out of the way.

Getting the best performance out of the IWS-10 in-wall subwoofer requires installation of the IWB-10 in-wall back box. This is a sealed enclosure built from MDF and laminated with a tough vinyl finish designed to fit between standard 16-inch on-center stud walls. The IWB- 10 measures 33.5 inches tall and has an internal volume of 24 liters. The enclosure has high-quality push-type speaker terminals, so you can connect wiring to it during prewire. Due to its size, however, it would be impossible to retrofit the IWB-10 into existing construction unless you had access to the exposed studding, say in a ceiling, floor, or room-over-the-garage type install, and in these cases, the IWS-10 can be used without the back box.

Powering the sub is the IWA-250 Class D power amplifier, a 1U rack-mountable chassis that delivers up to 250 watts at 4 ohms, and can drive two of the IWS-10 subs. The amp offers a variety of connection options, including RCA stereo, LFE (RCA and balanced XLR), as well as trigger inputs. To blend the sub(s) into your system, the IWA-250 includes a front-panel volume control, setting for whether you are using the enclosure or not, a three-position EQ profile (Music, Movies, and Impact) to tailor bass response, phase switch, and variable low-pass crossover.

Installation proved a snap, with the company’s Tri-Grip, three-position dog-ear mounting system holding the speakers securely in place. Also, I really like the push-type speaker terminals that are large enough to accept banana plugs and facilitate one-handed wire connection. Also, the magnets on the grilles are very powerful, and I never heard them rattle, even at high volumes.

With a low end rated to only 75 Hz, the CPCT150s actually surprised me by how much bass they were capable of producing. While they didn’t plumb the recesses of bass-heavy songs like The Crystal Method’s “High Roller,” they definitely produced nuanced low end that was appreciable on jazz tunes featuring standing bass, and even the synth lines on Taylor Swift’s 1989. What they didn’t produce in bass, though, they made up for in clarity, where they excelled in producing great detail and had a nice wide dispersion that did an admirable job of filling the room with sound. They do have an adjustable tweeter to help focus the audio, and a +3dB/0/-3dB switch to help fine-tune the high frequencies.

Moving to the WT260 produced a clearly noticeable and meaningful sonic step up the audio ladder, as the speaker’s larger drivers and superior technology produced significantly louder and deeper bass and enhanced midrange presence, as well as volume output. The 260 moves to Monitor’s Ceramic-Coated Aluminum/Magnesium (C-CAM) driver, which the company claims better handles extreme bass excursion and higher volumes, and offers higher efficiency. Sonically, these are moving into the land of true bookshelf replacement, with rich audio that has plenty of depth and detail, as well as SPL. With the 260s, the standing bass on Diana Krall’s “Fly Me to the Moon” had far more pluck and resonance, and Krall’s throaty voice had that intimate, in-the-room-with-you quality on “Case of You” that makes it such a great recording.

As nice as the 260s sounded, they were just the sonic warm-up act for the 380IDCs. Just picking these speakers out of the box, the 12-pound, 6-ounce heft of each speaker speaks to their serious build quality, and visually it’s clear they mean serious audio business. The IDC’s unique pivoting module allows up to 18 degrees of adjustment, allowing you to focus the audio like toe’ing in a monitor. The 8-inch woofer’s extended reach was clear on all material, but especially noticeable on things like Tina Weymouth’s bass playing on “Heaven,” or the electronic synth of “Swamp” from the Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense. Paired with a good amplifier, the 380s produce enough palpable bass that a sub is barely missed. I also found the 380s to be smoother and less forward sounding than the 260s.

How good did the 380s sound? I had them in my showroom leaning against some tower speakers with built subs and playing some music, and a customer listened for a while and then said, “Wow! Those tower speakers really sound great. Who makes those?”

The IWA-250 amp provides enough control to blend the sub’s bass to match the speaker, room, and listening preference. While the sub didn’t deliver that punch-you-in-the-chest kind of deep bass a large freestanding sub can, it definitely produces those lowest octaves in music, giving extra weight and presence to the sound. I wasn’t really aware of how much it was adding until I turned the amp off and the bottom disappeared.

In the age-old choice between aesthetics and performance, Monitor Audio’s Controlled Performance Series proves listeners can have both.