Having recently scooped our Best Compact Speaker Package of the Year for its brilliant R90HT1 sub/sat system, Monitor Audio is on a bit of a roll, and now the UK brand has launched an updated version that substitutes the Radius 390 sub for the bigger and beefier Silver W12, and introduces the Radius 270 floorstanders on front L/R duty.

But why tinker with a winning formula? Well, good though the Radius 390 woofer is, Monitor Audio always felt that the Radius 90 satellites, 270 floorstanders and 200 centre are capable enough to be paired with subwoofers higher up the brand's range – particularly as they now incorporate C-CAM drivers.

'The fact that the Radius 90, 200 and 270 now come with a C-CAM driver for the first time means that there is better timbre matching and integration between them and the latest generation of Silver W12 than ever before,' says Alex Brady of Monitor Audio. 'The R270HT12 system is also more adept at filling larger listening environments.'

Monitor Audio never fails to impress me with its graceful, elegant designs and the R270HT12 is no exception. Pull the R270s from their boxes and the see-your-face-in-it black lacquer finish brings an instant smile, while the bulbous grilles and thin silver trim are classy details. The system is also available in Walnut real-wood veneer and High Gloss White, but black is by far the sexiest.

Up close the R270 cabinets are beautifully engineered, with hefty, seamless construction and curved edges that give them the impression of being a single solid block. They sit on thick plinths with a pair of gold-plated binding posts on the back. As floorstanders go they’re slim and unobtrusive, measuring 177mm wide.

The two-way, rear-ported R90s are basically scaled-down versions of the R270s, clad in the same lacquer finish, and easy to accommodate. Likewise the R200 centre, which sits on its side for snug placement on an AV stand.

Reworked drivers

Monitor Audio’s C-CAM (Ceramic-Coated Aluminium/Magnesium) drivers are at the heart of this system, and have been retooled to incorporate new developments in cone geometry and drive mechanisms.

The R270’s two 4in C-CAM bass drivers are coupled to a longer voice coil and larger motor than before – the benefits of which, according to Monitor Audio, are greater drive force, longer excursions, lower distortion and improved integration with the sub. Similar care has been taken to enhance the performance of the 1in C-CAM tweeter, which vents internally to a rear chamber through a specially designed housing, resulting, says MA, in lower resonance and a more accurate crossover.

The R200 employs dual bass drivers, flanking the tweeter, while the compact R90 surrounds pack a single woofer.

Despite hailing from a different range altogether, the Silver W12 fits in surprisingly well. It’s bigger than the Radius 390 but otherwise this cube-shaped bass bin is pretty much identical aesthetically, and helpfully comes in the same sumptuous lacquer and wood finishes.

Spec-wise it's a clear step up, though, with a 500W DSP-controlled amplifier in the sealed cabinet driving a front-firing 12in C-CAM woofer. On the back are stereo/LFE input and output, plus crossover and phase controls. There are Movie, Music and Impact bass EQ modes to experiment with.

Optimising a subwoofer can be a tricky business but the built-in Automatic Position Correction (APC) system works to do it for you. Rig up the supplied microphone, run the test tones and the W12 tracks down problems and automatically corrects the frequency response for your room. The APC controls and volume dial are helpfully placed on top to save you fumbling around in hard-to-reach places.

It’s worth putting into action, as I felt bass performance tightened up considerably after running the room EQ system.

Monkey business

Once I had the woofer working in harmony with my room, I unleashed Dawn of the Planet of the Apes on Blu-ray and understood immediately why Monitor Audio was keen to combine the W12 with the Radius speakers. This super sub offers greater clout and presence than the Radius 390, but still manages to meld beautifully with the full, confident sound of the R270s and R90s. It’s a match made in heaven.

Shots of the apes chasing deer through their forest home are accompanied by thick waves of LF as their footsteps hit the ground. The rumble is solid and voluminous, but the W12’s top-notch detail and agility means you can pick out hooves hitting the deck amid the stampede.

I upped the stakes and switched to my much-spun Pacific Rim Blu-ray. The first battle between Gipsy Danger and Knifehead is as electrifying as it should be – every time the Jaeger slams its fist into the Kaiju or stomps on the sea bed, huge bass notes flood the room. The scale is phenomenal.

But here’s the best part – integration between the W12 and the speakers is so slick that you’re rarely reminded of the sub’s presence. It’s a cohesive union – testament to the deep bass reach of the C-CAM drivers – which keeps your mind on the movie, not on the woofer’s volume level. That even applies when the action quietens down, lending depth to the score and the hum inside the hangar.

But the R270HT12 isn’t all about that bass, no matter what Meghan Trainor says. Monitor Audio’s speakers once again impress with their finesse and clarity in the high frequencies.

Switching back to the start of ...Apes, as the simians stalk through the woods, the falling rain has a wonderfully light, crisp quality. It sounds real, basically. And as they clamber up trees and creep along the forest floor, the delicate rustle amid the stillness is captivating.

Sure, other speakers are detailed, but what makes this so enjoyable is how natural it all sounds. It never spits or pushes too hard, even when you crank the volume dial. And this clarity permeates every aspect of the soundtrack, from vocal details (human or ape) to the precise, absorbing surround effects.

On the flipside, I occasionally wished the R270HT12 offered a bit more brutality during some of these frenetic action scenes. Listening to its smooth sound, I got the feeling the system is struggling to escape the shackles of Monitor Audio’s musical background. These Radius cabinets simply can’t match the sheer muscularity and midrange aggression of born-and-bred movie systems.

What this does mean, though, is that the array sounds terrific with tunes. With its punchy bass, clear mids and expressive treble, you get a warm, well-balanced, nuanced sound. The spacey pop-funk of Roxy Music’s More Than This (SACD) is fabulous, with tight drums, sizzling percussion and silky sax lines.

So on balance is the R270HT12 a worthwhile upgrade over the R90HT1? Most definitely. The Silver W12 subwoofer beefs up the low-end to new levels, underpinning the elegant sound from the slender Radius speakers, and using the R270 floorstanders rather than bookshelves brings extra presence to the front soundstage. Get an audition if you want both style and substance.