B&W Rock Solid Monitors
They're stylish, they're cute, they're magnetically shielded - but how do they sound?
With their impressive specification, impeccable styling and modest cost, the Solids look too good to be true. Derek Johnson puts on his sceptical head.
Rock Solid will probably be a new name in loudspeakers to most of RM's readers — it was to me. The speakers under review here have a novel history, being designed by Morten Warren of Rock Solid, acoustically engineered by B&W and built in Japan; B&W are distributing Solid monitors in the UK. The result of all this co-operation is a very stylish speaker that offers no compromises in build quality.
The Solid monitors are sold in pairs, and come with their own integral swivel stands, so there are no added extras to buy. These stands allow the monitors to be free-standing or bolted to any convenient position, including walls or ceilings.
The swivel covers quite a wide arc and, once arranged, the speaker stays in position.
An Allen key is provided to remove the speaker from the stand, so that the stand can be fixed to a wall easily. Safety cables are available as optional extras, should you be considering mounting the monitors on a ceiling.
It's with the stand that the nice touches start: there are rubber feet on the bottom of the main tripod, making sure no damage is done to the immediate environment, and, more importantly, providing further isolation against unwanted vibration. The manufacturers also thoughtfully supply screw caps to cover up the screws when you've put the Solids in position.
And so to the speakers themselves: these compact monitors come in a 233mm high by 163mm wide by 150mm deep package, and feature a vented bass enclosure with fourth-order alignment. The bass and mid-range is handled by a 95mm cone driver, while the top end is competently covered by a small, synthetic diaphragm tweeter, fitted with a phase plug to aid dispersion. The frequency range covered is a nominal 75Hz to 20kHz, which is not at all bad for the size, and 50Hz can be reached when the units are fixed to a wall. Power handling is 150W at 8 Ohms and, should you exceed that, a built-in protection device switches into circuit and turns down the input level until the overload is removed. The efficiency isn't bad either, at 90dB for 1 Watt measured at 1 metre, which means that adequate near-field listening levels can be achieved using smaller amplifiers than the maximum rating.
There is a removable speaker grille that covers just the main driver. Although an attractive design feature, this is perhaps the weakest part of the Solids. It looks very nice, with the shape of a rounded triangle, and comes off easily enough, but it seems just a little too flimsy to offer any real driver protection.
"Material I'd mixed on my own system sounded well-balanced on the Solids - the detail was well defined and the tonal fullness very satisfying."
One hazard of control room monitors that wasn't such a general problem until quite recently is stray magnetism from speaker coils. Such magnetism can damage tapes and floppy disks, and may seriously distort the image on a nearby computer display or video monitor. Those of you running computer-based software in a confined studio space may well know what I'm talking about. This state of affairs has led a number of manufacturers to offer magnetically shielded speakers for use in post-production suites, video dubbing, small MIDI studios and even home entertainment systems. Rock Solid have followed suit, and consequently the Solids are fully screened.
For installations — clubs, bars and so on — a gizmo called the Solid Array is available; this allows four Solid monitors to be mounted in one location — from a ceiling, for example. Also in the range is the rather interesting Bass Station sub-woofer, which is an eight-speaker array capable of handling 500W, with a frequency range of 34Hz to 100Hz. Again, B&W contributed to the acoustic design. A reflex port is centrally located, so the unit can be placed anywhere in a room, even in a corner. This unit isn't magnetically shielded (but who keeps their VDUs on the floor?), and although I didn't actually have a Bass Station for review, the specification indicates it should be a fair match for the Solids.
All the style in the world is meaningless if the speakers don't sound good. So let me put your mind at rest: they do. I tested them side by side with my trusty JBL Control 1s — which seem to be the Solid's obvious competitor in a studio context — on a variety of programme material, from classical to dance remixes to thrashy guitar bands. While sounding superficially similar, the Solids appear to offer an improvement in the way they present fine detail. In general, the Solids sound more sophisticated and realistic, offering warmth, better articulation and a sense of perspective.
"Every so often, a product comes up for review that makes people stop in their tracks when they see it, and the Solids had such an effect on me."
Particularly telling on a recording of Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade was the way in which a cello line, inaudible on my existing system, leapt out on the Solids; similarly, rather than forming a part of the overall wodge of sound, brass had much more definition. On the dancier material I played, more detail was discernible across the board, and rather than guessing where the bass drum was, it was actually audible on the Solids, although not as evident as on a full-size pair of monitors. Solo piano worked well, with not only the attack being more evident, but the overtones becoming more audible and bell-like. Definition is also the name of the game when it comes to choral music and guitar bands — Pearl Jam's recent single sounded good on my system, but some fuzz rhythm guitar magically appeared in the mix when played on the Solids. Material I'd mixed on my own system sounded well-balanced on the Solids — the detail was well defined and the tonal fullness very satisfying.
Every so often, a product comes up for review that makes people stop in their tracks when they see it, and the Solids had such an effect on me. Aesthetically they're very pleasing, but the sound is equally likely to stop you in your tracks, involving and detailed as it is. True bass reproduction is better than on the majority of small monitors, but I'm sure the addition of the sub-bass system would further improve the situation.
In much the same way that JBL's Control 1s and Yamaha's NS10s became small studio or near-field standards due to particular sonic qualities, I could see the Solids occupying a similar position in the future; you'll be pleased to know that they won't break the bank either. The bottom line is that the Solids are a very competent pair of monitors from any viewpoint — domestic, studio or installation — and I can recommend them wholeheartedly.
Rock Solid Solid Monitors (available in various colours) £199.99 including VAT.
B&W Loudspeakers, (Contact Details).
Review by Derek Johnson
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