Grace Under Pressure

Compact, flexible and powerful, Monitor Audio’s flagship Anthra W15 sub shows Grace Under Pressure and our intrepid trade focused reviewer, Richard Stevenson is in no Rush to hand it back.

The latest addition to Monitor Audio’s (MA) premium subwoofer lineup, the Anthra W15, is the largest in the series, marrying a 15in driver with a 1500W amp. So far, so normal. Yet this sealed cabinet design is considerably smaller than its rivals, at just under 44cm a side, making it a formidable bass beast for installations requiring a more discreet AV aesthetic.

Interestingly, MA markets the Anthra range as majoring in musicality and control rather than gizzard-wobbling LFE output. This suggests a device made to be something of a one-stop sub for audiophile music and tight, punchy movie bass—and testing certainly backed up that claim.

Top of the feature’s list is MA’s bespoke continuous profile C-CAM driver with the second generation of the brand’s dimpled Rigid Surface Technology. RST II further stiffens the ceramic-coated aluminium cone, itself driven by dual-layer round-wound voice coils. The driver’s giant golf ball surface might not be to every customer’s taste, but the unit does come supplied with a magnetic mount round grill. On the black gloss finish model, the round black grille looks subtle; on the white, far from it.

The amplifier is another MA bespoke design rather than an off-the-shelf plate amp. It is a Class-D design offering 2400W peak / 1400W RMS power. This is fed from MA’s 28-bit DSP system, which is itself controlled from a full-colour rear-panel LCD menu or the MaestroUnite app. I found the LCD rather unnecessary and essentially redundant for most professional installs, but the app is sublimely good. More on that later.

The cabinet itself is weighty and solid, featuring a 36mm thick MDF baffle and 25mm elsewhere, with extensive internal bracing to reduce cabinet resonance. The sealed design should make positioning relatively straightforward, and you get a trio of foot options with spikes, plastic feet and rubber bumpers for polished floors. Available in gloss black or gloss white, the build, finish and feel are absolutely top-notch throughout – all 40kg of it.

Connectivity covers stereo RCA and mono XLR, both with loop outputs for daisy chaining. MA suggests hooking up to four Anthra subs in this way. It’s not required for modern AVRs with multi-sub outputs, but it could be handy if integrating an older processor/AVR with multiple subs. Power on/off is by 12v trigger or auto signal sensing. Wireless Bluetooth connectivity and Wi-Fi are present but reserved for the app link and control/updates.

While the app offers extensive manual presets and EQ control via the sub’s DSP, any form of automatic Room EQ is obviously missing. To get the best from the app, you would need a third-party measuring solution such as REW, and even then, you would have to set and re-measure repeatedly to get a flat response.

Whether this is a major omission or not will depend very much on the ancillary equipment across the installation. If you are integrating the Anthra into a system with modern AV electronics featuring automated bass EQ, perhaps via the fuller-fat versions of Audyssey or Dirac Live, it’s not an issue. At £2500 retail, this is not a sub for budget installs anyway.

Regardless, Monitor Audio’s MaestroUnite app is a stand-out feature here. This app transforms subwoofer setup and management by providing a pleasingly wide choice of adjustment options accessible via a smartphone or tablet. Installers can fine-tune settings like the low-pass filter, gain and phase adjustments for installation, while the end user can ‘tweak’ to their hearts’ content with Movie and music-based presets.

The sheer granular detail of the app controls is worthy of mention. 360-degree phase control is in single degrees, and individual gain and frequency EQ adjustments are in 0.1dB increments. That is around 10x the granularity of most systems. This is a sub you can very much ‘fine’ tune.

And a fine tune is what it delivers, too. The sealed cabinet helps to keep bass fast and tight, while the whopping 15in driver and 1.5kW amp offer enough excursion to deliver decent SPLs when the volume heads north. Dialled into a premium two-channel system, the micro-adjustments within the app offer superb integration and the ability to the sub output gain and frequency response to seamlessly fill in the lower registers of the system. The result is subtle and tuneful, really helping to drag out detail in the bass and the upper reaches of the music.

It mirrors the performance with movie sound too, creating something of an audiophile LFE experience. Tight, fast, punchy and amply loud when pushed in all but very large rooms. When it comes to all-action content, it is perhaps a little ‘safe’ and restrained compared to dedicated 15in LFE monsters from the likes of SVS or Velodyne, for example. Yet the bass refinement offers so much more across a wider gamut of movie content and does a spectacularly better job of two-channel integration, too.

Two weeks on and I have become very fond of the Anthra W15 for its rare combination of bass refinement and speed, bijou dimensions and very useable app. Despite its 15in/1.5kW headlines it’s not a go-to for dramatically moving big air in an ‘impress the mates’ cinema install. Yet it is one of the most user-friendly and all-round sophisticated subs I have tested, very much validating MA’s claim that the Anthra series majors on musicality and control.

While I’m still not sure about the round grille, lack of automatic EQ or the strange rear LCD control panel, they are all largely a matter of opinion or the installation itself. If the customer doesn’t need to alarm neighbours three streets away with LFE explosions but does value taught bass refinement with movies and enviable integration with two-channel music, the Anthra W15 is an excellent subwoofer in a very convincing and compact package.

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