Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Studio Monitor Review

Hello everyone! To become an effective audio engineer, you must be able to listen to your mix through quality sound to be able to master it. Studio monitors are a must in any home studio, and professional studio. Because studio monitors pick up more frequencies of sound then regular speakers, they can make a mix sound 10 times better. Now on to the review.

Today I have chosen three products that I feel are the best bargain for the sound they produce. Enjoy!

1) Behringer B2030A Truth $250-$300

Clearly the speakers are built to a price and are economically constructed from plastic-laminated E1 MDF, though this is actually a good cabinet material because of its density and self-damping properties. You might not get natural cherry-wood veneer, but the overall impression is smart. The long-throw bass/mid-range driver features a polypropylene cone with roll surround mounted in a cast aluminium chassis. The port exits comprise separate slot-shaped moulded inserts set into the baffle on either side of the tweeter.

The active crossover, which is set at 2kHz, utilises fourth-order (24dB/octave) Linkwitz-Riley filters, and the speakers are also designed to be used with or without an optional subwoofer, though they manage a perfectly decent low end without one. Separate high- and low-frequency limiters look after the self-preservation interests of the drivers, and there's an automatic standby mode that puts the amplifiers into sleep mode if the speakers aren't used for more than five minutes. They wake up almost instantly on receipt of an audio signal.

In my own studio, with all the EQ switches set flat, my first impression was that the monitors sounded slightly brash, with less depth of bass than I expected. This situation improved noticeably when I dropped the tweeter level by 2dB, so it is important to adjust the EQ settings to match your room and monitor positions. Once optimised, the speakers delivered a very decent level of performance given their budget price, though their shortcomings were still evident when they were tested alongside my Mackie HR824s. I found that the subjective depth of bass was less than I expected based on the technical spec, while the tweeter sounded slightly 'forward', but they still delivered a fairly good overall balance and proved capable of discriminating between good mixes and not-so-good mixes.

If you are on a very tight budget, then the B2030As offer very good value and they can be made to perform perfectly adequately in smaller rooms, provided that you take due care with their placement and experiment with the EQ switch settings. I think the designers have used their available manufacturing budget extremely well in producing a useful and good-looking monitor at such a low UK price point, though there's no denying that spending more money will buy you better performance and greater accuracy. With monitors you generally get what you pay for, but in this case it's probably fair to say that you get slightly more than you pay for! Although clearly aimed at the budget-limited home-recording enthusiast, the B2030As could also serve a valuable part in the more professional studio by acting as a secondary monitor for checking how mixes might translate to a domestic playback system.

2) Mackie MR5 $135-$200

As with the MR8s, the two-way, active MR5s have a built-in tweeter waveguide to control dispersion, as well as the usual array of acoustic controls on the rear panel — so you can tailor the response to suit your room and the location of the speakers within it. High-frequency adjustment of +/-2dB is available by means of a slide switch, and the low end can be set to flat, +2dB or +4dB. All the baffle elements surrounding the drivers are smooth, in order to minimise diffraction, and the drivers themselves are powered by Class-A/B MOSFET amplifiers (rather than the more efficient but arguably less smooth-sounding Class-D circuits that are starting to become popular). These amplifiers include active protection circuits and deliver 55W into the woofer and 30W into the tweeter, with more than 50 percent extra power in hand for short peaks. A 24dB-per-octave crossover operates at 4kHz, and an overall frequency response of 60Hz to 20kHz (+/-3dB) is quoted. There's also more than enough level (113dB peak per pair at one metre) for sensible listening in a nearfield environment.

The MR speakers certainly look the part but at around half the price of the Mackie monitors we've come to know and love, surely there are some compromises? Actually, there aren't too many. The sound of the little MR5 is punchy, with decent separation between instruments, a smooth mid-range and a non-fatiguing top. However, in my studio (11 x 16 feet), with the speakers a couple of feet from the end wall, the low end seemed just a bit hyped on the flat setting. Moving the tweeter up to its +2dB setting helps redress the balance but my impression is that the low end has been tuned to flatter drums (kicks and toms sound really punchy) and the result is that the balance between bass notes isn't quite as even as it could be. I can't imagine ever wanting to use the +2dB bass setting, let alone the +4dB setting, so having 2dB of switchable bass cut or boost would have been a better option, in my book. Nevertheless, for such a compact and affordable model, I was extremely impressed with the overall sound. These speakers managed to put across the detail in a mix without getting noticeably harsh or gritty at the top end. The stereo imaging is pretty decent (as you'd expect from a physically small speaker), and the phantom central image is reasonably solid too. I tried stuffing a pair of socks into each bass port and actually got what I felt was a much tighter and better controlled low end — although I'd have to experiment a little more to be sure exactly what type of sock is most effective!

You might expect that swapping to the larger MR8s — with their greater bass extension — would be overkill, but that actually turned out not to be the case. They reproduce the deepest notes with no sense of effort, but there's definitely less of a sense of hyping up the 80-90Hz region than with the MR5s. In fact, all sounded well balanced with everything set flat. The overall sense of clarity was improved, with less lower-mid ambiguity, and although half the price of a pair of HR824s, they weren't that far off in terms of performance. The old 824 Mk1s have a bit more air around the top end, a touch more overall clarity and perhaps slightly better stereo imaging, but the overall character is not dissimilar.
Taking into account both price and performance, I can really recommend these speakers for home studio use, though if you find the MR5s a bit too bass heavy, as I did, you may have to visit your sock drawer or make up a couple of foam bungs to tame them. The MR8 is a much more serious prospect if your budget and room size can stand it.

3) KRK RP6 G2 $175-$200

Overall, the RP6's cabinets measure 321 x 225 x 266mm and weigh 11kg each. The cabinet design appears to be a fairly conventional front-ported MDF box, with the sculpted baffle fixed to the front, and recessed into this is a further baffle plate that holds the two drivers. Being active, the drivers are electronically crossed over and bi-amped, with an overall amplifier power of 68W (50W woofer and 18W tweeter) and a fourth-order crossover operating at 2.6kHz. This arrangement yields an overall frequency response of 49Hz to 20kHz ±1.5dB, with a maximum SPL per pair of 107dB at one metre.
A one-inch Neodymium soft-dome tweeter with ferrofluid cooling handles the high frequencies, and this is recessed into a shallow waveguide moulded into the baffle. Both drivers are magnetically shielded, so these speakers can safely be used close to CRT monitor screens.

These RP G2-series monitors turn in a very decent performance and — just as importantly — don't display any obvious vices that attract your attention. Although you'll never get floor-pumping bass out of a six-inch monitor, the Rokit 6 G2 produces a very credible bass sound at normal listening levels, coupled with a detailed mid-range and smooth highs. The sense of fine detail isn't as enhanced as with KRK's more sophisticated (and correspondingly more expensive) monitors, but it certainly isn't anything to be ashamed of — especially when you look around and see how much you can pick up a pair of these monitors for 'on the street'. The stereo imaging is similarly more than adequate, and the phantom centre image is stable. The Rokit Powered 6 G2s produce a tighter bass end when they are set up on a solid mounting surface, so for the test session I placed them on my Radial Primacoustic damping platforms: these benefit any small shelf-mounted monitors, helping to eliminate the stability of the shelf from the variables involved in a subjective speaker test. 

Perhaps the best accolade I can give these monitors is that, after working with them for a few minutes, I just forgot about them and got on with my studio session — which is a very good sign. Monitors with problems, or those that are designed with excessive coloration, usually keep attracting your attention, making you wonder if what you're hearing is really the way your mix sounds, but there were certainly no such distractions here.

Obviously, the KRK RP6 G2s have been built to a price, and you'd be able to purchase more accurate monitors if you spent enough money. But if you're looking to invest in a pair of tonally well-balanced speakers that will get the job done for around the $150  'on the street', there are very few models I'd actively recommend — and the RP6 G2 would certainly be one.

I hope I have provided my readers with some useful information! Thanks for reading, comments always welcome!


  1. Expensive hobby, especially if you want quality stuff you're going to dish out quite a sum, and good instruments are pretty expensive as well... But if you have a passion for music it's totally worth it.