A few months ago, the M-Audio folks sent me six loudspeakers for review, ostensibly intended to comprise a 5.1 surround system. There were three Studiophile BX8s, two Studiophile BX5s and an SBX subwoofer. And although the system sounded great together in this configuration, I also found alternate uses for each of the members of this loudspeaker sextet. This article describes one such application — the use of just the two smaller BX5s and the SBX subwoofer together to produce an absolutely killer closefield monitoring system with an amazingly tiny footprint.
Product PointsApplications: Closefield monitoring, surround sound monitoring
Key Features: BX5 – two-way; 5-inch polypropylene woofer; 1-inch silk dome tweeter; dual 38W onboard amplifiers. SBX subwoofer – 8-inch polypropylene woofer; 100W onboard amplifier; switchable stereo bass management system can split stereo line level input off to satellites with level, phase, and both subwoofer and satellite adjustable crossover frequency controls. All amplifiers contain a soft clipping overload protection circuit.
Price: BX5: $399/pair, SBX: $499
Contact: M-Audio at 626-633-9050, Web Site.
The diminutive (250 mm x 166 mm x 200 mm — less than a foot high for those of us accustomed to measuring things in inches) Studiophile BX5s are advertised as a small two-way studio reference monitor pair, with a 5-inch polypropylene woofer and a 1-inch silk dome tweeter, each of which is driven by a separate 38-watt solid state amplifier. Their response is rated down to 56 Hz, which makes sense for such small loudspeakers. Subjectively, they sound very smooth, non-fatiguing, and quite flat although, of course, the low end doesn’t rattle any windows. But this is only the beginning of their feature set.
First of all, they have both XLR and TRS balanced/unbalanced input connectors and, believe it or not, they mix! Thanks, M-Audio! But then, between the differential input amplifier, and the two output power amps, all sorts of cool electronic shaping takes place. There’s a mid-frequency boost switch, an “acoustic space” switch which offers flat, -2 dB and Ð4 dB response for the low end, a high-frequency trim switch allowing flat, -2 dB or +2 dB high-end response, as well as a low cutoff frequency selection switch with 56 Hz, 80 Hz and 100 Hz choices. And this doesn’t count the electronic crossovers and the various time-alignment, step, EQ and other filtering circuits. The bottom line is that they sound great without much tweaking, but if you need to, you can subtly change their response to fit just about any monitoring environment. All this in a pair of $399 powered speakers!
The Studiophile SBX has at least as many inputs, outputs, and adjustments as do the tiny satellities. Comprising an 8-inch polypropylene woofer in a moderately-sized (15.6″ x 10.6″ x 12″) MDF enclosure, the subwoofer has as almost as much happening on its rear panel as your typical mixer! From top to bottom, you’ve got a “power mode” LED indicating whether the auto-muting (i.e., standby) circuitry is engaged, a level control knob, a variable phase control knob, as well as subwoofer low-pass and satellites’ high pass controls. These flank a large heat sink.
Below the column of knobs and the heat sink are found five XLR and two TRS connectors, as well as the IEC power jack, voltage select, and on-off switches. The two female input XLRs are wired in parallel with the TRS jacks; unlike the BX5, they do not mix. Two of the three male output XLRs go to the two satellites; the third is a cascade output designed to send your input signal directly to another SBX! But trust me, one is plenty, at least in my studio! There are also two little switches controlling the “auto power” mode and “HPF Bypass” — which determines whether or not the SBX’s bass management (i.e., rolling off the subwoofer outputs above a choice of specific frequencies) is happening.
In one corner of my studio’s cathedral-ceiling recording space sits my trusty 1976-vintage Mason & Hamlin Model 50 tall upright piano. Positioned a bit away from the wall, and with two Schoeps M221C mics with capsules switched to omni suspended two feet apart over that space behind it, and a single Neumann KM253 aimed a few inches from the middle of the soundboard, I’ve made many successful accompaniment recordings over the years. I’ve able to get a big full sound (the Manley Mic-EQ500 preamps don’t hurt!) and everyone just loves the feel of its seventies Aeolian keyboard.
Since so many pianists (including myself) get to sit on its piano bench, I figured I’d try putting the two M-Audio Studio BX5 speakers up on top, as sort of closefield monitors for the piano player! And since there’s sufficient room behind it, and to the left, I just stuck the SBX subwoofer down there, after making sure all the wiring and bass management adjustments were done properly. That was three months ago; the speakers have never been subsequently moved!
I have various inputs coming to a patchbay in the wall behind the piano, and two stereo pairs always connect to this M-Audio system. I can play back, I can send monitor mixes, my two daughters can play back CDs from the Superscope PSD300 CD recorder sitting up on top, between the BX5s and the antique wind-up metronome, and everything sounds awesome. No one can believe how all that dynamic, flat, and punchy sound can come out of those two tiny speakers — until I point to my “secret weapon,” the SBX subwoofer hidden behind the piano!
The studio also has four huge British transmission line monitors (driven by hot-rodded vacuum tube McIntosh MI-200 theater amps) up at the other end, as well as a pair of Dyanaudio BM6As, but the new little M-Audio monitoring and playback system sitting up on top of the piano ends up being used more often than anything else. Why? Because it sounds so good! The satellites, themselves, are really flat and smooth and, with the subwoofer’s bass management circuitry keeping them from trying to reproduce lows they shouldn’t even think about, they can get really loud without sounding strained. And then, the SBX down on the floor just kicks, well, you know what.
The sound between the BX5 and SBX sub is so integrated that it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. For me, that’s the mark of a successful subwoofer/satellite combination.