Though pioneered by some few manufacturers, nearly every company making loudspeakers now supports active nearfield monitoring. So much so that an amazing variety of loudspeakers and price points are now available. Like manna from heaven, a broad range of these monitors have passed through the Pro Sound News testing team--many previously reported on with an additional seven sets reviewed in the following pages. Having such a wealth of monitors to audition, eight sets were available for a listening event held at Middle Tennessee State University. Some of the comments from the assembled students are included here, with five of the following reviews being influenced by that experience, the KRK and ADAM cabinets arriving after the event.
Event Studio Precision 8
The Studio Precision 8s from Event have become a frequent monitor of choice for many audio professionals. The front ported monitors are loaded with an 8" polypropylene woofer and a 1" soft dome tweeter, both with neodymium magnets and shielded, with the tweeter being ferrofluid cooled (the line also includes a 6.5" woofer version, both available active or passive). The biamped system sports amplifiers rated at 200W program for the low end and 80W on the high end in a rectangular wood cabinet with a vinyl laminate exterior and gorgeous black piano finish front baffle. Weight is 32.5 lbs. per cabinet. Input sensitivity is adjustable over a 20dB range, with +/-3dB shelving EQs on the low and high end, crossing over at 400Hz and 2.6kHz respectively. The input and EQ controls are knobbed and continuously variable, with subtle detents at the nominal levels. An 80kHz high pass filter can be switched in for use with a subwoofer. Input is balanced on XLR and 1/4" jacks.
With a retail list price point of $749 each, combined with their performance, it’s easy to see why the Studio Precision 8s have become popular. Our student listeners more often than not rated the performance towards neutral and flat, with "musical" and "I’d buy" written in as comments. The Studio Precision 8s had good to excellent imaging, detail and balance. They performed most satisfactory to me in a free field setting, off of the wall by an 18" or better buffer. I initially left the frequency controls flat, with very satisfactory tonal character and range, though did most of my listening with just a touch off the low end rolled off—I would have liked to experiment with taking off just a touch of the upper low end and leaving the rest of the low end untouched, had the controls allowed, for my normal listening room placement. The frequency response is believably rated at +/-3dB from 35Hz to 20kHz.
The Studio Precision 8s had ample volume for near and midfield application, though I goosed the high end a touch in midfield use. The dynamic performance was convincing, and no audible artifacts were heard before the protection circuits kicked in at high volume—the overload warning LED is designed to blink before clipping/protection occurs. The Studio Precisions are relatively efficient, with good performance at low volume. Performance was very good at an average stereo listening level of around 80dB (music peaks, C weighted) making for non-fatiguing extended listening.
Event had made a name for themselves in the pro speaker world with their popular 20/20 line, and the Studio Precision 8s build on that success—a decided step forward in performance at a moderate increase in price.
Studio Precision 8 loudspeakers: $749 each
ADAM P33A Studio Monitor
The German made ADAM audio line of powered monitors have successfully penetrated a broad swath of the professional audio industry. Their characteristic beveled corner and ART tweeters give them a distinctive look, but more importantly to their fans is the performance of the folded ribbon tweeter. Various power levels and component configurations are available, with the S3A and it’s new cousin, the P33As, being the most unique in appearance. Both cabinets are long rectangles, shielded and made for horizontal orientation, with a 7.25" cone driver on each side of the center tweeter and front ports. Uniquely, while both cones combine their surface area for low frequency reproduction, only one is used for midrange frequencies. The speakers are mirrored in pairs, allowing the LF/MF drivers to be positioned symmetrically either on the inside or outside of the tweeter, at the listener’s preference.
The P33A’s are triamped, with 100W amps (long term, 150W peak) for each of the three components. They are slightly smaller than the S3As, slightly lighter at 35 lbs, in a flat black laminate cabinet. The Nomex cone drivers are described as "more conventional" than those of the elite S3As. Input gain is adjustable across a 20 dB range, with an additional +/- 4 dB gain for the tweeter. High and low shelving EQs give +/- 3 dB each of control, with cutoff frequencies of 6 kHz and 150 Hz respectively. Controls are flush-mount, screwdriver adjust, with barely perceptible detents.
Now I’m typically one to shun speakers with horizontally mounted components as giving a narrow sweet spot for optimum imaging, but that doesn’t seem a major concern with the dispersion of the ribbon in the ADAMs. For a midfield positioning, I had no real preference on putting the LF/MF driver on the inside or outside, but things felt more in the pocket with the mids coming on the outside in a more nearfield positioning. ADAM recommends placement better than 15" off a wall, and the low end is certainly enhanced by following that guidance. I liked the P33As best when about 5’ away from my head, the HF set flat and the LF EQ a touch down. There definitely is a sweet pivot angle for the cabinets for any given distance for optimum imaging.
Once toed in properly, imaging and detail are very good, with a smooth progression between frequency bands and extended but not exaggerated HF response (rated to 35 kHz). The P33As are low on fatigue factor. The character of the monitors is definitely that of the ADAM family. In comparison to the S3As, the P33As don’t go quite as low (a 42 Hz rating vs 35 Hz for the S3As) or get quite as loud. That said, in the near to close midfield, the volume should be adequate for all but the hearing damaged (or those that are on the way there) and the LF response and detail is good
For engineers who’ve been drooling over S3As that they couldn’t quite afford, the P33As represent a way to get that same euphonic ADAM character and knock a grand off the price per cabinet. That’s bound to make a few folks happy.
P33A Active Studio Monitor: $1600. each [sell price, ADAM does not use MSRP]
Blue Sky MediaDesk
Blue Sky entered the pro audio market with their flagship 2.1 system, the Sky System One, and have been steadily filling out the product line downward with ever more compact and affordable systems. Still committed to the satellite and sub motif, the latest offering takes the approach even smaller, with the introduction of the MediaDesk 2.1 system. As the name implies, the MediaDesk was conceived to complement desktop production.
The MediaDesk sub is the powerhouse for the system, housing three amplifiers—65W for the sub and 55W each for the satellites, connected to the satellites with conventional speaker wire via 5-way binding posts on each end. Inputs are either RCA jack or balanced XLR with an overall rotary gain control/off control, a sensitivity switch (max +12 or +24 dBu), rotary sub gain control, a sub out on XLR and a gain mode switch for 5.1 operation.
The beefy 45 lb., 3/4" MDF sub chassis (1" front baffle) houses an 8" paper cone woofer and handles bass management and frequencies up to 110Hz. Screw-in conical feet are included. The diminutive satellites use similar construction, massing 5 lbs in a small footprint and housing a 1" fabric dome neodymium tweeter and a 4" version of the characteristic and distinctive Blue Sky hemispherical cast diaphragm, neodymium woofer. The satellite has a single screw in foot that works with a front lip to allow the speakers to be angled up (desk mount) or down (speaker stand), or they can mate with an Omnimount wall mount. I tried them on a desk (OK), on a desk on Auralex mo-pads (better) and on speaker stands (best, and where I left them for most of the listening).
I had been reasonably impressed with the MediaDesk system in an early demo last January, but admit to putting them at a disadvantage when compared to much larger speakers in a more midfield environment during our student listening session, and they scored accordingly. However, getting them home and eventually getting the satellites on speaker stands, my original positive impression holds. Blue Sky provides excellent alignment and positioning instructions, and alignment signals are downloadable from their website. Once tweaked in, mainly by sub positioning and backing the sub level down, the result was a balanced, smooth and detailed nearfield listening experience. At the moderate levels that you would want when working with the speakers no further away than on a set of speaker stands just beyond a work surface, the MediaDesk system is pleasant and more than satisfactory. You don’t want to push them too hard or the HF can get a bit strident, and too much extremely low end (below 35Hz) can overwhelm the woofer, but you are probably using the monitors in the wrong application if you get that far.
At $600, the Blue Sky MediaDesk is affordable, and ideal for use with a DAW, in a video editing bay, or for broadcast production. They would be comfortable for long sessions of audio sweetening, editing, vocal comping and other such tasks. Or even for listening to while editing articles—I know I was pleased to have the MediaDesk system live on my desk for an extended evaluation period.
MediaDesk 2.1 monitoring system: $599.00
KRK V8 Series2 and Rockit 10 sub
The KRK trademark yellow Kevlar woofers have graced the glamour photos taken to promote many a studio. The monitor line built its reputation beginning with the 6000 series and then with the first rate sonics of the Expose series. The lower priced V series is now in its second generation, with an impressive improvement in performance.
The top model in the series, the V8 Series 2 features the 1" soft dome Ferrofluid-cooled tweeter common to all the models in the line, and, as the name suggests, an 8" woven Kevlar woofer. The V8 Series 2 is biamped with 120W driving the woofer and 60W available for the tweeter. It is also the most generously complemented model in the line for control of the sound—36 dB of input control on a recessed trimmer, a three position switch to add a + or – 1 dB HF shelf beginning at 1 kHz and another to adjust the LF –3dB roll off point to 45, 50 or 65 Hz, another switch to bypass the clip indicator or to engage an internal safety limiter, and a final switch to engage/disengage an auto On/Off control. I left the filter controls on the factory presets—no HF shelf and LF roll off at 45 Hz—with the limiter out of circuit and kept them off the walls to prevent room coupling. A Neutrik XLR-1/4" combo connector is used for balanced input. The rectangular cabinet weighs in at 35 lbs, featuring a slotted front port (said to reduce port turbulence) and radiused edges (cited as improving imaging).
The V8 Series 2s get loud! The cabinets are efficient and are suited for use in mid or nearfield applications. The sonic character is good—not quite on a par with its significantly more expensive Expose big brothers, but definitely exhibiting a family resemblance. Imaging, detail, smoothness of response—all very satisfactory. The mid-bass detail was particularly pleasing, and the low-end was solid and punchy through the cabinet’s working range.
The demo pair of V8s was provided with KRK’s Rockit 10 sub. I haven’t tried the latest monitors in the lower cost Rockit line, but if the Rockit 10 is any indication, this series has also made generational steps forward in perfomance. The Rockit 10 uses a 10" glass aramid composite woofer, powered by a 150W amp in a 42 lb near cube, also ported with a front slot. It includes two-channel bass management, with balanced inputs on XLR and 1/4" jacks, balanced out on XLR and unbalanced I/O on RCA phono jacks. There’s a 180 degree phase adjust switch, 36 db of sub volume adjust (which doesn’t affect the send to the left and right mains) and a second knob to adjust the bass management crossover between 50 and 130 Hz (continuously variable). Though I experimented with several combinations of V8 Series 2 roll off switch positions and sub crossover points, I was happiest letting the V8s do all the work they could handle (roll off at factory preset) and turning the sub crossover down near it’s lowest setting. The sub added a nice extra dimension on tracks loaded with heavy low end (it’s rated to 36 Hz) though I could get it to misbehave when I assaulted it with extreme low end content, like a 20Hz pipe organ note torture track on my composite ref disc.
With or without the sub, the V8 Series 2 represents good performance, value priced.
V8 Series 2 Studio Monitor: $999.00 each
Rockit 10 (RP10S): $599.99
Tapco S8 and S5 Studio Monitors
Though Loud Technologies, the Mackie parent company, has revived the Tapco name for their new line of budget-priced audio equipment, it’s abundantly clear that these new products share little with Greg Mackie’s early garage gear efforts.
The S-5 powered near-fields, like all the new Tapco line, are designed in the US but manufactured in China to keep costs down. But there’s little evidence of the inferior craftsmanship that has plagued some other Chinese imports–the S-5’s are solidly constructed, with good quality form and finish, and at just over 15 lbs, a mass that belies their diminutive size. The rear panel is surprisingly well-appointed, with switches for LF filter (flat, +2dB or +4dB gain at 65Hz) and HF filter (+2dB, flat or –2dB), as well as three flavors of input jacks (balanced XLR and TRS, and unbalanced RCA).
At a list price of $499 for a pair, the S-5’s are in a class with small powered monitor offerings from other manufacturers. As with most smaller monitors, their design is intended for use as near-fields in a smaller room. At this price point they would also be a good bet for home theater surround use.
Pushed to higher levels, the lack of LF response is expected and evident, but then, that’s not what they’re made for. That said, at moderate levels they’re surprisingly smooth and well balanced, without a lot of the annoying excessive upper midrange so common to this genre of entry level powered monitors. The addition of a subwoofer would most certainly make these monitors more appealing for dance and other bass-heavy production. While it would be unfair to compare the S-5’s to higher priced powered monitors, including even Mackie’s own HR series, the S-5’s offer remarkably well balanced sound and performance.
Pro Sound News
subsequently auditioned the S5s with the SW10 subwoofer, and the larger S8 monitor (5.25", 10" and 8" woofers, respectively, the S5 and S8 both with 1" silk dome tweeters), and the S8 was included in the MTSU student trials. I found the S8s to provide satisfying listening at a moderate listening level in a close nearfield environment—once I found the sweet spot in volume, I used them without objection for a couple of weeks on my desk. The S8s need a little volume to get to their optimum efficiency point, but not too much or they can sound a bit strident (that was mirrored by the student comments, whose most consistent rating put the HF towards ‘exaggerated’ when competing, admittedly somewhat unfairly, in a mid-field environment). This suits the S8s for broadcast or video editing, or workstation use. The S5s by themselves would be excellent for computer use, but adding the SW10 sub (28 lbs, 120W amp, rated to 34 Hz) gives the extra dimension and drive to suit the combination for a number of professional workstation applications--the combination of S5s and SW10 trumps the S8s by themselves.
S8: $749 (pair), S5: $499 (pair), SW10: $419
I’ll admit from the start that I have long been a fan of Genelec monitors. The Genelec team led in pioneering the concept for professional audio applications, and has continued to refine and extend their product line. I’d been wanting to wrap my ears around the flagship 8050As since the line was first introduced, and recently had the opportunity to do so. Pro Sound News
has covered the technology behind the new 8000 series previously (see Sound Innovations, Jun 04) and previously reviewed the 8040A last October, so we won’t cover all that ground again here. I will at least remind that the 8000 series uses a revolutionary rear-ported diecast aluminum housing, with no square corners inside or out. Controls include Bass and Treble Tilt controls, adjustable and gentle sloped shelving EQs rated at 100 Hz and 15 kHz respectively. There's a second Bass Roll-off shelf EQ and a wide 4 dB notch filter at 160 Hz selectable to minimize the effects of desktop or console mounting, and a variable gain control. The Genelec 8000 series simply outclass most of their competition with the range of room optimization available. The 8050s have a 1" metal dome tweeter and 8" woofer, driven by 120W and 150W amps, respectively. The cabinet height pushes 18" with the integral Iso-Pod mounting foot, yet weighs in at only 28 lbs, another benefit of the aluminum chassis.
As with the 8040As, for my preferred placement, on speaker stands near the junction of a wall and sloped ceiling, I settled on 2db of attenuation with both the Bass Tilt and Roll-off controls to snap the LF performance into place. As expected, the LF performance is outstanding, and the main differentiating aspect of the 8050A compared to the 8040A—they otherwise share common characteristics: crisp clear highs, excellent dynamic performance, excellent imaging and depth, and rich detail at all frequencies. The larger cabinet and woofer extend the bass performance (the frequency response is rated +/- 2 dB from 38 Hz to 20 kHz) eliminating the desire for a companion sub with most source material. The larger components and bigger amps also push more air, with headroom to spare--to protect my ears, I gave up on cranking them ever upward long before the monitors ran out of juice, even in a midfield situation. That’s actually a big deal to me--I want equipment that can outperform my demands, never straining to meet my needs, and the 8050As fit that bill. The 8050A replaces the 1031A in Genelec’s line--configured similarly, yet designed to have more of the directivity, lower distortion and frequency response attributes of the larger and more expensive 1032A.
The larger tweeter on the 8050A covers more of the frequency range than the smaller component used on the 8040A. The family character of the 8000 series is consistent across the various configurations, the performance tailored to the capabilities of the individual components.
The 8050As were popular with our student evaluation panel, who tended to rate them in the flat, detailed and smooth center of our performance scales, from highs to lows in the sonic spectrum. One student simply wrote in "awesome." I’d have to agree.
8050A Biamped Monitor: $2095.00 each
Wharfedale Diamond 8.2 Pro Active Nearfield Monitors
Every now and then you run into a product that is just an amazing value, the Benchmark DAC1 D/A converter comes to mind, along with microphones that keep popping up at preconception-destroying price/performance ratios. The Wharfedale Diamond 8.2 monitors are just such a find.
Wharfedale has a long history in consumer audio and sound reinforcement, staking a claim as the largest selling loudspeaker in Great Britain, and bringing their lines to the US just a few short years ago. The Diamond 8.2s list for just $400 a pair (yes, a pair) and street for significantly less. At that price point, one wouldn’t expect the premium components used--a 1" textile dome, Ferrofluid-cooled tweeter with a neodymium magnet, a 6.5" woofer with a"bi-directional weave" Kevlar cone and a dual wound voice coil, biamped with 40W and 60W amps, respectively. Wharfedale’s Tom Linklater comments: "The reason the Diamonds are such great performers at their respective price points is the fact that Wharfedale is the only manufacturer of under-$500/pair NFMs (Near Field Monitors) that actually does design, tool, and manufacture--in our own factory--every transducer that goes into every NFM we make. The Diamond system performance was a clean-sheet design goal as opposed to an OEM sourcing exercise."
Input is either RCA phono (let’s see, iPod here) or balanced pro line level on a Neutrik XLR-1/4" combo jack (DAC1 there). The front ported, shielded cabinets are built from hefty laminated ply weighing 17.6 lbs for a relatively small footprint of just over 14"x8"x12.5"--they give a good first impression by "feeling" serious. For mounting near a wall, a 6 dB per octave bass rolloff can be kicked in, though I’ll confess to not trying it--I dropped the Diamond 8.2s on Auralex mo-pads on my desk and they stayed there for well over a month.
The Diamond 8.2s are rated for a frequency response of 45 Hz to 24 kHz (I’m assuming from a plot of the low end in the manual that those are meant to be the 3 dB down points). The low end is surprising for the LF component’s size, but not really approaching "full range." That said, the LF performance is solid within the woofer’s capability. The monitors are tight with plenty of punch and volume. In a nearfield situation, there’s plenty of level available, and I have a feeling that they would work well in a 5.1 configuration with a sub. The high end is crisp, perhaps a bit bright, but not strident. The most commonly heard description of their performance in the hands of a local engineer was that the Diamond 8.2s "sound like a really great set of NS-10s." Like that ubiquitous monitor of legend, the Diamond 8.2s weren’t prone to flattering bad material. I wasn’t fatigued by the monitors playing at moderate volumes for long periods. They also were efficient, thus satisfying at low levels.
Did I mention that these monitors street for well under $400 for the pair? Once our student listening sessions were done, with the Wharfedales holding up fairly well in a midfield situation against stiff competition, we ended by identifying models then price. The Diamond 8.2 Pro Actives’ price vs. performance really turned some heads--"can I hear those again?" Yes, for an extremely modest investment, you can.
Diamond 8.2 Pro Active: $399.99 pair