(click thumbnail)Fast FactsApplications: Studio, broadcasting
Key Features: Two-way; 5.25-inch woofer; 1-inch silk dome tweeter; Acoustic Space Control EQ; 60W LF amplifier; 30W HF amplifier; magnetic shielding
Price: $399 per pair
Contact: TASCAM at 323-726-0303, www.tascam.com.
+ Well-balanced tone quality
+ Very low distortion and fatigue
+ Tone control
- Weak deep bass
- Bass lacks detail
- Implementation of DIP switches and EQ
- Operating manual traslation
Good value speakers for the price.TASCAM has long been known as a manufacturer of quality electronic devices for recording. Their VL-X5 monitor represents a new direction for TASCAM into the studio monitor market.
The VL-X5 is a compact, active two-way loudspeaker with a 5.25-inch ported woofer and a 1-inch natural silk dome tweeter. Magnetically shielded for use near a computer monitor, the drivers are housed in a black wood MDF cabinet of size 7.8 inches x 11.5 inches x 11.4 inches (WHD). A bright blue LED on the front panel indicates power on. Styling is plain and simple, and construction quality is generally very good. In the cabinet are a 60W power amp for the woofer and a 30W power amp for the tweeter.
A special feature is ASC (Acoustic Space Control), a DIP-switch-controlled equalizer on the back panel. It lets you tune the monitor to compensate for its placement relative to room surfaces and the listener. This switch is claimed to provide 1.5 dB boost or cut at 150 Hz, 800 Hz, 3 kHz and 8 kHz. It also offers low-cut filter at 40 Hz or 500 Hz for use with subwoofers.
Also on the back panel are an IEC power-cord connector, level control, on-off rocker switch, and an XLR-TRS combo input connector that accepts balanced or unbalanced signals. A long power cord is supplied.
The manufacturer specs the frequency response as 45 Hz to 22 kHz ±3 dB, sensitivity 103 dB SPL with 60W at 1 meter, crossover frequency 3 kHz, and amplifier THD 0.01 per cent (at 1 kHz with 40W into 8 ohms). Input level is 200 mV into 10 kilohms. Whether that input level is minimum or nominal is not specified.
I had a few issues with the VL-X5's control layout. The holes that allow access to the DIP switches were not precisely aligned with the switches, making it difficult to flip the switches. Also, the low-cut frequencies of 40 Hz and 500 Hz should be closer to 120 Hz for use with a subwoofer. The tone control switches had non-symmetrical boost/cut, and the amount of high-frequency cut seemed to be excessive. When I tapped on the cabinet, it sounded slightly resonant rather than dead. Lastly, the user manual needs to be retranslated though it was helpful.
I auditioned the TASCAM VL-X5 by listening to several reference CDs and my own mixes. I placed the front of both speakers 1.5 feet from an absorbent wall behind them. The speakers were 1 meter apart and 1 meter from me on stands behind the mixing board, toed in, and vertically oriented. They sounded best in my control room with a 1.5 dB boost at 150 Hz and a 1.5 dB cut (or flat) at 8 kHz. I would prefer an 8 kHz "cut" setting midway between those two points. Here are my impressions of various instruments played through the VL-X5:
Piano: Clear and natural.
Bass: Slightly tubby with some recordings, not tubby with other ones. Full sounding. Deep bass notes lack weight (this is a small speaker). Well-balanced with the rest of the audio spectrum. Not quite as well-defined as in most other monitors I have heard.
Drums: Crisp, good impact.
Cymbals and percussion: A little too bright with a flat EQ setting; a little too dark with a 1.5 dB cut at 8 kHz.
Acoustic guitar: Natural, not boomy or sizzly.
Vocal: Natural. Sibilant vocals sound sibilant; smooth vocals sound smooth.
Sax: Good balance between warmth and edge.
Electric guitar: Not too "puffy" in the midbass. Good amount of edge in the upper mids.
Orchestra: A deep bass-drum roll is inaudible. Timbres are generally too bright with the HF EQ set flat, but natural with the HF EQ set to –1.5 dB at 8 kHz. Not as "liquid" or "high-end audiophile" sounding as many other monitors.
Complex mixes: Less defined than many other monitors I have heard.
My mixes made on NHT Pro A-20 monitors sounded about the same on the TASCAM VL-X5s, but with less deep bass, less resolution, and a slight midrange emphasis. Keep in mind that the NHT Pro A-20s cost about five times as much as the VL-X5s.
Stereo imaging of the VL-X5 monitors was good and listening fatigue was low. Definitely a subwoofer would help the low-frequency extension. For judging tonal balance, the VL-X5 was easy to work with (except for the deep bass). It was a little difficult to hear detail in the bass notes.
In the Lab
Above 300 Hz, I measured the VL-X5 with a microphone 1 meter away, midway between the woofer and tweeter edges. Below 300 Hz I measured the speaker in the near field, and compensated the resulting frequency response for free-field conditions.
Figure 1 shows the on-axis anechoic frequency response of the TASCAM VL-X5 with all the tone controls set flat. It is ±3 dB from 95 Hz to 20 kHz. Interestingly, there is a low-frequency shelf about 3 dB below the upper-midrange level. This is not a drawback, but rather an advantage in that it provides a fairly flat bass response when the monitor is used near a large surface such as a mixing console. If the console boundary effect were taken into account, the frequency response of the VL-X5 would be ±3 dB from about 85 Hz to 20 kHz. Still, the deepest bass notes are weak, which is normal for a small loudspeaker.
Not shown is the response at 30 degrees off-axis. It is within 2.5 dB of the on-axis response up to 11 kHz.
Figure 2 shows the effect of the tone controls at 150 Hz and 8 kHz. This response curve is bumpy because it includes room reflections in order to measure down to low frequencies. The boost and cut are not symmetrical, and they are not 1.5 dB as the settings would indicate. At 8 kHz the cut is actually 2.5 dB. That could explain why I thought that cymbals and percussion sounded too dark or muffled with the HF cut.
In Figure 3 we see the Energy Time Curve or time response. The direct-sound spike is sharp, and delayed sounds are down 29 dB. If the ETC is so good, why did the bass sound not very tight? In order to ensure good time resolution, the ETC measurement is centered at 10 kHz and shows mainly the time response of the tweeter. It's difficult to display the time response clearly at low frequencies.
Finally, Figure 4 is the Total Harmonic Distortion vs. frequency at 90 dB SPL, 1 meter. It is very low: below 2.1% from 50 Hz up.
At only $299 street price per pair, the TASCAM VL-X5 is a very good value. It offers a uniform frequency balance (except for the deep lows), very low distortion, sharp time response in the tweeter, low fatigue, and fairly sharp imaging. Its tone controls allow the unit to be tailored for use in various acoustic environments.Some weaknesses are the DIP switch access holes, EQ frequency and boost/cut values, and some lack of detail in the bass. With a subwoofer, the VL-X5 could provide a full-range, well-balanced sound.