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Focusrite VRM Virtual Reference Monitor System

I’ve just been listening to a favorite bit of music in a professional studio on a set of Genelec 1031As.

I’ve just been listening to a favorite bit of music in a professional studio on a set of Genelec 1031As. Then I skipped across to a bedroom studio and tried it out on some 1990’s hifi floor-standers before going into a living room and playing the same track through the tinny speakers on a 26-inch flat-screen television. And all from the comfort of this one chair, positioned in front of my laptop.

How did I manage such a feat? Actually, I’ve been playing with the VRM box from Focusrite ($124.99). It’s a (very) small plastic box with a volume dial on the top, a USB and S/PDIF connection on one side, and a 1/4-inch headphone output on the other. Install the driver, hook it up via USB (in my case to a Sony VAIO laptop), and away you go. You can run it straight from USB, or on USB and S/PDIF from your sound card or audio device. But it’s not a teleport device; it’s a Virtual Reference Monitor system, which uses a neat bit of software to simulate, through headphones, different playback scenarios and speakers. The software offers a representation of the room you are in: a professional studio, a bedroom or a living room. The type of speaker is also represented graphically. I counted 10 speakers on offer in the pro studio, nine in the bedroom and five in the living room. Further information offered includes the speaker dimensions, room size, reverb and even how far apart the speakers are standing.

In use, the differences between the various speaker types in any one environment are enormous. I’ve tested out different monitors in try-beforeyou- buy scenarios but have only ever had two or three to compare at once, never 10. “Virtual” Auratones, for example, showed harsh, high frequencies whereas Stirling LS3/5A V2s seemed a bit muddied. The VRM’s so-called “Adam S2.5As,” on the other hand, sounded spot-on. I tried the 80s hi-fi speakers, which did sound reminiscent of my dad’s old AR speakers from when I was a lad. Computer desktop sounded just plain awful; exactly as any sound would when piped through a pair of those plastic speakers that every home computer used to come with. But the VRM has a serious purpose: to test out audio on different “hardware” and in different settings, so that engineers and producers can get a feel of what their mixes are going to sound like.

A neat bit of kit.