Hands-On Review:M-Audio Studiophile BX Near-Field Monitors
Accurate studio monitoring
By Oscar Sommers
Want to have some fun? Go to an Internet message board with a recording-based forum—home studio, computer-based, professional, project studio . . . whatever—and read through the threads asking for advice on desktop monitors. Okay, maybe I have a twisted idea of fun. But read through a couple of these threads and you’ll quickly discover that with the exceptions of preamps and compressors (the undisputed kings of recording gear discussion board flame war topics) nothing brings out the opinionated expert in people like talking about monitors.
Everyone has an opinion on what’s flat, what’s colored, accuracy, bass response, lack of bass response, room response, etc., etc. You’ll hear theories spouted on making good music with bad monitors, how you’ll never have decent sound for under $10,000, and even advice to tear down your house and build it around your monitors. All of this in response to a guy who innocently asks, “Hey, I’ve got $500 to spend. Can anyone recommend some desktop monitors?”
$500 well spent
Admittedly, there are many possible answers to that question even if you ignore the types of message-board responses cited above. But the smart money is on the M-Audio Studiophile BX series powered studio monitors The BX8a powered studio monitors—or even their smaller-but-able siblings the BX5a powered studio monitors—deliver accurate, powerful sound you can safely place your confidence in at a price that’s lower than expected. If you’re pining for even more bass, you can easily combine a BX5a pair with a BX10s active subwoofer for a 2.1 setup that’s precise and delivers a punchy, tight bottom. All the BX series monitors perform well above their mid-level prices, which is what makes them such a strong value. But more important than the price, these M-Audio monitors are built from the ground up to deliver accurate sound so you can hear your music clearly. I got a pair of BX8a monitors, a pair of BX5a monitors, and a BX10s sub to check out.
The BX series monitors are built using high-quality, advanced materials for durability and transparent audio. The BX5a and BX8a are actually redesigns of the previous generation BX5 and BX8, while the BX10s subwoofer is a new addition to the line. The BX5a and BX8a sport a new low-frequency driver design with a curved Kevlar cone for increased rigidity to resist distortion and to improve dispersion of sound waves for a wider sweet spot. The woofers also have high-temperature voice coils and damped rubber surrounds to stand up to the constant barrage of sound you’re sure to subject these monitors to. The BX10s also has a high-temp voice coil and rubber surround, but uses a 10-inch cone made from a paper and fiberglass composite.
The BX5a and BX8a both have a ferrofluid-cooled, one-inch, silk-dome tweeter and a Linkwitz-Riley crossover set at 3kHz, with high-frequency response continuing smoothly up to 22kHz. The BX5a has 70 watts of bi-amped power while the BX8a has 130W and the BX10s has a floor-shaking 240 watts of power, each getting its wattage from a low-noise, discrete internal amplifier. The BX8a and BX5a have XLR and balanced/unbalanced 1/4" TRS inputs. The rear-ported cabinets housing all this audio high technology have been tuned to get the maximum performance from their drivers. They’re constructed from highly rigid MDF with a black vinyl covering. Each of the cabinets is shielded to keep the electronic circuits—and your audio—clean of any interference from your computer monitor or other nearby electrical equipment.
Choose your setup
While they definitely have watts to spare and the power to deliver high volume audio, these monitors deliver the goods more clearly and accurately at moderate listening levels. These are, after all, near-field monitors, designed to be set up maybe three-to-five feet away from your listening position. No need to deafen yourself with your monitors—that’s what drummers and loud guitar amps are for. The 8" woofer in the BX8a’s had plenty of bass response, so I used them without the sub, opting to pair the BX10s with the smaller BX5a’s.
The BX5a and BX8a are relatively simple in operation compared to the BX10s, with just two controls: power and volume. The BX10s has quite a few more controls designed to make it surprisingly flexible and easy to integrate into your monitoring setup. There is an overall gain level control, a bass-frequency crossover control adjustable from 50-200Hz, a phase switch, and a subwoofer bypass, which is footswitchable via the included momentary pedal.
My initial impression of the BX8a pair was of strong, clean audio that sounded very even across the audio spectrum. The bass was big without sounding flabby, the midrange was detailed, and the high end was just slightly crispy. After listening some more and adjusting the source material—a stereo acoustic guitar track I’d recorded—I decided the tweeters were simply accurately representing the response of the wave. They also had a slightly wider sweet spot than other monitors at the same price point, backing up M-Audio’s claims. They were also excellent for monitoring guitar-heavy rock and roll, accurately tracking all the mid-heavy harmonics and distortion without breaking a sweat. I also really, really liked them atop my digital piano and for tracking soft synths.
The BX5a and BX10s pairing proved to be just as fruitful. Switching to more bass-intensive material to get full use of the subwoofer, I cued up several techno-pop and video game tracks produced by a friend. I was immediately impressed with the firmness the subwoofer gave to the bass frequencies which had much less impact when I listened to them on my normal studio monitors. I was impressed again after several more minutes of monitoring while switching the sub on and off when I realized the BX10s wasn’t enhancing or increasing the amount of low-frequency material, but more precisely relaying what had always been there. I noticed the same thing when I played back some hip-hop tracks. I heard more depth and definition, especially in the bass response. The Dolby Digital, DTS, and THX compliance should also appeal to producers working on music for film and TV projects. Overall, the BX5a pair and BX10s exhibited the same balanced response as the BX8a. If you work with bass-heavy music, this affordable, flexible 2.1 setup should be on your list.
The M-Audio BX Studiophile monitors deliver flawless operation and clean, transparent sound. If you’re in the market for monitors and don’t have a multi-thousand dollar budget at your disposal, you’d be hard-pressed to do better than a a set of Studiophile near-field monitors or a 2.1 setup from M-Audio.
Features & Specs