Hands-On Review:Reliable mixes made affordable
By E. A. Tennaway
One of the formidable challenges facing owners of low-budget home and project studios is finding an affordable solution to judging their mixes. For years I made do with a couple of so-so hi-fi speakers and a decent pair of headphones. But after EQing and tweaking my mix, I'd take the finished product over to a buddy's place for mastering only to find that what I had judged to be a well-balanced mix sounded lousy played back through his high-end reference monitors.
I finally bit the bullet and sacrificing most of the cash I'd squirreled away with the intent of upgrading my mic stash-I sprang for a pair of powered nearfield speakers. The new speakers cost well over a grand and though they admittedly improved my confidence level in tweaking my projects, I found they had a very narrow sweet spot obliging me to reorient a lot of gear in my cramped basement studio. After auditioning Tannoy's line of monitors for Musician's Friend, I wish they had been on the horizon back when I made my monitor investment. I could have saved some serious bucks and come away with a referencing setup superior to the one I owned back then.
Size is NOT everything
I must admit to being a little dubious upon first inspecting the Proto-J, Tannoy's smallest monitor. Weighing in at a mere 12 pounds each and standing a shade under 14 inches tall, I wondered just how useful these little guys could be. I quickly hooked up the pair to a Hafler TA1100 50-watt per channel amp. (I used this same configuration in checking out all the Tannoy passive systems.) For the most part I positioned each system at about 36-48" inches from my head in the recommended triangulated orientation. For testing, I used a variety of reference materials with which I'm thoroughly familiar including some crunchy metal, a superbly recorded string ensemble, a couple of electronica tracks, a bass-laden remix, some midrange-heavy rock, and an acoustic guitar-with-vocal track.
After extensive listening, I came away with an overall sense of brightness without harshness or a brittle edge. The Proto-J's excelled in providing a detailed soundstage in which each instrument's position in the mix was highly defined. The 3/4" tweeter had a surprisingly wide dispersion pattern. Vocals and upper mid instrumental sounds were articulate. Lower mids and the upper end of the bass range were reproduced by the 6-1/2" LF driver with decent punch and minimal muddiness. The bass reflex cab design undoubtedly played a part in this and mixes evaluated on the Proto-J should translate well to bigger systems.
Covering your bottom
Realizing that it was unrealistic to expect the petite Proto-J's to reach down into the nether regions of bass-heavy material, I went ahead and fired up the PS 110B Active Sub Bass unit. With its 80Hz high-pass output and ten-inch, long-excursion driver, motivated by a 110W RMS amp, it immediately took up the slack in the low frequencies providing powerful, smooth response. The sub has a bypass switch to permit external filtering and should do a superb job in conjunction with four Proto J's as the LFE channel in a surround setup.
Monitoring secrets Revealed!
The next step up in Tannoy's range is the Reveal Studio monitor. The first thing you notice is its uniquely curved baffle which Tannoy designed to minimize diffraction. It also serves as a rigid mount for the 1"soft-dome tweeter and 6-1/2" shielded bass driver.
The Reveal's overall sound seemed slightly less bright in the high frequencies while the mids seemed a little more open and a touch warmer. The bottom end was quite solid given the Reveal's modest stature. Again, bringing the PS 110B sub into the mix made for more reliable assessment of the bottom end. The Reveal's sweet spot seemed fairly wide as I swiveled around a bit in front of my mixing desk.
Externally, the Reveal Active Nearfield Monitor resembles its passive sibling with the same curved baffle and driver array. The speakers are driven by a pair of 50-watt internal MOSFET amplifiers and the signal is divided by an electronic crossover with a 3kHz split. The frequency response and articulation of the active system were nearly identical to the passive pair that I was driving with the Hafler, pointing to a high-quality amplification system inside. By freeing up the extra space that a power amp would normally occupy, the Reveal Actives are a good choice for the studio with limited room.
The middle path
Tannoy's Reveal X was originally designed as a center channel monitor in 5.1 surround systems. Its dual LF drivers are the same speakers used in the Reveal and Reveal Active systems as is the HF tweeter. Tannoy's focus on sound consistency in each speaker element they produce ensures a constant sonic landscape when the source material pans across the soundfield from left through the center channel to right.
It soon became apparent to Tannoy that with the robust mid-bass handling offered by the dual drivers used in pairs, the Reveal X underpinned with a PS 110B Active Sub would serve the needs of remixers and DJs. This thinking was readily confirmed in my listening tests. Used in tandem with the sub, they performed flawlessly to deliver the goods on dance and drum 'n' bass tracks.
Whether you're planning to upgrade your outmoded monitoring setup or you're putting together a studio from scratch, Tannoy's range of gear offers reliable and highly affordable options.
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PS 110B Active Sub-Bass