Hands-On Review:M-Audio BX Series Studio Monitors
M-Audio BX Series Studio Monitors
Powerful performance at a home-studio price
With 5.1 surround sound becoming the norm in both audio and video applications, the need for reliable monitoring of surround mixes has become a perplexing problem for the average home-studio owner struggling to get by on a minimal budget. Putting together a decent near-field monitoring setup for stereo is usually pretty manageable financially and there are a plethora of monitors to choose from that'll do the job without breaking the bank. However, when you factor in the cost of back channel monitors plus a sub, the price tag can quickly get out of hand. Not so with M-Audio's BX Series. After giving them a thorough workout in my home studio, I've concluded that they represent an amazingly affordable way to get into surround sound.
We've got you surrounded
Musician's Friend shipped me six speakers for assessment: a trio of Studiophile BX8s, a pair of Studiophile BX5s, and a Studiophile SBX subwoofer. With this complement of speakers I was able to check out the units in both surround and stereo setups.
My basement studio is 13' x 18' and over the years I've managed to stuff it with a lot of recording, mixing, and rack gear along with my Mac and a pair of monitors, plus a couple of keyboards and amps. Traversing the space often involves stepping gingerly over gear while trying to avoid sending mic stands plummeting to the floor. As the sidebar indicates, these monitors have relatively small footprints, making them easy to place even in my cramped quarters.
Little and lovely
For starters I checked out the BX5s in a stereo configuration. The magnetically shielded MDF cabinets contain 5-1/4" LF drivers with polypropylene cones and damped rubber surrounds. HF is handled by 1" natural silk-dome drivers with ferrofluid and internal damping technologies. The two internal amps deliver 38 watts to each driver. The BX5s are equipped with TRS and XLR inputs and offer a full complement of signal-tweaking tools that include high-frequency, mid-boost, and low-cutoff controls. A three-position Acoustic Space Control compensates for varying monitor placements and their relationship to walls.
After some experimentation, I found that placing them on my computer desk with the woofers at approximately ear height and at a distance of 34" produced a fairly wide sweet spot. Though the manual recommends that the cabs should not be placed horizontally, I found they worked acceptably on their sides.
Auditioning some mixes and CDs that I'm intimately familiar with, I was wowed by the neutral, uncolored response throughout the frequency range. The sound was considerably bigger than the petite cab sizes would suggest. High-end reproduction was smooth and articulate without harshness, the mids seemed balanced and reasonably bright without brassiness, and the low frequencies were surprisingly solid and punchy for such a small unit.
Boosting the bottom
Adding the SBX sub to the setup immediately added heft and punch to the bottom. If you work with bass-heavy music, you'll definitely want it in your rig. The SBX's 8" driver is powered by a 100W amp to produce credible, reliable output that'll give you solid guidance in mixing bass-frequency material. M-Audio's Stereo Bass Management System neatly solves the problem encountered in many systems where the mains and sub attempt to reproduce the same low-frequency signals, causing accuracy to be compromised. The SBX's crossover splits the signal at a user-definable level and the mains are then operated as satellites of the sub. If you choose to use an external bass management system, this technology can be bypassed.
The back panel of the SBX has control knobs to set level and phase, plus subwoofer LPF and satellite HPF cutoff frequencies. The phase control lets you match the phase of the HPF and LPF frequencies, enabling you to maximize the sound pressure level. I found that simply rotating the knob to find the most robust bottom-end reproduction was a straightforward process.
Because the output of the SBX is far less directional than that of the satellites, placement is less critical. Ideally the sub should be positioned midway between the two satellites in a stereo monitoring setup or in the middle of the room in surround mode. But I found that tweaking the HPF and LPF filter settings allowed me to place the SBX in a more convenient, out-of-the-way location without undermining its impact. Dual XLR inputs and outputs plus a dedicated XLR out for connecting an additional sub give you plenty of flexible connectivity. There are also two balanced/unbalanced TRS inputs.
The bigger brothers
As a final step, I unboxed the BX8 monitors and set them up as the two front channels in a 5.1 surround configuration with the BX5s relegated to the back channels. The BX8s house 8" LF drivers with mineral-filled polypropylene cones and 1" natural silk-dome HF drivers that are each driven by 65 watts. According to M-Audio's specs, they reach down to 37Hz versus the smaller BX5s that are rated down to 56Hz. Applying the juice to them in stereo mode, my ears confirmed the numbers—they offer a substantially more powerful bottom end than their smaller siblings. As such they could do the job admirably for someone seeking a worthy yet affordable stereo monitoring setup without the additional cost of the sub. Collectively the six units worked flawlessly, producing a riveting, smoothly integrated surround soundfield with imaging that transited transparently from one speaker to the next.
Features & Specs:
|Studiophile BX5||Studiophile BX8|