What's the difference between home stereo speakers and studio monitors? Studio monitors let you hear exactly what was recorded whereas home speakers deliver an idealized or colored rendition. In other words, studio monitors faithfully render the frequencies of the recording "as is" rather than artificially boosting bass or highs. Also, studio monitors excel with pinpoint imaging accuracy (placement of instruments within the stereo field) whereas normal speakers tend to be more diffuse in order to fill the room with sound.
I began my audio recording hobby with a pair of JBL Control monitors from the mid-90s. They were fairly accurate but too large and cumbersome for desktop use. In those ancient times monitors were either really expensive and huge or crappy and cheap. Computers have revolutionized home studios and monitors at every price point and size are in abundance. Herein are my thoughts on the petite budget beauty, the M-Audio BX5 D2.
M-Audio BX5 D2
The BX5 sounds neutral and balanced. Compared to similar sized consumer speakers, they are a bit understated and totally without bass bloat or exaggerated highs (i.e., teen EQ). The even keeled tonal signature is pleasing to my ears and easy to listen to for hours. It also lacks a midrange bump, and sounds slightly recessed or laid-back compared to average earbuds or home speakers. In fact the BX5 sounds similar to my Sennheiser 580HD headphones. And that's a good thing for mixing as you don't want speakers that add color and/or bumps in the frequency response.
Unlike passive speakers, the BX5 is powered with separate internal amplifiers for the tweeter and woofer, i.e., bi-amped. This design allows for the most accurate reproduction as amplifiers are optimized for each driver. The downside to this design is each speaker needs both audio input and power cables, so not convenient for living room use but not a problem for nearfield computer based editing.
At first the BX5 struck me as underpowered for a 70 watt rating, at least with a signal directly from my Mac. However, once jacked into the hotter signal from my MOTU Ultralite the true power of the BX5 was revealed. It was loud and could be painfully so if cranked.
These are directional speakers and render placement of instruments in a stereo soundfield accurately as long as you sit in the sweet spot (wgere your head forms a triangle with the two speakers). That diffuse room filling tone of home theatre speakers is MIA. And, unlike most speakers, there is little rearward projection. Perfect for not bothering family or neighbors but bad for parties. Don't buy these for standard stereo or home theatre use.
I mainly mix classical and acoustic guitar solo and ensemble recordings, live and multitrack, so the bass range is fine for me. The bass extends down to a clear 60Hz, so plenty ump for drop-D or C tuning. If you mix bass guitar and kick drum you'll want larger speakers (BX8) or a sub but these are great for guitar.
I'm used to mixing with neutral speakers and headphones but it would be nice if you could adjust bass, mid and highs for different room responses and taste. Oddly, the prior version of this model (B5Xa) had EQ switches but they are missing from the BX5 D2. I assume they were omitted as a cost cutting measure.
I'm an inner city dweller and live in a high RFI area. Cheap audio gear acts like a radio receiver and injects a local classic rock station into my mixes. So one of the major selling points for me was M-Audio's claim of RFI shielding. Luckily that was no mere marketing jive. They really are well shielded against RFI. Not a single wayward drum loop or DJ in my tracks, not even when cranked. I can't make that claim for many prior speakers I have owned.
These speakers run on the warm side: the upper back is fairly warm just idling and can get hot to the touch after a long session. Not egg frying hot but a wee bit uncomfortable to the fingertips. It has a sensor to shut it down in case of excessive heat. However I have not seen it shutdown even after all day editing sessions. I live in the balmy tropics so cold weather dwellers may not see as much heat build up. The heat is not a deal breaker for me but I deemed it wise to turn them off when not in use (I use a power strip so I won't need to flip two separate switches).
Appearance & Construction
These are handsome units in an understated blend in your your gear sort of way: the black finish matches perfectly with my black trimmed Cinema Display and MOTU Ultralite. Construction appears very good with dense particle board (MDF) cabs, metal back plate (heat sink benefit) and matching plastic front molding around the drivers. The cabs are covered with a satin black vinyl. These monitors are petite and smaller than most speakers with the same sized bass driver.
The bass drivers are Kevlar with rubber surrounds (tougher than foam!) and the tweeters sport silk domes. No protective grill or covers as usual for mixing monitors. So, yeah, the nekid drivers can be easily damaged by a careless finger or chopstick.
Like most studio monitors, the BX5 comes with pro audio style jacks for 1/4 inch phone plug/TRS and XLR. If you're a novice recordist or a civilian buying these for general computer use, be forewarned there are no stereo mini jacks, RCA or USB. So you will need to pay extra for a set of special cables and adapters. If you're an experienced recordist, you should have plenty of these cables laying around but, otherwise, be prepared to reach for your wallet.
One of the things I like about the BX5 is both the TRS and XLR connections are active at the same time, allowing the monitors to receive signals from two different sources without messing with cables or switches. I have an Audioengine D1 DAC connected to the TRS/phone input (for iTunes, movies, games, etc.) while a MOTU Ultralite (for mixing & tracking) is plugged into the XLR connection.
Yes, the small Focal and Adam audio speakers I listened to were were better sounding and louder but cost a couple toes and a month of lunches. However, a perfect monitor for a home studio isn't only about a good neutral sound, but also about compactness, appearance and value. And the BX5 nails all of these while still sounding pretty dad burn fine.
My First Mix
Yes, this is a shameless excuse to show off my ensemble, the Frary Guitar Duo. The recording was made on a Tascam DR100 (mics on stage), edited in Bias Peak Pro 7 and the resulting tweaked tracked synced to the Adobe Premiere video file.
• Bi-amplified with 70 watts: 40 watts for bass & 30 watts for tweeter
• 5 inch low-frequency drivers with Kevlar cones
• 1 inch high-frequency drivers with silk domes
• Rear facing ports for extended low-frequency response
• Magnetic and RFI shielding
• XLR balanced and 1/4” balanced/unbalanced inputs
• 53 Hz – 22 kHz frequency response
• crossover frequency 3 kHz
• AC selection switch for 115V ~50/60 Hz or 230V ~50/60 Hz
• Output current limiting and over temperature shutdown
• 7.7” x 7” x 10”; 19.5cm x 17.6cm x 25.2cm
• 11 lbs./unit; 5 kg