Sunday, May 16, 2010

Monitor mayhem...

To my profound disgust, one of my beloved ADAM P11a monitors died over the weekend. The internal amps were both distorting and crackling horribly, rendering it completely useless. I was so furious at first as this was the last thing I needed while in the midst of mixing the new album. In the end, I suppose I figure I did okay, getting almost seven years out of the ADAMs. I'll most probably get the faulty one repaired if I can find a decent tech in the area without a months-long waiting list but, in the meantime, I desperately needed new monitors.

I spent most of Saturday at my local Banjo Shack inflicting an entire CD's worth of my rough mixes on two very patient sales guys. Unfortunately, my budget was only about half of what it was when I got my ADAMs so I had to be extremely thrifty as well as critical.

I had almost settled on a pair of KRK VXT 8s but every one of the four units I tested had some weird flaw - a silent tweeter, a fluttery woofer, an intermittent high-pitched whine, etc. It has completely soured me on KRK as a brand. Shame, because the VXT 8s looked to be a perfect fit.

The M-audios I tested colored the midrange too much, the JBLs had too many "bells and whistles" adding much to the cost and little to their functionality, the Events were too colored, the Mackies weren't in stock, etc...

My final choice was a bit of a revelation for me. After hours of listening and re-listening, I finally ended up settling on a pair of Yamaha HS80M monitors. I had been prepared not to like these as Yamaha modeled their aesthetics on their famous NS10 grotboxes, white woofers and all. Sound-wise though, they were a welcome surprise with a very flat response and nicely revealing of the subtle flaws in my test mixes. At less than $400 a piece, the price was seriously too good to be true - especially considering the sound quality. Suffice to say, I left with two largish boxes on a hand truck.

So far these HS80Ms have been perfectly lovely in the studio, much better than I had hoped in fact! The HS80Ms have a slightly more "forward" or "aggressive" sound than the ADAMs but, so far, haven't been fatiguing, even during long mixing sessions. Working with them has been an absolutely painless transition so far. They're not overbright and the response seems very flat all the way down into the lower bass regions though there is a noticeable rolloff around 50hz or so. I hate to admit it but, in some ways, these are more helpful to me than the ADAMs have been. Placement of instruments in the stereo field seems more accurate and the bass extension seems more detailed, allowing me to fit "bassy" instruments together better with less overlap. The "sweet spot" is a lot wider than what I've grown used to as well. I've had a chance the last few days to remix a number of my tracks and check their translation on other systems and have been getting great results!

I should mention that despite my exuberance, the new monitors aren't perfect - nothing is. The HS80Ms' tone is a trifle agressive as I mentioned before. They're not razor-flat either...but no monitor I've ever tried has been. You just have to decide if it's good enough for you and will the mixes translate? If the answer is "no", there's plenty of other monitor choices. So far neither of these things has been an issue...but I'll be sure to say something if it becomes one. But, for now, the honeymoon ain't over yet. ;)

We'll see how these "budget" monitors hold up but, so far, I'm completely floored by the quality/price ratio on these things. I'm even starting to get used to the ugly white woofers.

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