M-Audio BX5A/SBX-10 Monitoring Rig
For a home studio, making some purchasing decisions can be a little tough. We all want the best gear we can get our hands on, but at some point the law of diminishing returns kicks in, especially with monitors. Unlike a nice mic pre--the difference between stock interface/mixer preamps and something like an API 312 is obvious and easily worth the money--monitors strike me as similar to "Hi-Fi" stereo gear: for every dump-truck full of money you spend, you get a small increase in performance. As home recordists, we're often working in less-than-ideal environments, we're not commercial studios, we're recording on weekends and evenings--and it becomes very difficult to justify a multi-kilobuck Big Boy rig. It's also a difficult proposition to check out a bunch of different speakers in a lot of locales; even if the local store has a good selection to choose from (rare), the store is a lousy place to try them out. And even if the local store is cool enough to let you try them in your own room, by the time you really get to know a set of speakers, they're used! So what's the recordist with a $1000 budget to do, flying blind (or deaf, as it were)?
I did what we recordists with more time than money do: scoured the forums to see what others have to say about various rigs and then took a leap of faith. For me, it worked out perfectly. The BX5A/SBX10 rig has turned out to be exactly what I needed at home--a very forgiving rig, compact, easy to set up, with plenty of power. I tried them out against my old rig (which shall remain nameless) and there was no comparison--the M-Audio's smoked it, though frankly I was expecting that. I also tried them out against a pair of Genelec 1030A's, a speaker I'm familiar with from working in a different room-- and though the Genelec's out-performed the M-Audios, it wasn't by the kinds of leaps and bounds I'd thought it might be--and not enough of a difference to justify the half-again-as-much-with-no-sub price tag. Don't get me wrong--I'm not saying "there's no difference". I'm saying that the price/performance ratio of the M-Audio's is as good as it gets for a guy like me and the less-than-a-grand I spent has been a solid investment.
In addition to the good reviews the speakers got, I was also sold on the "system" aspect of the rig, with the pieces more-or-less designed to go together. It made setting up a snap: no opportunities to accidentally wire something in out-of-phase--a lame move I have made in the past with my passive mains-active sub rig ("Huh. I wonder why I can't hear any...low end at all"). After unpacking the units and a bit of fussing with the position of the sub, it was just a question of plugging the L/R outputs of the Digi 003 into the SBX10 and the SBX10 outputs to the BX5A's. If it took me an hour total I'd be surprised.
Working with the monitors for a few months now, what impresses me the most is how clear the left-to-right imaging is--it's very easy to get instruments to sit anywhere, very precisely, in the stereo field. Tracking and mixing on these has been like getting new glasses--instruments are in sharp focus, and making mic placement decisions and eq decisions is a lot easier. The low end is smooth and extended, essential for recording my P-Bass with flatwounds--the M-Audio rig lets me easily hear and cut the crap frequencies while preserving the guitar's natural deep thud. I like being able to turn the sub off with the included footswitch, too--a nice feature both when tracking said bass and mixing. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the high-end of the speakers has been a boon to my drum recording; I think it's a little less forgiving than the low end, but in a good way. I don't mean that it is harsh, but rather that it doesn't tolerate poor mic placement, especially with cymbals. They give good, reliable feedback immediately: no more boring the drummer to death while I move mics around for hours, looking for that right spot. Finally, I love just how listenable the rig is--tracking and mixing for hours doesn't leave me ear-fatigued.
So that's the praises of the M-Audio SBX10 subwoofer and BX5A speakers, sung from the highest mountaintop: affordable, accurate, and listenable. They're both tool and teacher: I've learned a lot more about the deficiencies of my recording room's acoustics in the past couple of months than I have in the past couple of years and am able to better compensate for the flaws. I've also learned a lot about my microphones and their best uses--both good and bad characteristics I'd not noticed before have become very clear. I'm working faster and with more confidence, and I am nothing but pleased with the results I'm getting. For the money, I'd rate the rig a solid 10.