Among the many things to consider when setting up a recording environment, the role of reference monitors is critical. Musicians often spend much of their time and money on gear and software, while ignoring how the music will sound when it’s being mixed.
I’ve been using M-Audio’s Studiophile BX8a reference monitors and have found that they offer a lot of power. Packing 130 watts of bi-amplified power—70 watts of low-end amp RMS (woofer) and 60 watts high-end amp RMS (tweeter)—these $600, near-field monitors allow for a good reproduction of the audio as you mix and play back your recordings.
The purpose of a reference monitor is to give you an accurate representation of what your mix sounds like, based on the original source, without adding to or removing from the natural characteristics of the sound. Conventional speakers, on the other hand, purposefully color the sound for different environments and conditions. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s not what you want when you’re recording. Monitors should produce a flat frequency response—an unaffected sound—so that you have an appropriate starting point for your recordings and mix-downs.
M-Audio has set the BX8a’s crossover point (the amplifier's dividing point between the highs and lows) above the 2kHz mark and raised the midrange level a little bit. This could lead to mixes that lack extended bass response; however, depending on your listening environment, you can compensate for this by adjusting speaker placement.
For most home studios, that may not be enough of a solution. Ultimately, those types of changes should be made in the mix itself, not automatically in the monitor. When done in the recording you have a better chance of an accurate mix if your monitors produce the most accurate sound possible.
I also found the BX8a to be a bit sharp at high volumes since it takes more energy to produce the low bass—the highs are more efficient and will ultimately get louder faster as the output levels increase. The best sound reproduction for these monitors seemed to come at low to moderate listening levels. In other words, mix low and listen to your mixes in your car, on your iPod and as many other sets of colored sound speakers to see what sounds jump out at you.
The BX8a has XLR-balanced and quarter-inch balanced/unbalanced inputs, 8-inch Kevlar low-frequency drivers and 1-inch natural silk high-frequency drivers.
Weighing in at just over 26 pounds, the BX8a is a well-built monitor with a great look; it would be much more effective for me if the mid-range were adjustable, or entirely flat out of the box.
[Jim Dalrymple is Macworld.com’s news director; he's never met a guitar he didn’t like.]