Active Studio Monitors

Discussion in 'Buying Tips and Advice' started by DarkBlue-G5, Jan 3, 2006.

  1. DarkBlue-G5 macrumors member


    I am almost completely happy with my set-up except for the audio quality. I have decided to buy a pair of active studio monitors.

    I have spent hours reading Mac forums, Googling and chasing down online reviews and I have narrowed my choices down to:

    As you can see, my budget is around 250 UKPs.

    My questions are:

    1. Do you have experience with any of these speakers and, if so, how do they rate?
    2. Should I connect monitors directly to my G5's line-out, or do I need additional hardware (I've read that the G5's audio output isn't that great - and that a good set of speakers will demonstrate this)?
    3. What cabling should I use?
    4. Do I really need a sub-woofer?

    I want to achieve the best sound that I can when playing back audio CD's, MP3's (and other audio codecs) and DVD's. Domestic use only for the foreseeable future.

    The room is around 50m2 - slightly longer than wide. But I would generally be in the nearfield of the speakers.

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
  2. cpjakes macrumors 6502

    Aug 15, 2003
    Buffalo, NY
    Alesis has a pretty good product in the Monitor One series, I can't really vouch for the others in your list. I would like to put in my personal preference for the monitors that Event makes, you can check out their offerings from a U.S. retailer here:

    Be careful with the prices, some are per monitor and some are per pair. Some are also passive and some amplified...

    You'll want to have something in between the computer and the speakers for a couple of reasons. First, the speakers probably take a balanced, +4 professional level connection and your Mac line output is an unbalanced, -10 consumer level connection. The speakers will be cleaner with their intended connection, even though they'll be able to take the Mac line output just fine.

    I would pick up a small mixer that has the ability to boost the -10 line to a +4 line and balance it for the outputs to the monitors. This will also give you a volume control separate from the computer. And you'll also gain some extra inputs if you want to plug something else in to the system easily.

    As for cabling, use the shortest run possible from the computer to the mixer so that the unbalanced connection doesn't have as much ability to pick up noise. Then you can use longer balanced cable lengths to the monitors themselves.

    Of course, you can get balanced audio directly from the computer with the addition of a soundcard or breakout box which is more money, but can easily be added later.

    As for the subwoofer, the larger your main monitors, the less it's needed. But most monitors just don't have as full of a low end on them...

    And no consideration for surround sound?

    Good luck!
  3. DarkBlue-G5 thread starter macrumors member


    Firstly let me thank you for your detailed and informative reply. I'm very grateful that you've taken the time to put this together.

    Yes. Pretty much every review of the Monitor One that I've read has been positive.

    I'll check them out. Thank you.

    All of the speakers I linked to are sold as a pair and all are active. But thanks for pointing that out - that could have been a huge "gotcha".

    Okay. So, if I understand this correctly, it's not that the G5's audio output is bad as such (which I had questioned in my original post), it's more a case of that output being unsuitable for the higher-end speakers?

    Any recommendations for a mixer capable of meeting these requirements (I have no idea about mixers)? :)

    That makes sense.

    I prefer the idea of a mixer since I could then use the monitors with other devices (if I've understand this correctly) like a PS2, iPod, radio scanner, etc.

    I appreciate that. It's all down to personal taste then.

    How would I add a sub-woofer if I decided I needed one? What I mean is, how would it be connected?

    Not at this time. However, if I choose to upgrade to surround sound in the future, then I presume I would simply be able to add to my existing components - or is that not the case?

    Thank you. I'll be sure to post the results here.

    Thanks again for your help cpjakes. You've really filled in a few blanks for me.
  4. cpjakes macrumors 6502

    Aug 15, 2003
    Buffalo, NY
    You are correct about the audio output being more or less "unsuitable." Aside from the level of the signal, the output is often noisy, picking up sounds from hard drives, fans, and other computer components. These are then amplified and come through your monitors as well.

    For the things you'd use in a mixer, the Tapco Mix.60 or Mix.100 would be fine. The difference is the number of inputs, 6 or 10. They also have inputs for microphones, so if you're doing any GarageBand things, you could gain an input source there.

    The addition of a subwoofer would come through an aux send (like either of those mixers have). You just assign those channels to the aux send and the subwoofer should filter out the high frequencies and play the lows. This is usually adjustable to match where your monitors fade at the low end. Other subwoofers take the main inputs and then send out what they don't play to the monitors. It depends on the model and features.

    With the hardware you're looking at now, the mixer won't really be useful in surround because you won't have volume control over the other three speakers. You'd have to switch to something that can handle the number of monitors. Also, if you're going to use the optical connection out of the Mac, you'll need some sort of decoder (like a receiver) to translate the Dolby Digital or DTS surround signal into analog audio. Most receivers are amplifiers as well, so then you wouldn't be able to use your monitors with it.

    At that point, it's sort of an all or nothing situation with the amount of gear you'd need to make your powered monitors work, or just go with a more traditional surround sound/home theater setup. I know, it's tricky. But let me give you the two scenarios...

    At my house, I have a Mac hooked up to a surround sound receiver. I have five Event passive monitors that are powered by my JVC receiver. I can listen to surround - one source at a time. My sub is hooked up to the receiver's subwoofer output.

    In my studio, I have a Mac hooked up to a mixer through a MOTU 896HD. This gives me the surround sound in analog channels. The mixer has the inputs for the computer and the outputs for the monitors. I have volume control for each speaker.

    Two different setups, but mostly serving the same function.

    Does this make sense?

  5. DarkBlue-G5 thread starter macrumors member


    Wow, those mixers are cheap! I expected to have to find another couple of hundred pounds for a mixer.

    Okay. So I get the Tapco Mix.60 and the Alesis monitors. Does the Tapco filter out the "noise" you referred in addition to levelling the signal? (Sorry, I have way too many questions.)

    Great explanation about the sub-woofer. That makes sense to me now. I'll just have to hear how it sounds before I take the plunge on a sub-woofer.

    With regards to surround sound: I have never used surround sound from any of my computers (I have a seperate home-cinema set-up) and, realistically, I can't see that changing. So I'm not too concerned about limiting my options there.

    One more thing: I know that I would get a "cleaner" signal from the G5 if I used the optical link. So I guess my final question would be: Should I build my audio components around the optical link or is the proposed analogue mixer/monitor configuration going to provide decent audio quality?
  6. cpjakes macrumors 6502

    Aug 15, 2003
    Buffalo, NY
    While I'm not 100% sure about the mixer output, I'd be surprised if it wasn't +4dB Balanced.

    Building your system around the optical port isn't the best idea because to do a higher end stereo system with your powered monitors will require a converter which will be expensive. Otherwise, you're looking at a Logitech (or similar) system that takes the optical output right to the speakers.

    The quality of the output should be alright, but remember that it is a system output that can be prone to picking up other machine noises.

    As with any monitors, I'd suggest taking a recording that you are very familiar with into a store that sells them, playing it back on multiple systems that are in and out of your price range, and seeing what you like. You may find that you like the sound of monitors that are less expensive than what you thought you might want...

  7. DarkBlue-G5 thread starter macrumors member


    I'll check further into the mixer output to see if it is the +4dB required.

    You've also convinced me not to worry about the optical connectivity. I probably don't need it for my humble needs.

    Can the "other machine noises" be filtered - or would filtering risk compromising musically fidelity even further?

    You're right. Whilst you have been more than helpful, I really need to take the time to hit the audio shops and listen to some music that I know well (probably Pink Floyd :) ).

    Thanks again cpjakes for all your help. You've been brilliant, helping to understand something I know nothing about. You're a star.

    Kindest regards.
  8. cpjakes macrumors 6502

    Aug 15, 2003
    Buffalo, NY
    Trying to filter it just means more $$ and if you're going to spend it, you're better off getting a different audio interface and have something that's higher quality in general.

    Best of luck, post what you decide to do!

  9. DarkBlue-G5 thread starter macrumors member


    From the Tapco website:

    Mixer Rated Output
    Main, Aux, Control Room: +4 dBu
    Maximum Rated Output: +22 dBu

    I guess that's +4dB unbalanced?
  10. cpjakes macrumors 6502

    Aug 15, 2003
    Buffalo, NY
    This mixer happens to do both, if you look down the page, it's under the Output Impedance... Many mixers do both, which this one does. So you're safe either way...
  11. DarkBlue-G5 thread starter macrumors member


    Ha. I missed that. No problem with the mixer then. Brilliant!

    Thanks mate.
  12. DarkBlue-G5 thread starter macrumors member


    That MOTU 896HD you have is a nice bit of kit.
  13. FFTT macrumors 68030


    Apr 17, 2004
    A Stoned Throw From Ground Zero
    Your mixes should still sound great on a cheap set of bookshelf speakers.
    The most famous for this use were the Yamaha NS-10's.
    They were CRAP, but if your mix sounded strong on them, they would sound good on anything, so engineers loved them and still hunt for them.

    You should really go to a store that has numerous speakers set up for auditioning and buy what sounds the most accurate and not what sounds
    the most coloured.

    M-Audio BX5a's are pretty good for the money.
    Dynaudios are very nice, but way over your budget.

    Also remeber that you should be mixing at the lowest volume that allows you to hear everything.

    Pumping up the volume during your mix will give you false impressions
    and eventualy wreck your hearing.
  14. DarkBlue-G5 thread starter macrumors member


    I'm not recording anything here. This is just for my own listening.

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