Studio Monitor A/B test


I recently had to opportunity to work with the very talented sound designers at Naughty Dog on Uncharted 3! During this project I was using Dynaudio Air Series speakers exclusively. These speakers sounded amazing. They were accurate, natural, and non-fatiguing (which is critical when you work long hours!). I LOVED these speakers.

This made me realize that I hadn’t heard quite a few brands of speakers out there. I began to wonder what I could be missing. Don’t get me wrong, in the past I’ve used monitors that range from Behringer Truths and Alesis MKIIs to Yamaha NS10s and Genelecs. However, many brands like Adam, Dynaudio and JBL have come out with some amazing speakers lately.

I talked with my good friend, a fellow audio professional named Preston Smits, and we decided to set up a listening session. I called around and eventually found a Guitar Center in Arvada that had many of the speakers I am looking to buy. Warren in pro audio took great care of us.

We decided to compare speakers ranging from $1000 to about $2500 that were available. We also threw in the Behringer Truth as a low range comparison speaker. The results were ear opening to say the least!

Here are the details of the shootout:

SPEAKERS:

  1. Behringer Truth (ribbon tweater version)
    1. $500/pair
  2. Dynaudio BM5a
    1. $1000/pair
  3. Adam A7x
    1. $1400/pair
  4. JBL LSR4328P
    1. $1550/pair
  5. Genelec 8040a
    1. $2400/pair

Note: We wanted to listen to the new Focal Solo 6 speakers, but no one keeps them in stock 🙁

I compiled a CD made of .flac files from a variety of sources and genres. This included songs from John Williams, ACDC, The Wallflowers, Peter Gabriel, Tom Petty, Daft Punk and Skrillex. These songs all demonstrated different qualities of the speakers which was essential to REALLY understand how each speaker sounds.

While listening to the CD we flipped between each speaker taking notes on things like the speakers’ depth, frequency response, detail, transient response, and if we thought the speakers would be fatiguing. We didn’t compare notes or tell each other what we were thinking while listening so we wouldn’t influence each others decisions.

After listening to 6 songs over and over we compared our notes. After 2 hours of listening to these speakers our notes were about 95% the same. We both heard the same qualities of the speakers.

RESULTS: (WHAT YOU REALLY CAME HERE TO READ)

Enough with the details. You are probably wondering which speakers won the shootout…. Unfortunately, professional audio gear eventually comes down to a matter of personal taste rather than having one clear victor. That being said we ended up picking two of the speakers as our definite favorites. Read on to find out which speakers we loved the most!

ADAM A7X:

Smooth, detailed, clean, 3d sound with a high end clarity better than any other speaker I’ve ever head. When ADAM extended their response up to 50kHz. it was NOT a gimmick. I’m absolutely sold on these speakers. They may need a sub if you do heavy music genres that extends below 50 Hz.

JBL LSR4328:

Punchy, accurate, wide imaging, high transient response with excellent low end response. These had the best low end response. These speakers were the most accurate on the transients of the hi-hat/shaker/sibilance region of the frequency spectrum.

Genelec 8040a:

Crisp (in a bad way when compared), forward, scooped sound (lacking mid range detail), big low end detail. Sounded very inaccurate when compared to the JBL or ADAM speakers.

Dynaudio BM5a:

Boxy low end, collapsed image, and dull when compared to the other speakers. These were a disappointment to me. Their low end sounded boxy with poor transient response. It almost sounded like their speakers weren’t getting enough power to be driven clean in the low frequencies. These did have better detail than the Behringer speakers, but they weren’t the big step up to pro speakers I had hoped them to be.

Behringer Truth (Ribbon):

Collapsed image, least detail of the bunch, ok transient response. Cheapest sound of the bunch as well it should be at only $500 for the pair 😉

Winners – FIRST PLACE TIE:

ADAM A7X and JBL LSR4328P

You really couldn’t go wrong with either of these speakers. The ADAM A7X had a smoother sound whereas the JBL LSR4328P had a more transient sound. The ADAMs did extend higher and give more detail on the highest frequencies (which is VERY pleasing to the ear I might add) while the JBLs give you more detail in transient things like high hats, snare transients and the like. The ADAMs could turn out to be less fatiguing. The JBLs have a wider dispersion of sound. The JBLs also offer calibration utilities to deal with different rooms. The ADAMs have no such option.

It all comes down to preference when you hit this level, but I can’t imagine anyone disliking either of these excellent sounding speakers. Personally, I liked the ADAM A7X the most. It would depend on your own tastes and applications.

In my opinion, both of these put every Genelec I’ve heard to shame in terms of detail, accuracy, imaging, and more.

2nd place: Genelec 8040a

The Genelec’s sounded a bit harsh, crisp, and scooped in the mids in comparison. They did offer a nice low end response and good transient detail. I wasn’t shocked at this. I’ve used many varieties of Genelec speakers in the past and never loved them.

This test was PROOF that there are better speakers out there for less money. Don’t believe me???? Go do your own test and tell me what YOU hear 🙂 Both the ADAM and JBL speakers offered a more detailed sound that filled the frequency spectrum. YMMV of course!

3rd place: Dynaudio BM5a

This was a disappointment to me. I have read many things online saying these speakers compare to ADAM speakers. I’m hear to tell you that the ADAM A7X is FAR superior to the Dynaudio BM5a. The Dynaudio sounds boxy in comparison and the transients in the low end just don’t come through clean at all. I’d avoid these speakers at this price. To be fair, I did really enjoy my Dynaudio Air Series speakers in the past so perhaps this is just their attempt at a low end speaker.

4th place: Behringer Truth (Ribbon)

Yeah, no big surprise here. This low end speaker was more of a control and certainly proved the difference between a $500 pair of speakers and a $1400 pair of speakers. These are a decent option for beginners with small budgets, but do yourself a favor and get a great pair of speakers if you can find any way at all to afford it.

CONCLUSION:

Some people say that as long as you “know” your speakers you can mix with them. I believe there are limits with this type of thinking. Low end speakers lack TONS of detail when compared with high end speakers. Bottom line: If you can’t hear what’s missing or going wrong then you can’t fix it. The detail provided by a good pair of speakers affects EVERY PART OF YOUR SOUND! Without them you can’t trust yourself when mixing, tracking, or editing!

Speaker technologies have come a long way. There is a large market of studio monitors out there and never enough time to compare them. However, now that I have taken the time to A/B these speakers I have truly found what I’ve been missing in my home studio. I bought a pair of Adam A7X speakers and I’m 100% satisfied!

  • David Hyatt

    Another misguided example of listening for what “sounds best.” This review might have value if you are looking to populate your hi-fi rig with pro monitors. Utterly useless for helping others determine which speakers work better for nearfield tracking or mixing monitors.

  • admin

    Hmm, in what way do you feel this is misguided? We listened for accuracy, detail, depth, transient response, fatiguing quality, directionality, and many more important parts of mixing/tracking monitors.

    Monitors are very subjective so I tried to be descriptive to guide people to the qualities of monitors they prefer.

    I’ve worked in multiple high end professional environments employing a wide variety of speakers with everything from ns10s, avantones, genelecs old and new, dynaudio air series surround system, Adam A7x, Mackie hr824, Event speakers and much more.

    The review took 10 years of professional experience into account. Nothing in my professional experience has trumped the overall sound of the Adam A7X speakers!

    Hi fi!?? What a ridiculous and a fairly condescending sounding remark! I’ve had countless pros use this post and found it helpful to their decision making process! I know it’s the Internet, but please keep things constructively critical 🙂

    I’d be happy to add more information to improve the post though. Let me know what information you feel is missing and I’ll definitely add it.

  • Roberto

    I just wanted to say I thought the review was great. I am a producer/engineer with over 15 years of experience in both the rock and pop genres and I think you hit the nail right on the head with your review. I’ve worked with the likes of Dynaudio, Yamaha, KRK, B&W and others and I think the Adam A7x’s are great speakers for their price range. There is no one true “best” speaker because we don’t all have the same ears and in audio no one person is right. I think the pretentious comment by mr. hyatt sounds like a rant rather than an educated open forum opinion.

  • admin

    Hey Roberto,

    I really appreciate your response 🙂 Thanks for the consensus and positive feedback. It’s challenging to write on such a subjective subject like monitors.

  • DAVEW

    Hi Aaron,

    Great review, after 20+ years in the music industry
    I have lived with many high end monitor systems.
    Just upgraded to ADAM A7X from Adam A5X.
    The A7X is like an open window on the orchestra.
    They are joy to live with.
    DAVEW
    ENGLAND

  • Aaron Brown

    Wow! I totally missed this comment!
    I do hope to hear some high end Focals someday. The A7X has held up so well and surpassed all expectations 🙂
    I do have a sub, but I’m not enamored with it. I plan to upgrade to an Adam sub someday soon.
    I use the Mackie HR824Mk2 as home speakers and, though they are far from my favorite studio monitors, the low end is out of this world. It shows me what extended lows my Adam A7X aren’t quite hitting.
    What are you using as monitors?