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Chrispy_
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Active monitors for desktop

Wed Dec 09, 2015 1:45 pm

Hey, I know TR isn't the default place for audiophile discussions but I know that plenty of people here run high-end setups and are at least as picky as me - so I'll milk the metaphorical gerbils.

My ancient (and frankly amazing) M-Audio BX8 speakers from 2005 are dying. I recapped them both a couple of years ago but I'm now starting to get some idle hiss and clipping, and the rubber cone surrounds are starting to perish. Sure I could spend some effort repairing them but they're also quite large and the cabinets have been scuffed from several moves when I first returned to London. I have decided I should retire them whilst they still have their dignity so that I can fondly and nostalgically remember them when I'm old and grey, and look for something newer and more convenient.

I think my criteria are:
  • Must be a studio monitor. I'll plug these into a PC but I also have digital instruments that'll use them occasionally so I want a the neutral response you get from monitors
  • I would like something more compact than my old 8" monitors; having heard the lower frequency response of a few other monitors I'm happy with the bass output from 4-5" drivers
  • Having volume/power/headphone/aux input on the front is really handy. I would prefer this to a separate headphone amp which is my current setup
  • At this size I have no real budget limitations but let's say that my enthusiasm drops sharply for anything over $600 pre-tax or £500 inc.VAT

Here's my shortlist - please feel free to ignore me, swamp me with anecdotes, recommend something better or just tell me to buy a set of passive monitors and a compact amp because all of these are junk:

Mackie CR4 or even CR4BT
M-Audio AV42 (too cheap? I really liked my old M-Audios though....)
Prosonus Eris E4.5

Oh, I should add that this is for a small space; these are near-field monitors for low volume listening in a quiet environment and I doubt I'd push even 10W/channel monitors to their limits. If I want party boombox performance I'll use my HTIB in the living room.
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Re: Active monitors for desktop

Wed Dec 09, 2015 2:49 pm

https://www.musicmatter.co.uk/lists/bes ... itors-2015 - This is a pretty decent list if you NEED other ideas and/or can't get one or the other.

If I were you, I'd look at the Yamaha HS5 and the BX5-Carbon. Are you at all worried about the lack of bass response considering you're going from an 8" woofer to a <=5"? I shouldn't say worried, but I can't think of a better word right now.
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Re: Active monitors for desktop

Wed Dec 09, 2015 6:48 pm

My reason for going smaller was because I don't need super amazing bass - in fact I can't actively turn up my BX8's more than about 20% otherwise it's seriously antisocial in my apartment block. 70Hz is good enough for me, I think - if I really want lower frequencies I'll whack my old HD580 headphones on, or buy an active sub to intercept the monitors.

What I appreciate is good quality sound in a compact package with the convenience of an inline volume and headphone passthrough. Any of the larger units are clearly designed to be used with a mixing deck or separate pre-input volume contol, because the volume controls are at the back.
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Re: Active monitors for desktop

Fri Dec 11, 2015 4:50 pm

Decide on anything yet? I think what you suggested first fits you better than most.

I will suggest this as alternative: Combine your preferred set of monitors, with a decent DAC with the I/O/controls you desire. For instance, right now I have a Audioengine D1 that takes USB input, RCA to powered desktop set, and also has a dedicated headphone amp on the front of the device in the form of 3.5mm output. When I plug my headphones in, it mutes the speakers and I also have volume control right on the front of the DAC/Amp combo. It's been a good solution for a few years now, but I am upgrading the setup this winter.

annnnnnd nvm you said you prefer the controls on the speaker, but a separate box may very well be the best solution IMO.
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Re: Active monitors for desktop

Fri Dec 11, 2015 7:46 pm

Agreeing with DancinJack on that a separate volume control/headamp/perhaps DAC could be a practical solution. Those pro active monitors I've seen tend not to have any headphone throughs.

No experiences concerning your shortlist, but if you want really tiny but powerful and neutral monitors, go and check Genelec 8010a's or 8020c's, perhaps with a separate volume knob -or that headamp. Tested those myself before settling to bigger siblings in my living room, was impressed. Actually I'm still considering those for my cramped desktop (currently occupied by old&cheap Creative Gigaworks T20s), perhaps with a sub.

A little disclaimer: I'm Finnish and so is Genelec, but they are rare also here, mostly seen in pro monitoring studios. Some audiophiles like their sound at home (like me), others prefer other brands or passive solutions.
 
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Re: Active monitors for desktop

Wed Dec 16, 2015 6:07 am

I've got the E4.5s [<- Cerwin Vega XD8s <- Focusrite Scarlett 2i4]. Really happy with them but don't have any experience with other monitors to compare.. just my cans. The sub isn't needed with these for music to sound good, but of course does fill out the very bottom (and helps increase the clarity of the low end in general) - sounds like you aren't too fussed about that. Compared to my AKG K812 cans, yeah not nearly as good of course, but I still really enjoy listening to music with them. I see myself upgrading to something like a Yamaha HS8+sub setup when I'm less itinerant and have a decent acoustic space for it, but for now I'm happy (I'm currently living in a bach, AKA a NZ holiday home, AKA a shed)

They've got what you're after at the front of the left speaker, and I don't think any higher-end monitors would. I only use the power button with my set up. I would have reservations about using the headphone out on it, not that I've tried it. If you want I could test it out for you. There are some good controls for tuning things on the back, if you're into that. I've seen some complaints about buzzing or humming with these; can't say I've come across this other than a faint fuzz when the monitors are on and the room is dead silent.

You can of course get better sound in a ~5" monitor but would really have to be paired with a DAC with volume control + headamp combo. Hear good things about the JBL LSR305 and the Yamaha HS5. If you've got the money and a non-terrible acoustic space, I'd go for something like this over the E4.5s. But for simplicity and the price the E4.5s are great I reckon.
 
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Re: Active monitors for desktop

Wed Dec 16, 2015 8:08 am

Thanks for the feedback, all.

I have just ordered a pair of Presonus Ceres 4.5. They're exactly the same innards and drivers as the Eris E4.5 but come with bluetooth too; if I'm going for convenience I might as well go all in!

I do actually have a headphone DAC but it doesn't have speaker passthrough - so I was looking at the Audioengine D3 and quickly realised that I was going back down the path of larger monitors that I wanted to get away from. I'll have to hope that the bass reproduction from 4.5" drivers is enough for me, but I wonder how accurate my ancient BX8 monitors were after 11 years of rubber surround hardening, and possibly even thermal/percussive demagnetisation. Replacing capacitors doesn't help any of those things ;)

I'll update this thread if I remember once they arrive.
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Re: Active monitors for desktop

Thu Dec 24, 2015 2:33 am

Sooooooooooo, what ya think?
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Re: Active monitors for desktop

Sun Dec 27, 2015 9:33 am

Dunno yet, I'm staying with the folks for the Christmas weekend, should know just before or just after the new year :)
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Re: Active monitors for desktop

Tue Jan 05, 2016 2:11 pm

Update:

Really impressive. These things cost me €159 and €:$ is pretty much at parity these days so I'm just staggered at how good they sound. Granted, I found them on sale somewhere so they should have been closer to €300 but I'm still impressed. My BX8's sure have more bass at higher volumes but these things are close to me on my desk and the response is good, tight and accurate right down to 75Hz at the sensible volumes I'm using for personal listening. As mentioned, I have another system to cover party boombox duties so this is fine by me. I've tuned them for my acoustic space and the response sounds very flat to my ear using a rising sine wave but I don't have any special tuning gear.

Honestly, I wasn't expecting them to be as good as they are - and the bluetooth connectivity is a bonus I'm warming up to fast, I'm also loving the convenience of 1/8" jacks on the front instead of RCA or 1/4" like the old studio monitors.

It does make me wonder why anyone would buy a "X.1 computer speakers" when these things exist at this price range. Compared to the Klipsch and Logitech systems I've heard, these things blow them out of the water, just like my old BX8's did (admittedly at significantly higher purchase cost to be fair to the computer speakers!)
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Re: Active monitors for desktop

Mon Feb 22, 2016 12:08 pm

Chrispy_ wrote:
It does make me wonder why anyone would buy a "X.1 computer speakers" when these things exist at this price range. Compared to the Klipsch and Logitech systems I've heard, these things blow them out of the water, just like my old BX8's did (admittedly at significantly higher purchase cost to be fair to the computer speakers!)

I've only been saying this for years! :D
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Re: Active monitors for desktop

Mon Feb 22, 2016 12:37 pm

I really need to get me some new speakers too. These are going on my "short list".
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Re: Active monitors for desktop

Mon Feb 22, 2016 1:32 pm

To be fair, I think a lot of people are under the impression that boomy, loud response = quality. And it's a fair assumption, unless you do your research and are actually interested in hearing what things should really sound like.

Glad you like them! I agree too, I can't imagine ever owning a X.1 system (again) for computer speakers. No way no how.
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Re: Active monitors for desktop

Mon Feb 22, 2016 1:42 pm

I had been more or less happy with my M-Audio AV40s for years, but I'm getting a tickle in the back of my knee that tells me they might spontaneously give out this year. The one fault I would find with them is the lack of low-end bass - not that it was unexpected, I was aware of it when I bought them, it just turns out that it bothers me more than I thought it would. Thought about adding a seperate small sub but now stuff is getting complicated with crossovers and two independent volume levels and I don't want any part of that.

Keeping an eye on this thread to know what to get
 
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Re: Active monitors for desktop

Mon Feb 22, 2016 2:01 pm

TwistedKestrel wrote:
lack of low-end bass

Small speaker cone. Need a 6"+ driver for good bass, no matter how good the speakers themselves are.
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Re: Active monitors for desktop

Mon Feb 22, 2016 4:45 pm

morphine wrote:
TwistedKestrel wrote:
lack of low-end bass

Small speaker cone. Need a 6"+ driver for good bass, no matter how good the speakers themselves are.

That, or some exotic porting and equalizing of a type not usually found in affordable bookshelf speakers or desktop monitors. In general the lowest any small speaker/cabinet combo will go is 60-80Hz depending on the design. Some 7-8" bookshelf speakers go down to 45-50Hz, which is decent but starts to eat space.
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Re: Active monitors for desktop

Mon Feb 22, 2016 4:50 pm

morphine wrote:
Small speaker cone. Need a 6"+ driver for good bass, no matter how good the speakers themselves are.
At least those Presonus ones have a sub-out (also they're $182 at Amazon with Prime right now, which seems like a decent price).
 
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Re: Active monitors for desktop

Tue Feb 23, 2016 10:59 am

Yeah, the Presonus Ceres E4.5 impressed me - bass response indistinguishable from the other 5" class speakers I compared to in shops, notably the M-Audio DX5 D2, Mackie CR5 and Audioengine A5+ sets. I'd certainly say that Presonus have made the smallest 5"-class monitor, as it's obviously more dynamic than the CR4's and AV42's of a similar physical cabinet size.

You're never going to get the same sound as full-range 8" drivers from a compact set of studio monitors, but the gap between the 5" class and 8" class speakers is smaller than you think, it's far less noticeable than the gap between the 3" CR3 and 4" CR4, or the 4" AV42 and 5" BX5 for example....

I think the main thing you need to realise is that the lack of bass is specific only to volume. A 3" driver can provide flawless rich bass up to a certain volume, and then struggles. a 5" driver can provide flawless rich bass up to a certain volume, and then struggles. People who argue that a small driver cannot deliver accurate, rich bass are forgetting that the most expensive headphones on the planet have small drivers, they just deliver at lower volumes. My reference listening for the last 20 years has been a set of Sennheiser HD580 Precision headphones, so I know a 1" driver can deliver 40Hz accurately, but only at very low volumes.
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Re: Active monitors for desktop

Tue Feb 23, 2016 11:12 am

Chrispy_ wrote:
I think the main thing you need to realise is that the lack of bass is specific only to volume. A 3" driver can provide flawless rich bass up to a certain volume, and then struggles. a 5" driver can provide flawless rich bass up to a certain volume, and then struggles. People who argue that a small driver cannot deliver accurate, rich bass are forgetting that the most expensive headphones on the planet have small drivers, they just deliver at lower volumes. My reference listening for the last 20 years has been a set of Sennheiser HD580 Precision headphones, so I know a 1" driver can deliver 40Hz accurately, but only at very low volumes.

Yup. To get lots of bass at high volume, you need to move a *lot* of air, and basic physics says this is impossible with small drivers.
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Re: Active monitors for desktop

Wed Feb 24, 2016 2:39 am

TwistedKestrel wrote:
I had been more or less happy with my M-Audio AV40s for years, but I'm getting a tickle in the back of my knee that tells me they might spontaneously give out this year. The one fault I would find with them is the lack of low-end bass - not that it was unexpected, I was aware of it when I bought them, it just turns out that it bothers me more than I thought it would. Thought about adding a seperate small sub but now stuff is getting complicated with crossovers and two independent volume levels and I don't want any part of that.

Keeping an eye on this thread to know what to get


If you are after a relatively cheap sub that's easy to integrate with decent controls for it's price bracket the Cerwin Vega XD8s might be worth looking at. I have mine in between my DAC (with physical volume control) and my Eris E 4.5 monitors. Got the sub's crossover set at 80Hz, and the monitor's low cut at 80Hz also. Takes a bit of time tuning the volume of the sub relative to the monitors at your general overall volume (used headphones as a reference), but once you're happy with the balance you don't touch those volume controls and just use the DACs. Actually the sub comes with a desktop 'overall' volume control knob anyway, which I don't have connected in my setup, but could be useful for you perhaps.

But yeah, the base response is quite decent on the E4.5s, and they sound great overall. But I do like having the sub to fill out the lower end, particularly as the volume goes up..
 
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Re: Active monitors for desktop

Wed Feb 24, 2016 4:14 am

just brew it! wrote:
Chrispy_ wrote:
I think the main thing you need to realise is that the lack of bass is specific only to volume. A 3" driver can provide flawless rich bass up to a certain volume, and then struggles. a 5" driver can provide flawless rich bass up to a certain volume, and then struggles. People who argue that a small driver cannot deliver accurate, rich bass are forgetting that the most expensive headphones on the planet have small drivers, they just deliver at lower volumes. My reference listening for the last 20 years has been a set of Sennheiser HD580 Precision headphones, so I know a 1" driver can deliver 40Hz accurately, but only at very low volumes.

Yup. To get lots of bass at high volume, you need to move a *lot* of air, and basic physics says this is impossible with small drivers.

Trying to get deep bass on a bookshelf speaker seems like trying to power up a moderate hill in 5th gear (which I've tried, with little to no success whatsoever in a relatively wimpy little Civic :lol:). You can try that with the inherent physical disadvantages of it, or just downshift (or for speakers and bass, get a separate sub) and do it the easy way. My main problem with speaker monitors is they usually don't have a sub, or any option to add one. If they do, then never mind.

I started off with some Pioneer BS22's (rated down to 53Hz, strong down to the mid-60's) and a t-amp and added an Acoustic Audio 8" sub later, and man, the sub adds a nice low dimension of sorts to the music - it sounded a bit flat (in a bad way) without it. I don't always notice the lack of it until I switch to a setup that has it right (same with my BT speaker vs the 2.1 setup, no lows whatsoever in the former). The bs22's only have 4" drivers, but are big enough for more - I think they were aiming for clarity and tight sound over the deepest bass possible, which is fine with a sub present (they do sell these as a 5.1 setup as well). By themselves, I'm not as sure. And no, I don't have the sub set to be inherently obnoxious - just there when the music demands it. Although it did take some messing around (and decently long speaker wire) to find a good place for the sub. Turns out that far away from my desk/listening place/chair/middle of the room makes for a more even, nice response.

One of my friends has some Eris monitors though, and is happy with them (along with some ATH-M50's IIRC). Offhand, I forget what size (5"?).
 
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Re: Active monitors for desktop

Wed Feb 24, 2016 12:40 pm

just brew it! wrote:
To get lots of bass at high volume, you need to move a *lot* of air, and basic physics says this is impossible with small drivers.

Not impossible -- surface area is the first factor, the second factor is excursion. Bob Carver's Sunfire subwoofer series used 8" and 10" drivers in tiny boxes and relied on equalization, high power, and high excursion to get output that exceeded many 12" units on the market. (Those things really travel.) But excursion greatly increases mechanical distortion and requires extra costs to mitigate.

However, speakers in most talking GPS units, mobile devices, and laptops are designed in a similar fashion; higher levels of distortion are acceptable and the driver is much smaller and easier to design, so they rely on extra excursion to get more volume and/or lower frequency response than would seem possible from something that's usually less than 2" in diameter. This, for example -- note the unusually high-roll surround for a driver that's only 0.5" in diameter, while relying on an aluminum cone for stiffness.
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Re: Active monitors for desktop

Wed Feb 24, 2016 1:53 pm

@Chrispy - What did you end up driving those with? Just the out from Realtek (or whatever your computer has)?
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Re: Active monitors for desktop

Wed Feb 24, 2016 2:31 pm

Realtek codec, yes, though I'm using a shielded 1m cable from the 3.5 jack on the motherboard back panel.

Onboard sound is no longer the limiting factor anymore. I listen to 320kbps MP3 files and compressed audio for the most part, so there's just no need for a fancy setup.

The last time I had an onboard sound solution that suffered from poor quality was, back in the days of Core2 and even then it was mostly additional electronic noises from the PC because motherboard vendors weren't using isolated traces.
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Re: Active monitors for desktop

Wed Feb 24, 2016 2:41 pm

I wasn't criticizing, just wondering. I'm "upgrading" my computer DAC and AMP and am debating going DAC-less to see if it really makes a difference for me (I haven't ever used the onboard with the mobo I have now).
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Re: Active monitors for desktop

Wed Feb 24, 2016 3:40 pm

DancinJack wrote:
I wasn't criticizing, just wondering. I'm "upgrading" my computer DAC and AMP and am debating going DAC-less to see if it really makes a difference for me (I haven't ever used the onboard with the mobo I have now).

FWIW, nowadays mobo audio is waaaaay better than it used to be. Still worse, than a dedicated high-quality DAC, of course, but much better than one would expect.
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Re: Active monitors for desktop

Thu Feb 25, 2016 1:24 pm

UberGerbil wrote:
morphine wrote:
Small speaker cone. Need a 6"+ driver for good bass, no matter how good the speakers themselves are.
At least those Presonus ones have a sub-out (also they're $182 at Amazon with Prime right now, which seems like a decent price).


Using the below link has them for $139 with free shipping; I dont know why, but searching for them on Adorama normally has them for $199.

http://www.adorama.com/PSC45BT.html?ema ... flaid62905

I dont know about speakers, but these do seem nice. I was wondering if it was worth looking for monitors with optical in instead?
 
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Re: Active monitors for desktop

Thu Feb 25, 2016 1:28 pm

Dposcorp wrote:
I dont know about speakers, but these do seem nice. I was wondering if it was worth looking for monitors with optical in instead?

They don't exist.

Well, you might find one set or another, but I recently ran through most of the major manufacturers' monitor portfolios and the conclusion is that you get unbalanced + TRS/XLR, or unbalanced + TRS/XLR. I also found a few models with unbalanced + TRS/XLR.

Those Ceres 4.5 BTs were one of the few models I found with Bluetooth connectivity, and Alesis has a model (320? 520?) that has a USB interface. But those are the exceptions to the rule.
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Re: Active monitors for desktop

Thu Feb 25, 2016 1:44 pm

Yeah, I think most manufacturers assume you're modifying the signal via AMP and/or DAC before it hits your speakers (at least with a "wired" connection). Which is probably right in a lot of cases.

I legit almost quoted your unbalanced + TRS/XLRx3 because I thought you made a mistake x2. Then I read it again and smartened up.
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Re: Active monitors for desktop

Thu Feb 25, 2016 4:20 pm

Another possibility would be to buy an inexpensive stereo receiver and a pair of half-way decent bookshelf speakers. This will even allow you to add a subwoofer if you so choose.
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