Pro audio is a minefield. At one end, it is governed by pure science, and at the other is the wildly volatile variant of human beings. So when one person offers an opinion about the subjective topic of sound, there will be somebody somewhere who will vehemently disagree, because our ears, skulls, and environments are all so different. So you can imagine my trepidation when deciding to take on a huge studio monitor group test. Thus I kicked science to the kerb, because in this test, it’s just not needed. Allow me to explain. It has been my experience that the back end is where most DJs have alway paid the least attention. I’ve been just as guilty as anyone else of hooking expensive DJ gear up to some crappy old hifi speakers and being happy. As long as I could hear something, I was content, ideally with a shedload of bass. But then I got a pair of Tannoy Eclipse speakers hooked up to a Denon amp… oh my. Suddenly all the sound that was originally pressed into the vinyl was apparent, and my DJ life became a much better world.
Jump forward a number of years to starting skratchworx. A pair of Stanton ATM.6 studio monitors arrived. Tuned, directional, and designed for the every task I needed them for. I don’t even know what happened to the Eclipses, such was my affection for these new shiny wonderboxes of sound. It was at this point that I realised that every DJ should have a solid backend, because all the money that has been on the front end deserves it. So the idea for the affordable entry level monitor group test was born.
The Test Criteria
This group test is designed to offer a multi-scenario use case overview for people wanting to buy their first pair of monitors, namely listening, bedroom DJing and producing, and house parties. The basic criteria was set at costing no more than £400 for a pair, and had to be active (i.e, powered and not needing an amplifier) monitors, meaning a cost effective and simple setup. And because most DJs setups are likely to be in a bedroom or spare room most probably not treated for sound in any way, and most likely not having any consideration for monitor placement, we didn’t spend any time setting up the test environment either. They were all unboxed, and pointed towards our comfy IKEA test sofa to roughly form the classic triangle between ears and monitors.
So you can see why I said ‘kicked science to the kerb’, because I feel that buyers in the market won’t really be treating studio monitors with the reverence that some feel they deserve. I have my doubts that the majority of DJs out looking for their first set of monitors will be concerned with the finer points of SPL numbers and pouring over frequency response curves.
I’m more than aware that after reading the test, some will dismiss it as pointless tosh. But I’m also equally aware that if I’d employed a team of serious sound designers and room treaters, measured cable impedance, and did full audio analysis of cone characteristics, the entire test would have missed the point completely. No matter what we do with this test, someone somewhere would have an issue because pro audio is such a thorny subject. Higher level scientific tests are available from more pro audio focussed sites. But for those DJs with a reasonable sum of cash and no clue where to start — this group test is for you.
A note to those who say “why haven’t you got monitor x in this test?”. I tried everyone, twice. If they didn’t respond, they didn’t make the test, so blame them. And for those who insist on detailed specifications, we’ve added links to the main sites and manuals too. No point in duplicating effort.
Over to Dan Morse to present the test.
INTRODUCTION AND GLOSSARY
We’ve got a big ol’ group test coming up and we need you to have your thinking caps on for it.
The principles of audio amplification are tried and tested, but with the crossover between DJs and producers becoming more apparent, it’s only in the last few years that studio monitors have really become a popular part of our setups.
So, first things first… what are your options for making your sounds really, really ridiculously great sounding and (most of all) really, really loud?
Everyone knows what you need to play music. You need some speakers, an amplifier and some cables, and you’re good to go. But what are all the options? Let’s get into some of the terminology we’ll be discussing in the group test.
Wattage This is a measurement of the output of an amplifier, as well as the rated capacity which speakers can handle. There are two different ways the number may be shown. Peak output is the maximum you might ever see from an amp. In real world terms, you would rarely get this sort of output from the hardware. A more realistic number to watch for is the RMS (root-mean square), the “average output”, or what average power you can expect from the equipment.
Amplifier Whether a separate powered amp or one that’s built into the speaker, this is the bit that does most of the work. Designed to boost the weak audio signal that comes from your mixer / controller / audio interface, you need to make sure your speakers can match the power rating of your amplifier.
Amps can also have control over stereo balance, EQ and zone control (large, multi-room setups), but the more PA-focused, the simpler it will be. Quite often, you’ll see a 19 inch rack mount with the different controls as separate units.
Speaker Essentially just a box with a cone that vibrates, the job of the speaker is to make the air shake in a way that reproduces what you’re playing. Why do we need the box (called an enclosure or cabinet)? Not only does it provide a convenient way to carry the speaker and anything else built in (like an amp), it does the very important job of preventing the backwards energy the speaker creates from cancelling out what you want to hear.
The cone part of the speaker is made of a paper or synthetic material, and uses electromagnetic energy to vibrate, thus vibrating the air.
Near-field A term you’ll hear often referred to with studio monitor speakers, “near-field” essentially means the speakers are designed to be placed close to the listener’s head, pointed directly at them. This creates a speaker placement equilateral “triangle” between the two monitors and your head, ensuring an optimum listening experience.
Environment If you stand in an empty room (say, before you move into a new flat), all you hear is every sound echoing around. Start adding some furniture, maybe some curtains, and the reverb starts to settle. Because the shape of the room is broken up with different materials, the audio waves have less surface to easily bounce around between. This is the fundamental principle to acoustic treatment.
Studio owners and producers can spend small fortunes on treating a room to improve acoustics. Although, for 99% of producers and DJs, just being aware of the acoustic character of a room is enough to adjust your equipment.
When dealing with professional audio gear, there are cable and connector types that will pop up more often than others.
RCA – These are the double red/white combo wires you find connected to most DJ gear. They’re cheap and plentiful. Fun tip: RCA stands for Radio Corporation of America, the group that brought out the standard. XLR – These are the chunky (usually metal) connectors with safety clips that tend to plug into microphones. They’re popular on professional gear because they can offer a balanced signal. TRS – If you’re a DJ, you’ve used these. Found on headphone cables everywhere, the Tip, Ring, Sleeve phone connector is ubiquitous. It’s near-identical twin, the TS, is found on pro gear, often alongside the XLR jack. Guitarists amongst you know what it is.
Balanced vs Unbalanced
You’ll hear talk and mention fairly often of “balanced” and “unbalanced” audio cables and connectors. But what does it all mean and is it important?
Balanced audio can be very useful if you have cables lain over very long distances (for example, from the DJ booth to a back room where the sound equipment lives). The way balanced cables are designed, with two wires as a twisted pair wrapped in another conductive material, any interference is drastically minimised. Balanced signals can also benefit from extra output, giving the audio more headroom and reducing chances of clipping.
For home use, there’s little benefit outside of audio sampling and production, so no need to chuck out your gear if it isn’t balanced.
So… since we are all fundamentally bags of water, a room full of people can absorb a lot of sound energy produced by speakers. The bigger the room, the more people, the more power you need to throw out enough sound.
As we’ve covered briefly earlier, the room itself can be important to the quality of the sound. Speaker placement can ensure you hear what you’re meant to hear. Large clubs spend lots of money making sure the sound efficiently fills the space it needs to. For the rest of us, there’s a really simple way to get the best from your speakers. Setting up each speaker the same distance from you, equally spaced apart, in a triangle ensures the sound that hits you most is from the source.
On top of that, here are a few guidelines:
Don’t use a huge room as your workspace, the sound will just get lost.
Don’t push the audio too hard in any one part of the audio chain (mixer, amplifier, audio interface).
Do make sure you have furnishings. These will all soften the reverb around the room.
Do take breaks if you’re going to be listening for a long time. This helps reduce auditory fatigue.
Do look after your hearing. You don’t have spares!
If you want to go even further and start treating your room for audio production, there are plenty of resources online to get you started. This is a rabbit hole you will step in to. You have been warned!
I’m not saying that modern DJ gear makes us lazy, but it certainly does its best to take the work away from us. This means there’s quite often some ignorance about how to manage your sound. You can find plenty of good articles about best practices online, but it’s important to remember that red warning lights on your level meters exist for a reason. Driving the audio signal too hard will make the sound distort, thus nullifying any push in volume you might get. RED = BAD! If you want your music to go louder, it might be time to invest in a beefier system. Here are your options…
PA Speakers If you’ve been to a club or concert, you’ll have seen these. Mobile DJs will know them well, the rest of us may have played on them at some point. These can be self-powered or hooked up to a chunky power amplifier.
Built to survive the extreme treatment of public performances, PA (public address) systems are heavy duty, using sturdy connectors such as XLR cables coupled with reliable, simple options to reduce the likelihood of something breaking.
Quite often expected to play out to large rooms filled with people, the amplifiers can go into the thousands (and sometimes tens of thousands) of Watts.
Hi-Fi Speakers In the old days, many living rooms had a hi-fi separates. Speakers, amplifier, cassette deck, record players all sat proudly on the shelving unit, to become the hub from which family entertainment flowed. I remember, growing up, sitting on the lounge floor while my dad dug through his classic rock collection, first on vinyl, then cassette and finally, CD.
Focused on getting the best quality sounds in small spaces such as living rooms and bedrooms, some thought is usually put into the design of the equipment, so as to provide something elegant for your living space.
These days, we spend most of our time listening to our our iPods and phones using cheap ear buds and speaker docks. Which is a shame.
Studio Monitor Speakers The last type of speaker a DJ might stumble across is the near-field studio monitor. Often seen in the background of producers’ studios, these workhorses are durable, precise and usually go fairly loud. Studio monitors tend to have built in amplifiers and several options for tweaking the sound, plus a little bit of flexibility on connectivity.
Studio monitors are usually referred to as having “flat response sound”, meaning that what you’ve got playing out is as close to the source audio as you can get. This differs from the other types of speakers/amplifiers, which tend to add some character to the sound.
What’s the difference? Fundamentally, there’s little difference in the technology found in each of these types of speaker systems. Rather, your needs will reflect which is better for you. If you never plan on moving your equipment, and have a small space to play in, you’ll be happy with either a hi-fi or monitors. You could expect similar sort of volume from them both.
If you know you’ll be lugging your audio gear around every weekend, and need to fill a room with both sound and people, then a durable PA system seems like a no-brainer. The built-in amps in some systems just adds to the convenience.
There’s a lot to think about when making a choice of speakers for your setup. Realistically, there’s no ‘wrong answer’, rather some things are more suited to your use than others.
If you’re still using desktop computer speakers, you’re really not doing your music justice. If you were to get yourself a pair of powered monitors, that first time you hear a piece of music through them will be a revelation (just witnessed this first hand from a guy used to cheap speakers and headphones – Ed).
THE STUDIO MONITOR GROUP TEST
Following on from our little rundown of all the options we as DJs have for making things loud, here’s a little something we’ve been putting together for the last year.
One of the types of speaker we spoke about in the previous article was the studio monitor. These are the easiest and most versatile for DJs wanting to practice at home. We gathered together a bunch of different studio monitors to test out, so you don’t have to.
First things first
Sound quality is always going to be a subjective thing to debate, but there are plenty of other things which you can just tell are good or bad for DJs. And that’s what we always had in mind when doing this group test.
But, one opinion on the matter is just not how we roll at DJWORX. We wanted some conversation and debate! They say three’s a crowd, and crowds have the best arguments, so joining myself and Mark is a buddy of mine, Jim Stevenson, who not only dabbles in DJing, he’s also a respected Drum & Bass producer (https://soundcloud.com/psylense) and guitarist in a band (https://www.facebook.com/TheZillaz). So who better to chat about what’s best than someone that spends loads of time around loud music? I thought so!
What’s in the group test?
We asked a wide range of manufacturers, from smaller pro-level companies like Equator to the big boys like KRK and Pioneer, to supply us with the best speakers they have, up to a maximum of £400 a pair. For some, this meant receiving monstrous 8” speakers, all the way down to the compact 5” models from the high-end companies such as Yamaha.
To be as clinical and fair as possible, we set up each of the sets in the same position, with the same seating, same cables and source hardware. We had the same tracklist playing from the same laptop, using the same audio interface. I asked for lab coats and clipboards, but management didn’t allocate budget, apparently. So, we had the playlist on a Macbook Air, hooked up to a Focusrite Forte and Neo d+ Class B audio cables.
For those wondering, the playlist spanned genres suited to listening and playing out. We marvelled at the stunning voice of Maria Callas, listened to the finer studio points of John Coltrane and Miles Davis, nodded our heads at the boom bap of Slum Village, the remastered clarity of Kraftwerk, the 303 stylings of Hardfloor, and waited for the bass drop of Disclosure. Not just these, but for the level playing field testing, we stuck to a core selection.
The group test format, rather than just a list of pros and cons, is broken down into the essentials any DJ might consider when purchasing. For each set of speakers, we sat down and had a chin-wag, taking notes and bouncing conversation off each other. We talked about what came in the box apart from the speakers. We checked how solid they felt. We obviously brought up how the speakers looked… this will be a bit of gear that you’ll have on display all the time, and has to fit in with your style.
So… on to the speakers, listed in no particular order:
Known mainly for their mobile PA audio systems, Behringer’s studio monitors have some big names to compete against. These sport 8” Kevlar cones and plenty of options on the back.
In the box
Jim: Behringer manuals always have masses and masses of content. too much, really. All the languages are on the same page! Dan: Stickers! Mark: I love the calibration certificate. I want to frame it.
Jim: It all feels cheap. The vinyl is marking already. Dan: The glue leaked on one of the subs. It’s not exactly world class industrial design. Mark: Plastic front feels cheap.
Jim: I want to chuck a magazine on top of them to cover them up. I’m not impressed with the weird circle face thing around the tweeter. They look less crowded than the 5” ones we originally tested. Dan: Fake wood panelling. Mark: They look like 80s hifi speakers. They also have a similarity to the KRKs.
Jim: Lots of switches. plenty of frequency rolloffs to tweak. Basically an all singing all dancing budget speaker. Dan: There’s a lot of text on the back of the speaker. They’re trying to make it look technical, but it just makes it too complicated. Mark: There’s a lot on the back, but I didn’t find they made that much difference. Certainly not as much as some of the other monitors in the test. I don’t like the little knobs. Too fiddly.
Jim: Out of all the speakers, these are the ones I’d take to a party. Good all round sound spread. Dan: No complaints. it handled all the music we played without hesitation. It fits somewhere in the middle of the pack. Mark: I’m impressed. The audio is all round pleasing.
Are they loud?
Jim: Yeah, I’m impressed. Dan: They look like they would rock a crowd. Mark: Very loud and don’t fart when pushed. They feel quite even at higher volumes.
Despite reservations about the retro styling and plastic construction, The Behringer B1031a monitors deliver a lot of features and excellent sound for not a lot of money. Many boxes are ticked, and out of all these speakers, we’d take these to a party.
KRK Rokit 5 G2
Link: KRK | Price: £$299/€299/£200/pair | Manual: PDF
Note – the G3 came out just after we’d reviewed these, so the links above go to the G3s. But we’ve included them for completeness.
The seminal go-to speaker for producers and DJs, KRK is usually the first speaker that fellow DJs recommend for those in the market. With 5” bass drivers and a legendary look, we had high expectation for these.
In the box
Jim: The speakers have mats on the bottom. Dan: Short of having some sort of remote, all you need is the manual and cables. Mark: They come with free silica gel.
Jim: Nice click on the knobs. You know where you’re at with them. Again, no hard edges to catch. Dan: The sub looks really durable, that thing looks like it will survive a prodding. Mark: I wish the tweeter was a bit more protected, but apart from that…
Jim: The shape is very functional, for sound quality. Dan: They’re pretty iconic by now. Everyone knows the Rokits. I like that the logo glows to show they are turned on. Mark: Legendary. Everyone knows KRK. They look like monitors rather than hifi speakers.
Jim: The high frequency range is useful. Boosting to +1 or stripping away is good. The features are simple but effective. Mark: These have lots of input connector options. There’s enough to make the target market feel they are working professionally.
Jim: Good lively speaker. I feel like the sound is around me. Like I’m in a car. For a 5” speaker, they are nice and subby. Dan: They have a good kick, which is good for dance music. Mark: There’s some low end thump. You feel that they’ll perform well across a range of music.
Are they loud?
Jim: They’re as loud as you need them. Mark: There’s no distortion, even when you push them.
It’s really hard to go wrong with KRK. Iconic yellow drivers ensures a feel-good factor out of the box, and they just look the business and the sound quality has been established over years of industry domination. Buy with confidence for a good all-round performance.
Link: Yamaha | Price: $569/€390/£300 per pair | Manual: PDF
Reasonably priced 6.5” speakers from the legendary monitor manufacturer. Anyone in professional studio production looks forward to using Yamaha speakers. These have a good sized heat sink and a rear port on the on the back and are eminently portable.
In the box
Jim: They’re sold as separate units, which is worth noting. Nice box. Mark: Manual is a bit more detailed than most. Buying the speakers separately give a perception of professionalism.
Jim: The mesh over the tweeter is a nice touch. Even inserting a kettle lead into it, it felt quality. Dan: These are rock solid. Mark: Outstanding. There’s nothing I don’t like about it.
Jim: Really nice design. They come from a long pro lineage. Dan: I like that the logo is backlit. It’s all very minimal design. Mark: One of the smartest looking speakers we reviewed. They scream pro-level.
Jim: Fairly straightforward. The big heatsink should help. Dan: There’s nothing else that you need, really. Mark: They’re like a lot of the others. No RCA which taps into the pro market.
Jim: I’m hearing things in the music I haven’t heard on the other speakers. For a DJ I think you’d benefit with a sub. Dan: They are definitely flatter than the others, but it all sounds lovely. Mark: Everything is crystal clear. And wherever I walk around them, I can still enjoy the music.
Are they loud?
Jim: they are loud and sound good, up to a point where they just fall apart very quickly. Dan: You can’t push them too hard, but they do fill the room! Mark: Yes, but don’t like it. With a sub they’d probably be pushed.
The Yamaha HS7s are absolutely a force to be reckoned with. Minimal styling combined with an striking white driver immediately set these apart. Sound-wise, they’re magnificent, and we absolutely recommend these for production and listening. If you’re wanting to max out the bass to fill a party, look elsewhere, or add a sub.
M-Audio BX8 D2
Link: M-Audio | Price: $349/€299/£200 per pair | Manual: PDF
These are hefty 8” no-frills speakers from a company with a bit of pedigree in the production sector. We had no idea what to expect from their speakers…
In the box
Mark: Plug. Very basic manual
Jim: Feels ok. Not very heavy for the size. A bit plastic. Mark: Good for the price. No frills.
Jim: They look like a DJ speaker. Simple design. Dan: Even though there’s not much more to them than the Fostex, they look more interesting. Mark: They look more like studio monitors than some of them.
Jim: They need some high roll-off option. Dan: Literally no features other than volume control, but you get what you pay for. Mark: Two inputs and a volume control. For £200 a pair, asking more would be greedy.
Jim: All I’m hearing is high end. It’s just hi-hats. You’d expect more mid in such a large box. Dan: I don’t like these at all. They should be wide and punchy but it’s all high end. Mark: They sound fine for bassy dance music. But they don’t do acoustic well.
Are they loud?
Jim: Unbearably. Too much top end. Dan: Kicks come out nicely at higher volumes, but that’s about it.
It’s surprising to us just how disappointed were were with the BX8s. These sound the most like hifi speakers, apart from the Reloop ADM-5s. Post review, a number of people passed through the worxlab and commented on how amazing the M-Audios were in their setups. Just goes to show how subjective sound is. But for £200 a pair for 8″ studio monitors, you get what you pay for.
Link: Fostex | Price: $299/€338/£190 per pair | Manual: PDF
One of the smaller manufacturers with a big reputation, can the smaller 5” speakers stack up with rest?
In the box
Jim: Very straightforward. Just a black & white manual and leads. No frills. Dan: You don’t get a lot for the money with these… Mark: No frills to the point of a plain white box.
Jim: The build is just functional. There’s no real design, it seems. Dan: The finish is very delicate. The ports don’t have any plastic surrounds, for example. The hard edges won’t take much of a knock. Mark: It seems like they wouldn’t survive being moved around too much.
Jim: They don’t look like much, but they work. They look most like a bookshelf speaker. Dan: They’re quite deep which could make them difficult to sit anywhere. Mark: They’re narrow, though…
Jim: There’s no frills on these. They’re dead ordinary, but that’s not a bad thing. Dan: Annoyingly, it doesn’t use kettle leads, like most of the others do. Mark: There’s literally only a volume knob, so you won’t be doing any tweaking. The feet wear down, but there’s holes to fix to speaker platforms.
Jim: They’re all round sounding. Unremarkable. I noticed they are very directional. There’s a definite sweet spot, location wise. Dan: I think there’s a tiny bit too much high end. Or rather, it’s just a bit intense. Mark: They don’t sound coloured in any way. The sound is flat and truer than most of the others. I’m not excited by the sound.
Are they loud?
Jim: It definitely sounded muffled at louder volumes, but it probably wouldn’t bother me at a party after a few beers. Dan: The bass really struggles if you try and push any decent volume through them. Mark: It handles the volume better than some of the others do. They’re loud, but lose definition.
The Fostex PMO.5ds are small straightforward monitors. The build isn’t especially heavy, but if you just plonk them into your setup, they’ll be just fine. Having a more linear sound, and being very directional, we’d recommend these more for production and listening, but can if needed handle a house party provided you don’t push them too hard.
Link: Fostex | Price: $499/€444/£400 per pair | Manual: PDF
Bad boy monitors with (count ’em) three speakers and a ma-hoosive heatsink. They look like they mean business.
In the box
Jim: The manual intro makes for some interesting reading.
Jim: Very heavy. These feel solid. Mark: Nothing outstanding about the build quality, compared to the others. It fits in the middle somewhere.
Jim: They look different to the rest of the bunch. Two ports and three speakers. Dan: There’s literally no design to this look. They look like three speakers in a box. Mark: They look like a pair of good hifi speakers.
Jim: Another pair with frequency cutoffs. They are marked as a left/right pair due to the set up of the speakers. Dan: Another one with blue lights, dudes. Mark: The only speakers in the test that have three drivers. It doesn’t have RCA.
Jim: They are quite uncoloured and clear, but I wouldn’t say they are pleasing to listen to. They’re punchy but not too bassy. they have a good stereo image. Dan: These are also very directional. I notice it more than most of the others. Mark: I think classical really benefits from having three speaker cones to output. It sounded the best on these. Acoustic music really comes alive on these.
Are they loud?
Jim: They held together well. The bottom end was ok, even though the speakers aren’t bassy. Dan: You can turn them up, but they don’t make you feel anything. The Disclosure track is just flat. Other speakers made you boogie. Mark: They are loud, but they don’t appreciate being turned up.
Conclusions Coming in at the top of the price bracket, the Fostex PM641’s strength is sound. Because of the more linear nature, we’re recommending them more for live music producers, especially to classical and acoustic musicians. The bass just isn’t bold enough for dance music.
Reloop Wave 5
Link: Reloop | Price: $499/€399/£310 per pair | Manual : PDF
These mid-range speakers sport a handy remote… the only speakers in the test that do!
In the box
Jim: The box itself is quite eye catching… Dan: Manual is straightforward. Enough to get you going. Mark: You get pads for the bottom of the speaker. Nice.
Jim: I couldn’t see myself having any problems at all. The simplicity of the features helps a lot. The sharp edge on the back is a weak point. It’s already caught on one of them. The remote feels quality. Dan: They look sturdy. Mark: Excellent. They feel solid.
Jim: They’ve got that brushed metal and black look, kind of like Apple. Dan: They’ve tried to make them look a bit different without going crazy. The port at the bottom is understated. Mark: They walk a fine line between minimal and technical. They LOOK solid.
Jim: The fact you can control your multiple sources from the remote is great. The acoustic space switch is quite useful for setting up in cosy spaces. The remote disables the volume control on the back, which is handy! Dan: Setting up the remote is a bit of a faff, but you don’t need it for these to work. Mark: I love the remote. Not having to lean round the back to change volume etc is great. I had the Wave 8s for a bit and missed it when they went back. The switches on the back don’t seem to do much.
Jim: They perform better with electronic music. They don’t have much depth and sound floppy at the bottom end. Dan: They seem to really struggle with deep bass at mid to high volume. They sound quite muddy, compared to the others we’ve heard. Mark: Pleasing sound. Not quite got the thump I was expecting.
Are they loud?
Jim: They fill the room well. Not in-your-face loud, but apart from not performing well with hip hop. Dan: They kind of sit in the middle of the group with this. The fact they don’t handle the bass well kind of lets them down at high volumes. Mark: They don’t feel as loud as some of the others.
The Reloop Wave 5s do a good job of everything we asked of them. They look the business, and the remote adds a smart layer of convenience that no other monitor in this group test offers. We’re happy to recommend them as a solid all-rounder but just watch out for bass at high volumes.
Link: Reloop | Price: $199/149/£125 per pair | Manual: PDF
Very much in the budget range, these only just fit into the test as they’re marketed at DJs specifically.
In the box
Mark: Oh no! Flip flops! (in-joke – Ed).To be fair, everything to get going is in the box. You don’t need anything else.
Jim: They seem OK. Fairly strong. Well recessed so speaker cones won’t get knocked. Very square, not much of a step up from hifi speakers. Sharp corners. Mark: They feel like hifi speakers to me.
Jim: The chunky bolts look cool and quite industrial. The oil slick shininess is a bit weird. Dan: They look so cheap. I think the glossy front doesn’t help. It looks badly applied. Mark: Very 90s. If the slick black had been smooth, it would have been much nicer.
Jim: Only having one power cable will be useful when sockets are at a premium. Dan: These are clearly aimed at beginners. I feel like you’d own them for a month then want to upgrade already. Mark: One set of inputs. The tweeter is is recessed and protected, making it party-proof.
Jim: The sound output seems really coloured. Very home hifi compared to the others we tested. You get fatigued listening to them. Dan: There’s a bit of a lack of high end. And low end. And mid. Mark: Nothing special. As Jim said, these are home hifi standard.
Are they loud?
Jim: They seem loud enough.
If you’ve really got have a pair of studio monitors, but haven’t got the necessary funds, the ATM-5s will do. But they’re nowhere near the same class as the rest of the test, and only included for completeness. But adequate if you have a tiny budget.
Probably the smallest of the lot, the D5s are very portable and combine the tweeter and sub in one unit.
In the box
Jim: There’s no mats or surface grips, which is a shame. Mark: There’s no manual in the box. In fact, there’s nothing in the box. It was just an old box that was sent to us.
Jim: I like that all the audio stuff is on the front. It’ll take scratches and hides finger prints. The tweeters are protected by a plastic ring which is good. Dan: Being so square, there’s not a lot that can go wrong. the materials are hardcore sturdy. Mark: They’ve recessed the cone and stuck the tweeter in the centre. They’re basically just a speaker in a box.
Jim: They’re OK. I’m not wild about them. I’m not keen on the branding. Dan: They look like they’ve survived a party and got dried beer smudged on them. I want to clean the tops! Also, blue LEDs. Stahp! Mark: I like these. At least the blue LED makes it clear they are on. The designer in me doesn’t like the kerning between the typeface.
Jim: Already baffled before we’ve turned them on. I need the manual for the options on the back. The boundary knob doesn’t make enough difference. I like the fact they are small and very compact. All the sound is pointing at you from the same place. Dan: I thought it might be some sort of bad ‘engrish’ translation, but they’re engineered in the USA. Mark: I’ve had to read another review to work out what the controls mean. The boundary options work most noticeably when up against a wall.
Jim: They are nice as a speaker from different angles. You can walk around them and appreciate the music. I could quite happily sit in my studio listening to tunes on these all day long. Dan: Some good bass response. When the bass kicks in, these speakers start to show off. Mark: You don’t need to point them directly at you, and are easy on the ear.
Are they loud?
Jim: These don’t got loud. They’re probably better for producers because you aren’t meant to play too loud in the studio. Dan: Is that it? Mark: Strictly for home use. They just aren’t loud enough.
The Equator D5s are the smallest in the test, but also hit the maximum price criteria at £400 a pair. Because of the size, they’re really not suited to playing out at all. But for producing and listening, especially in a small space, the D5s are stunning.
Link: Pioneer | Price: $299/€270/£250 per pair | Manual: PDF
Pioneer sent us three sets of speakers from the same range, with the 50s being the smallest at 5”. When we tested, we categorised the build quality, looks and features into one group.
In the box
Mark: You get a power cable and manual.
Jim: They are good. Very simple boxes, to be fair. The simplest we’ve tested. Dan: Some of the finish is a bit iffy, but they don’t look like they will break easily. Less features mean less to go wrong. Mark: Pioneer quality. These are great.
Jim: I’d have to have them in white. The light on the front is a nice feature. The chunky knobs on the back are easy to find. Dan: They just fit nicely without going crazy. Mark: Again, some definite influence from the KRKs.
Jim: The HF knob is quite useful. It makes a lot of difference. Dan: I like the fact that you don’t need to be a maths genius to use the rear features, unlike some of the other speakers. Two knobs. Done. Mark: I spent enough time looking at graphs at school.
Jim: They have a very narrow sweet spot for near field. They are a bit more coloured than some of the others. Not for production work. Dan: Very full sounding. These are definitely listening speakers. Maybe a bit more high end. Mark: These are nice. I quite like the sound of them. Very lively. A lot of high end on classical, but they seem tuned for dance music.
Are they loud?
Jim: Still talking volume. Not super loud at all. Dan: You’re not going to be rocking a party on these… Mark: I’ve got it all on full. They don’t distort, but they don’t go loud enough to be able to.
The SDJ50X monitors are a good start for Pioneer’s range. Definitely ticking most of the good allrounder boxes, but just not quite loud enough to fill a room. For the price difference, get the SDJ60X instead.
Link: Pioneer | Price: $394/€370/£330 per pair | Manual: PDF
The mid-sized set of the range, coming in at 6”. See above for general comments – we’re focussing on sound.
Jim: Lively. Like the 5s, they have a small sweet spot position. Very well controlled sound. Dan: Some nice bass on these. You can tell the difference with the 6 inch cones. Mark: Can’t fault the sound on these. Great separation on the sound. Bass, mid, and treble all stand on their own.
Are they loud?
Jim: Again, these aren’t very loud. I’d be scared of overdriving these. They’ve got a very animated cone. Dan: I wonder if it’s just that they handle the sound better? The frequencies all sitting nice and behaving themselves?
These are the sweet spot in the Pioneer SDJ range. Not too loud, but still sounding good. The SDJ60X’s offer a very good balance of features and quality for the price.
Link: Pioneer | Price: $499/€499/£380 per pair | Manual: PDF
These are the beasts of the Pioneer range, with 8” cones.
Jim: Too coloured. Not flat enough. Too much treble. The rolloff compensates. Very directional. They were musical sounding. Dan: Maybe a little too much high end, surprisingly considering they use the same tweeters as the others! Mark: Really good apart from when driven too hard. Definitely tuned for DJs…
Are they loud?
Jim: They can be pushed further than the other Pioneers. Dan: These are what you want to rock a party. Mark: Very loud until they fall apart.
The SDJ80X monitors are the daddies of the range. Because of the coloured sound, these are more suited to making noise than linear production. But they’re still good all purpose monitors that will please a lot of ears and uses.
The only speakers to depart from the “plain black box” style, the Turbos may be radical, but we were smiling the moment we saw them.
In the box
Jim: Rubber feet are handy! The manual is very detailed. Dan: I noticed when adding the rubber feet that there’s also facility to add spikes on the base. Mark: I like that they made an effort with the manual being the same shape as the speakers. They obviously care about the image. It also comes with a sample CD. No idea how scientific it is.
Jim: Brilliant. Not much more to say! Dan: They look like they can take a knock. Mark: Outstanding. Drivers are recessed to prevent knocks which I like.
Jim: When stacked against the others I thought “oh god, they look like bubblegum” but when I sat down with them, They’re a feature in your room. I like the red. Dan: I like the shape. It stands out against the rest. I like to think they’d go well on a shelf in a loft apartment. Another speaker than usefully lights up the logo to show they’re on. Mark: Eclectic choice. Brave to make them stand out. These are not just black boxes.
Jim: Separate bass and treble. Nice to have bass control. Could be part of a bigger 5.1 system. Dan: I feel that the piddly knobs and switches make it difficult to tweak without peaking round the back. Mark: There’s loads of input options for connectors. Being able to switch left/right is a nice touch.
Jim: Much better for electronic music than Jazz. Smaller speakers mean less bass, though. Dan: At flat response (bass/treble set to zero) there’s more high end than low. Mark: Hard to beat. I love the sound of these. They make me appreciate classical music more
Are they loud?
Jim: They’d be ok for a get-together. A few beers, some food and some tunes. Dan: I wouldn’t say they are crazy loud. Are they expected to be? These would work really well with a proper stand alone subwoofer. Mark: They’re not particularly loud. They bottom out really easily. They fall apart when playing some old hip hop.
The smallest, and thus comparatively the most expensive in the test. Because of the siz, it’s hard to recommend them for making noise, as the 4″ driver can’t hack the volume. But from a home use perspective, they’re hard to fault, but we’d recommend the matching sub or stepping up a size for more serious use.
We were quite surprised at just how close the competition was between all the speakers. Fundamentally, these are all just wooden boxes with speaker cones in them, but some manage to differentiate either with sound quality.
As you can see from our discussions, “more expensive” doesn’t necessarily equate to “better” for DJs. We found that although some of the high-end speakers in the test had amazing clarity and were easy on the ears, they often missed some ‘oomph’ DJs need. This is particularly evident with smaller bass cones, which really struggled to kick out a wide frequency of sound. We definitely thought that monitors like the Yamahas and Equators (and maybe the Monkey Bananas) would benefit a lot from a matched subwoofer. The thought of hearing the Yamaha HS7s paired with their sister sub box made all three of us a bit weak at the knees (no shame).
At the bottom of the pack (by a good margin) were the Reloop ADM-5s, which we all agreed perhaps shouldn’t have held a place in the pack. For a little bit more cash, you’d be able to buy a set of proper powered speakers. They looked, felt and sounded cheap; which they were. Our advice would be to save more cash if you could only afford these.
We were actually disappointed with the performance of the M-Audio speakers. After hearing good things from producers and other professionals, we felt they fell short of expectations and really didn’t add anything interesting to the test.
Coming in second would be the Pioneer SDJ80s, giving out good grunt with typical Pioneer engineering and a durable build. The rest of the Pioneer range lacked the oomph to compete for the top, but they were all solidly built and sleek-looking.
Conversely, the other Reloop speakers in the test, the Wave 5s performed well and sat in the middle of the pack along with both pairs of Fostex speakers. They were decent value for the pair and were the only ones to come with a remote. The old Pioneer range also had that feature, which the models reviewed didn’t.
If you’re going for pure sound quality with no need to make your ears bleed, the Monkey Bananas, Equators and Yamahas are ahead of the pack, but they lacked the volume many DJs might crave. Producers, and those with more delicate ears would absolutely love any of these speakers.
AND THE WINNER IS…
Taking into account the wide range of needs a DJ has, we found that the best overall speakers to recommend are the 8” Behringer Truth B1031a’s. They had just enough of everything a DJ might want: they’re loud, rugged, not hideous-looking and straight forward to use.
One final word on the subject would be to always examine your own needs as well as what we tell you. If you can, test out speakers yourself before buying and always remember that sound quality is always very subjective… trust your own ears!
A Conclusion from Mark Settle
It’s fair to say that finding a general purpose monitor to suit all uses is a tough call. And as much as Behringer is the brand people love to hate, and often rightly tar with the crappy brush (for transparency the 5″ Behringer Truths broke during the test), the 8″ Truths ticked the most boxes. And after reading reviews online, it’s clear that we’re not alone in liking them.
Of course that doesn’t mean that the others in the test are poor — far from it. We love the Monkey Bananas, but you can’t use them for filling a room with good sound. For production, they’re awesome. The Yamahas for me were by far the best sounding by some margin, but again not too sharp when pushed. It was however a little unfair to pitch the Reloop ADM-5s against more expensive ones, but we were asked to, and it does offer the contrast that spending a little more money gets you.
As a side note, I ended up buying the Equator D5s for my desk. The size is perfect, and the sound isn’t so bassy that my neighbours above and below would kick a hissy fit. Again, they are my subjective needs, so treat this group test as a guide rather than a definitive result.