M-Audio BX5 D2 Next-Generation 70-Watt Bi-Amplified Studio Monitors Review @ ModSynergy.com
Paraphrasing a famous quote relating to fine wine getting better with age, the same idea can be said about a person's taste in music and of sound quality in general. When we get older, things do change and it seems we grow out of ideas and perspectives we once had. Things that we considered great in the past might suddenly change when we're presented with a new perspective, we look back and suddenly realize that particular thing wasn't so good after all, we realize what were we thinking back then? One can say that it is due to the process of growing as the years go by.
It's common for people to be searching for 'what is the best x...' when they are on the market for a product. I find this to be true towards audio products, I see it all the time on community forums asking people about what speaker is the best, is speaker A better than speaker B, what sound card is the best, what headphone is the best for the respective budget, type, value.
I used to love ridiculous amounts of bass when I was younger, when I think back on it now, I didn't care about how the bass changed the way I perceived the other aspects of sound quality, I couldn't hear the other nuances in the song, things of that nature. I thought, wow this sounds awesome since it thumps so loud, but failed to see how that alone changed the representation of what I was listening to.
I’ve been fortunate enough that I’ve had my fair share of audio reviews on this website and I’ve learned much about the evolution of finding true audio excellence. When it comes down to it, the most basic way I can explain what it means to experience true high-quality sound is this... Any music or movie that is being presented to you should be given to you the way they were originally intended to be, without any type of modification of the sound. What this means is that one needs to find a solution that is balanced and fair between the frequency ranges (low, mid and high). One range cannot be favored over the other. This is a good baseline to seek, and once found, you will not want to go back to anything less. Like they say, too much of one thing is never a good thing, you need to find balance.
There are now audio products out there on the market that loosely throw out the "HD" moniker. In most cases this term is now being used as a marketing ploy, a term to draw people's attention. The term is usually twisted and tarnished in this sense. People who see "HD" branded on any product such as an audio device or speaker are instantaneously drawn to it thinking its excellent.
What I advocate is investing in the source and destination. Invest in your source; audio will only be as good as where it's coming from. Invest in your speakers; audio will only be as good as what you're driving them with, picking correct the first time will prevent you from needing anything else in the future. Once you have established an audio source, the speakers you opt will be taken full advantage of to its fullest potential. Preferably you will select a speaker that offers a neutral balance that allows you to hear an effect in a movie was intended for you to hear it that way.
M-Audio is a renowned and premier player in the digital audio segment catering to musicians and audio professionals through such items, but not limited to, MIDI solutions, recording equipment and professional audio software such as ProTools. I’ve been lucky to have reviewed both M-Audio AV40’s and the excellent Studiophile CX5 High-Resolution Active Studio Reference Monitors.
The AV40's were the one that introduced me to a out of the ordinary breed of speakers, in this case called ‘monitors’. The M-Audio CX-5's was a completely different beast, they were larger in every way possible and gave you the flexibility of modifying to suit your liking and the type of room they were placed in. I said about the CX5 that they were worth every single penny. Though as it stood, the CX5's were very expensive and were likely out of reach for many.
That brings us to the new M-Audio BX5 D2 Studio Monitors, made to sound just as excellent as the CX5, but at a lower price point in order to reach more consumers budget constraints. This will help up and coming artists and typical folks experience high-quality sound like they've never experienced before.
I was given the opportunity by my good friends at M-Audio to review the Next-Generation 70-Watt Bi-Amplified Studio Monitors in the M-Audio BX5 D2. Read on to find out how this 5" low-frequency driver with Kevlar cone helps the BX5 D2 deliver 70-Watts while specifically designed as a studio monitor to allow balanced uncompromised sound, see how the BX5 D2 holds up as we spend our long term putting it through its paces.
Will this be your next investment?
“M-Audio, a business unit of Avid Technology, Inc, is a leading provider of creative tools for computer-centric musicians and audio professionals. Founded in 1988, the Company now has independent offices in the US, Canada, UK, Germany, France and Japan. M-Audio is the driving force in the industry empowering musicians to create, perform and record with complete mobile hardware/software solutions that have forever changed when, where and how music is made.
M-Audio BX5 D2 5" Active 2-Way Studio Monitor Speakers
'The M-Audio® BX studio monitor series is trusted by more musicians and recording professionals than any other. Now, the BX5 D2 monitors extend the bestsellers’ legacy* with an elegant new design inside and out. We leveraged technology from our high-end monitors to extend the frequency response and provide an even more natural listening experience. Custom Class A/B analog amplifiers deliver superior dynamics and tonal accuracy across the frequency spectrum—while the latest-generation woven Kevlar low-frequency drivers and waveguide-loaded silk dome tweeters provide rich, defined sound. With the BX5 D2, you’ll enjoy the utmost accuracy in an engaging listening experience.
M-Audio BX5 D2 Product Features
M-Audio BX5 D2 Product Features Overview
Editors Note: These are magnetically shielded like previous M-Audio monitors I've reviewed to prevent interference to any of your electronics nearby.
The M-Audio BX5 D2 that I am reviewing today was ordered directly from M-Audio and represents the final retail look you will expect to locate in stores. The packaging of the M-Audio BX5 D2 is of previous M-Audio designs, meaning very good execution and easily recognizable on store shelves.
The M-Audio BX5 D2 is contained within a stylish and silky feeling black corrugated box that upholds a full product image of the studio monitors showcased right center around a purple aura around. The large M-Audio brand name, model name, and brief description follows. An Avid logo sits lower right hand corner, as M-Audio is one of the brands that is owned by Avid. To the rear of the box contains a number of information regarding the BX5 D2 studio monitors. Full product overview, description, specifications, and another product shot highlighting specific features on both front and rear of studio monitor.
They measure per monitor 7.7” x 7” x 10” (LxWxH) and that is with the built-in Class A/B bi-amplified design which dedicates separate power amps to the high and low frequencies, providing ample headroom for even the loudest and most dynamic of mixes. Combined with a finely tuned crossover, the design ensures that each driver only delivers the frequencies that it can reproduce most efficiently, resulting in tonal accuracy and cohesive sound across the entire frequency spectrum. And with the included non-slip, high-density acoustic foam pad, which serves the purpose of preventing vibration and promoting more isolation, the BX5 D2 will stand a little taller, and sound a little better preventing vibrations on where it sits.
The BX5 D2 contain a single 5” low-frequency driver from woven Kevlar that is used to insure a lifetime of service as its substantially tougher than a paper or plastic cone on inferior speakers. It is known that Kevlar’s high mechanical and thermal resilience makes it ideal for use in speaker cones. M-Audio engineers created a curved conical design that is used to improve room dispersion. Additional high-damping reliable rubber surrounds provide percussive musical bass, and insure that the cone reaches its optimal excursion for accurate reproduction. With the added high-temperature voice coils inside the BX5 D2 that reduces power compression, guaranteeing that your monitors will deliver full performance hour after hour.
This design on the BX5 D2 is different to that of the CX5 which offers a large heatsink that spans the rear of the cabinet to aid in dissipating heat passively and through the rear port. The BX5 D2 has none of that, it's all concealed and done internally, and passively through the rear port. M-Audio likely knew that since the BX5 D2 has a smaller footprint, it likely uses smaller components since it gives less wattage compared to the CX5, that they didn't need to use a heatsink at the back of the cabinet, one of the reasons why it weighs less.
The BX5 D2 studio monitors are more cost effective such as the AV40's were in the sense that they are sold in pairs in a single box. This is more familiar with most people buying audio gear. The higher end M-Audio Studiophile CX5's that were sold as reference monitors are more higher-end first of all, had higher specifications, and they also came at a higher cost because the sold in single units (one monitor, typical for the type of monitor), as opposed to pairs. Back when I reviewed the CX5's they sold for an MSRP of $495US (for one monitor). Today with the new BX5 D2's they retail for a MSRP of $299.99USD for the pair, substantially more inexpensive and affordable for the aspiring artist, mixer, creator, along with the common folk looking for high-quality sound reproduction.
Unfortunately a lot has changed since the CX5's were released, as Avid has given M-Audio a different plan to focus on. I think this is partly due to the fact that M-Audio wants to reach a more broader spectrum of customers and not alienate themselves from potential customers based on having too high of a price, something that has happened in the past. In North America the M-Audio lineup that once was, is completely dismantled, now the only products they offer as of 2013 is the new M-Audio BX5 D2, BX8 D2, SBX10 subwoofer, and Studiophile AV40, AV30, AV20.
Basically the new BX5 D2 and BX8 D2 are now top dogs in the lineup, and the AV line is regulated to the lower to mid-range of the totem pole. There's no more solutions that fall in-between, giving you flexibility to choose what you wanted, which is unfortunate in my eyes. There are now gaps in the lineup, it'll be interesting to see if anything gets released to fill in these gaps or will Avid leave M-Audio as such.
The M-Audio BX5 D2 Visual Overview
You won't find the BX5 D2 studio monitors to be one that screams look at me! It doesn't sport any fancy bright colors, glossy finish, doesn't have any design gimmicks that help it stand out, M-Audio isn't about any of that. The BX5 D2 has understated styling, very low key, but very functional to get the job done and being able to withstand the abuse of being relied on every mix, every single day. As stated, the BX5 sports a solid MDF cabinet that has furthermore been in draped in matte black vinyl. What this means is that there's no worrying about a glossy finish having to absorb and showcase fingerprints, or being a dust magnet, or even eventually showcasing scratches and swirls. Matte black is all you really need for the exterior, it's clean, functional (easy to wipe down), less maintenance over all.
You look at the front of the M-Audio BX5 D2 and the looks are under-appreciated. It has the rounded off corners to give it some character, lines that are flowing around the faceplate that give it personality, a simple dot between tweeter and driver that acts as the blue LED indicator (and more), nice brushed looking M-Audio brand nametag and model number emblem, I think it works.
The first thing that really pops out when looking at afar are the 5" low-frequency driver from woven Kevlar. It just stands out as the most unique trait, it resembles that of handmade woven-wood furniture from wicker. If you know anything about wicker that has been woven to make a chair for instance or even a basket, it's an intricate process and the material once bundled together forms something that is light, yet very sturdy and durable that generally lasts a lifetime of constant use.
Above the 5" woven Kevlar low-frequency driver is the 1" silk-dome, waveguide-loaded high-frequency driver, also called the tweeter. The one M-Audio puts into the BX5 D2 are made from natural silk to counter the audible ringing that is what they say is inherent in the poorly crafted metallic materials often found in other monitors. The high-frequency driver in the BX5 D2 is fully isolated from the rest of the enclosure to ensure minimum distortion, providing ultra-smooth frequency response up to 22 kHz. It also features a built-in waveguide, which offers an expansive sound stage and exceptional imaging.
Speaking about that dot between the tweeter and low-frequency driver, I mentioned that it contained a blue LED that acts as a power on indicator light, but that's not all its meant to be used for. M-Audio cleverly has intended for that blue LED to be positioned a certain way in order to find the sweet spot.
As M-Audio states in the manual, when monitoring it’s important to sit in the middle position or “sweet spot” between the two speakers—where the stereo image is optimized. Now the difference between the blue LED power on the BX5 D2 as opposed to other speakers is that this one actually serves dual purposes. That small dot I was talking about is really tiny, hence it's called a pinhole. What this means is that it's really hard to see unless it's positioned directly at you. You’ll know you’re in the right listening position when the BX5 D2 power LEDs appear to be brightest. This surprisingly took a few tries to get correct by trial and error, it's different because everyone will have it positioned at different distances and angles.
Coming to the rear of the M-Audio BX5 D2 we have a few things to go over. First we see the BX5 D2 logo, M-Audio information, and the power supply information. The built-in power supply is capable of universal voltage by simply shifting the red AC Select switch from 100-240v voltage depending on where you live. In the event that you forget to slide the switch, or if there's some sort of power surge or fault, you will be protected at a certain level since there is a replaceable in-line TIAL 250V fuse.
I forgot to mention that the volume dial on this BX5 D2 does not have a center detent, something the more expensive CX5 we reviewed previous had, this helps with matching both monitors up to the same level. Instead you have to rely on the visual circle dots around the volume knob in order to match.
There is the power on/off switch, volume dial, and two inputs, one being unbalanced TRS, the other XLR balanced. The unbalanced TRS connector input impedance is 10k Ω, the balanced XLR connector 20k Ω. Around these connectors are visual diagrams of TRS and XLR pin outs so you know if the cable you have is the correct one. At the top if the rear port baffle.
What the M-Audio BX5 D2 doesn't have as opposed to when I reviewed the M-Audio CX5 are the numerous flip switches at the back that gave the user the flexibility in changing the way the monitor would sound, to their liking and environment. In the CX5 there was the low-frequency cutoff switch, midrange-frequency boost switch, high-frequency trim switch, and acoustic space switch depending on how the monitors are placed in a room. The BX5 D2 has none of these switches for flexibility and customization. This is something I alluded to earlier in the review when I went through the current 2013 M-Audio lineup and how there is quite a gap now between the product lineup. The BX5 D2 is therefore tuned from the factory and there's no further tuning later on.
Give us the inside scoop...Are they any good?
Editors Note: As always my source is the M-Audio Audiophile 2496 sound card.
The M-Audio BX5 D2 removes any of the flexibility you have with the discontinued CX series with the ability of flipping dB switches in order to suit your tastes and environment better. So you can tweak the midrange, high-frequency, low-frequency, or even compensate for the environment the BX5 D2 will sit in with regards to corner or flat against the wall positions. These controls really do give you a noticeable difference you can feel and is simply not just placebo. The BX5 D2 simply does not have that luxury, you have to live with the tuning that was done in the factory, therefore it is a one size fits all affair, the same that was experienced with the older M-Audio AV40's I reviewed back in 2009, though if done right, you might not notice it's not there.
You have to consider the now current lineup at M-Audio in 2013, the BX5 D2 are sold for less than what they CX series were selling for. The CX5 I reviewed were about $469 so you could have spent up to $1000 for two monitors at MSRP. With that said, the M-Audio BX5 D2 sounded unbelievably exciting considering the price point of $299USD at the time of writing. As you can imagine, the M-Audio BX5 D2 has that signature sound I've come to hear from M-Audio, the sound is really balanced and doesn't seem to be favoring one frequency over the other.
As with the more expensive and higher-end CX5, the BX5 D2 also have a bi-amplified design, meaning that there are two separate amplifiers inside, one powering the high-frequency driver (tweeter), and the second amplifier powering the low-frequency driver (woofer). This ensures accurate reproduction and power delivery towards the specific driver each amplifier is designed and optimized for. Technically I would consider a bi-amp design such as the CX5 and BX5 D2 to be superior as opposed to a single-amp driven monitor, all things being equal, though this is just one aspect of what contributes to a good monitor. As the specifications and back of the monitor states, the low-frequency driver power is 40-Watts while the high-frequency driver is 30-Watts. The bigger CX5 essentially has 10-Watts more per amplifier above what the BX5 D2 have.
The bass is fuller and deeper than the AV40's as the cabinet is larger, though the CX5 takes the cake when it comes to tight bass thump, as the BX5 D2's cabinet remains shorter overall. With the CX5 cabinet being taller (helped with low-end frequency reproduction) and the dB flip switches in the back that allowed you to tweak how the CX5 sounded, the bass felt substantially larger than the actual size of the CX5. I really thought in the case of the CX5, you could get away without requiring a subwoofer, they hit hard, tight, but also smooth. Don't get me wrong, low-end bass reproduction is still great on the BX5 D2 considering the size, but adding a subwoofer at a later point isn't out of the question to go even lower, it likely does require one, though you can decide if you require one for your musical taste and mixes.
These BX5 D2 studio monitors are very detailed and have crystal clear vibrancy to them. Out of the box it did seem hallow in a sense, but after hours of breaking them in, the monitors opened up beautifully. These let you hear all the intricacies in music that you could have been missing in the past with cheap speakers that over-exaggerate and muddle up the sound so much that it's hard to hear separation between the ranges , that's how detailed they sound. They also make low-quality audio sound as bad as they are, and make high-quality uncompressed audio such as FLAC sound fantastic as they are, you really can feel and hear the difference.
They also can get very loud and filling a large room is not an issue with the 70-Watts of power it has on tap. These generally do not sound too piercing which is a great thing, it means my ears don't get fatigued listening to them over extended periods of time. If I were to nitpick, I would have loved a dB adjustment to dial back the upper mids to highs just a tad. But I can dial back within software to compensate, I think I have sensitive ears. Before being broken in, the highs did sound a little shrill to my ears, but got better after many hours of use.
The manual states sitting in the sweet spot is the best way to enjoy the M-Audio BX5 D2's. This is achieved through the pinhole that sits in between the low and high-frequency driver, this pinhole is a creative solution concocted by M-Audio. The blue LED that sits inside of the pinhole not only acts as the power ON light indicator, it acts as a visual cue to inform you that you are indeed sitting in the sweet spot. It takes some trial and error, but by positioning the monitors to where the blue LED appears brightest to your eyes of where you are sitting, that will indicate proper listening position. I wish they had this on all of their monitors! The AV40 and CX5 did not have this genius tool!
With the lack of a heatsink at the rear of the monitor to dissipate heat more efficiently, something the larger and more expensive CX5 had, the BX5 D2 did after many hours of use feel really warm, but not overly hot. The rear of the BX5 D2 where all the connectors and ports lay is not MDF but metal to help aid in cooling. The BX5 D2 like all other M-Audio has protections in place to protect against over-heating.
Have they been reliable?
Where Can They Be Found? And For How Much?
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Yes there are small gripes that I have with the M-Audio BX5 D2's such as the lack of a center detent on the volume knob dial (CX5 have this; makes volume matching between monitors simple), there's also the question of more low-end bass, the exclusion of any dB adjustments available on the monitor, and the upper range being a tiny bit too high for my taste, but the price factor keeps jumping into my mind. I don't think, or I think it will be very hard to find a better solution for the $299.99 (pair) price point, I think that will be hard to beat. Yes you do give up some luxury of less options and flexibility, but the performance very well makes up for it.
I think M-Audio with its smaller but more affordable revised lineup has now something great with the BX5 D2 studio monitor that they can reach with potential new customers that they were once likely alienating themselves from in the past. I think they have achieved one of their goals.