Equator Q12 Studio Monitors ReviewCOAXIAL DESIGN WITH NETWORKING, ROOM CORRECTION 2/01/2011 4:00 AM Eastern
Coaxial loudspeakers are hardly new, having been around for more than half a century, but Equator Audio Research has modernized this venerable design with its Q Series speakers. Onboard bi-amplification, networking, built-in DSP, calibration software and a continuously variable digital crossover all work together to fine-tune this historic design.
The Q12s are formidable-looking boxes. To mount these 65-pound speakers safely, you’ll need a reinforced meter bridge or heavy speaker stands. The 17x17x17-inch enclosure comprises a 0.75-inch-thick, 13-ply Baltic birch front panel with a shaped 1-inch high-density fiberboard that minimizes cabinet resonance. Rubber pads on the bottom decouple the cabinet from its resting place, although OmniMount-compatible mounting holes on the bottom offer other mounting options. Dual 3-inch front ports can project a lot of air in the low frequencies. A multifunction display on the front baffle indicates power, communication, volume and limiter status.
The back panel has an IEC AC socket, power switch, XLR and TRS inputs, USB, RS-485 in/thru and a series of DIP switches. The latter identify the individual speaker, which group it is in, and whether or not the Room Correction is enabled. No digital inputs are available.
The speaker configuration comprises a 12-inch Fiberglas-impregnated woofer that’s fast and punchy. It reproduces high frequencies using a coaxial, custom 1.5-inch titanium compression horn driver. The frequency response is rated at 30 to 22k Hz (-3 dB/2π). The low end goes really low; I had no problem feeling the kick drum. Even with an extended bass response (for a small cabinet), I never felt as though it was “hyped” in any manner while listening to all types of music, nor was any port turbulence in evidence—bass instruments were never muddy. The horn sounds smooth all the way out to its rated top end. Cymbals had no nasty upper-harmonic resonance, as was the case in older horn-based coaxial designs.
The two point-source transducers are bi-amplified with the low-frequency RMS power at 500 watts and HF at 200W; double those specs for peak operations. This equates to 117dB SPL with both channels driven. Alongside the electronics’ power amp portion sits a CPU that is designed to match the output transducer’s frequency response with the power amp. This seamless interaction matches the ever-fluctuating electrical characteristics of frequency vs. power vs. impedance. The CPU also handles what Equator calls the “no-slope” crossover point, reducing midrange distortion at and around the crossover point (centered at 1.5 kHz), providing an increase in the midrange SPL.
Every Q Series speaker has onboard, manual DSP. I used this feature before running the optional Equator Room Analysis software. Starting with the speakers off, I configured the DSP switches, connected the USB to a Mac G5, and then plugged a Cat-5 cable from the thru port on that speaker into the next speaker. I launched the Equator Control software, which searched for and immediately found both speakers in the network.
This provided a graphic display of my configuration, complete with a mixing console stationed in the middle. A series of tabs at the bottom of the display offer choices for system configuration, audio source, manual room-response calculations, speaker placement, room analysis (optional), selected speaker response, LED brightness, 5.1 controls and more.
After running the Equator Control software and inputting my room dimensions, I noticed that the bass response tightened very slightly. This seemed justified as the software adjusted the speakers to cut -6 dB at 17 Hz and -3 dB at 43 and 71 Hz. I looked forward to running the Equator Room Analysis (ERA) software to see how it would handle an established build-up from a first reflection at 160 Hz.
AUTOMATE MY RESPONSE
The ERA software costs an additional $495. For that price you get a calibration mic, a mic clip, a windscreen and the software on a USB stick. One thing you don’t get is a mic preamp. I find this slightly disheartening, as other calibration software systems I have used recently have made this portion of the calibration process much more streamlined and trustworthy. Granted, most studios will have a mic pre heading into the input of an interface, but what if they don’t?
After installing the ERA software, I connected the included mic to a preamp and set the gain so that the meter inside the software wasn’t overloading. As requested, I input the maximum room dimension and ran the Auto-RRC (Room Response Correction) routine. A countdown gives you time to get out of the way of the test, and then a sweep tone is produced. A graph is then displayed for your selected speaker—each speaker is calibrated individually from the single mic placement. I then saved the file as Auto, along with the Manual file setting that I had obtained previously, as well as Flat. I then loaded these three preferences into Auto-RRC’s Quick Access Presets for A/B comparisons. The Auto-RRC software did, indeed, find the 160Hz issue and calculated a -1.8dB cut at 159 Hz.
A/B’ing those three responses made my room anomalies quite apparent. The Manual corrections let a lot of the bass frequencies through, obviously not compensating for any of the early or secondary reflection corrections made by the Auto sequence. The ERA software flattened out the response of the listening position, producing a much more accurate representation of every musical source I put through the speakers.
MUSIC AROUND THE EQUATOR
On first listen, I found the speakers to have an unusually narrow sweet spot. However, I was using them in a near-field situation and these transducers will work more accurately—and more within their design parameters—in a mid-field position. After working with the speakers for several weeks, this perception started to diminish as I became more accustomed to their reproduction characteristics. My experience: The more I played them, the better they sounded.
What I found truly remarkable was the clarity of vocal tracks. There was none of the expected “honk” of a horn pointing at me. Guitars—whether grinding metal or more soft-spoken—were reproduced with great detail. The punch of well-recorded kick drums was extremely tight. Imaging is solid, with a well-defined center image. The separation of instruments is quite pleasing. With the correction software in place, eliminating boundary reflection issues (along with the point-source timing and phase accuracy of the treble and bass frequencies) made for a great listening experience. I experienced virtually no listening fatigue after long periods of living with the speakers.
I was initially concerned with the “old-school” approach of having a large horn embedded in the middle of a woofer, and the diffraction and turbulence that are associated with such a design. Apparently, Equator has calculated, compensated and lessened the effect of these physical characteristics through the use of modern computer technology. In this price range, these monitors are a definite “must listen.”
Bobby Frasier is an audio consultant, recording engineer and educator.