M-Audio Studiophile CX8 Monitors ReviewTWO-WAY POWERED REFERENCE MODELS FOR THE HOME SETUP 12/01/2009 7:00 AM Eastern
M-Audio has been offering entry-level studio speakers for 20 years, and in the distant past the products were hit or miss. But after the company's acquisition by Avid, there was some obvious retooling of the monitor line. I tested the DSM2 in the October 2008 issue of Mix and was quite impressed. I use the now-discontinued Studiopro 3 monitors on occasion as they fit the bill perfectly in terms of travel, size and price-point restraints. Listing at $499 each, the Studiophile CX8 monitors sit squarely in the middle of the current M-Audio line. These are large speakers, delivering a commanding presence on the bridge of a personal studio space.
The 8-inch woofer is a woven Kevlar design, providing rigidity with less mass than some conventional paper-coned speakers. This yields a punchy low end, with a fast response time and more accurate bass. A 2-inch rear port is tuned to bring the low-end response down to 38 Hz. An 80-watt Class-A/B amp powers the low end, with 40W going to the HF driver. The HF transducer is a 1-inch silk-dome tweeter mounted in a recessed, circular waveguide. The guide increases the sweet spot for improved imaging at varying mix positions. This tweeter has a frequency response out to 30 kHz, providing good clarity in the upper-harmonic range. The crossover point for the two drivers is 2.7 kHz.
The CX8 rear panel's XLR, RCA and ¼-inch TRS inputs should cover just about any output source in a project studio.
A three-position (0/-2/-4dB) Acoustic Space switch cuts at 200 Hz, compensating for the speaker placements against a wall or in a corner. The HF trim switch cuts or boosts 3 kHz by ±2 dB, giving you the ability to compensate for a slightly live or dead room. With the MF boost switch in the On position, a 2dB boost peaking at 2 kHz with a 1kHz bandwidth is kicked in, amplifying that critical midrange area between 1.5 and 2.5 kHz. Rounding out the rear panel controls is the LF cut-off switch. This is essentially a highpass filter with settings of 80 Hz or 60 Hz, both with a 12dB/octave filter. If you're using a subwoofer, setting this switch in as close as possible to the lowpass cut-off frequency of your sub will help eliminate any unnecessary exaggeration of the bass response.
The cabinet is designed to be internally rigid, giving off less resonance, which can color your mix. This has been with 1-inch MDF baffles on the front and rear of the cabinet. Rounded edges complete the modern look and help eliminate acoustical corner turbulence, furthering the design criteria of accuracy and transferability.
These are large speakers. At 17×11×13 inches (HxWxD), they seem quite tall and deep, but not necessarily too wide. They fit nicely on a console bridge or desk, provided you have enough rear space. The elongated, football-shaped blue power light on the front is unique and subdued. Lately, I've noticed a lot of blue LEDs that are overbearing when mixing in low-light situations. I found that a lengthy break-in period was required to really get these speakers to sing.
I had just reviewed the JBL LSR 2328Ps and was shocked at the level of detail in a speaker at their price point ($435 each), so the CX8s had a lot to live up to.
In almost every instance of playback, the CX8s had the largest variation of reproduction in the critical midrange, particularly in the upper frequencies. Snare drums are brighter (compared to the LSR 2328Ps), vocals have an increase in amplitude in the 1.6kHz and 3.2kHz harmonic range, with closed hi-hats sounding constrained without the associated harmonics. Electric guitars were more forward in the mix — not quite nasty, but a definite change in the midrange response. Noting the detail of reverbs and recording space, I can't help but think the JBLs, at a slightly lower price point, would be the obvious choice if one were considering a new speaker system in this price range.
Listening to original Pro Tools files, I observed the same things. Both electric and acoustic guitars were forward, vocals seemed constrained and lacking harmonics. Kick drums had plenty of punch and sounded very natural. Listening to original 2-track recordings from a Zoom H2 and H4n were actually a bit more pleasing on the CX8s due to the elevated response in the bass range.
Speakers are, without a doubt, getting better in the $1k price range. The selection of a speaker system is a truly personal choice, and a passionate one, so choose wisely. Give several systems in your price range a listen (make sure they're warmed up) with audio references you are familiar with. The CX8s may be the sound you are looking for, but for my money the JBL LSR 2328Ps, at a lower price, provide more accuracy and transferability in this price range. This is one man's opinion; you be the judge.
Bobby Frasier is an audio engineer and consultant who has worked for SSL, Panasonic and Alesis.