Guides

[Really] Small Pro-Grade Powered Speakers

ADAM A3X

Allow me to emphasize: Here we will discuss really small powered speakers/monitors for mobile/desktop production, multimedia and gaming applications. At the recent NAMM Show, the smallest pro-grade powered speakers I’d ever seen or heard before were at the EVE booth. They were really small yet didn’t sound small at all. Fact is, our industry provides lots of small powered speaker options, many complete with front-panel inputs and volume adjustment.

If you want to produce, record, mix, write/compose, and/or simply live on your TV tray indefinitely, the following are production-worthy monitoring options to make that fantasy a reality, as I see it.

ADAM Audio ARTist 3 and A3X

Germany’s ADAM Audio with its X-ART folded ribbon tweeter produces some of the finest sounding, reasonably priced powered monitors in pro audio. The bi-amped A3X provides Class-A/B power at 40-watts peak, per driver, comprising a 4.5-inch carbon fiber mid-woofer and 2-inch (4-inch folded) X-ART tweeter. It features a front panel on/off switch, volume knob, XLR and RCA inputs, ± 4 dB of tweeter gain, and a five-year limited warranty. Specifications include a 10x6x7.5-inch size, 10.1-pound weight, 60 to 50k Hz frequency response and 106 dB maximum SPL per pair at 1m. Unique features include Stereolink, allowing volume changes for both speakers while adjusting just one.

Classified as “multimedia speakers,” ADAM’s ARTist 3, available in black or white, feature both analog (XLR, RCA, 3.5mm mini stereo) and digital (USB) inputs. They offer nearly the same specifications of the A3X (amp type/wattage, size, weight and woofer and tweeter, etc.), but perform differently due to port positions (A3X’s dual front ports vs. ARTist 3’s rear port), differences in cabinetry and the quite-valuable USB input. The ARTist 3 is approximately $50 (street) more than the A3X. 

Avantone Active MixCubes

Borrowing heavily from the design of the classic Auratone 5C Sound Cubes of yore, these powered, full-range mini reference speakers feature, by design, limited top end (90 to 17k Hz) and a single full-range driver—no crossover point. As such, they mimic the “real world” limitations of typical consumer and industrial audio speakers, making them invaluable when paired with traditional two- or three-way systems. The Active MixCube offers a sealed cabinet, shielded and built of thick MDF and advanced materials (rather than the half-inch particleboard of the original 5C) and features a 60W Class-A/B amplifier featuring combo XLR/TRS/TS inputs; 104 dB of maximum SPL at 1m; -30 dB to +6 dB variable gain control on its rear panel; on/off switch; and it is 7.5 pounds, not to mention a true cube (6.5x6.5x6.5 inches).

Cerwin-Vega XD3 and XD4

From a pro audio perspective, Cerwin-Vega is best known as a source of fine live sound and portable P.A. equipment. With its XD Series, the brand proves its mettle in multimedia speakers, too. Unique features of these stereo two-way speaker sets include wooden cabinetry; front panel volume knob, and 1/8-inch headphones and aux in jacks; available remote control and auxiliary 8-inch, 80W peak-powered subwoofer. Each XD3 cabinet provides 15 W of peak power, 3-inch woofer, an 88 to 21k Hz frequency response, RCA rear panel input, 8x5.5x6.5-inch size and 6.5-pound weight. Each XD4 cabinet offers 20W of peak power, 4-inch woofer, 75 to 21k Hz frequency response, RCA or balanced ¼-inch TRS rear panel inputs, 9x6.1x8-inch size and 13.6 pounds. Both the XD3 and XD4 feature a ¾-inch soft-dome tweeter. Of course, it wouldn’t be Cerwin-Vega without a “Vega Bass” switch, enhancing bass response on either model via an additional rear panel switch.

EVE Audio SC204 and SC203 Master/Slave System

The smallest speakers in EVE Audio’s professional studio monitor line, the bi-amped SC204 provides 50 W of peak power, per driver, comprising EVE’s proprietary SilverCone woofer and AMT RS1 tweeter. It features a front panel volume knob, XLR and RCA inputs, detailed DSP-based frequency adjustment via 24-bit/192 kHz Burr-Brown conversion (high-shelf filter, desk filter boost, desk filter cut and low-shelf filter), and more. Specifications include a 5.7x9x7.7-inch size, 8.4-pound weight, 64 to 21k Hz frequency response and 96 dB maximum SPL per pair at 1m. Unique features include a large rectangular rear bass port.

Offering a folded design tweeter like the SC204’s AMT RS1 but in less than half the size, the bi-amped SC203 Master/Slave System (30 W x 30 W per cabinet) is specifically designed for compact pro desktop use with unique features such as EVE’s FlexiPad, a v-notch shaped orange rubberized decoupling and angling pad at 0, 7.5 and 15 degree variations. It offers both analog and digital input with RCA and digital optical and USB connectivity. Like the SC204, the SC203 pair features a front panel volume/multifunction input knob and DSP functionality, yet via 24-bit/192 kHz Cirrus Logic conversion and parameters including high shelf, low shelf, LED brightness, input selector and speaker position—flat, desk and console. Specifications include a 4.5x7.5x5.3-inch size, weights of 4.1, 3.7, and .86 pounds (master, slave and FlexiPad, respectively), 62 to 21k Hz frequency response and 94 dB maximum SPL per pair at 1m.

Focal CMS40 and XS 2.1

Premium French speaker manufacturer Focal also offers two really small monitors, the CMS40 and XS 2.1 Speaker System, targeting compact/mobile professional and multimedia/desktop applications, respectively. The bi-amped CMS40 provides Class-A/B power at 25W peak, per driver, comprising a 4-inch Polyglass woofer and aluminum/magnesium inverted dome Focal tweeter. Features include a painted, reinforced and damped die cast aluminum cabinet; front panel on/off switch and volume knob; XLR and RCA inputs; low- and high-frequency shelving; and included decoupling table stand, four rubber feet, two height adjustable spikes; phase optimization plug and removable tweeter and woofer grilles. Specifications include a 9x6x6-inch size, 11-pound weight, 60 to 28k Hz frequency response and 97dB maximum SPL per pair at 1m.

Classified as multimedia speakers, the truly unique three amp/three component XS 2.1 offers 30W peak per speaker and 70W peak for its subwoofer with volume adjustment via Mac, Windows or Linux UI or the included remote.

Fostex 6301 and PM0.3

There are few speaker products in pro audio as universally useful as the Fostex 6301N Series Active Monitor at $250 street, each. The 6301N Series comprises small sealed powered speakers built for various monitoring applications thanks to four different I/O configurations. I recently reviewed the 6301N’s NE version, updated and repackaged by Fostex, offering analog (electrically balanced) XLR and (unbalanced) ¼-inch inputs. Weighing in at 5 pounds and measuring a compact 4.77.4x4.7 inches, the 6301N Series speaker features a 20W Class-D digital amplifier; 4-inch full-range speaker with die-cast aluminum frame; 98 dB SPL maximum output and a 70 to 15k Hz frequency range. Its front panel power and volume controls are handily recessed into its aluminum enclosure, and an optional wall-fitting angle mount, the EB-6301, enhances the 6301N’s flexibility. It’s a true workhorse powered speaker, not flashy in any way, and truly useful in just about every application.

The PM0.3 is Fostex’s “first three-inch, 2-way powered monitor speaker system,” confirms the company. The bi-amped PM0.3 provides Class-D power at 15W peak, per driver, comprising a 3-inch cone woofer and ¾-inch soft dome tweeter. Specifications include RCA and 1/8-inch stereo mini inputs; a 3.9x7.3x5-inch size; 6.3-pound weight; 110 to 20k Hz frequency response and 97dB maximum SPL per pair at 1m. The PM0.3 is available in black, gray and white finishes.

Genelec 8010A and 8020C

Extremely small yet a Genelec throughout—with many of the company’s proprietary technologies—the small 8010 (pictured) is a two-way Class-D bi-amplified monitor providing 25 W peak, per driver, to its 3-inch woofer and ¾-inch metal dome tweeter, the latter featuring a Direct Control Waveguide. Specs include XLR input, a 7.7x4.75x 4.5-inch size, 3.3-pound weight, 67 to 25k Hz frequency response, and 96dB maximum SPL at 1m. Other features include Intelligent Signal Sensing circuitry to switch the 8010 to standby when no audio input is present, and Genelec’s ingenious acoustic decoupler, the Iso-Pod Stand. Front panel volume control is included, too.

If the 8010 is just a bit too small, its bigger brother, the 8020C, is another good option featuring a 4-inch woofer and slightly different specs.

Gibson Pro Audio Les Paul 4

The smallest Les Paul monitor from Gibson Pro Audio, the Les Paul 4 is visually striking and a great sounding pro-grade powered monitor. Though Gibson owns KRK Systems and Cerwin-Vega, this first-ever Gibson powered studio monitor is a ground-up, brand new design. Available in cherry, cherry burst and tobacco burst front fascia finishes with protective woofer grille, the LP4 is a two-way bi-amped monitor featuring 103 W (peak) of combined amp power with a 4-inch carbon woofer, 1-inch “diamond like” carbon-coated titanium tweeter, 55 to 47k Hz frequency response, and 109dB maximum SPL at 1m. RCA, balanced TRS and XLR inputs are provided in this 10.1x6.5x9.5-inch, 10.5-pound enclosure. Manual rear panel controls include volume and dual stepped EQ adjustments: bass and treble, respectively, at -4, -2, -1, 0, +1, +2 and +4 dB settings.

IK Multimedia iLoud Micro Monitors

Best known for their innovative, pocket-sized iOS and Android audio performance and production tools, IK Multimedia is right on target with its iLoud Micro Monitors, Bluetooth-compatible and touted as “the smallest studio reference monitor in the world.” Whether it’s the smallest is debatable—each cabinet measures approximately 7x5.3x3.5 inches—yet this is a super-useful and compact mobile monitoring package. Sold as a pair, the iLoud kit includes two 2-way active bi-amped monitors featuring 3-inch woofer and ¾-inch silk-dome tweeter with 18 W and 7 W of peak Class-D amplification per driver, respectively. Other features include adjustable acoustic settings, RCA and 1/8-inch analog inputs per speaker.

KRK Rokit 4 and VXT4

KRK provides great “really small” monitoring options at very affordable prices. Having reviewed both Rokit and VXT Series monitors in several versions over the years, I’d easily recommend the compact Rokit for aspiring, budget-conscious mobile recordists, while the VXT Series is among my favorite high quality yet value-packed pro-grade studio monitor offerings.

In its third generation package, the Rokit 4 is available in black or white, provides two-way monitoring via 4-inch aramid glass composite woofer and 1-inch soft-dome tweeter with bi-amplified Class-D power, 20 W and 10 W per driver, respectively. Its frequency range is 51 to 35k Hz. It provides 100 dB of maximum SPL at 1m, and XLR, TRS, and RCA inputs are provided. Size and weight specs are 8.3x6x8.8 inches and 8.7 pounds.

The smallest VXT is built just like its bigger brothers, offering a lot of value for the price. Features include rounded “radiused” enclosure edges, 4-inch woven Kevlar woofer and 1-inch silk-dome tweeter with bi-amped Class-D power at 30 W and 15 W peak ratings, respectively. Other details include front-firing port, 107 dB of maximum SPL at 1m, 66 to 22k Hz frequency response, and XLR and TRS input. Size and weight specs are 10x7.34x7.48 inches and 14 pounds. 

Mackie CR3 and CR4/CR4BT

Marketed specifically as multimedia monitors, Mackie’s CR Series are powerful small bi-amplified two-way speakers featuring 3-inch and 4-inch woofers paired with 3/4-inch silk-dome tweeters and lots of mobile production-friendly features. Sold in a pair, each CR package includes one all-wood built speaker featuring a handy front-panel volume knob and adjacent headphone jack; the 3-inch woofer-equipped CR3 provides 80 to 20k Hz frequency response while the CR4 and Bluetooth-enabled CR4BT come with 4-inch woofer and a 70 to 20k Hz frequency range spec. Analog input is available via 1/8-inch, ¼-inch and RCA connectivity.

PreSonus Eris E4.5

PreSonus’ relatively recent entry into the studio monitor market has produced some very attractive options for budget-conscious shoppers, as well as some unique choices (notably in its Sceptre CoActual coaxial line). On the small side, PreSonus offers the Eris E4.5, a traditionally styled two-way, bi-amplified studio monitor with a small footprint (9.45x6.4x7 inches), light weight (13 pounds) and 100 dB of maximum SPL at 1m. Features include a 4.5-inch Kevlar woofer, 1-inch silk-dome tweeter, 70 to 22k Hz frequency response, front firing port design, and 25 W of total power. Input is available as TRS/TS, bare wire and dual RCA connectivity per speaker; output is available via 1/8-inch stereo headphone jack.

Senal ASM-3

The Senal ASM Series is a high-performance powered two-way bi-amplified studio monitor line at an incredibly low price point. I recently reviewed the ASM-3’s big brother, the ASM-6, and as a result was truly impressed with Senal products. Most notably, Senal’s ovoidal aluminum alloy cabinet allows for incredibly detailed positioning; the included rubber “shoe,” for lack of a better word, clearly does a good job of isolating the mounting surface from the ASM’s sympathetic vibrations. On my desk at meter bridge-height, the ASM was probably more easily positioned to each ear than any near-field I’ve had the opportunity to review.

The smallest ASM-3 provides 28 W (peak) per driver, a 3-inch midrange/woofer and 0.8-inch metal-dome tweeter, respectively. Dimensions are 5x7x4.8 inches and weight is 3.5 pounds each. Maximum SPL is 103 dB at 1m and frequency response is a smooth 75 to 20k Hz. Each ASM Series speaker provides a volume knob and on/off switch on its right side.

Sonodyne SRP400

Sonodyne’s compact SRP400 is a traditional two-way bi-amped studio monitor featuring the company’s proprietary 4.5-inch CURV cone woofer and 1-inch silk-dome tweeter powered via 25 W per driver. Frequency range is 75 to 22k Hz, maximum SPL is 100 dB at 1m, and both XLR and TRS inputs are provided per cabinet. Measuring 9x6.3x6 inches and weighing 9.7 pounds, the front-ported SRP400 provides volume knob and on/off switch on its front panel, too. Additionally, high- and low-frequency tilts provide useful adjustment for a variety of placements and possible subwoofer pairings.

TASCAM VL-S3

Sold as a set, the VL-S3 comprises two rear-ported bi-amplified (14 W plus 14 W peak power) speakers; the left speaker contains the rig’s amplifier. Features include a 3-inch woofer and ½-inch tweeter, stereo RCA and 3.5mm stereo mini unbalanced inputs, volume control and on/off switch, and compact size and weight (14.3x8.9x7.8 inches and 7.18 pounds). Frequency response is 80 to 22k Hz.

Yamaha MSP3 and MS101III

The MSP3 is a shielded two-way powered studio monitor featuring comprehensive input options (XLR, RCA and TRS/TS), 20 W of total output power, a 65 to 22k Hz frequency response, and 4-inch woofer and 1/8-inch dome tweeter components. Dimensions are approximately 5.65x9x6 5.65 inches and each MSP3 weighs 9.7 pounds. Its front panel provides LF and HF rotary frequency adjustment and unique dual input level adjustments, allowing users to attach RCA and XLR/TRS sound sources for individual level flexibility. The MSP Series is a fine-sounding bargain.

Meanwhile, Yamaha offers a cool, super-compact broadcast-truck style powered speaker in the MS101III, much like Fostex’s 6301 yet even more affordable, in 8.4x5.75x7.65-inch dimensions and a 4.8-pound weight. Its 4-inch full-range driver provides a 75 to 18k Hz frequency response, and the cabinet offers individual front panel LF and HF adjustment, volume knob, on/off switch and a ¼-inch mic input jack. Total power output is an efficient 10 W. Rear panel connectivity includes RCA and TRS inputs.  

Strother Bullins is Technology Editor for NewBay Media’s AV/Pro Audio Group. 

 

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