It's often said that there's nothing new in studio monitors. Even with today's improved driver materials, high-efficiency amps and CAD-derived enclosures, the most modern designs are still based on cone and voice-coil technology that dates back 80 years or more. So whenever anything truly new comes along, we should all take notice.
The AIR Series — a co-venture between Danish high-tech leaders Dynaudio Acoustics and TC Electronic — is an example of such innovation. Available in stereo, 2.1, 5.1 and other configurations, AIR monitors combine DSP and networking intelligence to provide superb performance in a compact system, with convenient remote-control operation and the ability to store and recall all level/alignment/EQ/bass-management parameters. Everything required for a system install is provided — speakers, internal amps, interconnect wiring, remote, calibration tools and PC/Mac control software.
AIR systems are based on a combination of master or slave speakers. Each master unit has a rear-input panel (analog/digital or digital-only) that is capable of handling one or two input signals. RJ-45 TC-Link ports on the masters connect to the slave monitors, which have link-in/-out ports. Besides providing an interface platform for remote system control — whether via a small consoletop remote or Air Soft (Mac/PC) software — the TC-Link network carries 24-bit/96kHz audio to the slave speakers and all system control data: volume, system balance, bass management, filters, EQ, crossovers, presets, etc. The AIR system accepts digital input at any sampling rate from 31 to 97kHz. All interconnections are via the included standard-shielded Cat. 5 Ethernet cables, so spares or longer lengths (up to 15 meters) for custom installs are readily available.
Aside from the LCD readouts and data-entry buttons on the master monitors' front baffle, the AIR 6s seem fairly normal. The proprietary Dynaudio drivers (6.5-inch woofer with molded polypropylene dome and 3-inch voice coil, and 1.1-inch soft-dome tweeter) are fed by dual onboard 200-watt power amps crossing over at 2,150 Hz (24 dB/octave), with DSP-defined slope and filter points.
The 20.5-pound AIR 6 cabinets feel surprisingly light for a 400-watt biamped system, thanks to the lightweight switching PWM amplifiers. The woofer slightly overlaps the tweeter surround, bringing the two closer to acoustical center. There are no grilles, and the shaped baffle edges minimize diffraction effects. The 13.3×8.5×15-inch MDF enclosures are rear ported, with large rear heat sink/connection panels, including the power switch, audio XLRs and/or RJ-45 TC-Link network ports.
The AIR Base-1 Subwoofer is a ported 12×19×16.7-inch enclosure with a high-output, 10-inch woofer driven by a 200-watt PWM amp, a combination that produces 113dB peaks and a 25 to 120 Hz response. AIR Base subs communicate solely via TC-Link and can be used only with AIR Series monitors. Bass-management data — such as gain, polarity, phase and lowpass filter in/out — can be stored as presets and recalled for different user's tastes or varying applications.
READ THE INSTRUCTIONS
The setup/calibration/installation of any 5.1 monitoring system is complex, but with the AIR system's master/slave configuration and TC-Link interfacing, the process is more involved. The manual offers comprehensive setup instructions, as even connecting the correct wire to its speaker can be daunting. Fortunately, TC puts L/C/R/Ls/Rs labels on the backs of the speakers in a package.
This is not one of those “plug it in, see if it works and then read the directions” installs, and several procedures are less than obvious. For example, in a 5.1 system fed from +4dB balanced analog XLRs, the “left” monitor (remember those labels?) is a master fed from your board's left/right monitor-out feeds. The system's right channel is a slave that gets its audio — and control info — via the RJ-45 TC-Link from the left speaker. The left surround (also a master) receives your mixer's Ls/Rs output signals, with an RJ-45 cable supplying the right-surround speaker with audio and data. The system's third master is the center channel, which takes your mixer's center and LFE feeds; another RJ-45 cable goes from the center speaker to the sub. If bass management is inactive, the sub only plays LFE; with bass management enabled, bass energy from all five main channels is extracted and summed with LFE signals, and then sent to the sub. Add a couple more Cat. 5 cables to link between the masters, plug the remote into any available link jack and you're ready to rock…sort of.
Next is system calibration, which is similar to programming a home 5.1 system for level, bass management, phase, crossover, highpass filtering to feed the satellites, etc. The process is made easier with the provided Air Soft software and stereo test CD and DTS-encoded discs offering tones, level, polarity, phase and delay routines. Dynaudio also includes presets to compensate for common speaker-placement anomalies: freestanding, back wall, corner, freestanding with console in front, back wall with console in front, and corner with console in front. These, along with all other parameters, can be set for each speaker. Each AIR monitor is factory calibrated to ±0.2 dB of a targeted response curve, and all AIR components can be user-aligned in 0.1dB steps, with ±6dB 2-band shelving EQ. An optional AIR PC/IP program is also available for installation pros, which offers parametric EQ, delay and security lockout to prevent unauthorized mods.
I began listening with two AIR 6s (master and slave) as stereo near-fields. The speakers offer a surprising amount of bass for their size — solid down to 40 Hz — so be careful about tight corner placement or putting the enclosures too close to the wall. Here, the DSP placement presets came in handy, bringing the LF buildup under control in my 11×17 project room. The spectral balance of the mids/highs is excellent, even in the critical 2.15kHz crossover point. The monitors' overall timbre is good: Highs were crisp, yet natural, providing smooth reproduction of upper harmonics on percussion, bells and strings. Other than adjusting for reflective room surfaces, there was no need to EQ or tweak the AIR 6s at all.
Adding the AIR Base-1 to the stereo rig, the sub level had to come way down to avoid overwhelming the AIR 6s. Once under control, the sub brought a new dimension with “you can feel it” rumblings of deep kicks, synths and pipe organ — well below 30 Hz. The front-firing 10-inch driver has a metal screen to keep feet out of the cone in under-console placements, and its front porting offered a more predictable response when used near walls or corners.
In a surround setup, the AIR 6s really shine. In the standard ±30° fronts and ±110° surrounds configuration, the speakers' realistic imaging and defined soundstage provided excellent localization, leading to a precise placement of surround-panned elements, while their medium-wide dispersion yielded a seamless, “no holes” playback environment. Here, I really appreciated the versatility of the compact remote, with its smooth 112dB range volume pot and the ability to instantly solo or mute any channel in the 5.1 mix, along with providing quick access to presets and three programmable reference levels (which can also double as dim or global mute functions). The remote is addictive — why isn't everything this easy?
Overall, the Dynaudio AIR 6 system is an impressive combination of technology and the art of transducer design. It's not cheap — a full 5.1 AIR 6 rig is $8,295 with analog and digital inputs (the digital input-only package is $500 less). However, the system is plug-and-go, including everything you need, so when all of its attributes — system control, programmability, setup tools and great sound — are considered, it may be very affordable indeed.
Distributed by TC Electronic, 742-A Hampshire Rd., Westlake Village, CA 91361; 805/373-1828; fax 805/379-2648; www.tcelectronic.com.