Field Test: Alesis Prolinear 820DSP Monitors

Mid-Size Studio Speakers With Digital EQ and Crossover
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Until you look closely at the front panel LCD, Alesis' Prolinear
820DSP appears to be a garden-variety, two-way, active studio monitor.
It has a conventional soft-dome tweeter centered above a standard
8-inch woofer and flanked by two front-firing ports. Its standard-issue
black cabinet is “midfield-size” (15×9×12 inches
deep) and weighs 25 pounds. The rear panel features Neutrik XLR/TRS
combo jacks, a level control and heat-sink fins for the 40-watt and 80W
RMS power amps.

What you don't find on the back panel is the standard set of DIP
switches to adjust a pair of shelving filters. Instead, there are 9-pin
In and Out ports to daisychain all of the 820DSPs in your rig to a
Windows-based computer. That's where the “DSP” comes in,
explaining the mysterious LCD on the front. The 820DSPs contain digital
crossovers and a built-in 4-band parametric equalizer. Remote editing
software for the equalizers is included. Using either this software or
the front panel, you can adjust the setup parameters (via four fully
parametric EQ bands), as well as overall volume and muting on each
speaker individually or all at once. Best of all, this can happen from
a laptop or desktop PC without ever leaving the listening sweet spot.
The same software also works with the smaller 720DSP model, if you
happen to be using them for surrounds. (Alesis also makes a regular 820
and 720 without the DSP.)

USER POWER

Each speaker includes eight presets and eight user slots to store
your EQ programs, but you can also store them on a disk. The user slots
come loaded with programs such as Warmth, Bass Boost, AM Radio and
Treble Boost, among others. You can also store “corrective”
EQ settings, keeping in mind the conventional wisdom that overdoing
speaker EQ is only going to mask problems.

The presets include simulations of popular speakers and bear names
such as White Cone and Faux Finnish. The 4-band equalizer can produce
caricatures of NS-10s and Genelecs, but not accurate simulations. This
is an amusing and interesting feature, but probably not an extremely
useful reference because the frequency response is only one of the
characteristics that make up a speaker's overall sound.

However, the equalizer presets are useful. For example, the BBC Dip
preset, which cuts the 1 to 3kHz range slightly, is very pleasant. The
AM Radio setting rolls off the top and bottom, which is also a very
realistic reference.

ON FIRST AUDITION

Given enough bands of equalization, one might think it's possible to
make a perfectly flat speaker, but EQ only takes frequency domain into
account. There's also phase response — i.e., the time domain
— which is much harder (impossible, by all accounts) to
completely nail down.

While it may seem meaningless to discuss the frequency response of a
monitor with built-in DSP, it isn't. The 820DSP is very well balanced
in its Flat setting preset. Swept sine waves don't make the crossover
point obvious at all, nor do they reveal any significant lumps or dips.
These speakers are quite neutral.

The 820DSP's specs quote a frequency response of ±1.5 dB from
50 to 20k Hz, with the bass down about 3 dB at 43 Hz. In fact, there's
usable low end a good half-octave below that — not enough to
shake your bones the way a subwoofer does, but enough to alert you when
there's something alarming going on in the sub-rumble range.

Monitors usually lean toward being either dry and constrained or
bright and resonant, but the 820DSP sits close to the middle. The only
foible I can point to is that they have a slightly “boxy”
midrange, almost as if the cabinets had no Fiberglas stuffing inside
them, although they do. This makes them sound slightly more hard than
warm. While this is a subtle characteristic, I found it to be
consistent at all volume levels.

STAND UP AND DELIVER

I did most of the listening to the 820DSPs in my small
(10×18-foot) and fairly dead project studio, which has a tendency
to make speakers and instruments sound on the brittle side. Listening
in a bigger, very live room didn't change anything. To evaluate
speakers, I generally use a Pro Tools session containing a variety of
music styles and some original music stems that I mixed to see how well
the results translate. The 820DSP mixes did not have any problems
translating to other speakers.

These monitors are not designed to be sweet-sounding living room
monitors. The imaging is solid — I'd give it an eight out of 10,
as I didn't struggle to find the center — and the dispersion
(including vertical) is good. It's nice to be able to stand up and
listen without the sound radically changing. They also get plenty
loud.

CONCLUSION

The 820DSP monitors offer a lot of versatility and are competitive
with other products in their price range. Their most notable strength
is how little time it takes to get used to them. They do a credible job
of presenting what you're listening to, which allows them to fit easily
into any production environment. Bottom line, these are speakers that I
can work with. Price: $549/each.

Alesis, 401/658-5760, www.alesis.com.

Nick Batzdorf was the editor of Recording for more than 10
years.