Most studio engineers are familiar with Hafler amplifiers, known for their low noise, rugged construction and affordability. Three years ago, Hafler expanded into speaker construction. The TRM8 came first, followed by the TRM6 and the TRM10s (an active subwoofer option designed to complement either the TRM8 or the TRM6). Hafler's latest release is the M5 — essentially an unpowered version of the active TRM6. The M5 measures a compact 12×7×7 inches (H×W×D), although premature dismissal of these gems due to their size would be unwise: Not only do these speakers deliver in terms of volume, but they are also impressive in both frequency response and imaging.
The M5s are 6-ohm, two-way, near-field reference monitors. They feel heavier than they look, but each weighs only 12 pounds. The 4.2-pound magnet is well-shielded and will not distort nearby computer or video screens. The 5.25-inch polypropylene mid-bass driver produces lower lows than expected, while the 1-inch silk dome tweeter disperses high frequencies evenly with the aid of what the manual calls an “exponential horn waveguide,” a curved recession in the cabinet. Hafler uses this waveguide to “control or flatten the high-frequency beamwidth of the dome tweeter. Exponential waveguide control not only stabilizes the near-field ‘phantom’ center image, it also adds depth to this image.” For whatever reason, these speakers produce ample detail for a near-field design, but more on that later.
Cosmetically, the M5 is a refreshing alternative to the flamboyant looks we have seen recently in the near-field market. There are no lights or bright colors, only a small Hafler logo on the upper-left corner of each speaker face. Flanked by the high-frequency attenuation switch, the tweeter is centered over the woofer, which is above the thin vent slot at the bottom of the front baffle. The rear panel has five-way, gold binding post inputs.
The manual illustrates on-axis, vertical placement as optimum (tweeters above woofers, cabinets angled in). Also included are graphs for frequency response and horizontal polar response, impedance and impulse graphs, and a cumulative spectral decay plot. Specs for the M5 boast a 70 to 21k Hz frequency response (±3 dB), a 110dB peak output at 1 meter (per pair), and an input sensitivity greater than 89 dB (with 2.83 VRMS @ 1 m). The crossover is a fourth-order Linkwitz-Riley passive filter set at 3.2 kHz.
With the exception of an L-pad switch that attenuates the tweeter by 3 dB, the M5 has no contouring controls. Rather than subscribe to every market demand for various attenuation circuits (DIP switches or small knobs for adjusting the level of each component), Hafler has designed an extremely efficient speaker, free of extra circuits that may induce noise. There is also some comfort in knowing that the M5s should sound consistent at any studio — with no question as to their frequency response contour — and the speaker will be a known element, unlike monitors that sport variable circuits.
I tested the M5s using a Hafler Trans-nova™ P3000 amplifier, which offers plenty of clean, uncolored power. Each M5 is rated for 20 to 200 watts, and during more than a month of rigorous testing, the speakers never sounded distorted or broken up. This is partially due to the tweeters' optical protection circuit, which prevents potential damage by sending excessive energy to a small light bulb inside the cabinet.
Before trying some overdubs and mixes on the M5s, I played back a half-dozen DATs of projects that I've worked on — mixes I am intimately familiar with. Right off the bat, I liked the overall sound of the M5s. The high end is not overemphasized. Upper frequencies are bright, but not strident. The bass is loud and clear, with a nice, round thump.
Speakers of this size often try to compensate for their lack of bass with a cabinet and port that are tuned to a low frequency, such as 80 Hz, and the result is usually ugly, with a peak that can be unrealistic and painful. Hafler tuned the M5 to 70 Hz and succeeded in avoiding the aforementioned pitfalls. Low frequencies sound good and reach a little further down than one would expect.
In terms of imaging, these speakers provided clarity to certain upper-midrange elements in my old mixes. The stereo picture seemed different — yet in a good way, with more depth to the image and thus more space for each sound in the mix. I also like to check side-to-side consistency of the stereo soundstage. This is especially important in a crowded control room where the producer and bandmembers all listen from different positions, with each hearing a slightly different mix. In such side-to-side frequency response, the M5 excels. When I moved my head from left to right, the imaging remained consistent.
With any speakers, placement of the pair is important. The speakers should appear symmetrical in the room, with similar reflection paths that are uninhibited by close objects. The M5s sounded best when not placed near walls or boxed in by adjacent gear or cabinets. Low frequencies tend to build up in corners, and high frequencies are accentuated by hard surfaces, such as glass or concrete. The M5's high-frequency attenuation switch was probably included for those rare occasions when one has to mix in an overly bright room. I am exceptionally sensitive to high frequencies, yet I never needed to use the -3dB switch, even during long days of mixing.
I found the M5s effective on a variety of studio tasks, including mixing, day-long edit sessions, vocal overdubs, direct and miked instrument overdubs and just plain old listening sessions. Thankfully, they were directional enough for feedback-free control room recordings.
For bass recording/monitoring and hip hop work, adding the optional subwoofer would be a good idea, although you might prefer to just use these as replacements for the now-discontinued Yamaha NS-10Ms. Engineers have a love/hate relationship with this particular white-coned monitor, because the benefit of the NS-10Ms lies in their slightly honky, real-world sound. You have to work harder to make a mix sound good on Yamaha NS-10Ms, but then your mix is more likely to translate effectively to the average stereo. The home listener stands a better chance of enjoying the song if it is mixed on this type of speaker. The M5s and the NS-10Ms share this middle ground.
Not to say that the M5s are average, but there is something to be said for their similarity to the NS-10Ms, and the M5s also translate well to the home listener. The Haflers share the same tone as the NS-10Ms, but with more presence and depth. I can hear high frequencies more accurately and “see” the placement of the sounds near and far, more so than with the ubiquitous Yamahas.
Hafler has improved upon the NS-10Ms by building a speaker that is not overly pretty-sounding, and can stand large levels of amplification. Not only can the M5s be driven much harder than the NS-10Ms, but the sound is more pleasant. Rather than finding a pair of NS-10Ms and hoping for the privilege to plow through replacement parts, I would pick up a pair of M5s. Hey, at an MSRP of $124.50 each, why not five?
Hafler Professional, 546 South Rockford Drive, Tempe, AZ 85281; 480/517-3046; fax 480/894-1528; www.hafler.com.
David Ogilvy is a producer/engineer living in Northern California.