Shopping for the perfect monitors is a complicated process that's unlike buying any other professional audio gear. One sizable challenge is deciding which system type will integrate best into a particular (or in a variety of) work environments. What is “required” is a proverbial can of worms in itself, encompassing personal taste, consideration of the personal tastes of others — i.e., clients — and a litany of other factors, both aural and monetary. Unfortunately, the task of auditioning monitors too often occurs in environments that are dissimilar to the spaces in which they will actually be used. After all of this — and dealing with a few issues overlooked here — the best pair of monitors for a particular scenario can hopefully be found. If you're considering a multichannel monitoring setup, get ready to consider a host of variables.
To address the fact that even the most accomplished audio pros sometimes teeter at the edge of sanity before buying a new multichannel monitoring system, many manufacturers now offer complete surround packages at one price point. Most of these systems include familiar models, while other packages are designed from scratch as a set. As price points vary dramatically from package to package, you'd be hard-pressed not to find something that comfortably fits both your needs and budget.
Not all studio monitor manufacturers are represented in this article. While reasons vary as to why some don't offer all-in-one packages, many companies that opt out feel that multichannel configurations are best built via individually selected components. Nevertheless, many engineers have successfully met their multichannel listening needs — and eliminated a few headaches — by purchasing one of the innovative surround packages listed here.
The Alesis (www.alesis.com) ProActive 5.1 ($499) is an affordable, THX-approved 5.1 system. While it won't hold an aural candle to high-end systems costing thousands of dollars, it offers plenty of features, satisfactory sound and much value for a low amount of dough. The 450-watt ProActive 5.1 system includes four 65W satellite monitors with a 69W center speaker, a 188W powered subwoofer and the Digital SoundTouch Control Center with wireless remote. The SoundTouch controller has a LCD status screen and offers built-in Dolby Digital and DTS hardware decoding, gain control and much more. On the rear of the unit, source inputs include digital optical, digital coaxial, 6-channel analog direct inputs and a stereo analog input.
ATC SCM20ASL Pro
Distributed by Transamerica Audio Group (www.transaudiogroup.com), ATC's SCM20ASL Pro 5.1 package ($22,900) includes five active SCM20ASL Pro monitors with an active ATC Sub 1/15 Pro subwoofer. Combining two decades of innovative speaker design with the latest advances in materials technology, the ATC system is a unique, ultrahigh-quality surround system that just so happens to be extremely portable. The three-way SCM20ASL Pro monitor employs ATC's Super Linear magnet structure in its 6-inch mid/bass drive unit and is coupled with a 1-inch tweeter. The SCM20ASL Pro's active two-way amplifier design incorporates separate dual amp blocks in each cabinet and can deliver continuous SPLs of up to 108 dB measured at one meter. At the monitor's rear, a selector panel provides five LF boost settings and a flat reference setting. The ATC Sub 1/15 Pro subwoofer offers a custom-built 15-inch woofer driven by a massive, built-in 1,000W amp. The sub's versatile interface provides simplified setup with phase, level, lowpass and contour controls.
Quickly becoming known as multichannel suppliers, Blue Sky International (www.abluesky.com) offers the Sky System One 5.1 package ($4,245), which includes five SAT 6.5 bi-amplified monitors, the Sub 12 powered subwoofer and a BMC Bass Management Controller. Using Blue Sky's computer-optimized crossover and bass-management networks, the system is THX pm3 — approved. Each shielded, aluminum-framed Blue Sky SAT 6.5 monitor features a 6.5-inch hemispherical driver, a 1-inch dual-concentric diaphragm tweeter with integral wave guide and is powered by two 100W amps with electronic crossovers. The SAT 6.5's frequency response is 80 to 20k Hz, ±3 dB (200 to 10k Hz, ±1.5 dB) and offers a rear panel power switch, gain control with LED power indicator and balanced XLR input. Specifically designed to complement the SAT 6.5 monitors, the Sub 12 subwoofer features a cast-aluminum frame, a 12-inch forward-firing driver with a 2-inch voice coil and a 200W amplifier. The Sub 12 has a frequency response of 30 Hz to 200 Hz, ±3 dB (anechoic) and a typical response of 20 Hz to 200 Hz, measured in a 3,000-cubic-foot room. The Blue Sky Bass Management Controller offers comprehensive bass management and remote volume control, featuring fully balanced I/O, defeatable bass management, individual output mutes, individual and master calibration, and expandability from 5.1 channels to a maximum of 10.2.
Dynaudio Acoustics' (www.dynaudioacoustics.com) AIR Series is designed for those engineers who want integrated DSP and networking capabilities to be a part of their monitoring system. All components in an AIR system are connected through the TC Link network, which distributes control information and audio in between all system components. This allows control of a multichannel setup from the sweet spot using the AIR Remote controller or AIR SOFT software for Mac or PC platforms. The expansive AIR Series includes many models, along with a specially configured, 192kHz-supporting digital 5.1 system: the AIR 15-5.1 Pack 2D192. This package includes three “Digital 6” AIR 15 master monitors, two AIR 15 slave monitors, one AIR Base-2 dual 10-inch subwoofer, an AIR Remote and AIR SOFT. The AIR 15 is a two-way active monitor featuring a 10-inch woofer and 1.1 soft-dome tweeter. AIR master monitors have front panel LCD screens and data-entry buttons, and their rear panels handle one or two input signals. TC Link ports on the masters allow connection to AIR slave monitors that utilize link I/O ports. The included 200W active subwoofer with dual 10-inch drivers is designed for use in small to medium rooms with the AIR 15 monitors and uses TC Link for features such as integrated bass management and presets. The AIR 15-5.1 Pack 2D192 lists for $12,145. Analog and 96k versions of the AIR 15 5.1 kits — the AIR 15-5.1 Pack 2A and AIR 15-5.1 Pack 2D — are priced at $11,845 and $11,345, respectively.
Largely known for its two-way/2-channel OWL Monitoring Series that uses patented “Embracing Sound Experience System” technology, EMES (dist. by Synthax, www.synthax.com) has also chosen to embrace multichannel customers by offering two surround packages. Its Pink tv 5.1 system ($4,999) includes five Pink near-fields and one Amber subwoofer, while the Violett HR 5.1 kit ($8,999) includes five Violett near-fields and one Amber HR subwoofer. The small, lightweight Pink tv active monitor features two identical 80W amplifiers, matched drivers and adjustable parameters such as dip switches for sensitivity, bass and high-frequency control. The Pink tv has a 5.5-inch woofer, 1-inch neodymium tweeter and offers a frequency response of 58 to 19k Hz, ±2.5 dB. The Violett HR active monitor comprises a 7-inch carbon-composite woofer, a 1-inch Neodyme tweeter and dual 100W amplifiers. Completing the EMES multichannel packages, the Amber active subwoofer features a 10-inch, dual-coil, long-excursion driver, dual 140W amplifiers, a 80/150Hz highpass filter and dip switches for level and phase control. The Amber sub offers 38 to 2k Hz frequency response. Similar to the Amber, the Amber HR subwoofer offers a slightly larger cabinet size; as a result, it has a 6Hz lower system frequency response.
Genelec PowerPak system
Genelec's (www.genelec.com) 1029.LSE PowerPak multichannel monitoring system ($4,200) is a complete 5.1 solution and is rapidly finding its way into studios sold on Genelec sound and quality. The 1029.LSE PowerPak features five Genelec 1029A two-way, bi-amplified active monitors, one Genelec 7060A LSE Series Active Subwoofer and a Genelec Acousti/Tape, a frequency/wavelength measuring tape for accurate multichannel configuration. Also included is a setup guide, which offers speaker placement, wiring and fine-tuning tips. Powered by a pair of efficient 40W amps, the compact Genelec 1029A monitor has a frequency response of 68 to 20k Hz (±2.5 dB), features a 5-inch woofer and ¾-inch hard-dome tweeter, and offers front-mounted volume control and rear panel bass- and treble-tilt room response controls, all housed within a die-cast aluminum case. The 7060A LSE sub — designed for multichannel monitoring — features a single 10-inch proprietary driver with a 120W power amp, has a frequency response of 29 Hz to 85 Hz (120 Hz), ±3 dB, and offers Genelec's 6.1 bass-management system with an LFE signal input and selectable 85/120Hz lowpass filter.
Norway's Griffin Audio Design (dist. in the U.S. by Francis Manzella Design, www.fmdesign.com/fmgriffin.htm) offers the Griffin 2 Surround Monitoring System ($11,750), featuring five Griffin 2 loudspeakers and one Griffin 2 subwoofer. The passive system showcases dual 8.5-inch magnesium cone woofers and a ribbon tweeter in each G2 loudspeaker, and is capable of delivering details from ultrasoft to 115 dB SPL at three feet. Designed to be a perfect match for high-resolution SACD and DVD-A work, the tweeter is placed in a symmetrical magnetic field and comes with a simple passive filter in between it and the two midranges. The G2's strongly braced ¾-inch fiberboard cabinets are extremely rigid and are compact enough for use in smaller facilities. The G2 has a frequency response of 40 to 25k Hz, ±1.5 dB and handles 200 to 500W at 4 ohms. According to Manzella, a fully active G2 surround system will be available by mid-summer.
Hot House Professional Audio (www.hothousepro.com) offers two surround monitoring packages, the ARM 265 5.1 system and PRM 165 5.1 system, geared toward use in medium/large and small/medium control rooms. The mid-field Hot House ARM 265 system offers flat-frequency, wide-bandwidth response provided by five bi-amplified ARM 265 monitors, an ASB 215 Active Sub-Bass system driven by the SBX Subwoofer Crossover/Controller and the Model Two Thousand High-Resolution Control Room Amplifier, a 1,200W/channel amp. The system's monitors are available in black, red or golden-oak veneer. According to Hot House designer Richard Rose, the PRM 165 surround monitoring system is “ruler-flat over nearly six of its eight-and-a-half octaves.” Along with five PRM 165 near-field monitors, three Model Four Hundred amplifiers and either an ASB 112 subwoofer with onboard power or an ASB 115 subwoofer/SBX Crossover Controller/M500HV amplifier combination are included. All cabinets are finished in matte black. The ARM 265 system lists for $29,999. The PRM 165 system with the ASB 112 subwoofer is $14,999 and increases to $19,999 with the ASB 115 subwoofer. Teflon wiring and full-isolation mount systems are included for both systems.
The innovative LSR6300 Series of studio monitors from JBL Professional (www.jblpro.com) includes two 5.1 monitoring packages: the LSR25P/5.1 ($3,315) and the LSR6328P/5.1 ($7,775). The LSR25P/5.1 kit includes five compact, bi-amplified LSR25P reference monitors — each featuring a 5.25-inch woofer and 1-inch tweeter — and a 250W LSR6312SP powered subwoofer. The LSR25P has 100W of low-frequency power and 50W of high-frequency power, while the LSR6312SP sub features a 12-inch woofer and a full feature set designed for multichannel audio production. Offering the same subwoofer as the LSR25P/5.1, the LSR6328P/5.1 kit includes five bi-amplified LSR6328P monitors featuring 8-inch woofers and 1-inch tweeters. The THX-approved LSR6300 Series boasts three new technologies to overcome problems associated with sub-par room acoustics: Linear Spatial Reference, RMC Room Mode Correction and boundary compensation. Insuring that the mid- and high-frequency content at the mix position is accurate, JBL's Linear Spatial Reference technology includes a ±30-degree horizontal, ±15-degree vertical radiated response engineered into the system, which also happens to be virtually flat. RMC combats low-frequency standing waves by including a circuit in LSR6300 Series subwoofers; once calibrated, low-end performance improves at the mix position. Finally, boundary-compensation circuitry is included in the LSR25P and LSR6328P to correct frequency response and overcome spectral shift when the system is mounted on a wall, in corners or on workstation surfaces.
M-Audio's (www.m-audio.com) affordable Studiophile Series of monitoring systems now offers to those aspiring to multichannel projects a new option via the LX4 Surround Sound System. By combining the previously available LX4 2.1 System ($349) and the LX4 5.1 Expander ($199), a complete 5.1 system is born. The LX4 Surround Sound System comprises five ported LX4 passive satellite monitors and the LX4 subwoofer, which houses the system's active crossover matrix. The subwoofer's 125W power amplifier handles the entire surround system: 60W is designated for the sub and 27W is allowed for each satellite. The subwoofer has an 8-inch woofer, and each satellite monitor contains a 4-inch polypropylene woofer and 1-inch Mylar tweeter.
For smaller studios, video post and DAW applications, NHT Pro (www.nhtpro.com) offers the M-00/S-00 Combo, a $1,749 surround package that combines five of its popular M-00 (pronounced “moo”) monitors with the S-00 subwoofer. The M-00 is a compact, powered (75-watt) two-way system with a 4.5-inch woofer and 1-inch fabric-dome tweeter in a rugged cast zinc — aluminum enclosure. Other features include magnetic shielding, XLR, TRS and RCA input connectors, and a variety of options for stand or wall mounting. The matched S-00 subwoofer combines a long-throw, 8-inch woofer in a compact 13×10×13-inch cabinet with 125 watts of onboard amplification for performance down to 39 Hz.
Acoustician/facility designer Chris Pelonis (www.pelonissound.com) has joined forces with speaker manufacturer Tannoy to present the Pelonis Signature Series, a monitoring system based on custom dual-concentric driver technology. A decade in the making, the series offered the first WideBand main monitor, which was introduced to the pro audio industry in 2002. WideBand versions of Pelonis Signature Series monitors produce frequency responses up to 45 kHz, while low-frequency drive units used in the PSS EB (extended bass) models comprise custom-built Kevlar drivers with full 2-inch excursion. According to Pelonis, his monitor systems are designed to be the only monitors in the room. The series offers seven 5.1 packages featuring a variety of two- and three-way active monitor models coupled with 15-inch, 18-inch or double 18-inch active subwoofers. Every PSS install is personally performed by Pelonis, and each system's crossovers are created by Pelonis for each individual studio space. Package prices range from $30,000 to $90,000.
Known for its unique transmission line (TL) monitoring systems, British manufacturer PMC (www.pmcloudspeaker.com) offers the PMC Mix Pack ($7,995), a fully matched, active 5.1 kit featuring five PMC DB-1A loudspeakers and a SubTLE1 subwoofer. TL technology effectively creates a long tunnel within a monitor by using internal partitioning. The tunnel folds throughout the length of a heavily dampened cabinet, and at the tunnel's end, a hole vents into the room. As a result, the cabinet yields an extended LF range and dramatically reduces any extraneous coloration of the sound. According to PMC, the DB-1A loudspeaker is the world's smallest TL monitor design with an effective line length of five feet within its very small cabinet. The 100W DB-1A features a 5.5-inch low-frequency driver, an aluminum, ferrofluid-cooled HF driver, and a frequency response of 5 Hz to 25 kHz (+0/-3 dB). The SubTLE1 Subwoofer includes two 6.5-inch shielded custom drivers driven by a 150W low-distortion amplifier. The subwoofer incorporates an effective TL of 9.5 feet, allowing the TLE1 to produce a flat frequency response down to 22 Hz.
SLS Loudspeakers (www.slsloudspeakers.com) offers the SLS HT400 5.1 Surround Sound Speaker System ($3,000), a package centered on the lauded PRD NEO3 planar ribbon driver, which is known for super-smooth, upper-end clarity. The complete surround system includes four passive HT6.5S two-way speakers, a passive HT6.5C dedicated center-channel speaker and the 150W HT6.5W powered subwoofer. All full-range speakers included in the package are video-shielded, bi-wireable and feature gold-plated terminals, custom grilles and high-polish ebony piano lacquer finishes. The 8-ohm HT6.5S speakers feature a 42 to 25k Hz frequency range, a 6.5-inch woofer, a PRD NEO3 ribbon tweeter and handle 100W RMS (200W max). The 4-ohm HT6.5C has dual 6.5-inch woofers, a PRD NEO3, a frequency range of 48 to 25k Hz and handles 150W RMS (300W max). SLS' HT6.5W subwoofer has a 6.5-inch, high-excursion woofer with rubber surround, a response of 25 to 150 Hz with a 50 to 150Hz variable low-pass crossover and an internal amp with a power handling of 150W RMS.
Two striking surround systems from Tannoy (www.tannoy.com) — the Ellipse 8 iDP™ 5.1 ($14,995) and Ellipse 10 iDP 5.1 ($16,995) — are built from the company's visually striking monitor series, the Ellipse. Incorporating Tannoy's WideBand technology, the Ellipse range features three-way active monitors utilizing Dual Concentric drivers and a separately housed SuperTweeter™. Also, Tannoy's included iDP (Interactive Digital Programming) technology offers DSP-based room-optimization capabilities. The Ellipse 8 features 8-inch dual drivers, the Ellipse 10 features 10-inch dual drivers and both models deliver frequency responses extending above 50 kHz. Both the Ellipse 8 and Ellipse 10 offer two-way amplification via a 200W amp for the woofer and a 200W amp for the tweeter/SuperTweeter combination. The Ellipse 8 iDP 5.1 system includes five Ellipse 8 monitors with a powerful 1,500W active subwoofer — the Ellipse TS212 iDP — which features dual side-firing 12-inch aluminum cones. The Ellipse 10 iDP 5.1 system also features the TS212 iDP sub and is completed by five Ellipse 10 monitors.
Strother Bullins is a North Carolina-based freelance writer specializing in the professional audio and entertainment industries.