Hafler's TRM8 powered monitors, which were reviewed in the September 1998 EM, so impressed the reviewer that he saved up and bought a pair for his own studio. But good as they sound, at $1,650 a pair (formerly $2,400) the TRM8s are a bit beyond the budgets of many personal-studio buyers.
Now Hafler offers a solution in the downsized TRM6 ($1,250 per pair). These bookshelf-size, biamped close-field reference monitors sport impressively similar specs in a smaller package. Whether destined for the video post house, pro facility, or personal studio, the TRM6 is clearly designed and priced to compete with the increasing number of compact close-field active monitors available today. (For a discussion of the advantages of active over passive designs, see the sidebar "Why Get Active?" in the cover story "Power Stations" in the October 1997 EM.)
FACE VALUEThe TRM6 monitors are constructed of hearty MDF (medium-density fiberboard) and finished in semigloss black. Their substantial weight and slippery-smooth finish makes them a tad unwieldy, so care is in order when lifting and positioning them. An external handle or handgrip depression would be a welcome addition.
The front panel features a power switch located to the right of the tweeter. To the left of the tweeter is a status LED that glows green for on, a flashing red to indicate clipping, and solid red at thermal overload.
SPEAK TO METhe TRM6 employs a 1-inch, soft-dome high-frequency driver, which is set back slightly in relation to the woofer and centered in a wave guide. Basically a horn-shaped structure, the wave guide's role is to smooth out sound waves emanating from the cabinet as they make the transition from a flat, planar shape to a rounder, more spherical shape, the goal being to produce a wider sweet spot for the listener.
The woofer comprises a 6.5-inch, polypropylene-cone low-frequency driver with an inverted rubber surround. A shielded magnet in the woofer assembly reduces the level of stray magnetic radiation-a potential hazard that can distort images and colors on your TV set or computer monitor.
The TRM6 has a narrow rear port that Hafler calls an aerovent. The port is radiused-that is, flared like a trumpet, without the squared edges found in the usual circular or elliptical port-in order to improve bass response and reduce turbulent fluttering.
The amplifier in the TRM6 features MOSFET circuitry in a proprietary design that Hafler calls Trans-ana (short for Transconductive Active Nodal Amplifier). Among its other qualities, MOSFET circuitry is known for its ability to mimic vacuum-tube operation and provide wide-bandwidth linearity. An active crossover sends frequencies above 3.2 kHz to a 35-watt amplifier driving the tweeter, and frequencies below 3.2 kHz to a 50-watt amp driving the woofer.
ABOUT FACEThe rear panel of the TRM6 provides balanced XLR and unbalanced RCA inputs, as well as adjustments for input sensitivity and for customizing bass and treble response. The adjustments are grouped in four blocks of tiny DIP switches, with each block containing four switches. The first block provides the selector for balanced or unbalanced operation, followed by the first three input-sensitivity settings (+1 dBu, -2 dBu, and -5 dBu). The next block has two more input-sensitivity settings (-8 dBu and -11 dBu), followed by two bass rolloff switches set at 30 Hz and 60 Hz. The default input-sensitivity setting of +4 dBu is achieved by leaving all five input-sensitivity switches flicked to the left (off) position, for a total of six settings.
The third and fourth blocks of DIP switches are for adjusting bass and treble shelving, respectively, with each block offering settings of +4 dB, +2 dB, -2 dB, and -4 dB. Again, the "flat" setting is attained by setting all the switches to the left (off) position.
As the manual explains-and as should be obvious-only one setting at a time should be selected in each section (input sensitivity, bass rolloff, bass shelving, treble shelving). Obviously, too, the switches on the two monitors should be set identically.
This brings me to a couple of complaints. One is that the arrangement of switches in the four blocks could lead to some confusion, particularly because the input-sensitivity switches stretch over parts of two blocks. But the bigger problem-and the potentially harmful one-is that the switches are so small that it's difficult to switch only one at a time. On several occasions I accidentally moved a switch I didn't mean to, resulting in a nearly speaker-blowing leap in volume that had me lunging for the faders. Larger switches-or better yet, notched rotary ones-would provide an obvious improvement, and would accomplish the same tasks with less risk of error.
THE SONIC PICTUREHafler recommends an eight-hour break-in period for the TRM6 woofers before commencing with critical monitoring, so I loaded up a bunch of CDs and let them play through the monitors for that amount of time. The manufacturer also recommends letting the TRM6s warm up for one hour before a critical monitoring session, so as to achieve "the best sonic performance and image stability from the internal amplifiers." This should present no problem in pro studios, where gear is typically left on for days at a time. However, for the personal-studio user, who may make it into the studio only sporadically, and then just for a few, precious hours, this could prove a bit of a pain.
After the break-in period, I carefully compared the TRM6s with two sets of monitors in my existing passive-monitor setup-Tannoy PBM 6.5s and E-V MS-802s-first by playing several of my own mixes and favorite CDs, then mixing some songs from a current project. Instrumentation included bass, drums, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, Hammond organ, piano, synth strings, and horns-a nice, broad palette for putting the monitors to the test.
What impressed me most about the TRM6s was their excellent imaging. Placement of instruments in the stereo field was noticeably clearer than on the other monitors, and the sweet spot was wider. This left me freer to move around while mixing-a nice change from the claustrophobic, frozen, deer-paralyzed-in-the-headlights position I typically assume with my monitors.
The TRM6s are quite easy on the ears, too, even throughout long sessions. I experienced little listening fatigue during three full days spent mixing on them.
As for frequency response, my immediate impression was that the TRM6s sounded brighter than the monitors in my current setup. Highs were well represented, though not harsh by any means. And given that the lows roll off fairly quickly below 60 Hz-not an unreasonable tendency for a 6.5-inch woofer-the representation of bass frequencies was impressive. These little cabinets really thump for their size. (For those needing extended low-end capabilities, Hafler also offers two stand-alone subwoofers, the TRM10S and TRM12S, which are priced at $695 and $795, respectively.)
It was the midrange response of the TRM6s, however, that troubled me. It seemed a bit shy, making the TRM6s sound somewhat hollow or scooped out in the middle. As a result, the first mixes I created using the TRM6s came out sounding "boxy" when played back on other systems. Evidently, I had simply slathered on too much "honk" (between, roughly, 1 and 2.5 kHz) to make up for the perceived lack of mids.
Of course, to get a handle on the characteristics of practically any monitor, one has to spend some time with it. To help acclimate my ear to the TRM6s, I used some mixes I had done on my existing monitors (recalled using my Yamaha 03D digital mixer) and listened carefully while switching back and forth between the TRM6s and my own monitors. This exercise paid off, helping me learn not to pump the mids while monitoring on the TRM6s. By the end of the sessions, my ears readily recognized what needed to be done, and I was able to mix confidently on the TRM6s without resorting to my familiar rig.
SECOND OPINIONSMonitoring is a subjective experience, of course, so it seemed only fair to solicit some other opinions. I took the TRM6s to Maja Audio Group, a recording studio in Philadelphia where I had done some recent tracking, and set them up for more comparison testing. Maja has several active monitors in its various recording suites-including Genelec 1031As, KRK E8s, and Quested F11s-so the TRM6s were compared head-to-head with some well-regarded systems in a professional environment.
Although the TRM6s initially made a favorable impression on the listeners, they did not garner major raves. Comments were particularly aimed at the lack of midrange. As one Maja engineer put it, the frequencies between 700 Hz and 3 kHz seemed "underrepresented." Another staff member commented that the TRM6s would sound terrific in a home-theater system or bedroom studio, but he was a bit shy of recommending them as primary reference monitors for critical mixing. All of the listeners agreed, however, that the TRM6s worked nicely as auxiliary reference monitors.
THE ENVELOPE, PLEASEAlthough I wouldn't recommend the TRM6s as primary critical-reference monitors, they'd certainly be a welcome addition to a system, serving admirably as auxiliary monitors-an important component of any serious studio. I could also see them excelling in settings such as broadcast, location recording, and home theater.
The TRM6 active monitors bring Hafler's MOSFET circuitry and reputation for quality within reach of the personal-studio operator. These compact monitors are attractive, well built, and, for the most part, well designed. The one feature that frustrated me was the DIP switch controls on the rear panels-and, for some users the recommended one-hour warm-up period might be a sore spot.
The TRM6s put out a big sound for their compact size, and the overall smoothness is easy on the ears. They also provide a generously wide sweet spot and exceptional imaging. My only sonic misgiving was over the slight deficiency in representation of midrange frequencies. But, most any monitor requires some getting used to, and once I was accustomed to this characteristic I really enjoyed mixing on the TRM6s.
John Ferenzik would like to thank Maja Audio Group in Philadelphia for helping out. You can e-mail John at firstname.lastname@example.org.