In recent years, M-Audio has focused a great deal of effort on becoming arguably the best-selling manufacturer of studio monitor speakers. The fruits of that labor have paid off handsomely in the latest BX-series monitor, the Studiophile BX8a Deluxe — a new and improved version of the BX8a, which debuted three years ago and replaced 2002's BX8. With a redesigned high-frequency waveguide, an 8-inch Kevlar woofer, 130W of biamplified power, and frequency response rated from 40 Hz to 22 kHz (±2 dB), the specs are almost too good to be true in such an affordable pair of monitors.
Recently I put a pair of the new Studiophiles through their paces in my studio. Though I found some performance trade-offs at such a low price point, M-Audio has indeed made some noteworthy improvements over prior generations.
Out of the Box
FIG. 1: Fresh industrial design, an 8-inch woofer, and a new tweeter waveguide make the BX8a Deluxe the best Studiophile monitor to date.
Sold only in pairs, the BX8a Deluxes are presumably close-field monitors, but their large woofers and considerable 26-pound heft make them an imposing sight when I place them closer than 6 feet from my listening position. The MDF (medium-density fiberboard) construction feels solid and is free of any rattles or buzzing, and the matte vinyl lamination gives the monitors a warm, burnished, professional look and makes them a bit less slippery during handling. A single bright-blue LED indicates when the monitors are getting juice. Aside from the BX8a and M-Audio logos across each monitor's front panel, I found the sleek and minimal aesthetics to be a big improvement over the angled-cabinet design of the first-generation BX8 (see Fig. 1).
The rear panel is relatively spartan compared with the original BX8's, too, sporting XLR and balanced ¼-inch inputs along with a sole volume knob for trimming gain on the internal amps, a standard IEC C14 power connector, and a rocker-type power switch (see Fig. 2, below). A large bass-reflex port vents to the rear a few inches below the monitor's top edge. Conspicuously absent from the monitor's back side are any sort of EQ-adjustment tools, which I found a bit strange, as the old first-run BX8 monitors I've used in my studio DJ rig since 2002 feature boost and cut switches for high, mid, and low frequencies. The lack of such tuning facilities on the BX8a Deluxe isn't a significant issue, but it does strike me as a step backward in flexibility.
Two onboard amps drive the BX8a Deluxe's dual drivers, with 60W dedicated to the 1.25-inch silk-dome tweeter and another 70W flowing to the woofer (both ratings are continuous power into 4Ω). With ample power available to each speaker, a pair of BX8a Deluxes can kick out some serious volume. Each driver is shielded from transient audio spikes by a protective circuit that keeps it safe from harm during loud sessions or the occasional hot-patched audio cable.
FIG. 2: The BX8a Deluxe lacks any EQ trim controls, offering only a volume knob and power switch on its sparse back panel.
Whenever I audition a new pair of monitors, I always turn to tried-and-true music I know like the back of my hand. My reference stable includes a cross-section of tracks from multiple genres, from classic rock and ambient to pop and progressive house, all auditioned through a Lavry DA10 D/A converter with Zu audio cables. Every pair of monitors reacts differently to this battery of tests, and a few tracks always stand out as ideal tests for each particular set. In this case, five tracks — Quivver's “Surin,” Pink Floyd's “Comfortably Numb” and “Mother,” Future Sound of London's “My Kingdom,” and the fourth movement from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony — offered ample evidence of the BX8a Deluxe's strengths and weaknesses.
The monitors acquitted themselves admirably on nearly all fronts in all genres, displaying a remarkable aptitude for wide stereo imaging and detail. The silk-dome tweeter, improved crossover, redesigned waveguide, and dedicated 60W amp all added up to a remarkable level of high-frequency detail that's quite unusual for speakers selling for this price. I was particularly impressed with the way the monitors rendered the wide, out-of-phase stereo ambience that opens FSOL's “My Kingdom.” Lush reverbs swirled around without washing out details in high-end percussion, and every instrument felt firmly rooted in the stereo field. Likewise, the mid and high frequencies in Quivver's progressive house tune “Surin” were crisp and sharp — almost bordering on shrill, but not fatiguing in any way. The upper registers of the kick drum were firm, solid, and punchy.
The two Floyd tracks further illustrated the BX8a Deluxes' aptitude for great imaging. Roger Waters's voice on “Mother” was firmly planted center stage, and when the full band kicked in, the wide stereo spread on guitars and piano produced an enveloping sensation that rivaled that of monitors clocking in at twice the price. The vocal chorale in Beethoven's Ninth felt a little less focused, and although the live orchestral nature of the recording didn't translate as well as the studio recordings, the speaker still produced a full and satisfying listening experience.
The BX8a Deluxes offer an admirable amount of high-frequency detail and great stereo imaging, but they didn't perform quite as well on low-bass frequencies, exhibiting a tendency to translate them as loose and boomy. The woofers delivered tons of punch in the upper bass registers, but sub-bass frequencies simply didn't have that same tangible sense of presence and accuracy. I listened to “Surin” and found the kick punchy and tight with plenty of chest feel, but as soon as the bass line kicked in, the region between 60 and 120 Hz muddied up and gave the overall mix a boxy sound. I noticed the same phenomenon while listening to “Comfortably Numb”; highs and mids were bright and focused, but during chorus segments, when the bass guitar hits hard around 100 Hz, those low frequencies boomed out of the monitor without clear definition and obfuscated details that are so important in that area.
I also noticed that the monitors sounded far better at moderate levels than when pushed to the limit. That's not to say they can't rock the house — they're quite capable of earsplitting volume — but at some point, they lose detail across the board and become a mushy wall of sound. Coupling the BX8a Deluxes with a sub would no doubt work wonders here, giving the internal amps a little extra breathing room at higher volumes.
Now Hear This
M-Audio has always had a handle on getting great products to market at budget prices, and the BX8a Deluxe continues that tradition by delivering great imaging and high-frequency detail without denting your life savings. That bargain price does include some trade-offs — bass performance is, understandably, not up to par with that of some pricier monitors, and the speakers don't offer any onboard EQ options — but with a street price of just under $500 per pair, they're an unbeatable set of starter monitors for getting a project studio off the ground.
Established studios with high-end close-fields will likewise find these monitors a worthy addition as a louder close- to midfield supplemental set, particularly when coupled with a matching subwoofer. Few monitors deliver this level of performance at such a reasonable price, so if you're in search of a pair of powerful budget monitors, be sure to put the BX8a Deluxe at the top of your audition list.
Best known as a DJ and producer in the electronic group Deepsky, Jason Blum is currently focused on commercial mixing and mastering in his Los Angeles studio.
PROS: Improved styling, high-end response, and stereo imaging. Plenty of power. Outstanding value.
CONS: No auto power switching. No EQ options. Boomy, undefined bass.