FIG. 1: Digidesign''s RM1 monitor features digital signal processing and an unusual design that produces clean bass in a cabinet that''s neither sealed nor ported.
Digidesign has expanded its product line aggressively in the last several years, and it was no surprise to see the company put its name on studio monitors. However, the new RM1 monitor (and its bigger sibling, the $1,749 RM2) isn't your everyday speaker. This monitor, the result of a collaboration between Digidesign and English speaker manufacturer PMC, is a precision instrument with onboard DSP, a revolutionary design, and a sound worthy of any studio, whether pro or project.
The RM1 is a compact biamplified monitor with a 5.5-inch low-frequency driver and a 1-inch ferrofluid-cooled high-frequency driver (see Fig. 1). It furnishes analog and digital (AES3) inputs on XLR connectors. The digital input accepts standard resolutions up to 24 bits and 96 kHz. Analog-controlled Class D amplifiers provide the power.
The RM1's front panel suggests elegant simplicity. The jet black finish (matte everywhere except for the glossy woofer cone) is broken only by the silver of the woofer mounting ring and the nameplate, along with the blue power indicator to the left of the soft-dome tweeter.
The rear panel is where clues to the RM1's distinctive design become apparent (see Fig. 2). A voltage selector with a slotted opening is placed just above the power toggle switch and cable receptacle. If you're traveling with the monitors and need to switch between the 115 and 230 VAC settings, then you must also switch fuses. The former requires a 3.15A fuse and the latter a 1.6A. The fuse holder is next to the power cable receptacle.
In the center of the rear panel are four threaded anchor points, similar to the VESA mount holes on flat-panel televisions. These are designed for connecting to custom tilt-and-swivel wall brackets. The RM1 manual says to check Digidesign's Web site for these mounts, but I found no information posted there. According to Digidesign, you can buy the appropriate wall mounts (the DB1 Wall Bracket) on PMC's Web site (www.pmc-speakers.com).
Next on the RM1's rear panel are the user controls. First up is a mini toggle switch for bass-port emulation. The RM1's design achieves excellent bass response without a port (more on this later), but engaging the circuit allows users to hear how a mix (quoting the manual) “translates to a ported speaker.” According to the RM1's reference diagrams, the switch provides a boost that reaches about 2 dB from 50 to 500 Hz.
Next to the port-emulation toggle switch are the HF and LF gain-adjustment pots. These slotted posts protrude just enough for the nimble fingered to adjust them by hand. Both access shelving EQs. The HF pot provides adjustments from -4 to +3 dB in 0.5 dB steps with a 1 kHz corner frequency. The LF control gives you -4 to +3 dB in 0.5 dB steps with a 750 Hz corner (500 Hz on the larger RM2). Also onboard is a master gain-trim adjustment post, which gives you a range of 0 to -15 dB.
At the bottom left of the RM1's rear panel are two RJ45 (Ethernet-type) sockets labeled Thru and In for connecting the second monitor in a stereo digital setup. You connect the first monitor with an XLR cable at the Digital In/AES 3 port. You connect the supplied RJ45 cable to that monitor's Thru port and the other monitor's In port. A Channel Assign mini toggle switch (next to the gain trim pot) tells the monitor which digital channel you want it to reproduce.
FIG. 2: The RM1''s rear panel supplies XLR connectors for analog and AES3 digital input, along with RJ45 jacks for passing digital audio to or accepting it from another RM1.
The RM1 manual provides no specific instructions for using the RM1 in a surround setup other than a generic speaker-placement diagram. If you have a 5.1 AES setup, you shouldn't have any trouble assigning center- and rear-channel data to multiple RM1s. Digidesign says that for 5.1 mixing, the RM1 and RM2 monitors match up well with PMC's TLE-1s sub, which would handle the surround LFE channel. For 2.1 mixing, you can use any sub you choose that offers bass management.
If you're monitoring in stereo and feeding analog signals to the RM1 (as I was doing for this review), you're likely to be supremely impressed (as I was) with the RM1's bass response, stereo imaging, and surprising sound-pressure levels (SPLs). The secret appears to be PMC's Advanced Transmission Line technology, which involves placing the main driver at the end of a long tunnel (the transmission line) that's composed of a series of internal baffles.
The tunnel is lined with acoustic material that absorbs upper bass frequencies and keeps the lowest frequencies in phase with the main driver, extending its LF output. According to Digidesign and PMC, the pressure created reduces distortion, makes the midrange sound cleaner and clearer, and produces a higher SPL and lower bass extension than ported or sealed cabinets of a similar size using identical drivers. The proof of these claims was definitely in the listening, especially regarding SPLs.
It's not easy to hide the fact that you've just hooked up a pair of RM1s. Considering that 80W RMS (woofer) and 50W RMS (tweeter) amps drive them, these babies are loud. I switched the XLR cables connected to my Mackie Onyx 1620 from my usual monitors (a pair with higher-powered amps and similarly sized drivers) to the RM1s and was stunned by the volume the latter produced at identical settings. After lowering the output from the board, I was pleased to hear no change in the level of detail. The RM1s held true to their claim of consistent frequency response at all volumes.
In addition, stereo imaging was excellent, and little details like string noise, sibilance, and bass guitar attacks, which can get lost or mangled by second-rate speakers, sat in their proper place on professionally finished mixes. Off-axis response showed the same consistency as frequency response. It was clear immediately that the English-built RM1s were a cut way above even the best budget-priced monitors (usually of Asian origin) that have emerged in recent years.
On program material like the hard-rocking “Paralyzer,” by Finger 11, guitar attacks were audibly distinct from hi-hat hits and identifiable in the stereo field of an otherwise typical rock mix heavy on the low mids. Fantasia's “When I See U” radio mix, which has only a kick drum and no musical bass, seemed to benefit from engaging the port emulation switch, while the near-distorted bass of “Make Me Better,” by Fabolous with Ne-Yo, confirmed my suspicion that although mixing hip-hop on the RM1s would be reliable, players and DJs in the house would probably get a better vibe from the larger RM2 or with the RM1s matched to a high-quality subwoofer.
That's not to say that the RM1 has any problem with bass — far from it. On traditional material, like my own jazz-influenced country projects, or a traditional country song with a modern mix, like Vince Gill's “Cold Grey Light of Gone,” electric bass balanced beautifully with the crisp highs and clean mids of the RM1. The growling low end of the Del McCoury band's upright bass on the Gill tune made me think I had the port emulation switch on, but I didn't. Still, lower-frequency jams like Fabolous's cry out for a range extending below 50 Hz.
Changing settings on the RM1 differs from adjusting analog powered monitors, because all internal processing, including the crossover, is digital. The HF, LF, and Gain Trim pots don't have stops; they can turn continuously. When you land on one of the marked settings, the adjustment becomes audible after a very short delay. Considering that many people will have to use a thumbnail or screwdriver to change these settings, it's good that you probably will have to set them only once. It would be nice to have easier access to the bass-port emulation switch, especially if you plan to mount the monitors on the wall.
But that's a minor complaint. On the whole, the RM1 reflects a successful marriage of the digital studio know-how of Digidesign and the audiophile design skills of PMC. The RM1 is an efficient, manageable, and great-sounding beast of a compact monitor that should be a match made in heaven for Pro Tools HD studios. With a footprint that a space-challenged studio owner could love, it should fit just as well into any high-end project studio.
Rusty Cutchin is a producer, engineer, and music journalist in the New York City area.
FEATURES 4 EASE OF USE 5 AUDIO QUALITY 5 VALUE 3
RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5
PROS: Excellent sound. Distinctive design. Superior bass and imaging. Efficient power handling.
CONS: Rear-panel adjustment posts hard to grasp. Pricey.