If you're working on a cheap pair of monitors, you might think you have a good handle on your sound, but chances are there's stuff going on in your music you can't even hear. At the forefront of every well-appointed studio is a set of quality reference monitors that faithfully and unforgivingly represent what's coming out of your mixer. Monitors are one of the few elements in your rig that are always in use — they are the voice of your studio and contribute a great deal to your sound. Finding accurate monitors can be a serious chore that involves a great deal of time and money. Fortunately, the upper-midrange monitor market is experiencing an explosion of growth at the moment, and Denmark-based Dynaudio Acousitcs has brought 25 years of design expertise to bear on its latest sub-$2,500 offering, the BM 12A.
The BM 12A two-way, active near-field monitor is intended for the type of close-monitoring situations found in most home and project studios. It's surprisingly light for such a large active monitor — less than 27 lb. each — and better looking than most, sporting an attractive dark-grey finish with beveled, tapered edges. The bass-reflex design features an 8-inch woofer and a rear-firing port that extends the speaker's range down to 38 Hz; a 1.1-inch neodymium soft dome tweeter picks up frequencies above 1.5 kHz. A three-prong protector guards the tweeter to offer some insurance against “poked-dome” incidents.
A quick look at the back panel reveals a relatively spartan design. A sole XLR connector provides balanced analog input to the BM 12A's internal amplifier. There are no ¼-inch or RCA plugs, so you may need to invest in some new cables to avoid the disappointment of taking the monitor out of the box and having the right connector stand between you and audio nirvana.
A three-position gain switch provides +4, 0 and 10 dB settings to match the BM 12A's internal amplifier to the signal coming out of your gear. I cabled up the monitors to a Lavry DA10 D/A converter using Zu Audio Wylde XLR cables, and the BM 12A's internal amps were simply too loud when the gain switch was set anywhere but the 10 dB position. I would have preferred a knob to enable more precise volume control, but three calibrated positions ensure precise matching between left and right speakers. A separate switch engages a highpass filter at 60 or 80 Hz for when the BM 12As are paired with a separate subwoofer.
Not all rooms are created acoustically equal, and Dynaudio has kindly provided a basic 3-band equalizer to broadly tune the monitors for different acoustic situations. All of the EQ points are fixed, and there are only a couple of gain settings for each band, so it's clear that their intent is not for use as a fine-tuning device but rather as a quick and easy way to mitigate some of the typical issues encountered during speaker placement.
The BM 12A's EQ includes 2 dB of low-frequency (LF) boost or cut, a midrange option with 2 dB or 4 dB of cut only and a high-frequency (HF) selector with 1 dB boost or cut. A quick read of the manual and tech specs didn't turn up any details on where the center frequencies for these EQ points lie, but it does offer a bit of insight about how each might be used in a variety of situations. The LF filter is intended to adjust response for proximity to walls, the midrange filter compensates when the speakers are placed on a console and the HF filter is a “salt-to-taste” setting for gentle adjustments that compensate for room acoustics and mixing habits.
With plenty of experience from using other Dynaudio products in studio settings, I expected to be impressed with the new kid on the block, and the BM 12As didn't disappoint. I always test monitors with a battery of reference songs I've set aside over the years — a stash including music from all genres that strikes me as especially well-produced and capable of revealing the true limits of a speaker. Within that short list, I always reach for the SACD remaster of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon.
Regarded as one of the most expertly programmed and engineered rock albums, Dark Side has a wealth of analog synths and organic instruments recorded through some of the most incredible (and now vintage) gear that was available in the early '70s. From the opening notes of “Breathe” through the epic conclusion, “Eclipse,” the BM 12As performed beautifully, delivering all of the remarkable stereo imaging and intricate detail I've come to expect from Dynaudio. During the instrumental “On the Run,” the crisp harmonics of the vintage EMS VCS3 synth really cut through the mix with a tangible presence, as did the sharp transients in the gated white noise used as a hi-hat. The silk-domed tweeters accurately reproduced the subtle variations in both of these elements without becoming harsh or fatiguing.
Dynaudio's imaging expertise became apparent during Clare Torry's transcendent gospel vocals in “The Great Gig in the Sky,” which seemed to detach themselves from the speakers and hang suspended between the monitors, cradled on either side by huge organ chords and piano arrangements. As I continued listening, the speakers gradually disappeared into the sonic space of my room — there was no sense of sound coming from each individual cabinet, but rather a cohesive soundstage developed in front of me that sounded spacious, detailed and accurate. The speakers sound a bit brash when played at extremely loud volumes, and their separation and detail began to suffer as a result, probably due to the amplifiers working a little too hard. Backing off just a touch on the volume gave the speakers room to breathe and brought the beautiful imaging back to life.
“A Different Drum” from Peter Gabriel's Passion further cemented my opinion that these speakers are easily capable of the imaging and accuracy necessary to make important mix decisions. “A Different Drum” is a heavily syncopated track built primarily on rhythmic elements slathered with tons of syrupy reverb. Listening closely to the tails on the snare revealed a level of detail in the far reaches of the reverb decay that simply isn't present on lesser monitors.
The BM 12As performed equally well on dance music, powering through The Future Sound of London's “My Kingdom,” Quivver's “Dancing in Dark Rooms” and Trentemøller's “Take Me Into Your Skin” without breaking a sweat. “My Kingdom” is chock full of huge pads and quirky effects spread across the stereo field, making heavy use of out-of-phase sounds to create 3-D sonic effects, and the Dynaudios took it all in stride by generating a spacious image that completely immersed me in the music while leaving minute details clear and present.
Quivver's club-oriented tune pushed the woofers to their limit with a serious workout on the low end. Again, the stereo image remained wide open yet focused, with kick and bass anchored solidly in the center of both speakers. The monitors also accurately reproduced all of the treble-heavy, glitchy tweaks in Trentemøller's tune, even in passages with large chords and heavy reverb.
The BM 12A has great detail and imaging, and on that basis alone it's a significant upgrade from cheaper monitors without the same fidelity and precision. However, I did notice a little weakness in the sub-bass registers that detracted a bit from the listening experience. With an 8-inch woofer and a spec sheet claiming frequency response down to 38 Hz, I should have been able to squeeze out a chest-thumping bass, but it seemed to push right up against that brink of big bass without quite delivering the goods. I have a suspicion that 38 Hz represents the absolute outer limits of the driver's abilities. It sounds like a pronounced roll-off kicks in much higher up the frequency ladder, probably around 50 or 60 Hz.
The BM 12As do a fabulous job of reproducing the punchy upper regions of kick drums and the overtones of bass guitars and synths, an area where many other monitors lack definition and often degenerate into a muddy mess when cranked superloud. For serious full-range monitoring, consider a nice subwoofer, such as the Dynaudio BM 14S, although that would put the total cost in the price range of a new class of monitors.
Despite that concern, listening to music on a pair of these speakers is a sublime experience. Long mixing sessions are a pleasure; ear fatigue is negligible after hours of constant listening; and zeroing in on mix elements is easy, thanks to the monitor's extreme accuracy and detail. If purchasing a subwoofer is out of the question, a little trial-and-error mixing and double-checking on a variety of sound systems would eventually train your ears. I've mixed many songs on Dynaudio monitors, and the BM 12As are head and shoulders above other sub-$2,500 studio monitors I've heard.
BM 12A > $2,345 (PAIR)
Pros: Highly accurate and impeccably detailed sonic reproduction. Wide, seamless soundstage with pinpoint imaging. Adjustable bass, mid and treble settings. Balanced input adjustable for +4 and 10 dB operation.
Cons: Bass handling could be better for an 8-inch woofer.