FIG. 1: The PM5 features a biamplified design and a magnetically shielded, ported cabinet with a small footprint.
The market for active close-field monitors in the under-$700 price range has become increasingly competitive over the last year and a half, with well over a dozen new models introduced. Virtually all of them have a footprint small enough for placement on a console's meter bridge or on the shelves of workstation furniture.
Most also feature a tuned bass port designed to extend bass-frequency response to a depth that allows the monitors to deliver nearly full-bandwidth output. In my experience, however, this gain in bass extension often results in a flabby bottom end and murky upper-bass and low-midrange frequency response. Such problems become exacerbated when the monitors are placed on shelves instead of on dedicated monitor stands. Because the E-mu PM5 Precision Monitor follows this current design trend, I was interested in seeing if it could avoid these pitfalls and deliver the sonic accuracy necessary in a studio monitor.
Inside and Out
Weighing 14.3 pounds and measuring just under 12 inches tall and 10 inches deep, the magnetically shielded PM5 is small and lightweight enough to be placed just about anywhere (see Fig. 1). It has an attractive-looking black MDF (medium-density fiberboard) cabinet.
The PM5's 1-inch-thick front baffle is home to a 1-inch-diameter neodymium soft-dome tweeter and a 5-inch glass-fiber-cone woofer. Each driver is powered by its own 40W amplifier. Both are custom discrete amps with Class A input stages and MOSFET output stages. A front-firing, slot-shaped bass port and LED status indicator join the PM5's drivers on the front of the monitor. The dual-mode LED lights up blue when power is applied to the PM5; it turns red when the internal overload-protection circuitry kicks in.
FIG. 2: Below the PM5''s rear-panel heat sink are XLR/TRS combo and RCA analog-input jacks, an input-sensitivity control, and separate switches for tailoring low- and high-frequency response.
Below the monitor's sizable heat sink on the rear of the cabinet (see Fig. 2), you'll find two separate inputs: a balanced XLR/TRS combo jack (latching for XLRs, thank you) and an unbalanced RCA jack (both analog). A 2-way switch lets you select between them. Only one of these jacks can be active at a time on a single PM5. A continuously variable, rotary input-sensitivity control — with a 12 o'clock detent — offers a 21 dB range to accommodate a wide variety of input levels and to allow fine-tuning of the relative volume of each speaker in a stereo or surround setup.
A 3-way switch on the PM5's rear panel adjusts the monitor's low-frequency response using bass-rolloff filters with progressively higher corner frequencies on alternate switch settings. The first of these settings uses a steep highpass filter (HPF) with a 67 Hz corner frequency to achieve the monitor's stated bass-frequency response.
The second setting uses a combination HPF and low-shelving filter with a corner frequency of 150 Hz, resulting in 3 dB of attenuation at 67 Hz and a sharp drop-off in response for lower frequencies. The third setting uses a combination HPF and low-shelving filter with a corner frequency of 200 Hz to cause a 5 dB cut at 67 Hz and a steep drop-off below that point.
A second 3-way switch, labeled Treble Tilt, tailors the monitor's high-frequency response. The first Treble Tilt setting selects an unfiltered response out to 20 kHz. The second position kicks in a high-shelving filter with a 3 kHz corner frequency to culminate in a 2 dB cut at 20 kHz. The third switch setting uses a high-shelving filter with a corner frequency of 10 kHz, resulting in a 4 dB attenuation at 20 kHz.
The product literature suggests that both shelving filters begin rolling off highs at around 1 kHz, which is unusually low for monitor equalization. I would like to have seen a high-frequency boost control for the PM5 for use in heavily damped (for example, carpeted) control rooms. A power switch and IEC power connector — the latter for an included, detachable AC cord measuring roughly eight feet in length — round out the PM5's rear panel.
For my first test of the PM5, I set up a pair on the monitor shelves of my Omnirax Mixstation 02R (console furniture) with acoustic-foam Auralex MoPads placed as decouplers. My listening environment includes an ASC Attack Wall, a contiguous arrangement of modular tube traps that wrap around the rear of my Mixstation 02R to tighten up the impulse response and imaging.
I immediately appreciated the excellent grip of the PM5's combo jack when I plugged in a TRS cable. Adjusting the PM5s' trim controls, I noticed they didn't attenuate to -∞ (silence) when adjusted fully counterclockwise, but the range was nevertheless suitably wide to accommodate any imaginable input levels.
I listened to a variety of country and pop tracks — including my own completed mixes — on the PM5s with all filters set to provide the flattest and most extended frequency response. My initial impression was that the monitors provided a warm, easy-on-the-ears sound with decent bass extension.
I also quickly noticed that the low-midrange and upper-bass bands sounded a bit muddy, and that the imaging, transient response, and depth (the sense of sound extending behind the speakers) were unimpressive. That is, the placement of individual instruments and vocals in the stereo field sounded a little imprecise. Percussive elements seemed a bit rounded off, and the overall sound tended toward two-dimensionality.
These types of flaws are often caused or exacerbated by resonances in furniture shelving that monitors are placed on, but in this case the problems were worse than what I've generally heard when auditioning other close-field monitors placed the same way. I also heard a slight dip in response around the 2.5 kHz active-crossover frequency. This made picked acoustic guitars, for example, sound a bit thin and brittle, and it moved fiddle tracks into the background. Although the overall sound was warm, the top-octave response lacked air and sounded closed in. For that reason, I couldn't imagine ever using the PM5's Treble Tilt switch to attenuate high frequencies further.
When I engaged the PM5s' highest bass-rolloff settings, the monitors' clarity, imaging, and transient response all improved significantly. Even so, the upper-bass and low-midrange bands still sounded a little muddy, and imaging and transient response were still disappointing. With the PM5s placed on the shelves of my console furniture, they sounded best with their highest bass-rolloff settings and their unfiltered Treble Tilt settings. I especially liked how they sounded when used in tandem with my Tannoy PS-88 subwoofer (a discontinued model).
When I moved the PM5s off the Omnirax shelves and onto ASC Monitor Traps (16-inch-diameter cylindrical monitor stands) and set all the filters to provide their flattest response, the PM5s' spectral balance improved dramatically. The decoupling that the stands provided allowed me to set the bass-rolloff switch to its flat setting without the exaggerated upper-bass response that I heard when the monitors were placed on the shelves. However, the bass still sounded a little flabby. Imaging and transient response were good but not great.
I found that the PM5s sounded best when placed on monitor stands and didn't work well when they sat on console furniture. Like most other close-field monitors on the market (and all that I've heard in this price range), they also require an added subwoofer if you want to hear the bottom two octaves of your mix in proper perspective. (E-mu recently announced the PS12, a subwoofer designed to work with the PM5s. It should be available by the time you read this.)
Overall, the PM5 is a fairly good performer when placed optimally. However, it's sure to face stiff competition in the increasingly competitive and crowded powered-monitor market.
Michael Cooper offers out-of-area clients flat-fee mixing and mastering services via Fed Ex delivery. He can be reached email@example.com.
PM5 PRECISION MONITOR SPECIFICATIONS Inputs (1) balanced ¼" XLR/TRS combo; (1) unbalanced RCA Drivers 1" neodymium soft-dome tweeter; 5" glass-fiber-cone woofer Amplifiers (×2, one for each driver) power: 40W RMS into 4; signal-to-noise ratio (at full output): >98 dB; THD: <0.2% Crossover Frequency 2.5 kHz (active, second-order Butterworth) Enclosure Type magnetically shielded, ported cabinet Input-Sensitivity Control continuously variable knob, -21 dB-0 dB Maximum SPL, Short-Term single PM5: at least 100 dB SPL @ 1m; pair: at least 103 dB SPL @ 1m Frequency Response 67 Hz-20 kHz ±2.5 dB Treble Tilt Filter setting 0: unfiltered response; setting 1: 3 kHz corner frequency, -2 dB at 20 kHz; setting 2: 10 kHz corner frequency, -4 dB at 20 kHz Bass-Rolloff Filter setting 0 (HPF only): 67 Hz corner frequency, ±2.5 dB at 67 Hz; setting 1: 150 Hz corner frequency, -3 dB at 67 Hz; setting 2: 200 Hz corner frequency, -5 dB at 67 Hz Dimensions 6.9" (W) × 11.5" (H) × 9.7" (D) Weight 14.3 lbs.
PM5 Precision Monitor
active close-field monitor
AUDIO QUALITY 2 VALUE 2
RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5
PROS: Biamplified drivers. Magnetically shielded cabinet. Accepts three types of input connectors. Wide-ranging sensitivity control. Onboard filters. Small footprint.
CONS: Requires stringent decoupling to sound good. Somewhat pricey given its performance. Treble Tilt filter doesn't offer boost setting.