E-Mu PM5 Studio Reference Monitors

[$498/pair, e-mu.com]
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Choosing a new pair of studio monitors for your control room can easily turn into a struggle. I don’t think there’s any other piece of studio equipment that can generate such a love/hate relationship. While it’s possible to track on any speaker system (including headphones), it’s mixing (or balancing, as they say in the UK) where any speaker deficiencies will come to light.

I tracked and mixed with these small, near field studio monitors from E-mu in my studio for three weeks, recording a wide variety of bands, from punk rock to folk rock, and although they’re a wee bit bass- shy, I found mixing on them a real pleasure.

Housed in an attractive, hefty cabinet and sporting a nice, bright blue power light (that flashes red when overloaded), the PM5s are bi-amped with Class A 40w/40w amplifiers. The relatively small woofer size (5") is helped by the ported cabinets to extend the usable bass range. XLR/TRS balanced and RCA unbalanced inputs are provided.

After some experimentation, these speakers sounded best to me when placed four feet back from my listening position, and six feet apart. I put them on their sides, with the tweeters on the outside, and aimed them a little over my ears.

I left the high/low pass switches set to off. If you’re using a subwoofer, try experimenting with the 2 position (60/80Hz) high pass filter to tighten up the bass.

Listening to a wide variety of CDs that I’m familiar with, I immediately liked the midrange and high-end detail of these speakers. The ported enclosure helps to extend the range of the lows, but I still felt a little unsure of what I was hearing below 80Hz. Switching back and forth between our larger Event 20/20s and the PM5s helped me here.

If you have a small control room and these were going to be your only set of monitors, you might want to look into adding a subwoofer. Without one, try placing yourself farther back from the speakers. This will bring out the bass frequencies a little more, although you’re still going to have to be careful with anything under 80Hz: Be aware that the lower octaves may be stronger than what you’re hearing.

These speakers are still accurate enough to get a good bass sound. In fact, when I tried re-mixing some older material with these speakers, I was much happier with the way the bass was sitting in the music, and I felt my new mixes were much more musical.

During regular studio sessions, it was a pleasure working with these monitors. Mixing the alt-country quartet Axton-Kincaid, with their intricate three-part harmonies, I was able to quickly come up with a good balance that was musically satisfying. With the Cliftons, a punk band whose biting guitar and lead bass interplay had always been a challenge to separate on our Events, the PM5s made it much easier for me with their clearer midrange definition. Shifting musical gears with the retro pop group Lime, whose members like to triple-track their harmonies, then bounce them all down to a single track, I felt confident that the balance I was hearing and committing to was going to work in the mix later on.

These speakers aren’t really big enough to use as the main monitors in a large control room, but they would be a good choice as a smaller second set. In a small studio, with a subwoofer, or very careful placement, they’d be great as your primary speakers. Personally, I prefer working with smaller monitors; I find them much easier to overdub and mix on.

And although sonically they’re forward in the upper midrange, they never got tiring to listen to, and I was able to monitor with them at very low levels and still get enough information to make musical decisions. I like them.