FIG. 1: The Q8 is the latest and most affordable member of Equator Audio''s Q Series of coaxial active monitors.
Equator Audio Research's Q8 active monitor features an 8-inch woofer coupled with a 1-inch titanium-compression driver horn (see Fig. 1). Equator claims its coaxial “zero-point reference” design aids in imaging and widens the sweet spot by aligning the high- and low-frequency drivers in all three spatial planes. Two-hundred watts of continuous power into each driver allow the Q8s to achieve a maximum output level greater than 110 dB SPL, according to Equator's specifications. The shielded bass-reflex enclosure is a 34-pound, 13-inch cube built of ¾-inch, 13-ply Baltic birch and 1-inch high-density fiberboard. It features dual bass ports on the front.
Balanced XLR and TRS connections are the only audio inputs. No digital inputs are available, which surprised me because the Q8s digitize the incoming audio to perform crossover and room-correction processing. The “zero-slope” crossover is fixed at 2 kHz. Equator says the onboard DSP also applies corrective filters to match the transducers' output to a factory standard.
You can manage the onboard DSP with your computer via a USB connection using the included Equator Control (Mac/Win) application or the optional Equator Room Analyzer package (Mac/Win; more about that soon). Equator Control allows you to tweak the speakers' EQ curve, and it even calculates appropriate correction for your room's primary modes based on room measurements. The speakers communicate with each other via Ethernet cables.
I was at first concerned at the lack of volume controls. If your interface also has no volume control, you would have to either adjust your monitor level at your master fader (which is not good practice) or monitor through a console or other monitor controller. Fortunately, digging deeper into Equator Control reveals up to 12 dB of attenuation in the Tone Contour tab and another 18 dB in the All Speakers tab — not as convenient as a volume control, but it's not a setting you should be adjusting daily anyway.
Over the course of three months, I used the Q8s regularly for my own projects, including writing, recording, and mixing. It took no time at all to acclimate to them, as their sound is so neutral and natural. I rarely had occasion to question their accuracy, but when I did it was to wonder if they were perhaps a bit weak in the bass for speakers rated down to 38 Hz. To try to pin down their characteristics in more specific terms, I set up a controlled comparison with my regular monitors.
Side by Side
I set up the Q8s right next to my JBL LSR4328Ps, solid performers costing about half as much. I ran my Hammerfall DSP Multiface's analog outputs into the Q8s and its S/PDIF output into the JBLs, and then matched the volume as closely as I could by ear. I set up a session in Cakewalk SONAR to switch instantly between the two sets of monitors and started with both set to their defaults, with one exception. I find the JBLs to have a very “happy” high end, so I always engage their high shelf (-2 dB at 2 kHz). A convenient side effect of the Q8's coaxial design is that its high-frequency horn is almost a foot lower than the JBL's high-frequency driver, making it easier to set them up at ear level.
I started by listening to a live recording I had done with the Borealis Wind Quintet, and I immediately preferred the sound of the Q8s. I was impressed by the immediacy of the sound. Before every classical recording, I stand onstage in front of the group with my eyes closed to find the best spot for my main mics, and the Q8s came very close to matching that feeling. My JBLs sounded like first-rate speakers, but the Q8s sounded more like the actual performance.
Listening to a commercial release of Marianne Thorsen playing Mozart (the CD version of a new DXD recording from 2L) reinforced my feelings. The Q8s have a very balanced sound, with a top end that is open without a hint of edge or hype. The imaging is very natural, with a depth that reveals the ambience of the recorded space. It's easy to accept Equator's assertion that this is the result of the wide-dispersion, high-frequency horn and coaxial design.
I was generally more ambivalent about the Q8s on contemporary music. The hard-edged piano on Sara Bareilles' “Love Song” was actually easier to listen to on the Q8s because the JBLs seemed to exaggerate its edge. On the lead vocal, however, the lack of that edge allowed the peripheral distortion that is so trendy to shine through, making it less pleasant to hear on the Q8s. Had it been my song to mix, the Q8s would have helped me hear and fix that before it went out.
The instrumental balance throughout the track was quite even, although the bass sounded weak next to the JBLs. Given that the specs appear to give the Q8s a 12 Hz advantage over the JBLs, this was unexpected. On closer inspection, I saw that Equator rates the Q8's frequency response as 38 Hz to 22 kHz, -3 dB, whereas JBL rates the 4328s as 50 Hz to 20 kHz, ±1.5 dB. Digging deeper into the specs for an apples-to-apples comparison reveals that the -3 dB point is 43 Hz for the 4328, leaving a difference of just over a whole step. Still, on listening to Marcus Miller's version of “Frankenstein,” I was able to hear the bottom of the kick drum and lower octave of the bass much more distinctly on my JBLs.
Equator Q87 Specifications Drivers (1) 8" woofer; (1) 1" titanium dome, forward-firing, compression-driver horn Audio Inputs (1) balanced XLR, (1) balanced ¾" TRS Data I/O USB 2.0, Ethernet In, Ethernet Thru Amplification LF: 200W RMS, 400W peak power into 4Ω; HF: 200W RMS, 400W peak power into 8Ω Frequency Response 38 Hz-22 kHz (-3 dB) Crossover Frequency 2.0 kHz Maximum SPL ≥ 110 dB (1m, pair) Included Software Equator Control (Mac/Win) manual room response compensation Dimensions 13" (W) × 13" (H) × 13" (D) Weight 34 lbs. (each)
FIG. 2: Equator Room Analyzer automatically compensates for the room''s primary modes and secondary reflections. It can save settings as presets to tailor the monitors'' response to different circumstances.
The Q8s' imaging continued to be their strong suit on contemporary music. The phantom image was more convincing, sounding less like two speakers working together and more like an independent sound source. Lead vocals and other center-panned elements sounded solid, clear, and natural. On Donald Fagen's “H Gang,” the group vocals blended together the way all good singers accustomed to working in good acoustics like to hear themselves. Their sound was rich and exceptionally well integrated.
If I could combine the Q8s' imaging with a frequency response right between theirs and the JBLs', I think I'd be very happy. Equator Control's Tone Contour page offers high- and low-shelving filters with adjustable corner frequencies to achieve such fine-tuning. You can save all the room-correction and tone-contour settings as presets for convenient retuning of the system to suit particular genres or clients.
The Equator Room Analyzer package includes a microphone and automated room-response-compensation software (Mac/Win; see Fig. 2). In addition to a tone sweep to find and compensate for your room's primary standing waves, Analyzer emits a series of short noise bursts to identify secondary reflections. These reflections, such as those from a console or computer display, are strong enough to interfere with the direct sound, impairing your monitors' frequency response and blurring their imaging.
Because my JBLs also offer integrated room-response compensation, I ran both sets of monitors through their respective calibration routines to see how much difference either made. To my surprise, neither made a big difference. Equator's analysis found only two small bumps worth fixing, one of 0.7 dB at 96 Hz and the other of 0.1 dB at 95 Hz. Likewise, it found only one secondary reflection that was worth compensating for.
On my PC, Equator Room Analyzer didn't get along with my Hammerfall, so I had to do the analysis on my Mac. Although Equator was very helpful in trying to resolve the conflict, it remains an unsolved mystery. Luckily, once I had the analysis complete on the Mac, I was able to save the settings to the monitors' flash memory (and to a file for backup) so my PC was able to take advantage of the room correction. One word of caution about the Equator analysis procedure: Wear earplugs! For setting the microphone gain, the speaker emits a pink-noise test tone that's 104 dB SPL (C-weighted) at 4.5 feet with unity gain.
Although I can't extrapolate too much from calibrating a single room, the room-correction kit worked exactly as advertised on my Mac. For a more troubled room, however, it might prove invaluable. After calibration, my impression of the Q8s was unchanged: They still sounded very even and natural, with good imaging and a wide sweet spot. I recommend them to anyone who places a high value on neutrality and imaging.
Brian Smithers is department chair of workstations at Full Sail University.