Focusrite VRM Box Review

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Listen to a recording over speakers. Now listen over headphones. Not the same, is it? Headphones give a wonderful intimacy, but there''s no space—and the sound doesn''t represent what people will hear over speakers.

To address this, Focusrite invented “Virtual Reference Monitoring”—a DSP process that emulates listening in an acoustical space with speakers while you wear headphones. Is it exactly the same? No, but what''s surprising is how close it doe come. There are two main applications for VRM:

  • Enjoy the sense of listening in a space, even if you''re mixing on headphones at 2 a.m. in a hotel room.
  • Emulate the old studio trick of switching among multiple speakers to hear how your mix translates over different systems.
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VRM Box offers nine speaker options for the bedroom studio listening environment.

VRM Box connects to your computer via USB, acting as a high-quality headphone amp that supports 44.1 and 48kHz. VRM Box also works with audio interfaces that sport coaxial S/PDIF and can handle sample rates from 32kHz to 192kHz.

You''ll need to install software (for XP SP3, Vista, 32/64-bit Windows 7, Mac OS X 10.5 Intel, and OS X 10.6), as your computer''s CPU provides the processing. However, this is all about the DSP, not the drivers, as the VRM Box is class-compliant.

VRM lets you dial in multiple speaker types in three listening environments: pro studio, bedroom, and living room, with 10, 9, and 5 emulations, respectively. Given 15 speaker options, there''s some overlap—for example, the Stirling speaker emulation appears in all environments. It''s instructive to switch among environments using the same speaker, to highlight the differences among environments.

Bypassing the VRM effect is easy, so you can determine which emulations work best for you. There''s no question that using VRM sounds more like speakers—there''s no “hyper-stereo” effect, and VRM adds in room acoustics. For those who like to switch among various speakers, VRM is tremendously helpful—is there really a bit too much bass? If it sounds like too much bass on most emulations, the answer is probably yes.

My favorite use for VRM was while creating tradeshow videos in hotel rooms. First, I didn''t disturb anyone! Second, I could hear what the audio would sound like when played back under real-world conditions (translation: crappy computer speakers) as opposed to my excellent-sounding headphones. This was invaluable, as I could create a “compromise” mix; when I played the videos on my laptop, they not only sounded like what I heard through VRM, but the mixes were serviceable.

Focusrite is on to something with VRM, and VRM Box will allow the technology to reach a larger audience. It''s cost-effective as a headphone amp by itself, but add in the VRM software, and the final result is novel, utilitarian, and effective.

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Click on the Product Summary box above to view the VRM Box product page.