M-Audio EX66 + Studio Pro 3

Two pieces, two reviewers, two completely different takes. And the results….

The EX66 Professional High-Resolution Active MTM Reference Monitor

Studio monitors have to be the most difficult things to review. Everybody wants something different. The subjective nature of what sounds good to each individual causes much discussion when I bring a set of monitors into our studio and subject my partners into learning them and then using them on a daily basis. One place we agree is that the monitors we reference on are arguably the most important things in the room. The next thing we agree on is that we don’t like scooped mids, flabby low end, and hyped, fatiguing highs. We all want a monitor that will give us the truth — no matter what that is.

The EX66 is the latest offering from the affordable line of M-Audio powered studio monitors. The EX66 features what they call the “MTM” configuration, which means midwoofer-tweeter-midwoofer. They recommend that you use this as a vertical array to lessen early reflections from consoles, floors, and ceilings, and to get a more accurate off-axis response. I personally thought they sounded better in my room and looked way cooler in the horizontal position. I tried the speakers vertically and it made the sweet spot a little too narrow — mostly because when they were vertical they were too tall for my stands. I had to stand up to get into the right spot and then certain near-center panned elements would move across the stereo image as I moved. This could be dealt with if I’d just stay in one spot I’m sure. But for now, let’s say I’m into the wide sweet spot that the horizontal aspect gave me.

Each M-Audio EX66 monitor has two 6" linear-piston woofers with a 1" titanium tweeter smack dab in the center. The drivers have an even action over the entire musical spectrum making sure that all portions of musical transients are correctly aligned. This is supposed to reveal more detail. I don’t know what the woofers are made of, but they seem to be tough and fairly attractive. The tweeter, on the other hand, seems to be delicate and should not be touched. Apparently, when one set of review models went through customs, the agent stuck his finger through the tweeter and they had to be sent back. (Remember not to hide your contraband under the tweeter.)

These speakers are bi-amped with two separate 100-watt PWM power amps to drive the 4-ohm woofer combo and 4-ohm tweeter for 200 watts of “ultra low distortion” delivery. The EX66 also features analog and digital input options, with high impedance analog XLR and 1/4" TRS inputs alongside S/PDIF and AES/EBU digital inputs compatible up to 24-bit/192kHz resolution for digital connectivity. Also on the back are volume controls, (which could use a detent on “0”), Acoustic Space Control (to optimize for room placement or how close the speakers will be to a wall), some EQ controls: high freq (±2dB @ who knows), mid freq (mysterious 2dB “presence” boost?), and a low frequency cut (37Hz, 80Hz, and 100Hz with no paperwork as to how this works). I can hear it though. I definitely preferred having everything flat.

I’ve had these speakers on the stands in our studio B where we do most of our tedious editing and premixing. I’ve listened to about every different type of program material from quiet dialog and sound design, to trashy funk with layers of fat lows, to pristine orchestral pieces, and everything in between.

The EX66s have a tight and pleasing low-end punch that feels defined and controlled and I didn’t feel the need for any roll off. The mids, when kept on the flat setting, sound clear, albeit a little bit scooped out in the way that consumer home speakers scoop 400 or 500Hz. When the +2dB switch was engaged, it pushed a little around the 1.5 to 2kHz, which wasn’t necessary. The high mids above there, like around 5 or 6kHz or so, are a wee bit pushed, and the highs are reasonably detailed without being harsh or irritating after a long session. The stereo imaging is weird to get used to because it’s quite wide when the speakers are horizontal — but that being said, it didn’t take long to dial in my favorite zone to listen in — I’d push back from the desk and get into the middle of the room to get the best image and frequency response.

Overall they sound pleasing to the ears. They don’t knock my socks off, but they don’t mangle the sound either. For the price (I’ve seen $5-600 each online), they definitely deliver what a lot of monitors in this range do and possibly a bit better than most. They keep the lows nicely punchy, scoop a little bit of low mids out and push a tiny amount in the high mids. The effect gives your mixes more of a home stereo/consumer speaker feel. This is not necessarily a bad thing. If you’re shopping for monitors and come across these at your local shop, give them a listen. I think you’ll like how they stack up against the others in this range. —Monte Vallier

Studio Pro 3 Speakers

I got the M-Audio Studio Pro 3 speakers the other day (actually, I received them three months ago and have been procrastinating) to review. While thinking about how to make this an interesting review for myself and you all, I began reminiscing about different amusing scenarios involving speakers in studios I have worked in for the past 20-odd years.

The one occurrence that beats all happened during the making of the Deaf, Dumb, and Blond record by Deborah Harry with producer Micheal Chapman at Sunset Sound Studio 3 in Hollywood, where I witnessed an astonishing event: Micheal Chapman would monitor the music at such loud volumes that the control room glass would shake and rattle for hours nonstop. Amazingly enough, he never blew out any speakers.

Late one night, after hours of turbo loud monitoring, flames and smoke began spewing from the soffeted speakers. The speaker voice coils had worked so hard that they were heated to the point where they caught the speaker paper on fire. Michael Chapman nearly burned down Sunset Sound Studio 3 from cranking the music too loud!

How could I ever top that?

I can’t and won’t, but I thought I would go into this review trying to blow up these speakers in an unusual way.

So I called up my partner in crime (the king of doom, mayhem, destruction, the bull in the china shop, all of the above), the illustrious Zakk Wylde, to see if he was up to the task. Well, I really didn’t have to call him since I am already neck deep in a Black Label Society (Zakk’s band) record that has to be done pronto so Zakk can start the new Ozzy record. I brought these speakers in for some comic relief in an already stressed environment.

As I am walking into Ameraycan Studios with the speakers, there is Matt Hyde outside taking a break from mixing SX 10 (Senn Dog’s, of Cypress Hill, new project) in the other studio. He asks me “Whatchew carrying?” I said, “These are some speakers I am going to blow up.” Then Matt goes on about some great speakers he has been using with his laptop. And I ask him, “You gonna blow them up?” I was on a mission.

What means of destruction would Zakk choose though?

Was it going to be a power chord annihilation delivered by “the Grail” (possibly Zakk’s first love) guitar. How about the speakers crushed by Zakk’s double dualie truck? What about a death by Minimoog meltdown? Or maybe give the speakers to Ozzy and Zakk as a sacrifice at the annual charity rock star television throwdown held in Paris on the 40th floor of the famous 5 star hotel Chateau Gardez L’eau.

As I was fantasizing about the fate of the speakers, I plugged them in next to some Yamaha NS10s. Hey, these powered and bass reflex ported desktop speakers don’t sound too bad. I really like the master volume adjust knob on the left speaker. There’s also a stereo auxillary input to plug in a secondary audio source on the left speaker. The speakers include a headphone out that mutes the speakers when using headphones. Another nice feature is the magnetic shielding of the speakers for desktop use.

The Studio Pro 3s project some really nice definition. Even the bass sounds clear. They definitely have more clarity than the Yamahas, yet the M-Audio 3s lack the bottom-end thump of the NS10s (and NS10s aren’t known for their bottom-end thump).

Matt Hyde came in the studio the other day, saw the M-Audio speakers, and asked if I had blown them up yet. I had to confess that I liked these speakers and might have to commute their sentence.

I finally asked Zakk Wylde what we should do to these speakers and he said “Let’s put them through a Black Label beating.” We have been “beating” them for the last three weeks and they have been working great. Sure we could blow them up in about a second, but we haven’t because they’ve been useful by giving us a different perspective from the usual studio speaker fare.

Though these speakers are billed as “professional desktop speakers,” I decided to bring them into a professional studio environment to see if they could (as Zakk would say) “hang with the big boys.” They did and were quite useful in this situation. I am sure they would work great at your workstation or with your computer. —Barry Conley