There is an increasing need for subwoofers these days. On one hand, more music is being produced in project and bedroom studios on smaller monitors with limited frequency ranges. On the other hand, surround sound is no longer a boutique thing, with the plethora of THX cinemas and 5.1 home-theater systems out there. To this end, M-Audio has stepped up with its Studiophile BX10s, a two-channel, 240W self-powered subwoofer. The BX10s is the company's first foray into ultralow-frequency monitoring and is clearly designed to pair with M-Audio's own direct-field, biamplified studio monitors, the BX8a ($599.95, pair) and BX5a ($399.95, pair), which I used to test the BX10s.
Out of the box, the BX10s appears well-built; it is quite heavy (54.6 pounds) and all the knobs and switches feel sturdy. The enclosure's rear panel sports all controls, cable and power-connection points, as well as a bass reflex port tube. Controls include a continuous sweepable crossover pot that ranges from 50 to 200 Hz with useful additional markings at 80, 100 and 120 Hz, which is particularly useful for Dolby Digital, DTS or THX use. There's also a smooth volume pot with -30 to +6 dB range with markings at -6, 0 and +3 dB, and three switches: a 0/180-degree invert Phase, a Standby mode and a normal/+10 dB Gain Boost. The Gain Boost contributes to BX10s' respectable maximum gain range of 46 dB. The knobs' smoothness could be better; the volume gain is nice and silky, yet the crossover pot felt a tad dry. Balanced stereo inputs and outputs are provided on both XLR and TRS connectors — a nice touch — and while they feel sturdy, connections made to their respective cable types could be slightly tighter. The power connector and on/off switch are rear-mounted, and while I prefer a front-mounted power switch, the BX10s does include a switchable, timed auto-sleep feature, which is a good trade off.
One of the unassuming yet sweet features of BX10s is the ¼-inch Subwoofer bypass jack, which accepts a standard footswitch (included). I applaud this feature, which when activated, mutes the BX10s' output and sends the full-frequency signal (sans crossover) directly to the satellites.
M-Audio includes some eye candy; the attractive blue LED (indicating active mode) situated on the front panel blinks red whenever the BX10s is in bypass mode. When the sub switches to auto-sleep mode, the lamp glows solid red. I like this “traffic light” approach. The enclosure's front baffle also features a 10-inch driver cone and removeable protective grill. Finally, the bottom panel features four screw holes into which four plastic cone-shaped feet fit. The feet are designed to minimize unwanted signal transference, and they look hip, too.
I tested the BX10s in my home studio's 10-by-13-foot control room. I set the sub on the floor a short distance away from a foam-treated wall, directly below and midway between two sets of near-field monitors: M-Audio BX5a and Tannoy Reveal active. The initial settings I tried with the Tannoys were approximately 80 Hz crossover (according to the manual's recommendation), 0-degree phase, 0 dB volume and normal gain boost (+10 inactive). Out of the gate, these settings worked well, and while monitoring some bass-heavy house, downtempo, rock, funk and reggae tracks, the bass was pleasantly thick, tight and not muddy. I made some tweaks to the settings, but the BX10s really shined when I switched satellites to the BX5a monitors. They employ only a 5-inch woofer and achieve a reported frequency response down to 56 Hz, though in my space it clearly sounded like a higher bass rolloff point. With the BX10s in bypass mode, bass was fairly thin; however, with the sub active, the picture became much more complete. The additional bass frequencies became part of the whole, as if also emitting directly from the satellites.
After additional testing, I give high marks to the BX10s, especially for its very reasonable price. Unlike many speakers (subs in particular), the BX10s is only minimally disturbed by common modern interferences, such as nearby cell phones or hard drives. My Tannoy sub, for example, produces all manner of horrendous chatter. The BX10s is affected, but only slightly. It also produces absolutely no hum or stray air when idle. The one peeve I have is with auto-sleep mode: Though rated at only 7mV, to my ears it takes a fairly substantial signal to kick the BX10s to life; that may not be so good for certain home-studio dwellers (especially those who have neighbors on adjoining walls). Though auto-sleep is a good energy saver, I suggest using BX10s in “always-on” mode.
STUDIOPHILE BX10S > $499.95
Pros: Well constructed and shielded. Footswitch for sub-bypass mode. Full, tight bass response with wide crossover range. Fully balanced I/O. Cone-shaped legs. Crossover settings for use in Dolby Digital, DTS or THX surround environments.
Cons: Revival from auto-sleep mode requires substantial signal level. Sweepable control pots feel a little dry. Cable connections could be tighter.