TAPCO S-5 - EMusician

TAPCO S-5

Electronic Musician reviews the Tapco S-5, a low-cost powered monitor that delivers good-quality sound for small studios and desktop music systems.
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AudioFrequencyResponse64 Hz-20 kHz(±3 dB)High-FrequencyEqualization±2 dBshelving at 5 kHzLow-FrequencyEqualization+2 dB; +4 dBpeaking at 65 HzPeak OutputAmplifiers113dBPowerRating60W (HFamplifier); 60W (LF amplifier) rated with 4ž load, 100WpeakSignal-to-Noise Ratio (HFamplifier)>93 dBunweightedSignal-to-Noise Ration (LFamplifier)>101 dBunweightedTotalHarmonic Distortion<0.01%PowerConsumption20W (idle); 80W(full program)SpeakersHigh-FrequencyDriverwave-guideloaded 1" silk domeLow-FrequencyDriver5.25"polypropylene coneInputConnectorsXLR, ¼"TRS, RCACrossoverCrossoverSlope24 dB/octave at4 kHz, activeEnclosureMaterial0.625" MDF with0.750" MDF front panelDimensions7.6" (W) ×11.3" (H) × 9.1" (D)Weight17lb.

The news last year that Mackie was reviving the Tapcoline brought nods of recognition and some eagerness to musicians withlong memories. After all, before Greg Mackie helped kick off thehome-recording revolution with his CR1604 small-format mixer, his firstcompany, Tapco, made a similar impact with small, well-built, andreasonably priced mixers that were embraced by bands for use with theirP.A. systems.

The new incarnation of Tapco, a company called Tapco by Mackie, aimsto bring some of Mackie's know-how and considerable success withpro-studio monitors to budget-minded users who have been courted withinexpensive powered monitors by Alesis, Behringer, M-Audio, and others.The first product from the new company is the S-5 Active StudioMonitor, and a full workout reveals it to be a serious contender amongspeakers in its price range.

PRODUCT SUMMARYTapco
S-5
active close-field monitor
$499 per pair
FEATURES3.5EASE OFUSE4.0AUDIOQUALITY3.0VALUE4.0RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO5

PROS:Compact and portable. Versatile input connections. Front panel powerindicators. Bargain priced.

CONS:Highs sound slightly compressed. No matching subwoofer. Input-level potdifficult to grasp.

ManufacturerTapco
tel. (877) 827-2669
e-mail sales@tapcogear.com
Web www.tapcogear.com

BACK TO BASICS

The S-5 is a compact powered monitor that houses a 5.25-inchpolypropylene cone woofer and a 1-inch silk dome tweeter mounted in awave guide. Dual 60W amps drive the high- and low-frequency sections. Arecessed rear panel protects the electronic components from potentialdamage and enables units to be packed tightly for transport. The S-5 issmart in appearance, with antique silver panels accenting the black,rounded-corner, seamless MDF cabinet on which the orange Tapco logostands in bold relief. Chrome hex nuts secure the tweeter panel andwoofer rim to the cabinet.

Below the recessed heat sink, the rear panel is divided intosections for Inputs, Settings (EQ switches and Input Level), and thepower section, which includes the cable receptacle, the power switch,and an AC Select switch. The default voltage-selector setting is oneclue that these monitors are manufactured in China. A bigger hint comesfrom the bright yellow crime-scene-style caution tape across the rearof the unit that lets you know your first job is to switch the S-5'svoltage from 230 to 110. Though the country of the monitor'smanufacture is clearly stated on the rear panel, users are reminded intrue Mackie fashion that the S-5 is “brought to you by the groovyfolks in Woodinville, Washington.”

And several elements of the S-5 are indeed groovy. Power andclipping indicators are on the front where they should be. The monitoris easy to set up and move around. Handling each 17-pound unit (they'resold in pairs), you get the sense that Mackie gave the S-5, though partof a “bargain” line, the right amount of heft while keepingit easily transportable. (Some other similarly sized and priced poweredmonitors I've examined in the last year made me wonder if I should popthe cover and see if there was really an amp inside.)

Tapco has also made the analog-only S-5 user friendly by includingall three common input connectors: balanced XLR, balanced TRS, andunbalanced RCA. Unused inputs can be daisy-chained to additionalmonitors. The different connectors make the S-5 easy to hook up todevices ranging from a large-format mixing console to a modest computersound card. If you're shopping for your first set of powered monitors,be aware that connection options vary from model to model, especiallyif a compatible subwoofer is part of the system. For example, somesmall powered monitors ship with XLR inputs only — high qualitybut not desktop friendly. Tapco deserves points for providing thisflexibility.

ON THE DOWN LOW

Speaking of matched subwoofers, Tapco has not announced a modeldesigned to mate with the S-5. According to its specs, the S-5'sfrequency response bottoms out around 65 Hz. Clearly these boxes arenot designed to reproduce the extreme club environment in your bedroomstudio. Modern powered monitors with 5-inch drivers and a 65 Hz low-endlimit should have compatible subwoofers in the same box, or at leastclearly in sight on the showroom floor.

Having stated that, I must also point out that the first thing Inoticed when I began pumping CDs through the S-5s was the bassresponse. Though no one would mistake them for the heart of anunderground hip-hop system, the S-5s do a fine job with most low-endmaterial, owing in part to a well functioning slotted rear port belowthe power-cable connector and switch. The onboard Low Frequency Filterswitch boosts bass response by 2 dB or 4 dB at 65 Hz. These choicesmake for a subtle but noticeable improvement without significantlyincreasing the threat of creating mixes that are bass deficient whenplayed on other systems.

Placement, however, is of primary concern with the S-5s. Thismonitor will probably wind up in smaller control rooms and on desktops,so in my initial setup I positioned the monitors close to a corner ofan almost acoustically dead room, which compounded my initiallyfavorable impression of the S-5's bass response. Moving the monitors toa position three feet away from the walls gave me a more reasonableassessment of their low-end capability: the S-5s do a fair job withbass for their size and cost. (Tapco has also just released the S-8,which, with its 8-inch drivers, promises an extended low-frequencyresponse for those who can spend a little extra cash.)

The S-5's High Frequency Filter switch creates a ±2 dB shelf at5 kHz. However, I didn't have to adjust this switch; the S-5's high-endperformance was already generally satisfactory for every placement andtype of music I pumped into it.

LISTENING IN

I popped in several well-known commercial CDs with which I wasfamiliar for quick comparisons while setting up one of my mixes. Myinitial impression on material like Nelly's “Hot In Herre”and Pink's “Don't Let Me Get Me” was that the monitor'spower handling was excellent. Even with the input control set to itscenter detent position, the monitors were slamming when fed a stereosignal through my MOTU 2408mkII. But tonally, the S-5s seemed toflatten high-end transients and compress highly compressed pop musiceven further, besides missing the ultra-low end that I wanted to feeland hear on dance and hip-hop.

Yet I was surprised when I inserted more conventionally mixedmaterial like Norah Jones's Come Away with Me and Jay Graydon'sretro-modern jazz Bebop. The S-5s exhibited an impressiveevenness and clarity across the full frequency range. I detected noobvious flaws in the stereo image, and the response was surprisinglyeven as much as 30 degrees or so off axis. Just when I thought the S-5swouldn't be very satisfying over the long haul, they came up with newways to make me appreciate them.

On my own mix of a heavily arranged R&B-jazz theme composed fora video tutorial, the results were consistent with what I heard fromthe CDs. Upper-midrange material in the horn arrangements was strongand prominent without being overbearing, and there were no obnoxiouspeaks in the low mids. However, the ride cymbal loop lacked thebrightness I'd come to expect from mixing the track on my usualmonitors, and the driving quarter-note bass part from a Korg Triton wasmissing the deep bottom I had purposely built into the sound, as wasthe 808-style kick. The dual-harmonized lead guitars generated with theCrunch preset on a Pod Pro, however, were spot on.

While remixing the track, I quickly got used to what I was missingin low-end frequency response and was glad the S-5s were making up forit in gain. In fact, I began to think seriously about how killer theS-5s could be in a 5.1 system with the right sub. For a studioprimarily booking rock sessions, the S-5s would, well, rock, and withthe right bass management, I wouldn't be surprised if they made some ofthe best satellites available.

BOTTOM LINE

For me, the S-5s are not the right choice for a 2.0 monitoringsystem. I can see using them in a small writing room away from my mainstudio, and I can certainly see them forming the mid-to-high-frequencycomponents of an exceptional 2.1 or 5.1 system, assuming Mackie comesup with the right sub or I can find a compatible one.

For a traditional stereo monitoring system, I'm looking forward tochecking out the Tapco S-8, which should offer a little more oomph inthe low end. Still, on many projects, the efficient, low-cost, solidperformance of an S-5 pair will make it a great choice for users whodon't need extended bass frequencies.

S-5Specifications

Rusty Cutchinis an associate editor ofEM.