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  1. #1

    Default Monitor Shoot-out!

    I've been building up to this for quite awhile. I upgraded my SAC/SAW software and so I also upgraded my converters and pres. In the process, I discovered that Sweetwater was having an end-of-fiscal-year sale on several brands of studio monitors. So, really getting in the spirit, I arranged with my salesman over there, Ed Nystrom, to buy three monitor sets, along with cabling, stands, and etc, that I was especially interested in with the understanding that I would only keep one of them by the end of the month. It's time for a shoot-out! I want to say at the outset that I have been really impressed with both Ed, and Sweetwater generally, throughout this process. They've bent over backwards to help me through any difficulties that cropped up along the way. I think they're good folks to do business with.

    For those who are just starting to follow my efforts now, the three sets of monitors are:

    Focal SM9 - a three-way near/mid field, powered, studio monitor. The SM9 has an 11" passive radiator as well as an 8" bass driver. These can be bypassed using a button on the side of the monitor, resulting in a 2-way monitor, with just the 6 1/2" mid driver, and the 1" beryllium tweeter - with more pedestrian bass response that allows one to check one's mix without changing speaker systems or mounts. You buy these in distinct 'left' and 'right' models whose drivers are arranged as mirror images. An obvious reality about them, when you pick them up, is that, although they are not that large, they weigh over 75 lbs each. I mean: seriously heavy. Presumably that is as a result of large rare earth magnets.

    Adam S3H - a three-way mid field, powered, studio monitor. The S3H has two 7" bass drivers, a 4" mid-range driver, and, of course, the S-ART folded ribbon tweeter that has made Adam so famous. They can accept either an AES/EBU digital signal, or a more conventional balanced analog signal. At over 58 lbs each, they seem very heavy - until you pick up an SM9. If the Borg manufactured studio monitors - this is how they would look.

    Genelec 8341a - a three-way, powered, near field studio monitor that can also accept either a digital AES/EBU or an analog balanced input. It comes with a shock mount (that's gotta be the wrong term...) bolted on so you can put it on a desk without fear of it becoming acoustically coupled with it. If you prefer horizontal mounting, it's design allows that even to the point that you can re-bolt the shock mount to the 'side' of the monitor to support horizontal, rather than vertical usage. Blessedly, they weigh 22 lbs. Besides being a high quality near field monitor, the additional selling point to these monitors is the option to purchase the (reasonably-priced) 'GLM' package to help automatically tune the monitor to your room(s). More on this later.

    I plan to do this shootout in three phases. The room has been treated with 72 sq ft of 4" OC 703 acoustic insulation. In the first phase I'll arrange for the monitors to be tuned to be as flat as possible for my room in my mixing position. I have some recorded white and pink noise that I'll use, along with the 12 parametric equalizers available within each dedicated SAC output channel (one output channel for each monitor set). I'll use Voxengo Span to monitor the frequency response of the noise on the way into SAC, and another copy to monitor the frequency response as registered by a flat, wide frequency, microphone (a Shure SM81) picking up the output of the speakers from my listening position. Then, I'll use as many of the 12 parametrics as required to shape the sound coming out of the speakers to cause the second copy of Voxengo Span to look as close as possible to the first at my listening position.

    However, I won't be doing this for the 8341a's because Genelec GLC does this automatically. Each Genelec speaker, in their SAM series, has 20 parametrics built into it that GLC, along with a supplied reference microphone, uses to accomplish the same thing at the push of a button. This is a nice trick for a pair of loud speakers, such as the ones I am reviewing, but it's also capable of doing it for a room with literally tens of Genelec speakers, including sub-woofers - which is an even better trick.

    There's a little plastic box with places for connections. For a setup like mine, you run a USB cable from it to your computer (within which you have installed the GLC software you have downloaded), and from the box to one of the speakers, using supplied CAT5 cable, and from that speaker to the other one using another run of CAT5, and from the box to a little plastic reference microphone (also supplied) that can attach to a mic stand. There're lots of videos on YouTube demonstrating actually accomplishing it, but the bottom line is that it is easy and quick and, to my ears at least, does a good job. If you approve it, the 'fix' is stored in your monitors so you don't necessarily need GLC again. But, apparently, some engineers carry everything with them on the road and use GLC to routinely set up a mixing room wherever they are - like in and out of hotel rooms. You can see the 'before' frequency analysis, the applied fix via the monitor's parametrics, and the 'after' result in a graph - as well as see the parametric settings it sent to the monitors. GLC does more stuff that I'm not interested in at this moment that maybe I'll get into later if I keep the Genelecs rather than one of the others. Anyway, it's cool and takes the effort out of accomplishing adjusting the monitors for the room.

    My original intent was to setup all six speakers in my space in front of my mixing position and switch quickly between them, using SAC, for comparison once they were all adjusted for my studio. But, there's just not enough room in Crowded Corner to do a decent job with all three at once. in particular, the Argosy Xi monitor stands I'm using for the SM9s and the S3Hs take up a lot of floor space in their base (to keep them from tipping over...) and - both the Adam and the Focal are landscape-style cabinets. It just isn't going to work with three at once. So, instead, in phase two I'll be comparing the Genelecs with the Adams (using both digital and analog input signals). And in phase three - the Genelecs with the Focals using whichever (d or a) signal was superior - if either. Hopefully, after that, it will be clear to me which ones I want forever.

    At this point, the Genelecs have completed phase one. GLC applied six parametric adjustments for my room, out of the 20 it has available. I'll try to finish phase one for the Adams tonight. The Focals will take a little longer because the set that were originally shipped to me have problems that Sweetwater is graciously and generously resolving, which involve shipping time. So, I might well move on to phase two before completing phase one for the Focals.

    More later...

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Monitor Shoot-out!

    Hi John

    I think you may be miss-understanding the idea behind calibrating your monitors.

    The process is intended to ensure that the monitors play at the same volume and are properly balanced left to right from your listening position, not to try and adjust the frequency response of the monitors to the room.

    Everything in the system should be left flat. If you do make an adjustment for the room, it needs to be identical for ALL monitors (not adjusted individually for each monitor)

    The testing method you are proposing will not tell you anything about the differences in the monitors.

    The purpose of a shootout is specifically to evaluate the differences, not to try and make them all the same.

    You do that by supplying the exact same source material to each monitor, not one adapted to compensate for the flaws of the monitor or the room.

    If you do a google search on studio monitor calibration you not find a single reference to adjusting EQ settings. They all describe a process that only deals with setting a specific known output SPL level (volume).

    After all the time and effort to get the studio room setup and the equipment from the dealer I'd hate to see that go waste.

    This actually should make your job much easier.
    Last edited by cgrafx; 08-06-2019 at 06:01 PM.
    ---------------------------------------
    Philip G.

  3. #3

    Default Re: Monitor Shoot-out!

    Philip - I wish I could say that I never do what turn out to be foolish things. But, I can't. I appreciate that you're trying to save me from myself here. Ultimately though, I'm going to follow through on what seems to me to be the best way to evaluate what these monitors can do for me. There is reasoning behind my actions though, and I will alter my plans if I can be convinced that my reasoning is faulty. Maybe you can convince me where the hole in it is.

    First off, my goal is to select the best monitors for my space. It's treated, but it isn't perfect. It's not a control room. It serves as both a control and live room. And, it's bigger than many one-room home studios, but it isn't that big. My suspicion is that each of these monitors will interact with it differently. As a result, were I to have purchased any single set of these, rather than all three, I would definitely adjust it to be flat in the location where I make mixing decisions. Otherwise, when I was done, the room would be left in my mix.

    I'm not the only one who thinks like this. For instance Genelec has produced an entire line of monitors specifically to allow one to easily adjust one's listening position to be flat - wherever. I read somewhere that engineers take monitors like the 8341a on tour with them, along with GLC, so that they can mix reliably in every hotel room they find themselves mixing down in - and not have the resulting tour compilation sound like each different room.

    What I think I hear you saying is that if I adjust all three monitors to be flat in my room that they will all sound the same and thus make comparing them pointless. I don't think you're right about that. I think it will still be obvious which monitor is which. My thought is that each of these sets arrives at excellence in a different way. That each is the result of compromises in their manufacture that are unique to them. The Adams have that unmistakable folded ribbon tweeter. The Focals have the passive radiator to extend it's grip on the low end. The Genelecs pay for their low weight with a lack of bass extension. Those are obvious, but I think there will be other differences too. And each of them will interact with my space in a different way.

    I would not mix with any of these in my space without adjusting them for it. So, I reason that if I start by arranging for them to be flat where I make decisions, I will have arranged to compare the three as they would sound in my space if I had bought just one or another of them. If, after doing that, I can't tell which is which - then I'll buy the cheapest ones and be done with it - and I'll concede that you were right. But, I don't think that will happen.

    Rather, I think that, having eliminated the flatness issue in my mix, the other advantages and disadvantages of each monitor will come to the fore for my evaluation. That while all will be very good, none will be perfect. And I'll be able to compare those differences to decide which set of compromises is best for me.

    Or, maybe what you're saying is that 'monitor shoot-out' has a particular meaning and that I am misusing it. That there are specific rules to shoot-outs and I am not following them. If that's the case, maybe I should call this something else. How about "Monitor Throw-Down: Three Enter - Two Leave"? That has the requisite implication of cabinet violence...

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Monitor Shoot-out!

    A monitor shootout is intended to compare different monitors to each other.

    The only way you can do that is to ensure all are playing the exact same source material.

    The purpose of the Genelec auto adjustment is to make the Genelec sound the same in different environments so you have a common reference point when mixing.

    These are two completely different tasks.

    Once you've selected a monitor for your room, you may then want to make adjustments to compensate for the room if necessary, but that would be done after comparing the monitors.

    This is no different than comparing microphones. If you want to evaluate different microphones you wouldn't eq them differently, that would destroy the test.

    Again, do a google search on monitor calibration and you will not find anybody discussing eq'ing the monitors, only adjusting the SPL (volume) to have a balanced and known listening level.
    ---------------------------------------
    Philip G.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Monitor Shoot-out!

    Hey John,

    I would suggest you simply set up each set of monitors one at a time and live with them for a day or two. Put them through their paces, tune them for the room, listen to lots of reference material, maybe try a mix or two and then decide which monitor works best for you. I realize this contradicts the idea of doing a shoot out and a comparison as Philip has laid out. All three of these models are good reference monitors and will serve an engineer for many years. Your preferences may come down to ergonomics or features (such as the particular room correction functions, the app etc) as much as the sound of the monitors. No matter which of those three you choose, you will end up with very good reference monitors.

    There are many reasons Philip is nervous for you, and I agree with him. (I designed loudspeakers for 15 years with a mid-size global manufacturer)

    One of the main concerns with your shootout is it's impossible to place the speakers all in the exact same location without some sort of turntable or conveyor belt system that moves the speakers in/out of position when you switch (A/B) them. Some very large, reputable manufacturers do exactly this. 1' to 2' positional differences in speaker location can make a big difference to the sound/response of the speakers. So much so that using the room correction/calibration features of the monitors to compensate for the room will compensate for the exact room position the speakers are in when you do your shootout. You can offset this somewhat by re-doing your shoot-outs after swapping the position of the speakers and re-calibrating.

    Anyway, without sugar-coating it, you are setting yourself up for some confusion and frustration as you try to compare these in an A/B shootout.

    I'm not saying 'don't do a shoot-out', but I am suggesting to try and minimize the variables.

    My suggestion, use the KISS principle. Keep it simple and audition the speakers in isolation, or perhaps against a pair of speakers you're already familiar with. In the room position they will end up in.

    I'm not saying equal-level, double-blind A/B/X listening tests don't have their place. It's just that it's very difficult to set that up, control the test, stay blind to what you're listening to, etc. It's so difficult and complex, that to me it is easier to simply 'live with the speakers' for a few days.

    I'm suggesting you use a number of different approaches to evaluating the monitors and don't be tricked by room placement, playback level etc.

    Anyway, I'm just firing off a quick message because you seem to be asking for input by posting all your plans and findings. I can't go into a long detailed description, but hopefully offering some food for thought and support to Philip who is so very generous with his time and knowledge.

    So, here's some input FWIW.
    Last edited by Naturally Digital; 08-07-2019 at 09:34 AM.


  6. #6
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    Default Re: Monitor Shoot-out!

    Quote Originally Posted by John Ludlow View Post
    What I think I hear you saying is that if I adjust all three monitors to be flat in my room that they will all sound the same and thus make comparing them pointless.
    Philip can speak for himself, but I do not believe that is what he is driving at.

    Quote Originally Posted by John Ludlow View Post
    Rather, I think that, having eliminated the flatness issue in my mix, the other advantages and disadvantages of each monitor will come to the fore for my evaluation. That while all will be very good, none will be perfect. And I'll be able to compare those differences to decide which set of compromises is best for me.
    This seems logical but in practice is quite difficult. Know that the monitors will not be performing any magic (as much as their marketing may suggest otherwise) and you can think of the room correction features as EQ. The speaker will make an effort to detect the highest peak(s) in the low frequency range and notch those somewhat. They will generally not try to 'fill in' any dips in your room response. Again, unless you are able to place each set of speakers in exactly the same room position, you will find with extended listening that it becomes difficult to equal-level the speakers (what part of the spectrum should you 'equal-level'?) and you will start to find after a few days that you are more confused than ever. I think the changes to the sound after running the room correction routines will by far outweigh the sonic differences in the mid/highs. Those low-frequency EQ adjustments will 'color' the sound to a degree and potentially mis-lead the listener. I am willing to be proven wrong but that is what I have to offer based on experience.To test this, run a calibration, do some listening, and then move the mic a few inches and run the calibration again, listen.

    Anyway, I'm getting way deeper into this than I'd planned and I'm probably adding confusion.

    Quote Originally Posted by John Ludlow View Post
    Or, maybe what you're saying is that 'monitor shoot-out' has a particular meaning and that I am misusing it. That there are specific rules to shoot-outs and I am not following them.
    I think that's really the point. If you are going to undertake a shoot-out, you may want to research A/B/X testing, educate yourself on the techniques and concerns/issues and then formulate your approach. NOT saying you should perform A/B/X testing, ONLY saying it could prove useful to know how it's really done when one wants to be scientific about it.

    Proceed however you like, the important thing is for you to be happy but since you are sharing your journey on the forum, know you may get commentary from others who see flaws in your logic. Hopefully this is a good thing.
    Last edited by Naturally Digital; 08-07-2019 at 09:33 AM.


  7. #7

    Default Re: Monitor Shoot-out!

    Well, first of all, you're right: Philip is very generous with his time and advice, and I do appreciate it. And I appreciate yours too.

    I can understand your concerns with my methodology better. And I will try the test you suggest to see whether placement an inch either way makes a difference. And - if I find that I'm as confused as you think I will be, I'll probably abandon my intended methodology and just listen to them for a couple of days, as you suggest. Still, I'm not convinced that my reasoning is unsound yet and I plan to continue down that road for the time being. To me, the most important part of this is gaining knowledge and experience - and I, at least, do that by forming a theory, testing it, and revising the theory if it doesn't turn out the way I expect. I'd get nothing from just following a recipe that doesn't make sense to me.

    That said, I think my credibility as a monitor reviewer is pretty much shot, no matter what, before I have even begun. If my position were reversed, and I were a reader rather than a writer - I wouldn't trust my judgement. I don't think that's anyone's fault, particularly. Because I respect both yours and Philips knowledge and experience, I suspect that there's a good chance that you will somehow turn out to be right in the long run (although I'm still not theoretically convinced of that). Anyway, although I'm going to continue down this road, I'm not going to bother to document it. It's a lot of work and no-one can benefit from it at this point, I don't think, regardless how it turns out. But, I'll let you all know what I chose when I get done in case anyone is curious.

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Monitor Shoot-out!

    Hey John,

    You know what.. No matter the outcome, just have fun with it.

    At the end of the day, (as was already stated) you really can't go wrong with any of your selections, and it will ultimately boil down to personal preference.

    What ever path you take to reach that decision if your happy with it than you've made a good choice.

    Last comment -- just food for thought.

    All of the monitors have been designed to be pretty much flat within their designed frequency range, so any adjustments needed would theoretically be to compensate for the room. That adjustment should be common for all the monitors as it is a function of the room, not the speakers. Meaning if an adjustment is necessary for one monitor the same adjustment should be necessary for the others. (not accounting for speaker placement)

    Really the most critical piece of this process will be to ensure your listening to the monitors at the same volume so you should make sure they are playing at the same SPL and as balanced left to right as you can measure.
    ---------------------------------------
    Philip G.

  9. #9

    Default Re: Monitor Shoot-out!

    Quote Originally Posted by cgrafx View Post
    All of the monitors have been designed to be pretty much flat within their designed frequency range, so any adjustments needed would theoretically be to compensate for the room. That adjustment should be common for all the monitors as it is a function of the room, not the speakers. Meaning if an adjustment is necessary for one monitor the same adjustment should be necessary for the others. (not accounting for speaker placement)
    I think that's right, Philip. That's what I've been trying to say. And if I don't do the adjustment - none of them will sound as good as they could. My theory, though, is that each will also interact with the room a little differently and hence require slightly different adjustment to bring it back to flat. For instance, the Focals have an 11" passive radiator that will point straight up at the ceiling where I don't have any 703. And the Genelecs are near field and will therefore be sitting on my desk rather than on a stand. So, although they all start out flat I suspect that what they'll need to return to flat in my room will be different. Hence the reason to go to all the trouble.

    But, there may be more to it than that. The Genelecs didn't need much adjustment in the low end. What problems there were, were higher. But, that's no guarantee the same thing will be able to be said about the Focals or Adams that are on stands. If one of them has a big dip in the low end - potentially, for instance, due to the Focals bouncing sub-bass off the ceiling, then I may have a problem I don't have a solution for. I'll just have to see.

    I'm doing my best to have fun. But, it's been challenging. I'm ready to be done. Last night I muscled two 80 lb Focal boxes up my stairs so they could be exchanged for working versions today. When FedEx finally arrived today - he delivered the new ones but wouldn't take the old because he's 'Express' whereas my labels are for 'Ground'. There have been a lot of issues over the past few months and I've slowly worked through them. At least I'm finally at the 'listening' stage. Even without adjustment, all three sound at least good (even the left Focal with the hiss that's going back) but quite a bit different. The Genelecs sound a lot better after adjustment, as you might expect. I'm hoping that both the Adams and the Focals will too. I'll just have to see.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Monitor Shoot-out!

    Quote Originally Posted by John Ludlow View Post
    To me, the most important part of this is gaining knowledge and experience - and I, at least, do that by forming a theory, testing it, and revising the theory if it doesn't turn out the way I expect. I'd get nothing from just following a recipe that doesn't make sense to me.
    Amen to that! Always a good way to learn.

    Quote Originally Posted by John Ludlow View Post
    Anyway, although I'm going to continue down this road, I'm not going to bother to document it. It's a lot of work and no-one can benefit from it at this point, I don't think, regardless how it turns out. But, I'll let you all know what I chose when I get done in case anyone is curious.
    I'm looking forward to learning which monitors you choose and why you prefer them. Good luck!


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