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Michael McBroom

What do you use to power your monitors?

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I'm assuming you're using unpowered monitors, of course. 

I have been using just regular old stereo receivers to power my monitors ever since I put together v1.0 of my DAW over 20 years ago. I'm currently on stereo receiver number four. 

The reason why I even ask this question is because I've found a very big difference in the flat response from my latest receiver -- a Denon AVR-1706 that I bought used, and my previous one, an Onkyo something-or-another that was also purchased used. This Denon pushes the bass hard compared to that old Onkyo and so immediately I suspected that something was set wrong. So I went through all the controls and found that, indeed, both bass and treble were set flat, to 0dB. And it doesn't have any sort of silly bass boost button to push or anything like that.

One way to check for accuracy is to use the 'headphones out' on the audio interface. Mine, by the way, is a MOTU M4. I have a nice set of AKG open back cans that I usually use for close listening, but they don't really bring out the bass as strong as other types and makes. I also have an old-school set of closed back Koss Pro 4AA's that I use for recording vocals and acoustic instruments, where I don't want to have any chance of open-back headphones feeding sound back into the mix. So these Koss phones get used quite a bit less that the AKG's, simply because I don't do a lot of this type of recording.

With the AKGs, the bass just wasn't carrying through, so I couldn't really make a determination. But when I mounted the Koss cans, immediately, I could detect just as strong of a bass pulse coming through those old phones as I was hearing through the Denon. So, that settled that, at least. But the disturbing outcome from all this, I realized, was I was going to have to remaster every single piece of music I wrote, listening the Onkyo's output. I mean, the music is balanced fine. No VU meters are pegging, or anything, but there's just this massive bass emphasis I didn't realize was there until I set up the Denon.

And that long, drawn-out intro is what caused me to ask this question. What do you like to use to power your unpowered monitors? Oh, I should also add that I do have a powered subwoofer in my setup, which also helps bring out the bass. And, by the way, that's a big reason why I've been using stereo receivers, specifically those with a 'subwoofer out'. 

 

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What you really need is a proper power amp designed for the job and not home stereo stuff. As you have discovered, what you have is lying to you.

You also need room treatment.

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main "accurate" monitors and center mono speaker are all self-powered. JBL 5.1 speakers and a stereo pair of 12" 3-way Fishers are JVC RX-7000 powered (100/ch) and the Bose 901 are Audio-Centron 250w/ch PA grade power amp (forgot the model offhand). if you're room is not getting the best balanced response for your listening position, as @bdickens noted - you want to adjust things and treat your room.

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Not room correction but room treatment.

Room correction software is really best for a room that is already treated but doesn't have the benefit of $$$$$ of acoustic design.

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Theses day just about all studio monitors are powered. The big advantage is the best models have added DSP to make them flat response.  And then the top end ones are tuneable for further control and correction. 
 

But I will stay with my good old passive NSM10 Yamaha’ s probably until I croak or become incapable of studio work. I used a perfect match Yamaha P?? Power amp with them for over 20 years but it started crapping out and I tried a few alternatives.
I too have a collection of very good old school home stereo integrated amps. But home stereo system are totally coloured. So that’s not going to work just as you discovered. 


A little research ended up with me looking at using what they put in the new powered monitors, a class D amp. 


I ended up with 2 as they are not expensive. I have one made by  Dayton Audio and the one I’m using now is made by S.M.S.L.  It’s only 50 watts and I run it at 12 o clock and that’s as loud as I need. I could most certainly spend a lot more money and get something bigger and with better specs but I’m not having issues with my mixes so for now I’m fine.
And yes my room is very nicely treated. And yes I have a sub but I never turn it on unless I’m in a kick back with a glass of Scotch listening mood!  

I make hundreds of backing tracks so you might say I do an excessive amount of mixing. My solution is this: 

Bass-I always use Ample p bass and the Midi velocity is set at 106. The output of the track is  steady at my target level.  This is with fader at unity. On backing tracks I run a little hotter than full songs. 
Kick drum- same deal. I always use the same kick in AD and midi velocity at 100 max. It’s EQ’d and processed in my preset. Every song uses this same kick. Boring? I don’t care, It always works and if it isn’t working all I need to do is fix the preset. 
 

If you need to tame the bass in you mixes a quick and simple solution is put a hi pass filter on the master and try raising the frequency cut off a little bit at a time. My guess would be if you don’t have a hi pass filter happening already then around 50 hz might be enough.  
 

 

Edited by Cactus Music

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2 hours ago, bdickens said:

Not room correction but room treatment.

Room correction software is really best for a room that is already treated but doesn't have the benefit of $$$$$ of acoustic design.

I treated my room to some extent, but it's just a home studio - I didn't hire an expert to do it. Using room correction SW made a big difference.

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Thanks for the responses, guys. I was expecting something like what y'all provided. Now, I guess I need to do a little more homework and see what I can come up with based on what I can afford. 

With the speaker set up I have now, the drivers are only 5" so the subwoofer really helps. Whatever I end up with amp-wise, I'm hoping I can keep it. I just don't have the budget right now for new speakers and to be honest, I've been quite happy with the ones I have. They're an old set of Alesis Point Seven Reference Monitors. 

This Denon has several "sound parameter" presets, none of which I care for, and a "Direct" setting, which bypasses all of that stuff. I have it set to Direct, which results in what seems to be a dry output. So it may not be as good as some of the amps y'all mentioned, but I'm hoping for now that it'll at least be close.

As for room correction or treatment, there's very little I can do. My man cave is really more like a man nook. I have the front room in our house all to myself. The problem is, however, that this room is stuffed almost from floor to ceiling with books and boxes of books and other stuff.  The result of all this is an acoustically dead room.  So I'm not so sure any sort of room treatment would do any good.

Anyway, thanks. Y'all have given me lots to think about. 

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I replaced a 45 year old matched Yamaha monitor (for my ns 500 10 inch speakers) with a used hafler p1500 transnova.  I was used to the relaxed mode my system had reached but the hafler with the ns 500s is a lot more forward, a bit different in the high end (the ns 500s have beryllium (sounds like elvish  gem) tweeters.  A bit more strident, which is not something totally bad, since it can point out problems.  But like everything else musical, the harder and longer you listen the more you hear.

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I have a variety of vintage amplifiers, each of them was designed for pro studio use. An 80's Symetrix, a couple of 70's Crowns, and an early 90's Alesis. In their respective stock states, the definition and stereo image of the Symetrix and the Crowns was way, way better than the Alesis, which made no sense to me as a designer and repairer of audio hardware myself. I looked at the schematic and spec sheet and it was a clean design and I could see no reason in the audio signal path why there would be such a great difference. So I went in search of answers myself with my theory books, and inquired among colleagues. One of them identified a possible culprit in the form of overcomplicated output short protection circuitry, which I then removed as an experiment. This brought the Alesis into the same sonic league as the others. I hadn't considered it because my understanding of solid state audio amplifiers extends only as far as the elements that actually do the amplifying. I don't know from protection circuits, especially poorly-designed ones. Now at least I know that if it looks like the protection circuit is too complex and embedded in the audio amplifying parts....be suspicious.

I tell this story not to brag about what cool amplifier modificationers my friends and I are, but rather to illustrate that not all amplifiers sound the same, even ones with a frequency response that extends many Hz on either side of the abilities of human hearing. There are things that make for good detail and imaging like phase coherence, slew rate, and minimum group delay. The Alesis RA-100 has gotten a poor reputation in the 30 years since it was introduced, which is both well-deserved and unfortunate. If the designers (and I guarantee that there were multiple cooks spoiling that soup) hadn't been so nervous-nellie about output short protection, perhaps had just copied the (comparatively simple) protection circuitry from someone like Crown, it would have gone down in history as an incredibly great sounding amp for its price point. A positive side effect of their poor rep is that I can get them for under $50, and they're great workhorse amps, once modded.

Using a home stereo receiver is not a great solution, for exactly the reason you've noticed: receivers are designed to sound good, not necessarily accurate. What we want for mix engineering tools are things that are as accurate as possible so that our efforts can provide as much of the good as possible. If I've got an amplification system that itself is trying too hard to make my music sound good, I probably won't do as good a job making it sound good myself.

You didn't ask for advice, but I'll suggest you get a power amp that's purpose-designed and built for professional audio use. Read the spec sheet, it will tell you whether it's flat or not. I like second-hand gear because it's cheap and I know how to bench test it and fix it myself. It doesn't have to be expensive, but one from a reputable brand name is preferred. Crown, Carver, Mackie. You don't need anything over 100W unless you seek to deafen yourself and/or destroy your Point Sevens.

To drive a pair of Point Sevens, you don't need much wattage at all. One of my best (which is to say accurate) sounding monitor amps is my 20W per channel Symetrix A40. It can drive my Event 20/20 passives, Boston A70's or Alesis Monitor Ones to chest-thumping, discomfort-inducing levels. The number "20W" looks laughably low on paper in these days of "500W" home theater receivers, but it's a professional amplifier with professional specs, and when they say 20W, they mean that you could drive a pair 20W lightbulbs with it 24/7 until we're all long since dust and it would stay happily within its distortion and frequency response specs. While mounted in a rack, with no ventilation.

I'll refrain from offering advice on aspects of your mixing environment about which I have no information. I will say that books are very good absorbers of sound, and bookcases can actually make pretty good bass traps. I myself use Alesis Point Sevens (with a subwoofer, and I even use those little plastic "cane tip" things they supplied to plug the reflex ports) as my main computer speakers and secondary reference system and I think they sound really good. I spend many hours a day with them, I listen to them more than my main monitors. I wouldn't be as confident doing complete, finished mixes on nothing but those due to the higher bass rolloff (assuming no sub), but they're perfectly good speakers, ones I can listen to for long periods of time. Mine have a pleasantly extended top end compared to my other monitors, so if something is icepicking, I catch it better when I flip over to the Point Sevens.

Their big brothers, the Alesis Monitor Ones, were designed to be sold in a set with the RA-100 amplifier. I've heard from multiple mix engineers who were around the scene in the 90's, and the poor Monitor Ones got an (IMO, undeserved) reputation for sounding bad, which I now know is more the fault of the amp they were originally paired with. Too bad, I also have a set of Monitor Ones and also like their sound. The RA-100 itself sounds amazing now that I've pulled the idiot-proofing circuitry out. My output short "protection" consists of not letting my speaker leads touch each other, especially not when the volume's up. Simple, but effective.

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Erik, thanks for all the information. Glad to read that my Point Sevens are at least decent. I've always thought they were, but then I've been listening to them powered by receivers that added (or subtracted) way too much. Honestly, I think this Denon is at least trying to present a dry mix when set to "Direct" mode. Referring to the user manual, it states that all that other hooha is bypassed when Direct is enabled. So, one can hope -- for now.

Interesting you mention the Alesis RA-100. I happen to have one sitting here that I bought to power a PA system I also own. I'd considered using it for my DAW, but because it doesn't have a subwoofer out, I've been less inclined to do so. As you mention, the Alesis Point Sevens just don't have much thump when it comes to the low end.  However, I would be interested in knowing how to bypass or remove that output short protection circuitry that you mention.  Maybe in the future I can come up with some sort of external crossover for the sub such that I could use it. 

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Hey Michael The M4 has those 3/4 outputs you probably aren’t using. That’s what I use to go to my Yamaha sub. It’s way under my desk so hard to reach the level control so I can do that using the Main output faders found on the very far right of console view. 

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5 hours ago, Michael McBroom said:

Interesting you mention the Alesis RA-100. I happen to have one sitting here that I bought to power a PA system I also own. I'd considered using it for my DAW, but because it doesn't have a subwoofer out, I've been less inclined to do so. As you mention, the Alesis Point Sevens just don't have much thump when it comes to the low end.  However, I would be interested in knowing how to bypass or remove that output short protection circuitry that you mention. 

It's a really easy mod, all you need is a pair of flush cutters. You clip out 6 small diodes. There are optional steps I take for tidiness sake, I don't like having unused parts just sitting on the PCB, but just taking out those diodes will do the job. If you can read component reference designators on a PCB to identify the components, you can do this. The two sides of the RA-100 are on different PCB's, so you can try it first on one channel for comparison (which is what I did). For me, the difference wasn't even subtle. It was like the difference between a FLAC and a 64K MP3.

My handle on that board is "Euthymia."

The RA-100 is designed for easy servicing (another reason that I worked so hard and long to try to get mine to sound good). You're the second person on the forum to request the mod info, so I'm going to start putting a link to it in my sig. I invite consultation on any aspect of the process. I'm a pro audio repair and design person with many years of experience.

Once you clip out that protection circuit, it should be a great monitor amp to go with the Point Sevens.

I prefer self-powered subwoofers myself. As John said, you can run your sub from a different output on the MOTU. You could even do the crossover in software, using EQ plug-ins in Cakewalk's Console.

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I have 3 powered subs kicking around all of them have built in crossovers and an adjustable cut off.
The Yamaha I’m using also has a very  cool auto on / off feature. It stays in standby mode until it gets a signal. 

I’ll mention that every interface I own has 4 outs but each works a little differently.
My Tascam the 3/4 outputs by default clone the 1/2. Therefore nothing needs to be done in Cakewalk. 

The Scarlett needs you to route this in the Mix Control software mixer. But once set it works on all playback.  

The Motu requires me to add a send on the Master bus that is routed to 3/4. So I have to do this on each project. Another reason why I don’t like this interface.  
 

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On 9/12/2022 at 7:58 PM, Cactus Music said:

Hey Michael The M4 has those 3/4 outputs you probably aren’t using. That’s what I use to go to my Yamaha sub. It’s way under my desk so hard to reach the level control so I can do that using the Main output faders found on the very far right of console view. 

Hey John, that's exactly where my sub is located -- way under my desk. My cat has been the only recent visitor to its environs in months. Okay, you've got my curiosity piqued.  But you'll have to pardon my rudimentary electronics skills. I have a decent Sony powered sub with a volume control that I have set to 12 o'clock. It doesn't break up at all, but it will rattle the windows and floorboards in this house. But I guess like most powered subs, it has a single black RCA cable coming off the back. So that's only one channel. So, what do you do, "Y" it into both 3 and 4? And you're right, btw, I'm not using 3 and 4. I bought the M4 just in case.

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11 hours ago, Cactus Music said:

The Motu requires me to add a send on the Master bus that is routed to 3/4. So I have to do this on each project. Another reason why I don’t like this interface.  
 

 Hmm, I just tried adding a send to 3 and 4 from my Master Bus, and it does it, but it's shut down the send to 1 and 2.  So it looks to me like I might have to create a separate bus just for the sub?  That is a bit inconvenient.  But then, I don't have anything hooked up to 3 and 4 yet. Maybe that's why it's behaving this way?

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Eric, thanks for the link. I just read through your posts there. Kinda like trying to take a drink from a fire hose. Hey, I can solder pretty well, and I usually manage to get the battery orientation right when I load a flashlight -- usually. I can also read auto and motorcycle wiring diagrams and schematics to a limited extent. But once you get into the theory of it all, well, what I learned in my Physics class some 42 years ago is about the extent of my knowledge on the subject. 

I'm gonna have to unearth the RA-100 and see if I can locate the section you're describing. Questions may follow.

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I have Events 20/20 passive and I use a Rotel hi fi amp that has a switch to bypass the EQ section. Those are too big for my current room, so I mainly use headphones anyway.

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