In this series we explore what is on the market in terms of music production software & hardware and DJ equipment. Each time will aim to provide you with all the information needed to be confident in your next purchase. Join our e-mail list here to keep posted on future articles. This week we are looking at DJ Speakers for less than £300.
Firstly, what are the advantages of using individually powered monitors over, say, an amp and passive speakers? Monitor speakers will provide a more accurate and truthful sound, plus a more adequate stereo representation of the music. HiFi speakers are generally designed to colour the sound and make it sound better than it might be on the recording. Other downfalls of a passive system include increased risk of overheating and more physical space needed for the amp. Most importantly, active monitors are designed specifically for near-field analysis of music and will always give accurate feedback about what it is your mixing, meaning they are essential tools for practicing your skills as a DJ or producer.
In this review we are taking a look at a range of speakers under the £300 mark (all prices are for pairs). To try and help sum up some pro’s and con’s of each type of speaker and help you decide what might be most suitable for your needs if you are a first or second time buyer of monitor speakers. The main focus here is on speakers suitable for home DJ setups, but we will also be taking into consideration at how they will fare in a hybrid production set up, and also how suitably they might double up for general listening. All but one of the speakers listed below are in the 5 inch range. This refers to the ‘Woofer’, which is the larger cone on the speaker where the low and mid frequencies are produced. The smaller cone is referred to as the tweeter. All but two of the entries are be available in bigger sizes (usually 6, 7, 8 or 10 inch). For most with a medium sized bedroom/studio, 5 inch monitors should suffice, but there’s not too much harm in going for bigger speakers if you want a bit more bottom end and volume (and don’t mind annoying the neighbours a bit more), if you have the cash to spare.
These reviews do come with a significant caveat regarding acoustics and speaker positioning. Not many people have the time, money or means to purposely soundproof any given space, however there are things you can do so that you get the best out of your choice of speakers. Speaker stands and isolation pads are well worth spending an extra 50 or so quid on as it will make finding a suitable position for them much easier plus it will isolate the speaker and significantly reduce any potential coupling effect (cancellation of low frequencies) caused by the speaker being too close to a wall or a lack of dispersion from the speakers being sat directly on a sound absorbing surface like a wooden desk or shelving unit.
Obviously talking about speakers and listing their pro’s and con’s can only give so much information. We would implore anyone thinking about buying monitor speakers to read this article, then go to your local DJ or Music shop and listen to the few that you think will be most suitable for you. Nothing will be more informative that your own ears!
PIONEER DJ DM-40BT
Pioneer are of course a very reputable brand when it comes to DJ equipment. These entry level speakers are of the active/passive type, meaning you will need just one mains connection, with the passive speaker being connected to the active speaker with a standard speaker cable. They rely on an RCA (red and white) connection and are ideal for smaller set-ups, especially where you might have a bus powered DJ controller or small mixer that only has RCA on the Master Output. They sound nice and punchy and can go pretty loud for their size, but there are clear limitations here with the woofer being just 4 inches (compared to the rest in this review being 5 inch). The bass frequencies aren’t as ‘rich’ as the manufacturer might claim when you compare them to some of the other options in this article, but it is still an impressive sound for a speaker of this size. The bluetooth connectivity is a really handy feature allowing you to connect another bluetooth device like a phone or tablet to wirelessly play audio, meaning these speakers will be really handy for those who might have their decks or controller in a room where you also listen to music casually. They also come with a 3.5mm Jack to RCA so they can easily be plugged into any headphone socket. They also come in a standard non-bluetooth version for around £50 cheaper, and both models are also available in white.
For more information click here and for the full manufacturer specifications click here
MACKIE CR5BT £215
These speakers have all the pro’s of the DM40’s with them being active/passive and having an inbuilt bluetooth receiver, plus they have a 5 inch woofer capable of reaching a little further into those much desired low frequencies. The specification claims they will represent frequencies as low as 60Hz, whereas the close competitor in the DM40’s reach is 70Hz (the human ear can detect as low as 20Hz). It would not be fair to compare those two exactly so we tested the 4 inch version of the Mackie CR range and the Mackie’s did come out better in terms of overall sound quality and richness so this is a speaker well worth considering spending a little more on if you want good connectivity on top of a nice sounding speaker. They do also have inputs for TRS ¼ inch Jack as well as the RCA giving the option to use a balanced connection and no need for any converters if your sound source does not have RCA Master out. All in all these are probably the best value for money in the active/passive category. That said, these speakers are rear bass ported. This means the port that allows the energy created by cone vibrating back and forth to be dispersed is via the hole at the back of the speaker and this can be more susceptible to a cancelling out of certain low frequencies depending on the positioning and acoustics of the room.
KRK ROKIT RP5 G3 £258
The KRK Rokits are likely to be the most well known and most recognised of all the products featured in this review. Their iconic yellow ‘Aramid glass composite’ woofer is known the world over, and these have been a mainstay in many studios both amateur and professional for the past 20 years. The reason for this is mainly because they are a great sounding speaker with a frequency range of 45Hz to 35,000Hz, you can start to see the benefit in having two individually powered monitors. Unlike the first two entries both of these speakers will need to be plugged in at the wall, but with more power comes a better frequency response and more room to drive the speakers to higher volumes if required. Despite there clear popularity, some do not see the Rokits as having a particularly ‘true’ sound and claim that the bottom end is hyped. It’s certainly true that they do have a lot of wellie in the bottom end, and most speakers this size do not go as low as 45Hz. This might be something to consider avoiding if you are thinking about also using your speakers as production monitors as well as for the decks. This being said many may favour the rich bottom end, especially those playing hip hop and bass heavy dance music. Furthermore, there is a High and Low Frequency adjust setting on the back which can be adjusted accordingly, along with a gain knob. It has been reported by some that Rokits are prone to overheating, however this is likely to be due to prolonged use at volumes that might be too loud for one person - none of the speakers in this list are exactly ideal for parties or gatherings for more than a dozen or so people as they are designed to sound good in the optimal listening position. These speakers have RCA, TRS Jack and XLR connections.
Pioneer DJ S-DJ50x £249
The Pioneer SDJx range are quite similar to the Rokits in many ways. They look fairly similar bar the yellow woofer, are front bass-ported, and they also sound fairly similar. There is a slight difference, though with the low range - it’s not quite as obvious as the Rokits. These are a great sounding speaker given the price. Another feature that they share with the KRK’s is the thin layer of dense foam padding on the base of the unit. This is helps isolate the sound and also stops any movement of the speaker caused by vibration (and meaning they are less likely to be accidently knocked or pushed off their resting place!). The specifications of this speaker states the frequency range is 50Hz to 20,000Hz, so not as broad as the Rokits, but it’s worth knowing that most adult ears can only detect up to 20,000hz when it comes to high frequencies. These speakers have the full complement of RCA, TRS Jack and XLR connections on the rear, plus a high frequency level adjust and gain knob, and a handy auto-standby feature that will mean they will power off after a period of no sound, which is fantastic for the more absent minded of us, and also if your speakers are in a tricky to reach spot.
YAMAHA HS5 £272
Yamaha is a brand synonymous with high quality speakers as well as other various instruments and studio equipment. The iconic white woofer has been a mainstay in many studios since the 70’s. The main observation when listening to these speakers over their competitors is that they provide a very flat and true sound. The midrange is much clearer in these monitors when compared to others in the same price bracket, meaning these should be a strong contender for those who expect to be producing tracks as much as DJing with them. That said the frequency range goes from 54 Hz to 30,000hz, so if you are using them to write music be sure to reference your tracks on a system that will confirm your sub bass frequencies are at the right level (or go for the 6 or 8 inch option). The HS range are probably the best value for money in terms of a DJ/production crossover due to the almost perfectly flat frequency response. However, these speakers only have TRS Jack and XLR inputs on the rear, so if you happen to have a DJ mixer or controller that only has an RCA output, it’s likely you will need some sort of adapter for your cables. One other factor to consider with these speakers is that, unlike the Rokits and S-DJ50x, they are rear bass ported, meaning some sort of stand and/or isolation pads will be essential to get the best out of them. All of the HS range are available in both black and white.
ADAM AUDIO T5V £290
Adam Audio are a company that tend to be more associated with top end studio monitors. This incarnation of speaker is their most recent, and an attempt from the company to provide entry level users with the high quality Adam Audio sound. Clearly, at such a lower price point than the X series, they don’t sound quite as good as the mid to high range products, but one thing you might notice from the images of this speaker is that the tweeter looks quite different. This is called a ribbon tweeter and is pretty much unheard of at this price point. Ribbon tweeters are designed to be less harsh but still as accurate as the silk ones you usually find at this price point, and are more suited to long mixing sessions (either DJ or production) as they cause less fatigue to the ear. On the rear we see High and Low frequency adjustment settings, a gain knob, and an XLR and RCA input. A significant difference to other speakers here is that they have a switch to choose your input (for speakers without this, if there is two cables plugged in you will get no sound). So this means you can theoretically have your decks and audio interface connected at the same time and just use the switch depending on whether you are producing or DJing. Another feature that work well in tandem with this is the design on the speaker being as such to increase the size of the sweet spot, again meaning that if you optimise the positioning for when you are sitting down to write tracks, when you stand up to fire up the decks the sound should not change too dramatically. Unlike the their older sibling the A5X, these speakers are rear bass ported, so stands and or isolation pads would be strongly advisable. When comparing these to the Yamaha HS range, both provide a nice, accurate response, with the Adam’s sounding a little warmer with a less clinical mid-range.
MACKIE MR524 £278
The MR range have recently been re-designed and according to the manufacturer have an ‘ultra-wide’ sweet spot, due to the curved shape of the front panel around the woofer and tweeter. This design is said to help disperse the sound well and will make your (production) mixes sound great anywhere due to their logarithmic waveguide that minimises reflections and match the high frequency dispersion of the tweeter to that of the woofer. This is what provides the ultra-wide sweet spot. This is a great thing to know for both producers and DJs. They are rear bass-ported and they do have various settings for various likely speaker positioning situations, plus a handy little diagram on the back panel of the speaker to suggest what setting you should choose if your speakers are close to a wall or in a corner. This means that (unlike the Adam T series) if you can’t stretch the extra for stands, you can tailor the sound of the speaker to best match your acoustic space. Technically these are 5.24 Inch woofers (hence the name) allowing the frequency response to go to 45Hz to 20,000Hz, although this might differ slightly depending on which acoustic setting you have selected. When listening to these speakers and comparing them to the others, they do have a noticeably wide sweet spot and a great punchy sound. It’s hard to say which of the monitors features sound the ‘best’ or more accurate, but it might well be these ones. Like we suggested earlier in the article, go and listen to them for yourself!
All prices accurate according to www.bopdj.com as of August 2018. Bop DJ have show rooms in Manchester, Leeds and Brighton.