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M-Audio Studiophile AV40 Monitors Hands On

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Recording and engineering music is a difficult process. For years I’ve dabbled in producing my own songs and music. Nothing too serious, but enough to warrant the purchase of some equipment and software. However, one key component of my recording setup that I have been missing for years is a decent pair of studio monitors. When I was at CES 2007, I was shown a pair of AV40 Studiophile Monitors that sounded fantastic. Realizing I could explore their full potential in my home setup, I was sent a pair to try out. By the end of the following account, you’ll know whether these are right for you.

Unboxing the AV40s, I noticed they had some weight to them. “Light” is not the term I’d use to describe these bricks. But with weight comes quality (at least in my book) and having a solid piece of equipment already let me feel comfortable using these monitors. The design is basic and black — nothing new here. Each speaker has a separate 3/4-inch tweeter and a 4-inch subwoofer for robust bass. On the front of the left speaker is a backlit volume knob and an auxiliary input as well as a headphone jack, which are welcome features to any recording artist. The less hassle, the better.

Hooking the AV40s up required some cable untangling but eventually they got set up just fine. I plugged them into my M-Audio FastTrack Pro digital I/O interface so that I could precisely control the levels and easily input my guitars and microphones. Finally, I sat down, powered them on, and put on some music.

Right off the bat, I noticed these speakers were perfect for all around sound. Fantastic bass thanks to the “Bass Boost” switch on the back of the left monitor and crisp highs and mids kept me intrigued as song after song played, genre after genre. My office is a small room so the acoustics sound fantastic. However if you plan on using these in a large room, I’m afraid they might not be the best solution. You might want to look into a pair of monitors that can get more range or power to compensate for room size.

Truth be told, while I was listening to music, I felt the AV40s just weren’t as good as my Sony entertainment setup, which is just a Sony receiver, SACD player, EQ, and set of bookshelf speakers. I mean the quality wasn’t that big of a difference to the point where I’d actually start complaining, I’m just saying that for music, I’d probably switch between the monitors and Sony speakers depending on the genre. The monitors have better bass than my pair of Sonys, but as far as treble and mids go, Sony comes out on top. But no matter. I knew recording would be the true test of M-Audio’s product.

I decided to compose a basic song to test the true range and capability of the AV40s without comparing them to any other speakers. I loaded up Native Instruments’ Guitar Rig 2 to lay down some guitar and started wailing away like I was in Rush or something. Sure enough, as I had previously suspected, the AV40s sounded beautiful with each note flowing out of the speakers without any (speaker-based) distortion or feedback. When clarity is a must and you need every note to count, I suggest trying out the Studiophile AV40s. You won’t miss a note. Seriously. If you miss a note, no matter how subtle, you’ll hear it on these things.

Though I’ve played bass for a long time now, I know that bass is usually just bass. I wasn’t trying to do anything insane or crazy, just a basic bass line. It sounded fine, the result was great, and I don’t think that anyone is really going to notice a difference between the AV40s and any other monitors when it comes to recording bass guitar. It’s good to know that these speakers get the job done though.

Then came the synth-work. Laying down a bunch of softsynth tracks is a painstaking process that I personally hate. The end result is always wonderful, but getting there, to be quite frank, is a pain in the ass. This was the final test though since I planned on using looped drum tracks for the percussion. Using a MIDI keyboard, I played some cheesy chord progressions and went back and tweaked filters using Native Instruments’ Absynth 3 and Ableton Live. The synths sounded fantastic and at times, quite stunning. Power and sound weren’t an issue here thanks to the AV40s. Everything resonated perfectly into my ears with a discernible quality unmatched by any other product I’ve spent more than a day with.

So should you pick these up? If you’re not a musician or recording artist/producer, then no. These are great for music, don’t get me wrong, but a $100 pair of JBL speakers will produce similar results and sound just as good. The AV40s truly shine when you painstakingly spend weeks with them, checking out every detail in music you’re working on. Guitarists especially will appreciate the clarity built within M-Audio’s Studiophile AV40s. With an MSRP of $199, they’re certainly a bargain you can’t miss out on if you own a small or home recording studio.

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