Field Test: Alesis Prolinear 820DSP Monitors
May 1, 2004 12:00 PM, By Nick Batzdorf
Mid-Size Studio Speakers With Digital EQ and Crossover
Until you look closely at the front panel LCD, Alesis' Prolinear 820DSP appears to be a garden-variety, two-way, active studio monitor. It has a conventional soft-dome tweeter centered above a standard 8-inch woofer and flanked by two front-firing ports. Its standard-issue black cabinet is “midfield-size” (15×9×12 inches deep) and weighs 25 pounds. The rear panel features Neutrik XLR/TRS combo jacks, a level control and heat-sink fins for the 40-watt and 80W RMS power amps.
What you don't find on the back panel is the standard set of DIP switches to adjust a pair of shelving filters. Instead, there are 9-pin In and Out ports to daisychain all of the 820DSPs in your rig to a Windows-based computer. That's where the “DSP” comes in, explaining the mysterious LCD on the front. The 820DSPs contain digital crossovers and a built-in 4-band parametric equalizer. Remote editing software for the equalizers is included. Using either this software or the front panel, you can adjust the setup parameters (via four fully parametric EQ bands), as well as overall volume and muting on each speaker individually or all at once. Best of all, this can happen from a laptop or desktop PC without ever leaving the listening sweet spot. The same software also works with the smaller 720DSP model, if you happen to be using them for surrounds. (Alesis also makes a regular 820 and 720 without the DSP.)
Each speaker includes eight presets and eight user slots to store your EQ programs, but you can also store them on a disk. The user slots come loaded with programs such as Warmth, Bass Boost, AM Radio and Treble Boost, among others. You can also store “corrective” EQ settings, keeping in mind the conventional wisdom that overdoing speaker EQ is only going to mask problems.
The presets include simulations of popular speakers and bear names such as White Cone and Faux Finnish. The 4-band equalizer can produce caricatures of NS-10s and Genelecs, but not accurate simulations. This is an amusing and interesting feature, but probably not an extremely useful reference because the frequency response is only one of the characteristics that make up a speaker's overall sound.
However, the equalizer presets are useful. For example, the BBC Dip preset, which cuts the 1 to 3kHz range slightly, is very pleasant. The AM Radio setting rolls off the top and bottom, which is also a very realistic reference.
ON FIRST AUDITION
Given enough bands of equalization, one might think it's possible to make a perfectly flat speaker, but EQ only takes frequency domain into account. There's also phase response — i.e., the time domain — which is much harder (impossible, by all accounts) to completely nail down.
While it may seem meaningless to discuss the frequency response of a monitor with built-in DSP, it isn't. The 820DSP is very well balanced in its Flat setting preset. Swept sine waves don't make the crossover point obvious at all, nor do they reveal any significant lumps or dips. These speakers are quite neutral.
The 820DSP's specs quote a frequency response of ±1.5 dB from 50 to 20k Hz, with the bass down about 3 dB at 43 Hz. In fact, there's usable low end a good half-octave below that — not enough to shake your bones the way a subwoofer does, but enough to alert you when there's something alarming going on in the sub-rumble range.
Monitors usually lean toward being either dry and constrained or bright and resonant, but the 820DSP sits close to the middle. The only foible I can point to is that they have a slightly “boxy” midrange, almost as if the cabinets had no Fiberglas stuffing inside them, although they do. This makes them sound slightly more hard than warm. While this is a subtle characteristic, I found it to be consistent at all volume levels.
STAND UP AND DELIVER
I did most of the listening to the 820DSPs in my small (10×18-foot) and fairly dead project studio, which has a tendency to make speakers and instruments sound on the brittle side. Listening in a bigger, very live room didn't change anything. To evaluate speakers, I generally use a Pro Tools session containing a variety of music styles and some original music stems that I mixed to see how well the results translate. The 820DSP mixes did not have any problems translating to other speakers.
These monitors are not designed to be sweet-sounding living room monitors. The imaging is solid — I'd give it an eight out of 10, as I didn't struggle to find the center — and the dispersion (including vertical) is good. It's nice to be able to stand up and listen without the sound radically changing. They also get plenty loud.
The 820DSP monitors offer a lot of versatility and are competitive with other products in their price range. Their most notable strength is how little time it takes to get used to them. They do a credible job of presenting what you're listening to, which allows them to fit easily into any production environment. Bottom line, these are speakers that I can work with. Price: $549/each.
Alesis, 401/658-5760, www.alesis.com.
Nick Batzdorf was the editor of Recording for more than 10 years.
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