We recently visited a Pro Audio store to listen to and compare a variety of 5.1 monitoring systems with a budget of £5,000. In the process we wanted to discover if more wallet conscious Sound Designers and Re-recording Mixers could pick up a decent near-field 5.1 system for under £1,000.
The comparison was conducted in a relatively small room, which was acoustically treated. One of our 5.1 film mixes was played at 80 dB SPL (A weighted scale) via Cubase through a Presonus Quantum audio interface.
After testing out numerous monitors and reading countless reviews, we whittled it down to three options at different price brackets. The Genelec 8030B (£459 per speaker), the HEDD Type 05 (£366 per speaker) and the JBL LSR 305 (£103 per speaker). Our LFE channel was sent to two different subwoofers for comparison, these included the JBL LSR310S (£332) and the ADAM Sub8 (£519).
We watched and listened to 5 minutes of our 5.1 mix, and then played some Drum & Bass music in stereo to test out the overall dynamic range, transient response and frequency reproduction of each speaker.
As we listened to each system, we made notes on what immediately stood out on our tried and tested 5.1 mix file, as well as the music track, here are our notes:
JBL LSR 305
Great imaging, the speakers 'disappear' within the room.
Fairly neutral frequency response.
Weaker transient response than other speakers, sounds can appear 'mushy'.
Good phantom centre when in stereo.
Less low end response than the HEDD Type 05, but more than the Genelec 8030.
Excellent transient response / intricate high frequency detail.
More separation between mix elements than the JBL LSR 305.
Slightly weaker imaging than the JBL LSR305.
Punchy, dynamic feel when used for music.
Harsh and fatiguing to the ear.
HEDD Type 05
Good level of detail across frequency spectrum.
Less harsh in the high frequencies than the Genelec 8030.
Even more dynamic than the Genelec 8030.
Low level details are reproduced well.
Smooth midrange reproduction.
More low end than both JBL and Genelec.
Decent low end extension, slightly muddy reproduction.
A little more low end clarity than the JBL LSR310S.
So, is it possible to get a usable nearfield 5.1 monitoring system for under £1000? The answer is yes!
The JBL LSR3 series offers an extremely well balanced system for the price, with imaging that rivals monitors costing 5 times as much. You will have slightly less transient response, but this 10-20% difference will not be alleviated until you spend at least 3 times as much per speaker. These monitors feel like they will translate well to other systems, as they are not hyped at any particular frequency.
This is great news for cost conscious Sound Designers or beginners wanting to get exceptional value 5.1 monitoring without investing a huge lump sum. Bare in mind you will also need an interface with 6 outputs to hook up your speakers/sub for mixing. Some options include the Focusrite Scarlett 18i20, Clarett 8preX and Presonus Quantum.
If you enjoyed this article please check out our ultimate guide to audio post- production: https://www.344audio.com/post/the-ultimate-guide-to-audio-post-production-sound-design