Last year in December, I got myself a pair of Adam Audio A7X’s. The A7X is a well-known, well-established nearfield studio monitor for sound engineers, sound editors and sound designers. Three months later, Adam Audio offered me the opportunity to review their Sub8 or Sub10 Mk 2 subwoofer — I went for the Sub8.
The Adam Audio A7X studio speakers have won at least four awards (including Sound on Sound, DJ Tech, Tools4Music and Stereoplay) and have the famous X-ART tweeter on board. They sound awesome with a woofer that allows you to hear 42Hz frequencies and with a maximum SPL of 106dB. The Sub8 is a good match for the A7X, although the Sub10 Mk 2, which is slightly more expensive, is more powerful. The Sub8 starts “woofing” (sorry, couldn’t resist that) at 28Hz, while the Sub10 Mk 2 starts at 25Hz. Given the small size of my room, I chose the Sub8.
The audio interface to which I connected the lot is an Apogee Element 24 hooked up to a 27inch mid-2017 iMac i5 with 40GB of RAM and a Fusion drive inside. So, how did I fare with my complete setup?
Breaking in the A7X
Nearfield means that the monitor should be near to your ears. Preferably you put such a monitor on your desk, in a treated room or calibrated using an app that measures how the room affects the monitors and sets up an EQ curve to compensate.
I keep myself to those requirements to the letter when editing, but I’m using the A7X’s for music listening without calibration EQ because I don’t mind a bit less in the 100-200Hz range and more in the 500-700Hz range than what a flat response curve would produce in my room. For playing classical music, the A7X’s are simply brilliant. Although I must admit that upon unpacking they sounded awfully sharp.
Adam Audio advises not to form yourself an opinion before allowing a break-in period. Some people consider that sort of advice marketing mumbo-jumbo, but with speakers and anything else that has moving parts like vibrating speaker coils, breaking in is no mumbo-jumbo at all — as I was about to hear confirmed once more myself.
Indeed, after a few hours of having the A7X’s play all kinds of music loudly behind closed doors with me wearing earplugs, I discovered a transparency and accuracy I could never have imagined possible. As it so happened, a couple of weeks before acquiring them, I received a comment from a visitor who had watched one of my YouTube presentations, complaining about the sibilance that was unbearable to him.
I had never noticed sibilance when monitoring through a pair of Sennheiser 650HD’s, but I was now listening to that video on the A7X and the guy was right; at times it was unbearable. The 650HD is sometimes used for monitoring so I thought it would produce a nice flat response. Clearly, that was not the case. As a consequence, I created a preset for iZotope’s Nektar 3 and one for RX 8 Advanced’s De-Essing plugin and I have not had any complaints about sibilance since.
Benefits of an A7X nearfield studio monitor and a Sub8
Technically, and except for the information on Adam Audio’s own website, you can find everything you want to know about the A7X’s on a large number of sound editing websites that covered them, as well as in YouTube videos where audio engineers discuss the many benefits of the A7X and how it fits in with their workflow — and often how much better they are compared to monitors from other brands. Usually, those studios are full-scale audio studios doing work for music labels and musicians of fame.
Personally, I am especially interested in answering the question why an Indie movie or documentary maker should consider having such a pair of studio monitors. In my anecdote, it was sibilance in the context of a presentation that paid for the A7X, but with any sort of documentary or movie come multiple sound components that are at least as important as the movie itself where it concerns the story.
Creating a soundscape, adding music to the background, making sure the dialogues are audible and intelligible, enabling the soundscape to correspond to the scene — the successful implementation of all of that is influenced in many ways by the studio monitors you have on your desk. The job of such a monitor is to make it clear to you how your audio sounds without any sort of improvement in-speaker — that term used the same way as when we say “in-camera”.
Difference between a studio monitor and a hi-fi speaker
Hi-fi speakers have circuitry that makes your music sound better than it was recorded on the CD or DVD (or the downloaded FLAC or DSD file) you purchased. How “better” will sound to you depends on the speaker manufacturer, but one of the goals is to adjust for bad recording. Given that speaker from brand A will accomplish that feat differently from brand B’s speaker, you’re at a loss for knowing how it was supposed to sound in the first place.
A studio monitor must render the sound you are capturing or have recorded exactly as it got in, including every single imperfection in the original analogue or digital signal. Only then can you depend on the monitor for correcting or adjusting the audio so it sounds perfect. That is exactly what the Adam A7X does with the help of its X-ART tweeter and the 175mm diameter Carbon/Rohacell/Glass Fibre woofer with its 38mm voice coil.
As it is a nearfield monitor, the A7X doesn’t take up all that much space either. And since you’re probably wearing many different hats as an Indie and not editing your work every day all day long, you’ll be happy to have the volume and On/Off controls on the front bezel, not on the back like with most monitors.
Where the A7X on its own falls short of satisfying even the most demanding audio engineer is in the lows, especially those that fall below 42Hz. As the (young and undamaged by regular exposure to loud music or noise) human ear is capable of hearing sounds from 20Hz upwards, a subwoofer that goes below those 42Hz is not a luxury.
The Sub8 subwoofer
Adam Audio has a subwoofer model in its range that is capable of reproducing the lowest frequency we can really hear, but that monster costs north of 5,000 Euros. That’s not surprising as rendering low sounds faithfully is even harder than rendering sounds that sit in the middle of the frequency spectrum.
So, when you see a subwoofer that can reproduce 20-25Hz costing 400 Euros or less, do yourself a favour and save your money. The one thing the device will be able to do is generate a loud rumble — but a subwoofer is not intended to make your output louder. It will also all sound the same, whether it’s supposed to be a 20Hz note or a 28Hz note.
Adam’s Sub10 Mk 2 retails at around 1200 Euros and is capable of sounds as low as 25Hz, still a good 5Hz above the lowest you can hear. The Sub8 I tested delivers 28Hz as its minimum frequency at a cost of around 730 Euros. While 28Hz is still some 8Hz above the threshold of the human ear (and remember, decibels are exponential values), it’s low enough to let you enjoy the Cavaillé-Coll organ’s larger pipes in a recording of César Franck’s Six Pieces for Organ on a Dorian CD in much of their audible glory.
The Sub8 is a mid-range subwoofer, both in terms of its low frequency capabilities and its price. This subwoofer is a good fit for the A7X for smaller studios and rooms, while the Sub10 Mk 2 would be my choice if I had a full-scale audio studio. Some audio engineers consider the Sub10 Mk 2 the better of the two because of its higher output — which is understandable, given that the A7X’s output is more powerful than you’d expect from a nearfield monitor.
Your average toy subwoofer will, as I said earlier, produce rumble, but without detail and not necessarily the exact frequency your audio interface and DAW have in mind. The Sub8 does. I first tested it with Franck’s Six Pieces for Organ played on the grand Cavaillé-Coll organ at the Saint-Eustache church in France. After that, I tested with several other classical music CDs I know to have outspoken bass sections. In all cases, the Sub8 performed splendidly and with great accuracy. It’s not just rumble, it’s notes that you hear.
For all my testing, I left the Sub8 on a 0dB volume level and a crossover frequency of approx. 75Hz. That means the Sub8 takes over much of the frequencies below 75Hz from the A7X. I controlled the Sub8 with the remote that’s included, which makes it very easy to put the subwoofer in the perfect location without having to worry about adjusting these two parameters occasionally. The back of the unit also has an option to turn on the unit only when it detects signal, next to a phase switch and a satellite filter.
If I were to be using the Sub8 for a Dolby surround setup, it would have been easy to set the crossover and filter switch to 85Hz.
Next up were tests with Logic Pro X and several synthesiser plug-ins. I used Auddict’s brilliant PercX and Hexeract and some other plug-ins like Logic Pro X’s own Alchemy. Especially PercX’s taiko drums were all over the place and, again, sounding and feeling accurate; exactly like the real ones I heard and felt in my stomach a couple of years back during a Kodo performance.
When testing the Sub8 with iZotope’s RX 8 Advanced Test Tone generator, I heard the sub kick in from 27Hz. The sound was a bit fuzzy up to 29Hz and became really sharply defined with differences between notes very noticeable from then onwards.
As filmmakers may need to create soundscapes where really low sounds help to bring spectators into a specific emotional state, or to imitate some natural phenomenon like the rumble of a tsunami, for example, a subwoofer is an absolute must and while a larger studio might go with the Sub10 Mk 2 for its A7X’s, the Indie chap will do just as fine with the Sub8, in my opinion.
In a follow-up article, I’ll be discussing the importance of the cables you use to connect your A7X and its Sub8 or Sub10 Mk 2 to your audio interface.