Now-a-days it seems everybody and his brother (and sister) is tracking, mixing, and mastering in home-based and project studios. With the plunging costs of digital recorders and the proliferation of affordable mics, mixers, and preamps, plus the dizzying array of music production software now available, putting together a rudimentary studio has become a process that is in reach of just about anyone. Indeed, with a halfway robust computer, some sort of interface for getting your sounds in and out of it, and a couple of decent software apps, the degree of sonic sophistication that can be achieved is positively awe-inspiring!
The one area that has remained
problematic from a cost standpoint is monitoring. Many of the home studio
newbies I know depend on consumer stereo speakers and headphones to judge
their work-a far from satisfactory solution given the highly colored,
distorted sound typically produced by this sort of low-end gear.
Cash-challenged desktop recordists have a much smaller array of choices
when it comes to finding studio monitors that will provide them with
reliable information about their music. If you've got, say, a thousand
bucks to spend, no sweat. There are a bunch of worthy monitors out there
that'll deliver the transparency you need in and around that price point.
But if your budget is well south of, say, $400, your range of choices
I've auditioned some of the ultra-inexpensive monitors that have popped up in the market over the last few years and was less than impressed. Though they were clearly an improvement over the home stereo, they left a lot to be desired in terms of coherency, transparency, and a clearly defined soundstage. When Musician's Friend asked me to review the Fostex PM0.5s, I enthusiastically accepted the assignment, curious to see how they performed.
Standing less than a foot tall, seven inches wide, and just over ten inches deep including their rear-mounted heat sinks, each unit weighed in at 14 pounds. Placed next to my regular monitors they seemed decidedly compact-a welcome thing for desktop studios where space is usually at a premium.
The PM0.5 employs a 5" low-frequency driver and a .75" soft-dome tweeter that are energized with 40 watts and 30 watts respectively. Resorting to some reference recordings with which I'm very familiar, I put the monitors through their paces. On jazz, pop, and rock material, the response was smooth and natural throughout the speakers' range without any pronounced bumps or artifacts. The tweeter reproduced the top end smoothly without the obvious brittleness and harshness that plagues many other low-ticket monitors. Each instrument as well as vocals occupied its own distinct placement within the soundfield and the Fostex PM0.5s excelled at reproducing the crack of the snare as well as the sizzle of the cymbals.
Turning to a recording I recently produced notable for its eclectic assemblage of instruments ranging from oboe and accordion to tablas and timpani, I was impressed again with the PM0.5s' ability to faithfully render the widely divergent instrumental voicings. The rapid-fire tabla percussion was distinct and penetrating and the lowest notes produced by the standup bass and the kick drum sounded round, natural, and unforced. The oboe's tone, which can easily sound strident, was well modulated and faithful to the recording. Altogether a remarkable performance given the diminutive size of these monitors. (Of course, if most of your productions center around bass 'n' drum-heavy beats and you're mixing for dance clubs and the like, you're going to need some help in the low-frequency department in the form of a subwoofer.)
The dispersion pattern of the tweeters was such that I found I could roll around a good bit in my chair without rolling out of the "sweet spot." The PM0.5s seemed pretty forgiving in terms of vertical placement also, though I was most happy with the sound when each monitor was toed-in about 30 degrees and the LF drivers were at approximately ear height at distances between 20" and 40".
Delving into the innards
Fostex has put a lot of engineering and materials expertise into the PM0.5. The LF driver's cone is manufactured using a mixture of cut and milled fibers made from aromatic polyamide. High rigidity and optimum damping is achieved by impregnating the cone with resins. An Olefin film is thermally applied to the cone's surface to maximize frequency-response control and ensure the long-term durability of the driver. The center dust cap is made from a non-wood cellulose material that is also impregnated with resin for long-lived performance. The super high-purity copper voice coil accounts for the very low distortion specs. The soft-dome tweeter utilizes Fostex's Poly Urethane Film Laminated Cloth which produces a lightweight driver with high-stability performance.
The amplifier section delivers 40W to the LF driver and 30W to the tweeter. Fostex states that total harmonic distortion is less than 0.01% at 25 watts into eight ohms with a frequency range of 20Hz to 20kHz. The signal-to-noise ratio is greater than 84dB at 20Hz to 30kHz and the slew rate is 15V/uSec.
For the musician attempting to get a home-based studio going on a starving-artist budget, the Fostex PM0.5s represent a terrific value without having to make the significant sonic compromises that usually accompany owning budget-friendly monitors.