Dynaudio BM5a Review

Buy it at zZounds for $999.95/pair (Dec. 6, 2006)

Dynaudio BM5a Speakers

It’s been a long wait getting these speakers setup. OK, actually it’s only been a week or two, but it sure feels like a long time. First of course I had to wait for all my new equipment to arrive. The speakers themselves really didn’t take all that long and arrived earlier this week, but the cables and audio interface (Echo Layla3G, I’ll write more about it in another post some other day) took a little longer to arrive. I then found that the TRS plugs on my cables were too thick to fit into Layla3G one above the other which is necessary seeing as the outputs are linked in left/right pairs. Sigh. Anyway, I got around that by using unbalanced cables with smaller connectors to my mixer, and then outputting a balanced signal to the speakers. I am actually starting to feel like it’d be nice to have one of those control centers like the Mackie Big Knob Control Center, but it just seems like a lot of money just for essentially a mixer with a big volume control, so I think I’ll live with my mixer for now. Anyway, onto the review…

First off, a description of what these are. The Dynaudio BM5a’s are a pair of active studio monitors. Studio monitors intended not for relaxed listening, games, or movie watching, but for analytical examination of recordings. Studio engineers use these when mastering recordings, when doing mix-downs, and perhaps for monitoring during recording sessions. While you can undoubtedly use these for movie watching or the like, this is not its intended primary use. Quality home theater systems are meant to sound good, and as a side-effect the better ones are reasonably accurate. Studio monitors are the opposite, they’re designed to be accurate, and sound good as a side-effect. Flat response is king in the world of studio monitors. The term “active” means that the speakers have built-in amplifiers and take an unpowered signal.

Features

The BM5a’s feature a large driver, and a small dome tweeter. Though I saw no mention of it while researching these speakers, there is some confusion around the size of the larger driver. I’ve seen several places including the Dynaudio website which list its size as 175mm/6.9″. However, the manual states that the driver is in fact 170mm/6.5″. Now, I don’t know if there’s some standard way to measure drivers, but by visual inspection, the exposed part seems to me to be only around 5.5″, which would bring me to believe the 6.5″ number more than the 6.9″ especially seeing as the width of the whole speaker is only 7.3″. Anyway, you can decide for yourself–those numbers aren’t intrinsically important anyway. The speakers are rated from 50Hz to 21Khz. While I haven’t checked the upper end, the rating of 50Hz is spot on as we’ll see later. These speakers are bi-amplified, with 50W to each driver.

These are for the most part no-frills, it’s-all-about-the-sound speakers, but they do include a few thoughtful and very practical features. The front is plain and somewhat spartan. If you look at the tweeter, there’s a little three-spoke bar protecting it, but as is standard with studio monitors, there is no grill to protect the woofer. This is because it’s very difficult to create a grill that doesn’t affect the sound. There are two LEDs below the woofer, a green power indicator, and a second dual function LED. When the input level is too high, this second LED lights up orange and the limiter is activated to mitigate damage to the speakers. The LED will also light up when the speaker overheats, but it will light red instead of orange. In order to protect the speakers, they will be muted until they cool down. Other than that, there’s not really much more on the front.

The Dynaudio BM5a’s are one of the many active monitors that lack a front volume control. It’s really not a huge problem, but it’d be convenient to have one. Also missing from the front is a power button on one of the speakers that would turn off the pair. Probably the reason that these two features are missing are that both the left and right speaker of the BM5a’s are the same. They are sold both as a pair and as a single speaker and are designed to be used in regular stereo operation as well as in surround setups. Consequently, the speakers are necessarily symmetrical. There are instead separate power buttons on the rear of each speaker, and no real volume control at all. (I wouldn’t want independant physical volume controls for left and right channels anyway, it’d be too easy to imbalance them).

What the BM5a’s do have align with their intended use–studio monitors. There are several such features that can be found on the back of each speaker. There is a high pass filter which toggles between Flat, 60Hz, and 80Hz, allowing for the low end to be handled by a separate subwoofer if so desired. Although there’s no volume dial, there is a level switch that allows selection from +4db, 0db, and -10db. This is useful for boosting or cutting the volume to a more manageable level depending on your equipment. Three equalization (EQ) switches allow discrete adjustments of low, mid, and high frequencies to compensate for room acoustics. Each speaker has a single balanced XLR connector. It would have been nice to have TRS and possibly unbalanced RCA like some other monitors, but in serious studio usage I think it’s not too unreasonable to expect XLR anyway. There is also a large heatsink mounted to dissipate heat, and a port to improve bass response. Other than that, the back has a power button, IEC connector, and fuse on each speaker.

Quality

The build quality is quite good. The cabinets are made of MDF with what seems to be a very sturdy plastic face. The speakers are quite hefty at almost 20LB each. Dynaudio always build their speakers with large voice coils. The woofer’s one is 3″. The heatsink on the back is quite large and definitely seems adequate. It’s pretty cold here right now though, so I can’t guarantee yet that these will be enough in a hot summer, but they definitely look like they would be. I don’t think I’ll take them apart to see the build quality on the inside. 🙂

Sound

The primary I chose the Dynaudio BM5a’s was for its sound. I’ve been running it through its paces all week on many different genres of music. Keep in mind that the few I’ve selected here are not all I’ve listened to. These are some of the more challenging pieces that I found that illustrate some of the strengths and some of the weaknesses that I found. Also note that I am running through my cheap mixer, but the signal path through that is relatively short and direct. Also, my room is completely untreated. The speakers I’ve setup as best I can, but

One of the first CDs I listened to was Eric Clapton’s Pilgrim album. I think this was the first of Clapton’s ventures away from his roots into more R&B and Gospel sounds. In the opening of the first track My Father’s Eyes, the bass line comes in almost immediately. I was actually immediately disappointed. I’m used to that bass line hitting hard on my sub. My usual speakers on this computer are a 2.1 set of Logitech Z-2200’s. They’re an excellent set of computer speakers which I love, and come with an 8″ sub, but I got them (albeit, it was a great deal) for $50 as compared to almost 20 times that much for these BM5a’s… Actually, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard Pilgrim on a set of speakers without a sub though I’ve certainly heard it on headphones before. Although I don’t have perfect pitch, I can tell the opening bass line for My Father’s Eyes is quite low. I’d venture to guess a reasonable amount below 40Hz, perhaps 35Hz or so. I did a quick test with some generated tones, and found that the rated 50Hz for these speakers is quite accurate. They go down to 50Hz at pretty linear rate. Below that, they roll off pretty quickly and become near inaudible at around 40Hz. So caveat emptor to those of you who are bass junkies. Not that these speakers will necessarily be bad for you, but be ready to spend about twice as much, because the matching sub is around or maybe a little more than the speakers themselves. Anyhow, back to the song. Though the bass line is disappointingly quiet, if you listen for it, you find that the bass is quite tight and focused. No loose flabby bass here. The bass drum still has some visceral impact to it, though not as much as with the sub. With some speakers, some of the guitar parts can get a little nasal, but with the BM5a’s the guitars are very clear and pure. The snare has a nice snap to it. Separation is excellent. Reasonably wide soundstage. Everything is is quite clean, and there’s not a trace of muddiness.

The next recording is one produced by the famous David Chesky. Club Descarga from the album entitled The Body Acoustic. It’s a jazzy sort of album, and Chesky follows an approach that tries to reproduce the music as much like the live performance as possible, in total opposition to the processed sound in vogue nowadays (not that there’s anything wrong with that either in my opinion). You can really hear the tone on the string bass, and not just the usual round boomy sound that a plucked string bass often has on recordings, but the very vibration of the strings. The muted trumpet is a little bright, even verging on harsh at times. That’s actually a bit of a concern to me. I think a lot of it is room reflections, as it’s very different when I’m sitting at typing position, as opposed to optimal listening position (which I’ve set to be a few feet back). The soundstage is good, though I think that the width is a bit better than its depth. You can pinpoint each instrument pretty easily. If you take careful note, you can hear that the piano is a little behind and in towards the center compared to the trumpet. The congas are probably central to this album. You can hear the depth of tone, but still hear the great definition on each hit.

The third recording I’d like to comment on is from a CD entitled Over the Sea to Skye: The Celtic Connection by James Galway & The Chieftans. As you can see, this is a collaborative work. James Galway is probably the best known flutist of our time, and The Chieftans are an excellent well-known group of musicians that play traditional Irish music. Together they put together this collection of primarily Irish folk music, though with some Scottish tunes thrown in also. In the titular track, Galway plays the melody of the traditional Scottish song. In the introduction, though it is a quiet texture on top the patter of drums is clearly audible. It is especially notable that you can hear each distinct hit even as he fades in and out. When Galway comes in, his tone is full, round, and pure with a delicate airy top. Awesome stuff that comes out great on these speakers.

Harpsichords are always tough to reproduce well, so I ran through a couple songs from a CD I happen to have called The Harpsichord from a box set similarly appropriately entitled The Instruments of Classical Music. As you may have already guessed, this is a collection of CDs–one for each of many popular classical instruments. Most of these tracks being harpsichord focused are by nature pretty useful in testing systems, but for no particular reason I picked the Sonata in C, KK 153 by Scarlatti. The sound is big and full, with each pluck detailed and rich without sounding nasal. Just as it should be…

Lastly, from Tool’s new album 10,000 Days, the track Vicarious puts the speakers through a general stress test. Lots is going on all the time in every part of the full frequency spectrum, and it’s a good check to see if everything still has clarity. These speakers definitely do. The guitars come in panned pretty far left and right, letting you hear the wide soundstage right at the beginning. At around 0:50, just when it’s gotten louder, you can hear the cymbals in the background still have an accurately smooth crash. This is a more difficult section for many speakers to reproduce. At around 6:30 to the end there’s a lot going on, but instead of getting mushy, even as the drummer goes crazy on what can almost be called a solo, you can hear each hit distinctly. The detail is quite impressive.

A lot can be said about the sound, but I think I can sum it up as “accurate” and “detailed.”

Conclusion

These are great sounding, though not perfect speakers. Bass extension is limited, but reasonably so, and the high end may be a little brighter than preferred for some people. Taking into account the intended use of these speakers though, the bass is otherwise excellent. It’s punchy and defined all the way through. Keep in mind also that a set of studio monitors with excessive bass will lead to mixes with lean bass. The ideal for studio monitors is flat response, not boosted bass. The BM5a’s are very detailed, which is an excellent quality to have for any speaker. I would say this certainly one of the better values for studio monitors under $1000 a pair.

Buy it at zZounds for $999.95/pair (Dec. 6, 2006)

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~ by audioreviewer on December 6, 2006.

8 Responses to “Dynaudio BM5a Review”

  1. Why on earth would you even attempt to analyze those monitors (or any for that matter) in an acoustically untreated studio? And through the shittiest mixer on the planet! A Behringer……are you serious?! You need some serious Studio Etiquette 101! Here I’ll give you a start: http://www.mercenary.com…….now that’s REAL gear!

  2. Intersting review. I tried the BM5a’s and I like the sound, but did not find them loud enough. If you have a small room they are fine. I will try the next level up either the BM6a or BM6a MKII.

  3. Regarding the first response to the Dynaudio BM5A review, where does the reviewer state that he mixed with a Behringer???? Please fill me in.

  4. Thanks for the insightful info

  5. i think this was a good attempt at providing some insight into these monitors but i do agree with the first post, that your really wasting your time in doing these sorts of tests in a studio/room that is not equip and or acoustically treated.
    But thank you for the info anyways, the more the better…

  6. As the review stated, these speakers can be used for normal music listening and that is what the review is about. It makes sense to test the speakers in a normal listening environment rather than an acoustically treated studio. Read before you type & criticize.

    GREAT REVIEW, MANY THANKS.

  7. This reviewer doesn’t know apples from pears. How can he say the bass from Clapton souns like it is 35Hz – 40Hz.. He would have to be a dog to hear bass at that level. His £20 pc speakers certainly wouldn’t produce those kind of frequencies.

    • Human perception of lower frequencies extends to 20hz.
      In fact, you can generate tones in almost any DAW. If your setup can handle lower frequencies, create a 50hz tone and slowly bring it down.

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