Monitor Speaker System Model 6
Home recording monitors
When you first start building your home studio it's natural that your choice of speakers will almost certainly be whatever you are currently using for your Hi-Fi system. This is perfectly reasonable for small multi-track use, especially with the cheaper of the four-track cassette machines, but once your ambitions start getting serious, it will soon become apparent that your bookshelf speakers just aren't up to the job of allowing you to hear exactly what is on your tape — especially vital if you're to be demonstrating it to a record company or producer through decent speakers at some later date. It is vital, of course, that you know what is on your final master tape — the respective volumes of the instruments, tuning inaccuracies of basses (often hard to pick-out on cheap speakers), extraneous noises in the mix, the usual sorts of problems which you can get if you are forced to mix-down to stereo twin track with poor monitoring equipment.
At the same time, few of us are wealthy enough to own one set of speakers for our studios and another for our Hi-Fi use and so a compromise between the two types is very desirable.
Naturally enough, the place to look for a combination of the two types of speaker lies in the producers of both types of speakers — studio monitors and Hi-Fi units. In addition to the obvious 'big two' makers (J.B.L. and Tannoy) this takes us towards other producers with studio reputations, like Altec Lansing.
These days Altec's speakers are easier to obtain than they have been over here for some while and the newly introduced Model 6's, whilst they may not exactly crop-up in every street corner discount Hi-Fi store, are at least obtainable from suppliers of high quality speaker systems.
Measuring a rather hefty 25½"x 15½"x13½", the Model 6's are probably too large to be counted as 'bookshelf' types. In fact they warrant stands, something which you ought to consider seriously for larger speakers such as these.
The cabinets are the usual chipboard types, covered in a rather nice looking laminate of Endriana (a wood we hadn't previously encountered). The woven covers over the speakers remove with sturdy press fastenings and the whole mechanical construction of the ported enclosures looks to be both attractive and very workmanlike. The Altecs weigh 30 lbs each.
On a technical level, the Model 6's feature a three-way system comprising a 10" bass driver, 5" mid-range speaker and a 'Manta-ray' horn to handle the highs. This latter comprises what the makers call a radial phase plug compression driver, coupled to one of their Mantaray constant directivity horns. These components are, basically, derived from some of Altec's professional studio monitors.
As is fairly common for speakers of this quality, you are provided with two rotary controls, one for the highs, one for the mid range. Most unusually, however, Altec have devised an overload warning system for these speakers whereby the words 'Automatic Power Control' light up if you should exceed safe operating levels. In use we couldn't achieve this result, despite driving the Model 6's very hard, which rather goes to bear-out the maker's claimed maximum input of 200 watts per enclosure!
Our test rig comprised several sources, ranging from Dolby 'C' noise reduced metal cassettes (TDK MAR) run on an Alpage cassette recorder through to record sources (Ortofon cartridge on SME arm). Power amplification was via an H.H. MOS FET V500 Power amp with a Sony V-Fet pre-amp. Studio tests were conducted with various multi-track machines.
We ran the speakers extensively over a two week period for both Hi-Fi and home recording and our user tests are, as always, based on a combination of both types of use. Initial impressions of the Altecs were that they performed rather well on most Hi-Fi tests. We ran many types of music tests from heavy metal to classical music on them and only on really pure strings did they betray that common complaint against American speakers that they can tend to make acoustic violins sound like electric ones. Why this should have been, in the Altecs' case, we'll come to in a minute.
On Rock music, however, the Altecs sounded very good indeed for the price, presenting a good bass response and a smoother midrange than one might have expected from one of the 'traditionally American' speaker makers.
The provision of a variable attenuator for treble and middle helped here. The ability to reduce the ultimate top and mid response enabled us to remove some of the 'tizziness' in the highs which had a tendency to render hi-hats too obtrusive. It didn't require much alteration to remove this effect, and once gone, the top response was much smoother and more acceptable to British ears. For home recording use it is particularly advantageous having these controls as it enables you to adjust the units to an optimum for your room and your tastes without having recourse to a graphic equaliser, which only adds to your total equipment bill. Especially impressive about the Altecs was their ability to handle high level inputs. Even driven really hard by our H.H. the Model 6's never sounded strained and seemed to be efficient enough to reproduce a sound pressure level which means that players who like to monitor very loud (which is probably most of us!) will not find the sound 'breaking-up' when the Altecs are progressively driven harder and harder.
Following a complex mix on the Model 6's was quite easy, each instrument appeared to be well defined and the spatial imagery of the respective stereo pans was good (helped, no doubt, by the top-end coming out through those 'constant directivity' horns).
For the asking price we were generally favourably impressed by these speakers. They don't have the transparency of some professional studio monitors but they do enable you to hear what is going on in your mix and will deliver very high levels without noticeable distortion.
If the Altecs' have a weakness, in our listeners' opinions, it was the tendency of top frequencies to be reproduced as rather too sibilant, possibly due to the use of a horn rather than a more conventional tweeter unit. This can be adjusted out of the sound to some extent but it does, however, make the Altecs sound rather sharper and more sibilant than many of us will be used to.
For readers who listen to hard Rock at high-ish levels, the Model 6's could well fit the Hi-Fi bill. If you also need a monitor for your home studio which can comfortably deliver high sound pressure levels then the Altecs will fit both your bills quite nicely. Efficiency of the Model 6's (ie output related to given input) is pretty reasonable (the makers quote 91.5 dB with the usual 1 metre/watt input of pink noise from 500Hz to 3KHz. In practice we have heard more efficient speakers, but these were certainly efficient enough for most purposes.
Overall the sound of these speakers was impressive in most of the roles we tested them in. They are not quite as 'hard' as the typical American speaker used to be, but they still worked well with most Rock music, something which many British speakers fail to do.
Altecs aren't all that common yet in U.K. retail outlets so readers wanting to try them should contact the importers, (Contact Details).
(RRP £403-76 inc. VAT)
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