Honey, I Shrunk The Monitors
Revox Mk1 NF Near Field Monitors
These tiny speakers are ideal for the task of home studio, near-field monitoring.
Derek Johnson studio tests a diminutive pair of hi-fi speakers and finds them surprisingly useful as near-field or home recording monitors.
Revox is a name perhaps more commonly associated with high quality tape machines, but the company's range also includes a wide variety of products for broadcast and up-market hi-fi applications. Of particular interest to RM are Revox's hi-fi speakers, which just happen to be eminently suitable for use as near field studio monitors. Towards, but not quite at, the bottom of the range is the MK1 NF, a surprisingly compact, two-way monitor — with an equally surprising frequency range considering it stands less than 11 inches high. Constructionally, there is little that's out of the ordinary; the cabinet is a typical ported design with bevelled front edges and a removable cloth grille. The bevelling is not only cosmetically distinctive, it should also help minimise cabinet edge diffraction, though to exactly what degree it's hard to say. Finished in black laminate, the cabinet appears to be made from MDF (medium density fibreboard) or a similar material, though I don't know what internal damping arrangements are used as nothing is visible through the bass port. In any event, bracing should not be an issue on a cabinet of this size because of the inherent stiffness of the small panels.
The drivers themselves comprise a 5-inch woofer with a roll surround and a 1-inch soft-domed tweeter driven from a passive crossover operating at 3.15kHz and giving a nominal impedance of 4 Ohms. Connection is via sprung clamps on the rear panel, which are perfectly adequate for speakers of this power handling capacity.
Like the bass driver, the tweeter is recessed so as to be flush with the front baffle and is mounted a little off-centre, which results in a slightly assymetrical stereo setup; the speakers are identical, not mirror images of each other. However, this doesn't seem to adversely affect the stereo imaging.
With a nominal power handling of 60W, the MK1 NF has a useful frequency range of 38Hz to 20kHz, though obviously the bass starts to roll off at a rather higher frequency than this might lead you to believe. Even so, the result is impressive, the inevitable tradeoff being in overall efficiency, as must be the case with such small units. At just 86dB for 1W at 1m, a decent amount of power is needed to push them up to a 'happening' volume level and I wouldn't recommend anything much smaller than 45 watts per channel for serious monitoring. Even so, when used in the near field, the volume level becomes uncomfortable before obvious distortion sets in. Fuse protection is built in to afford some measure of defence against driver abuse, but as always, it is wiser not to drive the speakers into distortion in the first place.
Technical specifications are all very well, but in the case of loudspeakers, they are meaningless unless backed up by a listening test. Fortunately, the Revox MK1 NFs came through rather well. As with many a small pair of monitors, the MK1s found themselves up against my pair of JBL Control 1s, and a variety of mixes and CDs were auditioned. On the whole, the Mk1s presented a fuller sound, making even more obvious the Control 1s' tendency to a middly, slightly boxy sound. The MK1s top end is controlled, and the overall sound is warm, which is in contrast to the rather aggressive sound of my JBLs. This augurs well for long work sessions where bright speakers can become fatiguing.
I was surprised at the bass response of these monitors: it sounded very real and relatively unhyped, though anything below 50Hz or so does tend to be a little recessed. Revox's MK1s have a restraint that is particularly suitable to classical or acoustic music, and they are brilliant for assessing vocals. Perhaps they lack the attack of the Control 1s, but that may be no bad thing given that Control 1s are voiced to be deliberately over-bright.
During my listening tests, I had the opportunity of using the MK1s alongside Revox's Piccolo Bass subbass unit; the Piccolo Bass features a pair of 8-inch drivers in a ported cabinet and has a nominal power handling of 100W. Using the sub-bass unit takes the MK1s into a different area completely. The bottom end of mixes is suddenly really there with more perceived, but controlled and well-balanced, bass. Since the MK1s don't have to struggle with the bass (the Piccolo Bass crosses over at 110Hz), they can project the mid-range and top with integrity, making a very musical full frequency range monitoring system. Stereo separation was good, with no immediately audible phase or stereo imaging problems arising from the assymetry of the speakers' design. Most of my comments for the system without the addition of sub-bass still apply: acoustic music is served best, but the increased definition in the bass end makes dance mixes more lively.
Value-wise, the MK1s are fairly attractive, although by no means the cheapest monitors in their range. Their power handling is good — I drove them with a 100W a side amp, cranked them up and reached a fairly painful volume level before they started struggling, in spite of their nominal 60W handling capacity. At normal listening levels, these are musical and relatively accurate monitors that are nice to mix on and also sound pretty good if you're sharing them with your hi-fi.
Revox Mk1 NFs £289.46 per pair; MK Piccolo Bass £230.71. Prices include VAT.
Studer Revox UK Ltd, (Contact Details).
Review by Derek Johnson
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