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The reasons WHY some MONITORS are better ENGINEERING TOOLS than others.

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The reasons WHY some MONITORS are better ENGINEERING TOOLS than others.

Postby aarvin2 » Wed Nov 07, 2012 7:50 pm

Hi guys, after lots of years of working with different monitoring speakers in different rooms and different countries, I decided to make a research/report to find out why certain speakers were better engineering tools than others, even though the prices were around and higher than 5000 Euros per pair.

Yes I know how your room and placement is important but rest assured that those were also taken into consideration, so let's focus on monitors.


It would be amazing if you could share your experience of high quality monitoring tools as well.




Observations made:

1. Flat frequency graphs are just marketing tools to fool innocent customers, they only tell a quarter of the story. People should never base their purchases solely on flat frequency graphs.



2. Waterfall graphs measured in a treated room can tell a lot about the quality of a speaker. The lower the decay times, the better the speaker. NS-10 have very very short decay times, so do ATC speakers. Have you ever wondered why speaker manufacturers don't show the waterfall plot of their speakers? Great Article !! --> http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/sep08/a ... hans10.htm

Ported monitor speaker designs have a way longer decay times and more resonances when compared to sealed designs, so ported speakers prove to be not as accurate ... this is not looking good for ported designs. More below ...



3. The quality of the driver is of utmost importance when creating a monitoring speaker. The lower the QTS of the speaker, the more accurate the sound reproduction as the speaker uses more powerful magnet to control the movement of the speaker. Many monitor speaker manufacturer use a high QTS and bass reflex systems to give the impression of bass, TO THE EXPENSE OF ACCURACY AND CONTROL. Manufacturers never speak about this subject, no wonder why.



4. Sealed boxes along with low QTS speakers make the best monitoring tools out there YET, ATC, LIPINSKI, DUNLAVY, KH0300(great bass precision but forgiving hi-mids & highs) etc... Another option is to use advanced open baffle systems with very low QTS speakers.



5. One of the big reasons why some speakers sound SOFTER, nicer and less revealing comes from the smearing of waves due to the speaker choice, baffle design and questionable amplifier choices. www.preference-audio.com/phaseplug.htm
This is why some offending harshness can get smoothed out and appear to be innocent on some monitor systems, but then get revealed in a very ugly harsh piercing way on other home/car/PA systems.
Now when you hear about monitoring speakers with a pleasing smooth sound, RUN! This makes me think of the Focals, KH0300, and some other mid-low priced speaker.




6. Two way speakers with great bass extension using PORTED DESIGNS come in the expense of less detailed mids and high frequencies. Ever heard of a Two-Way speaker which sounds way better when high passed at around 100 Hz, when coupled with a sub ??

I did a test one time with Focal Twins, when I clogged the ports, the speaker showed less excursion and the mids and highs were more detailed. When I unclogged it, the sluggish bass kicked in, the speakers were having bigger excursions and the mids/highs instantly sounded less detailed.

The more the speaker vibrates to produce low end sounds, the more it will smear the mids and highs.

Do not be fooled by the manufacturers praising their small speakers with great low end extension using ported designs, you have been warned.



7. High quality very highly revealing speakers, don't have smeared transient responses. A sharp piercing sound will sound sharp and piercing on the best monitor speakers, but will sound acceptable and less alarming on lower grade speaker. Those problems are often revealed on car systems, some home systems and specially on PA systems, to the horror of the listeners and clubbers.

I have worked in rooms which were equipped with custom made speakers which have the uncanny ability to reveal those sharp piercing sounds ,which often stay buried on lesser speakers. Some of those sounds can be shown using the NS-10 and Auratones , but some problems stay hidden even on those monitors.



8. The higher the quality of the monitors, the more contrast exists between average and great mixes. Average and low quality mixes simply sound horrible on those speakers.
A great mix will beat an average mix on any system, so please choose your monitor speakers wisely. Many mixes sound very harsh and piercing nowadays because those mixes sound perfectly fine on the engineer's smeared speakers. What you cannot hear, you cannot fix.

I have to also say that when using revealing speakers, over compressed/limited mixes sound really nasty!! but on most of monitor speakers out there which I have tested, those crappy mixes sound alright and bearable. What on earth are those speaker manufacturers thinking!!?? Have they forgotten what a monitor speaker should do??



9. Do not be fooled by speaker manufacturers praising their super high SPL speakers. The top of the top tracks engineered by the best mixers, have been mixed at very low levels (WHISPER LEVELS). I have tried it myself, if a track sounds amazing, punchy, groovy and exciting at whisper levels, it sounds spectacular at higher levels and the balance is affected in a pleasing way when it's played loud, it's quite magical

I don't find the logic behind having speakers which sound like a PA system. Remember, the more you listen at high SPL, the more trouble you will be causing to your precious ears. Remember, they are your greatest asset and you really want to protect them

Fine, from time to time and for short moments it's good to turn the speakers up as some other problems and aspects of the mix might get revealed, but still you don't need to turn them up till your ear hurts, so what about that HIGH SPL SELLING LINE ? WHO ARE THEY FOOLING ??

Besides, since i'm using great speakers, I can hear everything and every problem at very soft levels







Recommended speaker manufacturers : Barefoot(somewhat), ATC, Custom made Advanced Open Baffle speakers, Duntech, Lipinski, Brüel & Kjaer and SLT Copenhagen , Grimm Audio LS1 ... please feel free to share your advices on other precision monitoring speakers you have experienced.

On the cheaper side I would recommend the Yamaha NS-10, yes it has a big bump and it does not sound very pleasant, but it is a very fast speaker with very low resonance and decay(like the ATC), and can reveal problems unlike 90% of the speakers out there.

I just pray that some other company will come and offer great quality revealing speakers at a lower price point. The more people realize that they are being lied to, the more will speaker manufacturers change their ways, and think about creating precise engineering tools first and making money later.




Some great lines from a great article that I have read says :

Where does all that leave us? Why do we still use that old monitor? We use it because it does a job, even if it sometimes doesn't sound very nice while doing the job, partly because, if it's installed or driven inappropriately, it will reveal such shortcomings without mercy, and partly because it sometimes reproduces elements of our work that we don't particularly want to hear. But we also use it because nearfield monitor manufacturers seem to have suffered a 20-year blind spot and failed to identify why the NS10 works and remains so popular. Go figure.

Here is the article: http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/sep08/a ... hans10.htm

Happy reading!!! and if ever you find this useful, please share the information with other people in the music industry. The more revealing the monitor speakers, the more the engineers will realize how piercing, compressed(lifeless) and harsh their mixes are, and the more healthy will be the music industry.
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Re: The reasons WHY some MONITORS are better ENGINEERING TOOLS than others.

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Wed Nov 07, 2012 9:25 pm

aarvin2 wrote:I decided to make a research/report to find out why certain speakers were better engineering tools than others...


That sounds like fun

1. Flat frequency graphs are just marketing tools to fool innocent customers, they only tell a quarter of the story.


No speaker is capable of a truly flat on-axis frequency response, although some do get surprisingly close. But you are right, the on-axis response is only a very small part of the complete picture... but this is not a new concept, surely?

2. Waterfall graphs measured in a treated room can tell a lot about the quality of a speaker.


Yes they can, but like the on-axis response they are still only another facet of the complete picture. You also need to consider the off-axis responses (vertically and horizontally), the impulse response, the l;evels of harmonic distortion across the spectrum, the power cepstrum, the relative source positions from the drivers, the phase response and more... to get a complete picture.

NS-10 have very very short decay times, so do ATC speakers


Er... certainly not all ATC speakers! Check out the waterfall plot for the ATC25s, for example. The smallest ATCs do have a very tight waterfall plots largely because they are small and employ sealed-cabinets, but the larger ported ATC speakers still exhibit port resonances at LF -- albeit reasonably well-controlled resonances.

Have you ever wondered why speaker manufacturers don't show the waterfall plot of their speakers?


Some do. Most don't because few potential purchasers know how to interpret them or, more importantly, how they should be compared to other manufacturer's products.

Ported monitor speaker designs have a way longer decay times and more resonances when compared to sealed designs, so ported speakers prove to be not as accurate


Not strictly true! While it is generally the case that low-cost ported speakers often exhibit horrendously long LF decay times due to port resonances, certainly not all do. It's all about the level of damping and the quality of the design.

The ported Focal Twin 6 speakers, for example, have a waterfall decay time that's not that far off the infamous NS10, even in the bottom octaves. There are also some sealed-cabinet speakers, like the huge SP Acoustics SPM1 that exhibit quite obvious LF resonances and slow decays too!

The point is that this is not a simple black and white situation -- its all about the design compromises and how they have been optimised (or not!). Cheap, compromised speakers are compromised... what a surprise!

3. The quality of the driver is of utmost importance when creating a monitoring speaker.


I'd never have guessed that, thanks for the education!

Many monitor speaker manufacturer use a high QTS and bass reflex systems to give the impression of bass, TO THE EXPENSE OF ACCURACY AND CONTROL. Manufacturers never speak about this subject, no wonder why.


Actually, many do 'speak' about it -- but the reason they take that approach is so they can make low-cost speakers that sound impressive -- and they do that because that's what a large part of the market wants. Sad, maybe, but true.

We all know that good monitor speakers are readily available, but that they are also painfully expensive. This is just another one of the reasons why.

Another option is to use advanced open baffle systems with very low QTS speakers.


It's another approach -- along with electrostatic speakers and various other niche designs -- but while they all have their own share of strengths, they also bring their own set of compromises, that latter having to be accommodated in some way.

Now when you hear about monitoring speakers with a pleasing smooth sound, RUN!


A 'pleasing' speaker is probably not an 'accurate' speaker -- although this is more applicable to the more modestly priced designs than truely accurate monitors. Equally a true monitor shouldn't make the midrange sound inappropriately harsh either. Many budget 'monitors' push the midrange forward in an effort to appear more revealing, and many engineers find that helpful when mixing, but it's not accurate!

6. Two way speakers with great bass extension using PORTED DESIGNS come in the expense of less detailed mids and high frequencies.


They often do -- but again you're talking about compromised designs here, rather than a fundamental aspect of the physics. The BBC's standard reference monitor for many decades -- the LS5/8A -- was a very large, ported, two way design, with superb bass extension and fabulously accurate mids and highs. Again, it's all about the design!

I did a test one time with Focal Twins, when I clogged the ports, the speaker showed less excursion and the mids and highs were more detailed.


The mids and highs appeared to be more detailed because you reduced the level of LF by over-damping the bass driver. It's an inherent fact of life! Less bass will always make the mids sound more detailed. By overdamping the bass driver you also reduced the amount of LF distortion it produced, and thus also reduced the harmonic content masking the mids and highs.

When I unclogged it... the speakers were having bigger excursions.


A fundamental property of ported cabinets is that the bass driver damping diminishes rapidly below the port resonance, and so the cone excursion (and harmonic distortion) becomes uncontrolled for very low frequency signals. Well designed monitor systems include steep high-pass filters to deal with this potential problem. If there is no high-pass filter, and if the source material has excessive VLF content, the results could be quite misleading!

The more the speaker vibrates to produce low end sounds, the more it will smear the mids and highs.


And hence the importance of good speaker supports! I knew there'd be a good reason for that...

8. The higher the quality of the monitors, the more contrast exists between average and great mixes.


Yes.. I expect that's why they're called 'professional monitors'

The top of the top tracks engineered by the best mixers, have been mixed at very low levels (WHISPER LEVELS). I have tried it myself, if a track sounds amazing, punchy, groovy and exciting at whisper levels, it sounds spectacular at higher levels and the balance is affected in a pleasing way when it's played loud, it's quite magical


Absolutely! There is a role for high SPL checking on occasions, but in genreal mixing at relatively low levels -- although much more difficult -- results in far better mixes. One issue to bear in mind here is that a lot of ported speakers become very bass-light at low levels. Most sealed cabinet designs and good ATL cabient designs don't suffer from that problem.

I just pray that some other company will come and offer great quality revealing speakers at a lower price point.


For all the reasons you have listed above, and many more besides, it can't be done. It is simply not possible to build genuinely accurate, true professional monitors cheaply. Getting it right is an expensive business using expensive components, and a lot of expensive R&D.

Most of the studio speakers on the market today called 'monitors' are not really worthy of the title, and I wouldn't personally consider anything costing less than about £2k a pair in the UK as being capable of really accurate monitoring -- and even then you'd need very well sorted room acoustics to let the speaker achieve its design standard.

I think perhaps there is more reseaerch to be done to obtain a true understanding of all the issues involved in accurate montoring.

Hugh
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Re: The reasons WHY some MONITORS are better ENGINEERING TOOLS than others.

Postby aarvin2 » Wed Nov 07, 2012 10:39 pm

Thanks a lot for the constructive information you shared mate!!!! Now let me clear some points.

Hugh Robjohns wrote:
No speaker is capable of a truly flat on-axis frequency response, although some do get surprisingly close. But you are right, the on-axis response is only a very small part of the complete picture... but this is not a new concept, surely?

Many people are still believing in flat frequency graphs and think that a monitor is all about this. I was myself in this case 10 years ago and i'd just like to inform the people who didn't know



Hugh Robjohns wrote:Some do. Most don't because few potential purchasers know how to interpret them or, more importantly, how they should be compared to other manufacturer's products.

There are some measures of some speakers on the net + come on it's a very easy graph to read, the only added variable added is time.



Hugh Robjohns wrote:
The ported Focal Twin 6 speakers, for example, have a waterfall decay time that's not that far off the infamous NS10, even in the bottom octaves.

Would you mind telling me where you got the waterfall graph for the Focal Twins please ?? I have used those speakers for quite some time now and the bottom end is way less precise then NS-10 or K&H 0300.


Hugh Robjohns wrote:
The point is that this is not a simple black and white situation -- its all about the design compromises and how they have been optimised (or not!).

Fair point


Hugh Robjohns wrote:
Actually, many do 'speak' about it -- but the reason they take that approach is so they can make low-cost speakers that sound impressive -- and they do that because that's what a large part of the market wants. Sad, maybe, but true.

Don't you think that it's our job for the love of music and sonic quality to inform people about this plague ? That's what i'm trying to do via this thread



Hugh Robjohns wrote:
It's another approach -- along with electrostatic speakers and various other niche designs -- but while they all have their own share of strengths, they also bring their own set of compromises, that latter having to be accommodated in some way.

I have met a gentleman at AES last year and he had in hand a small speaker, with a revolutionary open baffle design which was aimed towards bringing quality monitoring into the CHEAPER segment, and the sound of this thing was so revealing that it blows the Focal Twins(in termes of low mid, mid, high end definition) in the water for 1 tenth the price. Fingers crossed, this could be a game changer.


Hugh Robjohns wrote:
A 'pleasing' speaker is probably not an 'accurate' speaker -- although this is more applicable to the more modestly priced designs than truely accurate monitors. Equally a true monitor shouldn't make the midrange sound inappropriately harsh either. Many budget 'monitors' push the midrange forward in an effort to appear more revealing, and many engineers find that helpful when mixing, but it's not accurate!

I was actually talking about speakers which sound harsh when the source is harsh and pleasing when the source is pleasing, but thanks for putting forward the speakers that sound harsh all the time, this is certainly not a good thing.


Hugh Robjohns wrote:
The mids and highs appeared to be more detailed because you reduced the level of LF by over-damping the bass driver. It's an inherent fact of life! Less bass will always make the mids sound more detailed. By overdamping the bass driver you also reduced the amount of LF distortion it produced, and thus also reduced the harmonic content masking the mids and highs.

Spot on my friend!!! I don't think we should accept LF distortion messing up out precious mids and highs though

Hugh Robjohns wrote:
8. The higher the quality of the monitors, the more contrast exists between average and great mixes.

Yes.. I expect that's why they're called 'professional monitors'

Exactly that's what they SHOULD DO, but honestly I didn't find the cheaper speakers like Focal Twins and below having this uncanny ability to cast this contrast, like the Lipinskis, Ns-10, ATC do. I have heard even expensive speakers like Geithains which were very forgiving, which is in my opinion quite shocking.


Hugh Robjohns wrote:
Absolutely! There is a role for high SPL checking on occasions, but in genreal mixing at relatively low levels -- although much more difficult -- results in far better mixes. One issue to bear in mind here is that a lot of ported speakers become very bass-light at low levels. Most sealed cabinet designs and good ATL cabient designs don't suffer from that problem.

That's why I am not really praising ported cabinets(at least the cheaper ones). ATL cabinet designs impressed me much, I would gladly promote the PMC speakers in this thread but although I loved the Lows and mids, they were forgiving in the hi-mids.



Hugh Robjohns wrote:
For all the reasons you have listed above, and many more besides, it can't be done. It is simply not possible to build genuinely accurate, true professional monitors cheaply. Getting it right is an expensive business using expensive components, and a lot of expensive R&D.

Most of the studio speakers on the market today called 'monitors' are not really worthy of the title, and I wouldn't personally consider anything costing less than about £2k a pair in the UK as being capable of really accurate monitoring -- and even then you'd need very well sorted room acoustics to let the speaker achieve its design standard.

I think perhaps there is more reseaerch to be done to obtain a true understanding of all the issues involved in accurate montoring.

Hugh

From what I have heard in AES last year(I have already mentioned it above) I think it will be possible to have better speakers in the lower price brackets. The more people will be aware that they are being fooled, the less the manufacturers will be able to abuse on their ignorance and sell them junk.

Fingers crossed I just hope my optimistic hopes become true, for the good of the music

Thanks again for sharing your precious knowledge, clearing some points and making of this debate a constructive one

Arvin
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Re: The reasons WHY some MONITORS are better ENGINEERING TOOLS than others.

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Thu Nov 08, 2012 1:00 am

aarvin2 wrote:Many people are still believing in flat frequency graphs and think that a monitor is all about this. I was myself in this case 10 years ago and i'd just like to inform the people who didn't know


Funnily enough, it's someone we've been explaining in this magazine for over 25 years...

it's a very easy graph to read, the only added variable added is time.


Yes, on a simplistic level, but as always a degree of intelligent interpretation is needed to understand what elements are significant and what are not. But in general, I'd much prefer every manufacturer to make all the plots i mentioned previously available -- not just the waterfall because that still doesn't provide everything we need to know!

Would you mind telling me where you got the waterfall graph for the Focal Twins please ??


Resolution magazine, I think - one of their regular technical speaker tests.

I have used those speakers for quite some time now and the bottom end is way less precise then NS-10 or K&H 0300.


Just goes to show--again--that there's more too it than just the steepness of the waterfall response!

Don't you think that it's our job for the love of music and sonic quality to inform people about this plague ? That's what i'm trying to do via this thread


Again, thats kinda what SOS magazine has been doing for over 25 years... But the fact remains that few people can afford, or justify the expense of, truly accurate professional monitors, and consequently live in a world of (hopefully reasonably) compromised studio speakers.


I have met a gentleman at AES last year and he had in hand a small speaker, with a revolutionary open baffle design which was aimed towards bringing quality monitoring into the CHEAPER segment, and the sound of this thing was so revealing that it blows the Focal Twins(in termes of low mid, mid, high end definition) in the water for 1 tenth the price. Fingers crossed, this could be a game changer.


There's nothing revolutionary about open baffle speaker designs, theyve been around for a century or more, but they have fundamental performance limitations just like all other designs. The major one is extremely limited bass response, especially if the baffle is small, But as I mentioned earlier that tends to enhance the impression of clarity.


I was actually talking about speakers which sound harsh when the source is harsh and pleasing when the source is pleasing...


Isn't that what a true monitor is supposed to do? If a speaker doesn't tell you what's going on, it ain't a very useful tool. Similarly, a true monitor works equally well with any kind of source: classical, rock, spoken word, etc. if a studio speaker sounds good on rock, but poor on classical, (or vice versa) it's not doing its job properly! I'm always amazed how many people (and manufacturers) just don't get that!

I don't think we should accept LF distortion messing up out precious mids and highs though


Sure... All you have to do is design a high output moving coil driver -- or some other transducer design with equivalent performance -- that produces negligible harmonic distortion. The best brains on the planet have been trying for a century, and while they have made worthwhile incremental improvements there's still quite a way to go to reach nirvana!

I didn't find the cheaper speakers like Focal Twins and below having this uncanny ability to cast this contrast, like the Lipinskis, Ns-10, ATC do. I have heard even expensive speakers like Geithains which were very forgiving, which is in my opinion quite shocking.


There's an obvious reason why modestly priced speakers can't deliver total accuracy. The ns10 isn't accurate either in many ways, but it does have some useful properties which is why it became a popular mixing reference tool. But every speaker has a combination of different strengths and weaknesses depending on how the manufacturers stacked their priorities -- even the really expensive ones. I don't think the perfect speaker has been built yet. I've certainly not found it, yet!

From what I have heard in AES last year(I have already mentioned it above) I think it will be possible to have better speakers in the lower price brackets.


technology is continually improving and many modestly priced studio speakers today are better than high end monitors from 20 years ago. But the fundamental issues that determine quality remain relatively expensive. However, the growing incorporation of dsp-based driver and cross-over optimisation and excursion/heat protection systems is a major step forward, and that is becoming quite cost effective.

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Re: The reasons WHY some MONITORS are better ENGINEERING TOOLS than others.

Postby Zukan » Thu Nov 08, 2012 9:30 am

Too many words........too many words....

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Re: The reasons WHY some MONITORS are better ENGINEERING TOOLS than others.

Postby adrian_k » Thu Nov 08, 2012 9:51 am

too many quotes, too many quotes! wow this is a hard thread to read
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Re: The reasons WHY some MONITORS are better ENGINEERING TOOLS than others.

Postby James Perrett » Thu Nov 08, 2012 10:16 am

Hopefully fixed some of the quotes...

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Re: The reasons WHY some MONITORS are better ENGINEERING TOOLS than others.

Postby adrian_k » Thu Nov 08, 2012 10:52 am

thanks
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Re: The reasons WHY some MONITORS are better ENGINEERING TOOLS than others.

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Thu Nov 08, 2012 4:32 pm

Sorry -- I was arguing with an iPad late at night.... And I think the iPad won!

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Re: The reasons WHY some MONITORS are better ENGINEERING TOOLS than others.

Postby Richie Royale » Fri Nov 09, 2012 8:37 am

Technical editor defeated by technology shocker!

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Re: The reasons WHY some MONITORS are better ENGINEERING TOOLS than others.

Postby John Willett » Fri Nov 09, 2012 9:34 am

Richie Royale wrote:Technical editor defeated by technology shocker!


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Re: The reasons WHY some MONITORS are better ENGINEERING TOOLS than others.

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Fri Nov 09, 2012 11:28 am

Old dog... new tricks... bloomin iPad virtual keyboard nonsense with annoying auto-correct! And trying to discuss too many aspects within one post! It seemed like a good idea at the time... Apologies again

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Re: The reasons WHY some MONITORS are better ENGINEERING TOOLS than others.

Postby Andi » Sat Nov 10, 2012 12:32 am

Hugh Robjohns wrote:Old dog... new tricks... bloomin iPad virtual keyboard nonsense with annoying auto-correct! And trying to discuss too many aspects within one post! It seemed like a good idea at the time... Apologies again

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Re: The reasons WHY some MONITORS are better ENGINEERING TOOLS than others.

Postby MonkeySpank » Sun Nov 11, 2012 12:37 pm

Great thread! Keep the debate going!
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Re: The reasons WHY some MONITORS are better ENGINEERING TOOLS than others.

Postby aarvin2 » Mon Nov 12, 2012 5:12 pm

MonkeySpank wrote:Great thread! Keep the debate going!

Please do share your views and opinions with regards to the subject mate
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