Affordable, compact and with magnetic shielding, the new Point Seven monitors are sure to cause a stir. Christopher Holder determines whether serious reference monitoring has taken another price dip.
The art of making monitors has been refined and honed to the point where these days you can spend as little as a couple of hundred quid and have yourself a top‑grade monitor with a flat frequency response, that'll take all sorts of stick, and come back asking for more.
Err... Not quite.
For a studio monitor manufacturer the design brief is simple: build a speaker with a perfectly flat frequency response where what 'comes in' goes out — nothing added or subtracted — at any level, all the way from the threshold of hearing to the threshold of pain. Unfortunately, even the very best speakers don't quite meet this ideal, and when you're faced with the constraints of size, weight and cost, the compromises tend to be harder to balance. Nevertheless, it's unquestionably true to say that that in recent years budget speakers are being built that are performing to far higher standards than, say, a decade ago.
Enter the Alesis Point Seven monitors. They're compact, cheap, and competent performers. They don't pretend to sound absolutely accurate, but given their size and cost, neither would you expect them to.
As I extricated these monitors from their packaging, the cliché 'small but perfectly formed' sprang to mind. They are very compact, with the main driver (a 5.5‑inch cone made from a proprietary non‑woven carbon‑fibre material) sharing space with a 1‑inch silk dome tweeter in a cabinet only some 11 inches high and 7 inches deep. The actual box pays no homage to the irregular cabinet designs that are all the rage at present, with set‑square corners thoughout. To protect you from puncturing an eyeball or opening a vein, though, the pointy bits are adorned with extra rubber corners. The cabinet is reassuringly solid in build and weight, while the MDF has a 'come stroke me' rubbery coating to it. In a departure from Alesis' previous monitor style, the cabinets are dual‑ported, with the ports built into the front facia rather than the rear.
To continue in 'spec mode', the Point Sevens have a quoted frequency response extended from 85Hz to a canine‑exciting 27kHz, with a passive crossover operating at 2kHz. As far as quoted power is concerned, the Point Sevens are built to happily operate at 50W RMS and 100W peak. Alesis quote a sensitivity of 86dB SPL (1W @ 1 metre). Interestingly, the Point Sevens have a nominal impedance of 4Ω, rather than the more common 'hi‑fi' 8Ω, which should allow you to squeeze the maximum power from your amplifier.
Alesis strike me as being a canny company, and if I was to write a trashy coffee table book entitled Home of the Brave, Land of the Rich — Great American Corporate Success Stories, Alesis would be somewhere in the first few pages, along with Mackie and the company that makes double‑sided sticky tape. As with many great success stories, Alesis launched a new product for a new market, first with affordable digital reverb, then with the ADAT 8‑track digital tape recorder. Since then Alesis have always been in our faces, with their high‑spec packages selling at prices that shouldn't be possible.
Applying similar principles, the question "to whom can we sell studio monitors that hasn't already got a pair?" was probably asked, and the laconic response "plenty of people" was probably the answer. In fact, anyone who has bought a synth workstation, 4‑track recorder, multimedia computer setup with a soundcard, or GM module for the first time is a potential customer. "What do they want out of their monitors, then?" is the next question that might have been posed at Alesis HQ. People in home and project studios starting out are usually strapped for cash, while their studios are almost always cramped (the attic or the box room are favourites), acoustically fraught, and definitely not sound‑proofed. The monitors they buy need to be easy on the pocket, and, because they will be placed wherever there's space, they need to be forgiving in their ability to produce quality nearfield stereo sound.
Out of the hypothetical realms of R&D labs, where men silently shuffle about in big white space‑suits, and in the gloomy, unglamorous reality of my studio, the Point Sevens soon began to show their true colours. If I had to chose two words to describe these little workhorses, they would be 'bright' and 'punchy'. I banged on my usual eclectic array of CD material: jazz, rock, techno, orchestral, Acker Bilk... each one revealing a different quality or deficiency in the monitors, as well as revealing what a broad‑minded man of the world I am — or something. I generally liked what I heard. There's a lot of detail in the mid range, and this is a quality which is particularly evident when you're listening for reverb tails or the extent of delay regeneration. The bottom end drops off at 85Hz, and the 5.5‑inch carbon fibre woofers are happily unencumbered with the duties of deep bass reproduction. Consequently the bass end is extremely punchy and responsive — if lacking in low‑frequency extension. (I could say something corny here like, um, "more punch than a Don King staff party", but that would belittle an otherwise classy speaker characteristic). The silk‑dome tweeter has a slight problem in dealing with the high end: there's plenty of definition and crispness, but this sometimes borders on the marginally harsh, as is so often the case with US‑designed monitors, especially those from the west coast (Elvin Jones' crash cymbal gave my fringe a trim with its energy). If there is an area where the Point Sevens show some 'peakiness', it's in the high mids, particularly prevalent in some vocal material (Björk sounded even more disconcerting than usual).
The Point Sevens deliver a good stereo image, but without the expansive soundstage you might expect from more expensive monitors. The image doesn't show any sign of degradation, regardless of the speakers' orientation (upright or on its side are the main ones, although in a face‑down orientation you may experience a certain loss of frequency content). I was also impressed at how balanced and useful the output was at low levels. Conversely, when the speakers are pushed quite hard you'll find that the slight brightness of their response turns into a really quite strident high end. This was particularly evident when the Point Sevens were hooked up to a low‑output hi‑fi power amp (such as the 35W‑a‑side Denon model I was using). Naturally, the monitors were altogether happier being fed by a beefier amp, and that just underlines the fact that you should never under‑power your speakers, otherwise transients will invariably clip.
The Alesis Point Sevens are good all‑round performers, and though there is little in the way of finesse here, they do provide a fair representation of what's actually going on in your mix — as long as you bear in mind that you won't hear what the bottom octave is doing. As for their size, in most of the likely applications, I can only see this as an advantage. If your studio is in a block of flats or a bedsit, you need adequate level, tonal neutrality, and not too much bass, otherwise the room response will conspire to create a misleading bass end. You also don't want to have to worry over whether the bass end is shaking the three flying porcelain ducks off your neighbour's wall. The magnetic shielding is a critical inclusion and helps make the Point Sevens suitable for most multimedia applications where the computer monitor needs to be placed close to your speakers. (Using non‑shielded speakers often results in colour and picture distortion if they're placed too close to a monitor.)
Put simply, the Point Sevens are ideal for anyone needing a quality pair of reasonably honest monitors at a nice price, though they aren't without strong competition from budget‑priced British‑built monitors. If you're monitoring at home on a pair of crackling, wheezing, and complaining hi‑fi bookshelf speakers you were given on your 14th birthday, here's your chance to enter the world of real nearfield monitoring without breaking the bank.
- Video shielding.
- Punchy bass.
- Can be a little harsh in the high end.
Very good value for money, with a crisp, revealing response.