Paul White tests a pair of US‑built studio monitors designed to combine tonal accuracy with affordability.
Event may be a new name on the studio equipment map, but the people behind the company are anything but new players: their chief loudspeaker designers (including Frank Kelly, interviewed back in SOS April '95) have a 25‑year track record with some of the biggest names in US audio, including JBL, Gauss, UREI, Harman and Alesis.
Designing a new loudspeaker can be no easy task, because most of the parameters and potential problems are well‑documented, as are most of the solutions. Indeed, some would argue that the only improvements still to be made are very small, and while this is probably true, the Event approach seems not to be to improve on perfection at all costs, but rather to build a cost‑effective monitor capable of rivalling the performance of established models costing two or three times the price. This is a most laudable aim, but how is it possible to build a very high‑quality studio monitor loudspeaker system for under £400?
If you've ever seen how a hi‑fi loudspeaker system is priced, you might be horrified to learn where the money goes. Once you've deducted the dealer and retailer margins, it's quite possible that even a quite decent £500, 2‑way speaker will incorporate bass drivers costing under £15 each and tweeters that cost maybe £8 each or less. The rest of the money goes on the crossover, the cabinet, assembly, and of course the manufacturer's development costs and profit margin. No wonder, then, that some hi‑fi systems contain sadly under‑engineered drivers; by the time the pretentious trim and endangered‑rainforest veneer on the cabinet has been paid for, there's really very little left to invest in decent woofers and tweeters.
Event would appear to have approached the problem from the other end, and though their drivers must still be built to a price, they're properly designed to do the job asked of them. The custom‑built bass driver in this 2‑way system is eight inches in diameter, and uses a mineral‑loaded polypropylene cone mounted in a pressed steel chassis via a damped rubber surround. Driving the cone is a 1.5‑inch, high‑temperature voice coil in a magnetic assembly large enough to inspire confidence. A silver diecast aluminum trim ring provides a smooth aerodynamic transition from the driver to the cabinet, while forming a part of the 4‑way mounting system.
It is generally accepted that soft‑dome tweeters produce the most natural sound at sensible listening levels, and the 20/20s use a 1‑inch, silk‑domed unit with ferrofluid cooling. A second‑order crossover (12dB/octave) operates at 2.2kHz, providing an overall frequency response of 50Hz to 20kHz +/‑ 2dB. This is quite a low crossover frequency considering the crossover slope is only second order, and it says a lot for the quality of the tweeter that no serious anomalies are audible in the 500Hz to 2kHz part of the spectrum, where the tweeter must still deliver a significant amount of audio energy, albeit at a progressively lower level with falling frequency.
A long, large‑diameter port is used instead of a shorter, narrower one and this has a right‑angled bend in it to make it fit the cabinet. This angled port design feature was also used on the Alesis Monitor Ones, and is intended to keep the port working properly at high sound pressure levels; smaller ports apparently suffer from turbulence which makes the effective port size, and hence the cabinet tuning, change with level.
So far, the quality of design and choice of components seems fine, so where has the money been saved? The most obvious area of economy is the cabinet. This is fabricated from vinyl‑laminated, five‑eighths‑of‑an‑inch medium‑density fibreboard, and the constructional method seems to be similar to that used for low cost hi‑fi systems, so what you get is a functional box with sharp corners and a no‑nonsense, wipe‑clean finish. Machined rebates accept the drivers, which are mounted without the benefit of gaskets, and are secured using screws rather than bolts. Despite the lack of gaskets, there appears to be no air leakage around the bass driver, and the overall presentation is very smart. The front port vent is plastic, but inside the box the port changes to a cardboard tube — again, perfectly acceptable in engineering terms, and another way to trim the cost without compromising performance. Absorbent lining is placed on the cabinet sides, and the crossover is mounted on a small PCB affixed to the rear panel. Grain‑orientated steel laminate rather than air‑cored inductors are used, presumably to save cost, and though some purists will argue the merits of air‑cored inductors, the only meaningful test is ultimately to listen.
An off‑the‑peg, rear‑panel terminal block accepts unterminated wires, banana plugs, spade terminals or pin connectors, and no provision is made for bi‑wiring, doubtless on the very valid basis that few studio users would use it anyway!
The Event 20/20s are quite compact, measuring just 14.75 x 10.25 x 11.75 inches, and they're obviously designed to fill the need for a nearfield monitor, though they deliver quite enough bass end to be used as main monitors in a small studio or edit suite. Tonally, the speakers are detailed, but without being overbearingly harsh — a common fault among budget monitors. There are no untoward bass‑end hot spots, no nagging peaks in the 3 to 6kHz range, and the general impression is that you're hearing a pretty honest representation of what's being fed in. The adjectives smooth, sweet, confident and effortless spring unbidden to mind, but as I don't have a sentence to put them in at the moment, I'll leave them here for the time being. There's plenty of top‑end clarity without any tendency to fatigue, and the stereo imaging is excellent, even when you're well in front of the sweet spot. To maintain a sense of perspective, the sound of the 20/20s stands up well in comparison with the likes of the smaller Genelec and Dynaudio monitors, though every different brand has its own unique character. The 20/20s' sound isn't as tightly controlled as from my little ATC 20s, which are far less efficient and very highly damped, but there's nothing to worry about, especially at the price the 20/20s are going for.
These monitors are rated at 200W peak, 150W programme, and have a nominal 4Ω impedance, though they're efficient enough at 88dB@1 Watt @ 1m that you could monitor quite loudly with an amplifier as low as 50 Watts per channel, or even less. Because loudspeakers often dip below their nominal impedance at certain frequencies, it is essential to use a good‑quality amplifier, one that is rated to handle 4Ω loads or lower. I used an AVI 100W per channel integrated amplifier for testing, and had plenty of level in reserve.
The Event 20/20s turned out to be damn fine monitors, well up to the task of serious mixing, editing or post‑pro work; I'm looking at my Pro Tools system at the moment to see if a pair would fit, though a lack of magnetic shielding on this particular model means you can't put them too close to your computer monitor. I understand that a magnetically‑shielded version of this monitor is in the planning stage.
The 20/20s' bass end is sufficiently extended to make them useful as the sole pair of monitors in a small studio, yet it isn't so extended as to cause problems in a project or home studio that may not have the benefit of thorough acoustic treatment. Well‑recorded music is reproduced with a degree of clarity and detail that you'd normally associate with rather more costly monitors, while flaws in poor recordings are clearly exposed. This is exactly what you need from a monitor system — overall honesty without frills or flattery. After all, when something isn't right, you want to be the first to know about it.
As a first product from a new company, the 20/20s seem to have hit the target price for a project studio monitor without significantly compromising on audio integrity. Corners have been cut, but these are all in exactly the right areas — the cabinets are functional rather than statements of high fashion, both cabinets are identical rather than being built as right‑ and left‑handed versions, and the design has been worked out for efficient assembly. I don't have a problem with any of that, as the drivers are up to the task, and the basic design is sound. If you're in the market for new monitors in this price range, you'd be doing yourself a great disservice by not checking out the Event 20/20s. I'm now very curious to see what they come up with next — who knows what awaits us beyond the Event horizon?
This active version of the 20/20 (not shown in the picture in this review) includes a pair of amplifiers — 130W driving the LF speaker and 70W feeding the tweeter. These are fed from a 4th‑order active crossover operating at 2.6kHz. The input socket can accept either balanced XLRs, balanced jacks or unbalanced jacks. An input level control provides 20dB of gain adjustment, and separate trim controls are fitted, so the low frequency and high frequency levels can be adjusted independently to help compensate for room acoustics and speaker position. An active, subsonic filter attenuates signals below 30Hz (these wouldn't be heard anyway, but they might tax the speakers and amplifiers), and RF filtering is also included to reduce the risk of radio frequency interference. A green power indicator LED is positioned at the bottom of the woofer trim ring to show the speakers are on, which also doubles as a clip indicator. Protection for the speakers and amplifiers is provided by amplifier output current limiting, over‑temperature sensing and switch‑on muting to guard against power‑up transients. There's also a resettable mains circuit breaker.
Though the speakers have the same family sound as the passive versions, the use of a steep active crossover and bi‑amping results in a noticeably tighter, better‑controlled sound with greater clarity at the bass end in particular. At the top end, the sound seems smoother, yet very detailed. Even at very loud monitoring levels, the sound remains tight and very well controlled. If you haven't already got a suitable power amplifier, I'd strongly recommend you consider the active versions, as they have a very clear sonic advantage over their passive companions.
- Well‑balanced, smooth sound with good bass extension.
- Attractive price.
- Efficient; you don't need a hugely powerful amplifier.
- I'm thinking!
An extremely well thought‑out design, which puts solid audio performance before fashion.