Paul White finds that all things bright are not necessarily beautiful.
Westlake Audio have been in the monitor business a long time, and those who use their monitors do so because of their distinctive sound rather than because they are the most accurate speakers on the market. The BBSM4 is a nearfield monitor of the type normally found perching on the meter bridges of studio consoles; so that they don't intrude too much, the cabinets have been designed to be used horizontally. To achieve this, the centrally ported cabinet is fitted with a pair of identical 4‑inch bass/mid drivers and a 3/4‑inch diameter soft‑dome tweeter. With a rated continuous power handling of around 50W continuous, the BBSM4s can produce an SPL of up to 89dB at 1m and have ‑3dB frequency points of 65Hz and 20kHz. The surprisingly solid MDF cabinet is finished in black textured paint and the drivers are recessed into the baffle so as to be flush with the surface. There are no time‑alignment steps between the bass/mid drivers and the tweeter as there are in the case of the LC 6.75s.
Though passive, the monitor is fed from a 4‑way terminal strip to facilitate bi‑wiring (unlike some bits of hi‑fi black magic, bi‑wiring often results in a demonstrable improvement in sound quality). Short link cables are supplied for conventional, non bi‑wired operation. The nominal impedance is 4Ω but, as always, there will be dips, so an amplifier capable of driving lower impedances without flinching is essential for optimum operation. I used my AVI integrated hi‑fi amp delivering around 60W per channel, and found that, because the speakers are quite efficient, I could get plenty of level without clipping. Even so, for serious studio use I'd probably go for an 150W‑per‑channel amplifier, just to keep the peaks clean at higher listening levels.
The well‑damped bass/mid unit employs a doped paper cone in a roll surround, and the voice coil seems to be approximately one inch in diameter. The tweeter is a fabric dome design and the bass port is mounted directly below the tweeter. With overall measurements of 15 x 8 x 10 inches, these speakers are slightly smaller than the LC 6.75s and weigh 31lb each.
When testing unfamiliar near‑field monitors, I use a set of familiar CDs, some of which I know to be well recorded, and I also compare the speakers under test with a pair of ATC10s or ATC20s. Like the LC 6.75s, these BBSMs have excellent stereo imaging with a usefully wide sweet spot and plenty of detail. There's also a surprisingly deep, tight bass end, but for me the sound is marred by being unrealistically bright to the point of harshness. This is evidently part of the Westlake trademark, and I can accept that a certain amount of coloration is acceptable in the name of fashion, but I feel they've gone too far — these speakers sound fatiguing almost from the word go.
At the low‑frequency end, the handling of transients was definitely better than from the LC 6.75s, and you get the kind of kick normally associated with rather larger monitors. There's also plenty of mid‑range detail, but the voicing makes even well‑recorded material sound on the scratchy side — which is a pity, because I get the impression that, with just a little work on the crossover, these could be really excellent‑sounding monitors.
The BBSM4s provide the necessary level for near‑field work, as did the LC 6.75s reviewed in last month's issue, and have irreproachable stereo imaging, but their voicing is too bright for my comfort. I've speculated that the voicing might be designed to appeal to users of the original NS10s, but my own view is that studio monitors should provide an accurate record of what's going on. An engineer using coloured monitors is rather like a fisherman using a ruler with 13 inches to the foot, just so he can make his catch seem bigger!
Ultimately, these are quite expensive as passive near‑field monitors go, and, to be ruthlessly honest, the excessive brightness makes them very unpleasant to work with. I appreciate that Westlake have their own sound, and I know some engineers like to work with that sound, but my advice would be to listen very carefully before you buy. There are plenty of other far more accurate monitors in this price range — you can even get a well‑specified active system for the same price — so unless you specifically want the Westlake sound, I'd recommend that you shop around.
- Excellent stereo imaging.
- Good bass end.
- Excessively bright.
The BBSM4s have a similar family sound to the LC 6.75s' but have a tighter bass response and better mid‑range clarity. They are, however, voiced to sound very bright.