E-MU PM5 and the PS 12 Subwoofers

I agreed to review the E-MU PM5 monitors because the folks at E-MU stopped short of swearing on their mother’s Sunday chicken that these monitors, at $498 per pair (street price), were the equal of a $2,000 pair of Genelecs. To enhance the claim, I was also sent two (2) PS 12 subwoofers (one per monitor).

With the Super Bowl over with, and the stock market being where it is, I took the bait. To establish this, I’m doing the exact same test as I did with the KRK VX8 monitors.

General Specs
Drivers High Frequency: Type: Neodymium Soft Dome
Size: 25.4mm (1″)

Low-Frequency: Type: Glass Fiber Cone
Size: 127mm (5″)

Dimensions Height: 290mm (11.5″)
Width: 175mm (6.9″)
Depth: 245mm (9.7″)
Weight 6.5kg (14.3lbs)

Power 120V, 60Hz

Crossover Network

Type Active second-order Butterworth

Input 1: XLR female balanced
Input 2: 1/4″ Jack socket balanced
Input 3: RCA unbalanced

Normally I don’t praise manuals. This one I will. Even pros appreciate simplicity. The PM5 graphics are very much USA Today-like telling you in one graphic what you need to know. There are four setup pictures:

• pair only
• pair plus one subwoofer
• pair plus two subwoofers
• 5.1 Surround

Setting up the volume and other controls on the back were more difficult. Even with bright lights, we needed a flashlight (torch for UK readers) to clearly read the settings.

Setting up the PS12 subwoofer is a different story. Unless you’re really adept at this, plan for 1-2 hours to get the PS12 situated and operating properly.

On the PM5s, the power light is a very bright blue that at ear level is really disconcerting to the eye. Again, as one reviewer wrote at online store, it’s a hot look. I don’t minimize that. But for all day use, I’d find that light in my eye really distractive.

With the PS12, the on light is on the back of the unit. With the PM5s, the on light lets you know if you’re clipping. With the on light in the rear of the PS12, there’s no way to know.

Audio Setup
We set up an AB test between the KRK VXT8s and the E-MU PM5s plus the PS12 subwoofer with audio routed from Logic 8 through an RME Fireface 800. On one hand, this may not seem to be a fair comparison because of the size difference between the two monitor systems (by specs, the KRK VZT4s are the more direct comparison). And we took that into account. The size we really took into account was money.

As an overall summary, the E-MU PM5s have a sweet sound in the midrange through highs, but barely have a bass presence. To get the bass, you need the PS12 subwoofer. Add $500. So, for $1,000 plus shipping you can have a pair of PM5s and a really needed subwoofer, or you can get a pair of KRK VXT8s for $200 more. If you add in a second PS12 subwoofer that’s $1,500, $300 more than the pair of KRK VXT8s..

Where the PM5s are small and lightweight at 14 lbs per monitor (see stats above), the subwoofer is huge! It takes Man Mountain Dean to move the thing (45 lbs per PS12 subwoofer!).

The space requirements are a big issue when you add in the PS12 subwoofer as you will have to do a lot of experimenting to get the right sound. And this means getting the 3 speakers situated properly in your studio.

For setup, one place I fault the PS12 manual is the writer’s expectation that the purchaser, whether pro or pro-sumer, is an audiophile and understands technical jargon. Bad assumption.

PS12 Stats
The E-MU PS12 Precision Subwoofer is a powered front-firing subwoofer with a 12” speaker driven by a custom 200W amplifier.

For creating the smoothest possible crossover between the subwoofer and your satellite speakers, the PS12 features fully customizable filter controls, including a low-pass filter on the subwoofer signal and a high-pass filter on the satellite output signal.

Other key features include:
• Extremely compact, sealed-cabinet design
• Linear frequency response down to 22Hz
• Variable subwoofer Level and Phase control (0 to 180 degrees)
• Subsonic Rumble Filter
• Built-in Overload Protection
• Balanced and Unbalanced Inputs and Outputs
• Subwoofer bypass (satellite pass-through) footswitch input
• Automatic 15-minute low-power Standby mode
• Selectable 100-120V / 220-240V Operation

Listening Observations
My perspective here is that when comparing speakers, you compare with what you have. For me, the difference in sound between the VXT8s and the PM5s is quite distinct. You can learn to mix on any pair of speakers. The PM5, I feel is very strong in the midrange and highs. The Vienna Appassionata Strings had a beautiful recorded sound to them. Lush sounding would be a good descriptor. But when I compared it to the VXT8s, I was startled as to how drastically different they sounded. They didn’t sound lush. They sounded like a totally different string library. After a while, you start to wonder, what do my samples really sound like?

FM sounding keyboards from SONiVOX’s Muse also were quite good.

In looking at the specs, and without hearing them in combination, you need the PS12, especially for orchestral work. The bottom range of the PM5 is 67Hz. This means you’re losing the bottom octaves of the Piano, Harp, Bass, Contrabassoon and part of the lower Tuba range.

After listening to both, there’s no question that if you’re doing any kind of orchestral work, you need at least the one PS12 to bring in the basses. It would be even better to get the recommended two PS12s, one for each PM5.

Comparing the frequency range, with the KRK VXT8s, you only lose a touch of bottom on the Harp and Contrabassoon. In fairness, I checked the specs of the VXT line. KRK VXT4s are directly comparable to the E-MU PM5s.

But to get a comparable frequency range to the KRK VXT8s, there’s no option, you have to get a pair of the PM5s and at least one PS12. Even then, when comparing back and forth, for mixing, I think the edge has to go to the VXT8s.

The dollars support my observation. To get the frequency range needed for orchestral, you’ll need a pair of PM5s and at least one PS12 – that’s $1,000. For $200 more, you can get the VXT8s. If you buy the second PS12, you’re now spending more than the KRKs and unless you have a spacious studio, I’m not sure you’re ahead of the game.

What To Do
Overall, the PM5s are good-sounding speakers. My concern is that the lack of low end means that as we used to do with the NS10s, you’d compensate for the bass, make a cassette (or CD), run out to the card and drive while you listened to the cut. If you’re not doing a film, you can do that. If you’re doing film/TV, you don’t have the time to do that anymore. The deadlines and the budgets are way too tight.

So if you’re just writing for yourself, or you’re not in a time crunch, then by all means, get out and do a demo with the PM5s first, then with the PS12 added in. But for $500 to $1,000 for monitors, I’d take my time in looking. There are a lot of monitors out there.

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