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Avantone MixCubes Mini Reference Monitors Review

A real-world audio reference to trust By Jeffrey P. Fisher
For critical video work, you depend on a calibrated video monitor. For critical audio work, you rely on a high-quality speaker system and a carefully controlled acoustic space. If your work looks and sounds good, you are reasonably confident that it will translate effectively for your audience. But can you really be sure?

We all know that most consumers lack decent audio systems. Despite a surge in home theaters, the majority of our carefully-crafted soundtracks still emanate from crummy little speakers. Your primary, high-quality system may not provide the real-world feedback you need to subjectively evaluate your mix. For example, how will the mix sound on a clock radio, mono TV set, MP3 player docking station, or typical computer speakers? Don't guess. Be sure and check your work on suitable speakers.

Avant Electronics (www.avantelectronics.com) has the solution with the introduction of their MixCubes Mini Reference Monitors. If you've been in the audio industry for a few years, these cubes look vaguely familiar. Avant engineers set out to update and replace the ubiquitous Auratone 5c, and they've done a terrific job. For many years, the original 5c, affectionately nicknamed "Horror-Tones," were the go-to, worst-case reference monitor for audio engineers. If you wanted to know how your mix would sound like on nasty, cheap consumer gear, you listened through them. If your mix worked on a 5c, you knew you were on the right track.


Unfortunately, "Horror-Tones" have been unavailable for several years, so Avant's MixCubes are a welcome replacement. MixCubes use a single, full-range, 5 1/4" driver housed in a glossy, butter-cream 6 1/2" cube. They are shielded for use next to TVs and computer screens. Each speaker has a standard recessed microphone thread for mounting on a mic stand or the base is non-slip, acoustic-isolating neoprene for placing on a surface. Binding posts for amplification connection accept bare wire or banana plugs. Avant recommends powering MixCubes with a good-quality amp rated between 50-200 watts using high-quality 12-16-gauge wire.

Sound decisions

When you first pump your soundtrack through these puppies, you will be immediately disappointed. There will be no deep bass or clear highs, just the midrange. So what's the point, you may ask? These monitors are not meant to sound good. They are meant to reflect the real-world of less than stellar audio components, an important consideration when making critical soundtrack adjustments. Despite being both bass and high frequency limited, the MixCubes have a smooth, linear frequency response with no bumps in the critical ranges.

I've been listening to a variety of projects on my MixCubes over the past few months. It took me some time to overcome their shortcomings, as I'm rather accustomed to my regular monitors. Once I realized how much information they revealed, I grew to respect and trust their playback. It's like having a second opinion in the control room when mixing. I'm constantly asking myself: "Sure, it sounds good on the BIG monitors, but what do the MixCubes think?"

Running the MixCubes at low volume also often exposes problems that need addressing. Low volume and limited frequency response means you must work extra hard to get important information, such as voice, to cut through. And since most all mixes are built around the voice, testing in this way on these little cubes is invaluable.

I also performed some mixes using only the MixCubes and then listened to how well they translated to my main monitors and was pleasantly surprised. The tweaks employed to make the mix work on the MixCubes made the full-blown experience even better.

The MixCubes were also helpful for checking mono mixes, such as those destined for TV. Cheap TV speakers are notoriously lo-fi, loaded with muddy mid-range. It's ideal to test how your mix works in that scenario with the MixCubes. I also used them to check whether a voice-over would cut through a radio spot's busy music mix. Having just posted an indie feature, I found these speakers invaluable at every turn including the final mix. And they were beneficial for ensuring some music mixes would hold up, too. If your audio work requires really good speakers to sound good, then you are fooling yourself. Use the MixCubes for the confidence that everybody will hear what's important.

Verdict

Again, keep in mind that MixCubes don't sound good; their purpose is to provide a worst-case reference to make sure your soundtracks will work in every situation. They won't be your only or main monitor; they are an alternative presentation. Just because they don't sound stellar doesn't mean they aren't accurate, though. Avant has obviously worked hard to make these speakers sound smooth and accurate for the purposes for which they were designed.

If I have one complaint, it's the color. While I applaud Avant for the glossy butter-cream finish, in my studio they kind of stick out (which from a marketing standpoint can't be all bad for Avant). Perhaps a few alternative colors might be on the horizon. Still it's the sound that matters, not the decor!

When you need to test your mixes so you know how they'll sound on less than stellar gear, you can't go wrong with the low-price and smooth sound of MixCubes. Check them out.

Contact: Avantone MixCubes Mini Reference Monitors, $169
Avant Electronics, www.avantelectronics.com

 


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Jeffrey P. Fisher is a Sony Vegas Certified Trainer and he co-hosts the Sony Acid, Sony Sound Forge, and Sony Vegas forums on Digital Media Net (www.dmnforums.com). For more information visit his Web site at www.jeffreypfisher.com or contact him at jpf@jeffreypfisher.com.


Related Keywords:Avantone, MixCubes, audio, monitors, speakers, mixing, reference, music, voice, soundtrack

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