My take on Avantone MixCubes

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Months back I bought a pair of Avantone MixCubes. Here is a summery along with a fuller explanation.

Summery: At $240 (passive pair) I consider my MixCubes a good investment towards better mixes. They don’t sound good. That’s not the point. I use them as a second perspective for checking levels, making sure things like bass and kick translate to the mid range, and comparing my mixes to reference mixes.

Reasons for purchase: For a while I mixed almost exclusively on my Mackie Hr824s. These are midfield monitors, with an 8″ bass driver, and what Mackie calls a bass radiator. The bass radiator is supposed to have the advantages of a ported design without the disadvantages. In other words extended low end without ringing problems. But if you check out the waterfall plot on the HR824 it sure looks like it rings a lot between 20-100hz. In fact after I purchased these I learned they have a reputation for  exaggerated bass. Not ideal.

I was not happy with my mix results. Then a friend and accomplished mixing engineer recommended I get a single MixCube. I also read a compelling case for MixCube type speakers in Mike Seniors “Mixing Secrets for the small studio“. BTW, that book is the best one I’ve ever read on the subject.

Here is my distillation of Mike’s points and a few of my own I hope.

  • Mid-range first. Since a MixCube will not reproduce the very highs and very lows it forces you to get the mids right. Midrange is what all listening systems have in common. It is where the ear is most sensitive. And it will make or break your mix. You still need to check your highs/lows on a full range speaker.
  • Avoid comb filtering. Whenever the same sound arrives at your ear at different times you get this bad thing called comb filtering. Comb filtering isn’t something to be taken lightly. It can sound pretty extreme at times. It can occur both acoustically in the air (direct signal is speaker, delayed signal is off wall) and digitally (a delayed signal played along with the original). If you want to hear the digital version put a track through one speaker. Copy that track and push it back less then 20ms. Play them together. Ok, but how does this relate to a speaker? Most speakers have 2 drivers (sound sources) and they have an frequency overlap. If your ear isn’t perfectly equal distance from them you will get some comb filtering. With one driver, and especially when using just one MixCube, comb filtering is  minimized.
  • Single driver. You may wonder how a speaker with 2 or 3 drivers splits up the frequency range and gets everything just perfect. It doesn’t. And often the crossover is located in the all important mid-range. With the MixCube your precious midrange is minimally messed with.
  • Un-ported design. Ported designs get extended lows. but they also get extended ring. Big picture this is a distortion of the signal. IE, what you hear is not what you have. A MixCube does not have much bass but what it does have is accurate The roll-off is natural without spikes.
  • Lack of bass = Good thing. What excited room modes? Bass. So mixing with a low volume low bass speaker can help you avoid whatever coloration your room might be adding.

Two Camps: If you start nosing around and asking questions you might notice opinions on MixCubes are divided. Some people believe they are used for a “real world” or worst case scenario check. In other words how will my mix sound on some really bad consumer speaker. Others, like myself, see them as real mixing tools. Some very good albums (Michael Jackson’s Thriller) have been mixed on MixCube style (Auratones AKA”Horrortones”). I have also seen some modern mastering rooms with a set.

How they have effected my mixing? This is pretty subjective. I like to do quasi-scientific experiments whenever I can but I can’t think of a way to do this one. Sure I could do 2 mixes. One on the Mackies and one on the MixCubes. But all that might prove is I was in the zone one day and not the other. Or that I did more reality checks on mix A then mix B. In practice I wouldn’t mix 100% on either speaker anyway. Not anymore.

But I do find it easier to judge a lot of things on the MixCubes. Levels, eq adjustments, reverb levels. I believe, but can’t prove, my mixes sound better using the MixCubes.

One thing I’m considering right now is the way mixing in mono effects a mix. Something on my too try list is using a single Hr824 with my master buss summed to mono. That might reduce some comb filtering and make mixing adjustments easier.  This is exactly how I use the MixCubes. I have heard quite a few people endorse the single speaker with mono summing approach. Part of that is checking for phase problems should a mix go to mono (phone, mono radio, PA system) but part I suspect has to do with limited comb filtering.

Amp Pairing:  I’m a fan of active speakers. But no active MixCubes were available when I purchased. So I started looking into amps and cables. If it’s worth doing it’s worth overdoing to a fault right?

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The first realization? I didn’t need much to power these. In fact, the Byrton 2B (50 watts per channel at 8 ohms) I ended up buying is overkill.

Like most specs a speakers numbers don’t tell the full story. Avantone lists a recommended power from 10-200 watts. But the real number to look at is the sensitivity. It looks like this: 93dB @ 1w / 1 meter. This says 1 watt will drive the speakers to produce 93dB spl (of some test signal I assume) measured at 1 meter. That’s a whole lot of loud for just 1 watt.

The way the math works out every 3dB increase requires double the wattage. A 10dB increase requires 10 times the wattage (decibels are Logarithmic).  According to this a 200 watt amp will produce just 3 dB more then a 100 watt amp. Wha? Yeah, it’s true.

Here’s how it works out for my 50 watt Bryston and the MixCubes.
93dB @ 1w / 1 meter so then…
103dB @ 10w / 1 meter
113dB @ 100w / 1 meter
Now take away 3 dB to arrive at 50 watts
110dB @ 50w / 1 meter

I don’t monitor at 1 meter, more like 2 or 3, but still 110 dB is loud. The signal I send the Bryston from my software mixer is usually -40 dB.

Bottom line: You don’t need much to power these for mixing at reasonable levels around 70 dB spl. I think 10 watts should do it. I definitely can’t use 50 watts.

One other thing of interest. You may see these listed as “full range speakers”. This does not mean they produce the full frequency range (far from it). It means the full frequency range is sent to one driver. Most monitors have a crossover and each driver handles a partial range.

Set up: There isn’t much to the set up. But there sure can be if you subscribe to “magic speaker cable”.  At one point I spent far too much time on the cable thing. I’d make recordings with several different cables and listen carefully. To be honest there are differences. I don’t think it makes sense to buy super cheap instrument or XLR cable. For one they do start to effect your sound. Second they go bad faster due to cheap construction. On the other hand some cables make ridiculous claims with matching price tags. Cable is one area where Socrates was right. Take the middle.

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But speaker cable, cable that carries a much higher signal, is different.  So again I looked into it. Whats wrong with me? The best single source of information I found is here.

Here is my personal condensation of the above link. Super expensive cables are a racket. Speaker cable resistance as a percentage of total system resistance is what matters. You want to keep cable resistance < 5% of system resistance. In a system with a decent amp and decent contact points the system resistance is your speaker. You know, 8 ohms. So your run of cable should have less then 5% of 8 ohms. Umm … Just check out that link. They have a handy chart listing gauge of wire and length of cable.

I just happened to have a spool of 12 gauge low voltage underground wire handy from a backyard lighting project. And, consulting chart, I can use up to 50 feet before I might hear something.

I’m liking this underground low voltage wire. It’s cheap, and designed to be underground. Makes me think it’s corrosion resistant.

12 gauge  is pretty thick. The MixCube specs state “accepts up to 12-gauge wire, spade lugs, dual banana plugs.” From examining the posts I think they could fit a thicker gauge but I’m not going to try. My solution is already overkill.

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Burn in: You are supposed to “break in” you MixCubes. When I first purchased the MixCubes I complained to a friend about their harshness. He asked if I had broken them in. Speakers, being mechanical, need to stretch a bit and stabilize. The result I’m told is a smoother sound. Whatever that means. I followed the instructions that came with the speakers for break in but must admit I didn’t notice much. That doesn’t mean they didn’t change. It just means I didn’t take measurements.

If you want to do the break in (which consists of hours of play at around 80dB) without going mad they do have a tip. Face the speakers close to each other and invert the phase on one. Should be much quieter. I decided not to use this trick. Maybe I’m paranoid but it seems the stretching on the inverted speaker would be a little different.

 

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6 Responses to My take on Avantone MixCubes

  1. ken says:

    I’ve had the active Avantone’s on my want list for a while. I also have Mackie HR824s and think they are pretty good, but having also read Mike Senior’s book, he makes a compelling case for a second set of monitors. What is kind of dumb is that I have a pair of Auratones and just haven’t picked up an amp and hooked them up yet. Maybe I’ll get on that first.

  2. cporro says:

    where did you get those? that’s pretty cool. and they still work ok?

    i use the mixcubes all the time. always to check vocals. also to check if stuff like kick and bass is making it to the middle. and now i always start mixes in mono. and when i lound-ness check i do it on the mixcubes cause that’s what translates everywhere. i like the mackies but as the waterfall shows and my ears hear…they have a pretty good low end ring.

    i’d say set ‘em up especially if you already have them. :D get some thickish cable (16 gauge maybe). i may have gone overboard with the amp but the way i see it having a decent amp is nice because they may power some other speakers down the road. the other amps that were thrown out were… Crown D75 (cheap in both senses), Adcom 535 and 555, Hafler DH-220 or DH-225, Alesis RA-500, . some of these are not exactly hifi amps is my understanding but the idea is why power a “horrortone” with something nice. not sure i agree. but you can get them cheap prob on ebay.

    if you set them up let me know what you think after a month.

  3. ken says:

    I saw the Behringer version of these at GC this weekend for $120 each for the powered version. Also tempting. I’ve never even hooked up the Auratones. I bought them for $1 at a yard sale in Berkeley. The guy said they may have some kind of history from Skywalker sound. Who knows…

  4. cporro says:

    that’s some cool luck at $1. i have 0 stories like that!

    I think it was SOS that reviewed the behringer clones. not a great review but they are half the price of the mixcubes i think. guess it depends on what camp you are in. for me going an extra $200 isn’t much when you consider all the wonderful ways of hemorrhaging money on gear.

  5. Ggee says:

    I just got a single Avantone active speaker. I’m still confused about how best to wire it. Mike Senior says to modify an XLR to TRS cable and use a headphone jack. This will make sure left and right channels are properly combined. Then others are using a line converter like the Whirlwind IMP LINE LEVEL COMBINER, IMCOML.

    I’m confused. I’m running Reason 6 with a Prosonus fireStudio mobile on windows7. A little help?

  6. cporro says:

    i think that’s a great book. so does my pal who has borrowed it!

    i wired as per the blog post. pretty standard. then a sum to mono in digital. i switch my master buss to mono mode. i can also pan each channel of my audio interface mixer to left. i’m going to check mike’s book for his reasoning when and if it’s returned. :D

    is there some advantage in summing analog here? i certainly don’t do it. are you talking about active speakers? i have passive and use a power amp.

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