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This article was originally published in issue #25
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Monitors are never going to be an easy review. You fire them up and they sound different to what you’re used to and they sound “wrong”. Use them for an hour or two and you get used to them, and then they sound “right”. Useful review? No, I thought not.
OK, some things about a monitor are subjective - the “sound” or “timbre” of the monitor may be toppy or middy or bottomy, or some combination of these, but you can get used to (and therefore work with) a fairly wide range of “sounds”. You can’t work around lack of definition (if you can’t detect a 9dB cut at 2kHz then you’ve got a problem whatever the speaker actually sounds like), and you should expect your monitors to be loud enough for their intended use without distracting you with distortion, rattles, hum, hiss or buzz. On top of this the stereo image should be strong, wide and steady, controls should be smooth and useful and connectors reliable and easy to use.
The Tannoy Reveal 502s have a 5” LF/midrange driver and a 1” soft dome HF tweeter giving a quoted frequency response of 49Hz to 43kHz (yup, an octave above the highest notes you’ll ever hear) at the +/- 3dB level, with a front panel port to support the lower range. It’s worth noting that the spec sheet suggests a significant update to the previous 501 model, with more power and significantly extended low and high end.
Channel input is on balanced XLR and unbalanced ¼” jack, and you also get a useful 3.5mm input for media players or ‘phones (complete with a monitor link socket (and supplied cable) to connect the two speakers of a pair together, with a switch to identify the right/left speaker of a linked pair). Alongside this there’s a mains voltage selector, power switch, a volume knob and a Hi Frequency cut/neutral/boost switch.
Turned up full with no signal, the 502s have a little bit of transformer buzz (everything does) that vanished below room noise by about 30”/80cm away from the unit (as quiet as my LCD monitor), and very low hiss that I simply couldn’t hear from 20”/50cm away. From my normal mixing position, with no signal and level all the way up, they were effectively dead quiet, which is a good start.
My usual nearfield monitors sit on heavy and rigid brick-stands, and I simply swapped them out for the 502s using the same balanced XLR connectors. Out of the box they sound a bit stiff, but the first hour or so of use loosens them up nicely and makes the frequency response sound properly connected-up. I noticed that the top end is a bit more forward than I’m used to, so I selected the hi-cut on the rear panel switch and got on with some work. The monitors have plenty of level for nearfield use and they sound clean and clear with a very solid stereo image and a surprisingly broad sweet spot.
Low frequency signals need to move a lot of air to be heard, and ports are often used in smaller monitors to boost the levels of lower sounds. These ports can produce impressive amounts of bass, but tend to blur pitches at their resonant frequency, which we don’t notice so much in the showroom but is horribly obvious when we’re trying to fine-tune kick/bass EQ in the studio. Tannoy’s designers have managed to produce a smart balance with these monitors, producing enough bass to be clearly heard, without being overblown and confusing. Having the ports on the front of the cabinet makes life easier if you need to position the speakers near a wall or corner, and whilst there’s no bass cut control to compensate for room position they actually sounded fine when I pushed them back to the wall - another benefit of that controlled low-end.
The 502s are not the most euphoric speakers you’ll ever hear and they certainly won’t persuade you that you’ve made a rocking mix when you haven’t; they bring forward the crucial mid-range a little more than I’d want for relaxed listening, but that’s sort of the point - you’re going to have to put the work in to impress them, but that balanced bottom-end coupled with the focused higher frequencies and the dead-steady imaging makes them both quick and easy to mix on.
After I finished the song that I was working on with the Reveals I swapped back to my regular nearfields which cost several times more; I didn’t feel the need to change anything about the mix. Nothing. That rather impressed me.
If you’re in the market for affordable nearfields you should audition a pair of 502s. Sound is always personal and they may or may not suit your preference, but you can certainly get a good mix on them.