M-Audio Studiophile CX5 High-Resolution Active Studio Reference Monitor Long-Term Review
By: Michael Phrakaysone
For eight-years that ModSynergy has been on the Internet, I’ve matured with it through experience, interests, observations, and as a person. Perspectives change and thoughts that were once held might eventually become different; it’s part of the process of growing This same sentiment is true for how one would favor their music to feel and to be, but gradually have a different taste once they become older.
I’ve been fortunate enough that I’ve had my fair share of audio reviews on this website and I’ve learned much about the evolution of finding true audio excellence. When it comes down to it, the most basic way I can explain what it means to experience true high-quality sound is this. Any music or movie that is being presented to you should be given to you the way they were originally intended to be, without any type of modification of the sound. What this means is that one needs to find a solution that is balanced and fair between the frequency ranges (low, mid and high). One range cannot be favored over the other. This is a good baseline to seek, and once found, you will not want to go back to anything less.
HD, or high-definition, is a marketing term that is thrown around the industry far too frequently it seems. Some manufactures have taken advantage of the slogan and regrettably have tarnished what it means in the process. Some manufactures have used this slogan on their audio gear and customers are instantaneously drawn to it thinking its excellent. What I advocate is investing in two things. Invest in your source; audio will only be as good as where and what it’s coming from. Invest in your speakers; picking right the first time will prevent you from needing anything else in the future. Once you have established an audio source, the speakers you opt will be taken full advantage of to its fullest potential.
M-Audio is a renowned and premier player in the digital audio segment catering to musicians and audio professionals through such items, but not limited to, MIDI solutions, recording equipment and professional audio software such as ProTools. I’ve been lucky to have reviewed the M-Audio AV40’s and it was the one that introduced me to a out of the ordinary breed of speakers, in this case called ‘monitors’. If you haven’t read the review of these little wonders, please check it out.
Something different that ModSynergy pays attention to is long term reviews. In a normal review, one would have only a few days or few weeks to spend with a particular item meaning it won't be used on a regular basis. Most things can pass initial quality but reviewing something long-term is different. It allows the reviewer to monitor how the item will hold up to everyday usage, if any troubles arise over time that a normal review cannot reveal. For example, let's say one reviews a speaker system and its fine initially, but what happens if 6-months down the road a thump sound starts to form once powering down the unit that you’ve never heard before? This could be a sign of a problem.
Today I will be providing a long-term review on a different beast. Today you will be reading the review of one of M-Audio’s latest offerings on the market within their Studiophile lineup, the CX5 High-Resolution Active Studio Reference Monitor. Read on to see how this 90-watt near-field studio monitor performs and holds up. Will this be your next investment?
“M-Audio, a business unit of Avid Technology, Inc, is a leading provider of creative tools for computer-centric musicians and audio professionals. Founded in 1988, the Company now has independent offices in the US, Canada, UK, Germany, France and Japan. M-Audio is the driving force in the industry empowering musicians to create, perform and record with complete mobile hardware/software solutions that have forever changed when, where and how music is made.
The company's reputation for delivering cutting edge technology in easy-to-use, affordable products has garnered significant recognition by industry experts, including world-class artists, recording studios and magazines. M-Audio's advanced engineering and value-conscious pricing has also helped to bring the joy of creating high-quality music to virtually anyone with the desire.”
M-Audio Studiophile CX5 Product Overview
‘Over the last 20 years, M-Audio has developed award-winning creative solutions and become an established leader in multiple product categories, including studio monitor technology. The company’s Los Angeles-based engineering team created the innovative reference solutions that propelled M-Audio to become the best-selling monitor manufacturer* in the United States—then applied its extensive expertise to develop the CX series. The result is a line of world-class reference monitors that reset performance expectations for their class.’
‘The Studiophile® CX5 near-field studio monitor extends M-Audio’s 20-year legacy of engineering advanced music creation solutions. Designed by our dedicated team of monitor engineers, the CX line combines proprietary driver designs, custom waveguides, seamless crossover integration and advanced Acoustic Space controls. The result is a best-in-class monitor series with excellent off-axis response, minimal distortion, an expansive soundstage and the flexibility to adapt to any production space. The Studiophile CX5 monitor brings exceptionally accurate monitoring to any acoustic environment—establishing a new benchmark in its category.’
‘Most near-field monitors require close and specific placement to yield acceptable stereo imaging. Years of research and work with waveguide design culminate in the amazing continuity, breadth and depth of the Studiophile CX5 soundstage—even in challenging placement and listening conditions. Our custom OptImage IV waveguide design improves overall detail and clarity. It also controls the dispersion pattern of the mids and highs, offering a much wider soundstage than traditional waveguides. As a result, the CX5 monitor delivers an accurate, detailed representation of your mix with a remarkably broad sweet spot.’
Optimized Frequency Response
‘The finely tuned integration of acoustic and electronic design elements in the CX5 monitor delivers cohesive sound—from solid bass, to well-defined mids, to smooth, transparent highs. Featuring a high-grade damping surround, the premium, Kevlar, low-frequency driver maximizes excursion to provide a clear, articulate low end with a bass impact you’d expect from a larger enclosure. The silk-dome, high-frequency driver with oversized 1.25-inch voice coil delivers an exceptional high-frequency response up to 30kHz.’
‘The CX5 components are designed to work together so that the entire system has superior headroom, resulting in lower high-frequency distortion and reduced listener fatigue compared to other monitors in its class. The bi-amplified design dedicates 50 watts for the lows and 40 watts for the highs. The low-frequency driver’s venting and large voice coil provides both thermal and acoustic headroom. The high-frequency driver features an optimized, sealed rear chamber for more audible headroom (as well as lower frequency extension for greater mid-range clarity) than similarly priced products. These factors also contribute to a more uniform response at a variety of listening levels—allowing you to work longer without fatiguing your speakers or your ears.’
Tailor the Speaker to Your Room
‘Your listening environment and speaker placement greatly impact the performance of your monitors. To ensure effective monitoring in your unique production space, the Studiophile CX5 monitor offers Acoustic Space controls for tailoring each speaker to your room. Acoustic Space settings include -4dB, -2dB and Flat—and the monitor also features LF Cutoff, MF Boost and HF Trim switches for additional customization. These settings help to optimize frequency response within even the most difficult acoustic environments.’
M-Audio Studiophile CX5 Product Features
- 1.25-inch, silk-dome, high-frequency driver with oversized voice coil and rear chamber
- 5-inch, Kevlar, long-excursion, low-frequency driver with high-damping rubber surround
- Acoustic Space controls optimize frequency response for your production space
- Bi-amplified, class A/B amplifier with external heat sink, recessed mounting and 14-gauge wiring to transducers: 50 watts RMS for lows + 40 watts RMS for highs
- Contoured front baffle with integral OptImage IV waveguide for expanded, layered soundstage with large sweet spot
- Balanced combo input (XLR and 1/4” TRS); RCA unbalanced input
- Power and volume controls
- Ultra-solid, 1-inch front and rear MDF baffles and .75-inch MDF wrap with optimized internal bracing
- Flared rear-firing port for lower turbulence
- Elegant lacquer paint with soft-touch painted faceplate
- Recessed amplifier mounting
- Extensive protection for RF interference, output current limiting, over-temperature, turn on/off transient, subsonic filter and external mains fuse protection
M-Audio Studiophile CX5 Product Specifications
The M-Audio Studiophile CX5 that I am reviewing today was ordered directly from M-Audio themselves and represents the final retail look you would be able to locate in stores. The outer yellow shipping container is something you won’t see because that is meant for shipping purposes.
The CX5 comes packaged within an stylish and silky feeling black corrugated box that upholds a high-quality feel and finish. The design of the box situates an image of the actual reference monitor on the front and product information of the surrounding sides of the box.
The first thing you will become aware of is the weight of one of these reference monitor boxes. One of these M-Audio Studiophile CX5 boxes weigh-in over 20lbs, although the actual reference monitor comes in at 16.75lbs. A large amount of this weight can be attributed to the tough MDF cabinet, the 5” LF driver, the integrated power supply and the integrated Active bi-amplified, class A/B amplifier that is recessed within the MDF cabinet with a large external heatsink at the back to dissipate heat being generated.
Mind you if you aren’t familiar with reference monitors, they are not like conventional speakers which come with a pair of speakers for the purchase price. With reference monitors the price you see and pay are only for one monitor unit and not the pair. For example, M-Audio had placed the MSRP on the Studiophile CX5 as $469 USD, so add another one and you’re looking at close to $1000 USD retail for the pair. However, today’s street price is substantially less than the MSRP, a figure which you should never look to pay.
So where does the CX5 sit in M-Audio’s Reference Monitor lineup? The lineup essentially consists of five models. There is the A series, B series, C series D series, and E series, where A is the starter level lower end offering and where D and E series are the top dog. So the lineup from lowest to highest is as such: AV → BX → CX → DSM/EX making the CX5 and CX8 stand right in the middle of the lineup and closer to the pro line.
The goodies you will find inside the package is as follows...
- M-Audio Studiophile CX5 Active Studio Reference Monitor
- High Quality IEC Power Cable
- Non-slip, high-density acoustic foam pad
- Users Guide
The M-Audio CX5 demands respect and just by looking at them you can see the commanding presence they exude. The CX5 stands large measuring in at 12” x 7.5” x 9” and with the included non-slip, high-density acoustic foam pad, which serves the purpose of preventing vibration and promoting more isolation, the CX5 will stand a little taller.
The MDF cabinet that has been shaped for the CX5 is undeniably fantastic. The body is so rigid and well-built that it won’t flex even if you try to force it to. It’s built like a tank and delightfully finished in Black lacquer paint. The reason why it’s strong is that M-Audio have built the cabinet out of 1-inch thick MDF all around and finished it with MDF wrap
The front of the M-Audio CX5 remains clean, uncluttered and simple. From top to bottom we see the HF waveguide loaded silk-dome tweeter with 1¼” voice coil, blue power on/off LED, 5 ¼” LF woofer with 1 ½” voice coil and the M-Audio logo at the bottom.
This is where all the excitement begins. With the CX5 there is a plethora of adjustments and flexibility available to be optimized to your preferred liking. Lets begin from the top left where we see two possible input methods being the balanced XLR/TRS “Combo” port and the unbalanced RCA-type analog inputs. These inputs allow you to connect the CX5 reference monitors to an audio interface, mixer, and other line-level devices.
The manual advises to use the balanced XLR/TRS connectors whenever possible to avoid unwanted noise, higher rejection of RF interference and have overall better sound as the balanced connector carries the signal over three conductors being hot, cold and ground, whereas RCA carries the signal over two conductors being hot and ground and is more susceptible to interference.
Continuing on from left to right we find the LF Cutoff Switch, MF Boost Switch, HF Trim Switch, Acoustic Space Switch, and Volume Input Gain Switch. The amount of tweaking you can do is fantastic.
LF Cutoff Switch: This switch sets the low-frequency cutoff point of your CX monitor. It allows you to engage a high-pass filter that removes low-frequency sounds from the monitors. This switch can be set in the following ways...
- Flat - This default setting allows your monitors to play their entire frequency spectrum with no low frequency filtering.
- 80Hz - This setting engages a second order (12dB/octave) filter that rolls off frequencies below 80 Hz.
- 100Hz - This setting engages a second order (12dB/octave) filter that rolls off frequencies below 100 Hz.
MF Boost Switch: This control engages a midrange boost from 1.5 KHz - 2.5 kHz with a 2 dB peak at 2 kHz. This switch can be set in the following ways...
- Out - This default setting allows incoming signals to bypass the midrange boost circuitry (the midrange of a signal is not affected).
- In - This setting engages the midrange boost circuitry and creates a 2dB peak at 2kHz with a 1 kHz bandwidth (i.e., signals between 1.5 kHz - 2.5 kHz are boosted).
HF Trim Switch: This control allows you to boost or attenuate (reduce) your CX monitors’ high
frequency response above 3kHz. This switch can be set in the following ways...
- 0dB - This default setting leaves high-frequency signals unaffected (high frequency sounds are neither boosted nor attenuated).
- +2dB - This setting boosts signals above 3kHz by 2dB.
- -2dB - This setting attenuates signals above 3kHz by 2dB.
Acoustic Space Switch: Your CX monitors should ideally be placed at least one foot away from the nearest wall, ceiling, or other large, flat surface. In the real-world, this may be impractical due to space limitations within your studio. For that reason, CX monitors feature an Acoustic Space Switch. This switch compensates for placement near walls by “shelving” (reducing) frequencies below 200 Hz. This switch should be set as follows...
- 0dB - This default setting should be used if the monitors are placed at least one foot away from the nearest wall.
- -2dB - This setting reduces frequencies below 200 Hz by 2dB. Use this setting if the speakers must be placed closer than one foot from the nearest wall.
- -4dB - This setting reduces frequencies below 200 Hz by 4dB. Use this setting if the speakers must be placed within one foot of the corner of a room (i.e., the intersection of two walls).
Volume Input Gain Switch: This knob adjusts the gain level of the XLR/TRS 3 and RCA 2 inputs. It is de-dented to allow easier volume matching between monitors. The gain is at minimum when the knob is turned fully counter-clockwise; the gain is set to its maximum level when the knob is turned fully clockwise.
Rounding off at the bottom are the Input Voltage Selector which allows you to select from 100-120V or 220-240V and allows your CX5 monitor to be used worldwide, the ON/OFF power switch and the power connector.
As you have read through the above items that are possible to tweak on the M-Audio CX5, you must realize the amount of freedom the listener is given. M-Audio has given the listener the freedom of changing just about every area that is needed into their own liking if they would like to. By default, the M-Audio CX5 are tested and tuned in an anechoic chamber to be as linear (flat) as possible. But you have your low-frequency, midrange, and high-frequency ranges all at your fingertips to play around with.
Not only that, but M-Audio has also taken into account that people will place these monitors in different environments. Each surrounding has their own variables to work with and the result is that by taking into account the size and shape of the room that these monitors are placed in, how well these monitors are positioned and placed inside the room, and how far away they will sit away from walls, the M-Audio CX5 monitors come with a ‘corrective’ EQ switch that is called the Acoustic Space Switch that will compensate for these alterations.
Enough talk. How do they sound?
‘Bloody fantastic!' is a expression I would use to illustrate what the M-Audio CX5 have meant to my listening ears. These active studio reference monitors are so superb at what they do, that the $300 USD that they are selling for on Sweetwater.com will indisputably be the best investment you’ve ever made for your audio experience. I am convinced that these will be the last pair of speakers you’ll ever need to buy.
I mentioned before in the review to invest in two things. Number one is the source, as good speakers can only perform at their potential if the source is any good. The source I am using for this review is the M-Audio Audiophile 2496 4-In/4-Out audio card. This card can do 24-bit/96kHz and will allow the M-Audio Studiophile CX5 Reference Monitor to perform at their highest potential. Think of it as low-resolution and high-resolution.
The M-Audio CX5 have impressed me greatly and one of those reasons happens to be because the 5-inch Kevlar low-frequency driver performs as if it were a larger unit. In all honesty the saying ‘bigger is better’ is generally true for these type of application, but with the CX5’s, this statement doesn’t apply. Most woofers between 4-6 inches don’t have good bass and don’t have a high ceiling, but with the CX5 that is not the case. The AV40’s I reviewed a while back had a 4-inch woofer but could not hold a candle to what the 5-inch woofer on the CX5 achieves. I was staggered because the AV’s are not even in the same league as the CX.
The first time I fired these CX5 reference monitors up I was instantly blown away. There was no need to have them ‘broken-in’ and there was no need for the CX5’s to ‘grow on me’. Out of the box the M-Audio CX5 felt vividly vibrant, crystal clear, supremely accurate, and very loud. The bass produced on these were mind boggling because at least in the environment I placed it in, the thought of adding an external subwoofer never came across my mind. The bass is tight but smooth, forceful and can reach down low in the frequency range. It hits hard and I couldn’t believe the ‘thump’ I was hearing from a 5-inch Kevlar woofer, mind you this was from the toggle switches at the back at default settings from the factory.
The mid-range and high-frequency ranges on the CX5 are equally as inspiring because they are both very detailed, for the most part. I found the mid-range to be gentle and pleasant while the highs were accurate and direct but not overly dramatic and harsh. The only gripe I have regarding the mid-range is that it could be a little more transparent and could use a little more forthcoming detail in vocals and percussion instruments. All in all though. I find the ranges to be mostly linear and for the price these go for, that is very rare.
As I mentioned earlier, a significant advantage that the M-Audio CX5 Reference Monitor provides are the toggle switches at the back that provides full tweak-ability between all frequency ranges. You just don’t have basic adjustability, you have full control over low, midrange and high frequency but also the ability to have these tailored to fit your room with the Acoustic Space Switch. And these changes do work and are not just for show. If you listen closely you can feel every diminutive change occur. I think this is the best part of the CX5 and that is it’s meant to be tailored for you, give you what you want, and what YOU like.
Has it been reliable?
I’ve been fortunate to have had the M-Audio CX5 be the main audio configuration I’ve been using for two-years now. Yes you read that correctly, this long-term review takes place through that long time-frame, so I know the M-Audio CX5 really well. It’s been battle tested in games, movies, music and recordings for long hours and I am happy to report that they have stood the test of time. The M-Audio Studiophile CX5 have been without any issues and reliability is of a high standard with these monitors. Rest assured your investment in monitors such as these will turn out to be worthwhile.
There’s no mistaking how I feel in regards to the M-Audio Studiophile CX5 High-Resolution Active Studio Reference Monitors because they are simply worth every single last penny.
There’s no other pair of reference monitors I can think of at this price range that offers the listener full and vibrant soundstage, full adjustability, reliability and sound performance than the CX5’s from M-Audio. These are simply as well-rounded as they come. The CX5’s are sparkling and offer a balanced and linear sound that is able to be adapted and situated in any size room, thanks to the Acoustic Space Switch feature that is implemented.
The most encouraging impression comes across from the 5-inch, Kevlar, long-excursion, low-frequency driver that really performs like a larger unit. It provides bass that is rarely seen in smaller woofers of this size and makes the use of an external subwoofer moot. I am truly impressed at the bass that comes out of the CX5’s. The same positives can be said for the midrange and high frequencies that the CX5 can exhibit. Although I would have liked to see a little bit more detail coming from the midrange, it still is very good and when you mix up all these ranges, they work well with each other in producing a balanced and linear sound.
The M-Audio Studiophile CX5 High-Resolution Active Studio Reference Monitors undoubtedly earn top honors and our Editors Choice Award.