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Inside the Development of the M-Audio EX66

Inside the Development of the M-Audio EX66
Product manager Vivek Maddala describes the process of creating the next great reference monitor

When creating the new M-Audio EX line of monitors, our goal was to make the most accurate active nearfield monitors on the market. While M-Audio monitors have long been known for delivering exceptional clarity and detail, the overall design ethos has always included cost and portability as top considerations. By narrowing the focus to simply creating an exceptional monitoring experience, the design team was able to concentrate on overcoming many of the perceived shortcomings found in even the most high-end studio monitors. The first offerings in this new line of products are the M-Audio EX66 active reference monitors.

“We did a lot of competitive analysis—including exhaustive listening tests and detailed measurements,” states M-Audio product manager Vivek Maddala. “Early in our research, it became clear that most studio monitors on the market had substantial low-frequency and high-frequency output, but they lacked good mid-frequency imaging. As a result, the vocals and lead instruments seemed pushed back—distant and lacking in detail. By contrast, many of the higher-end monitors from manufacturers like Genelec, Tannoy and Dynaudio had great imaging, but some of them were fatiguing to listen to on long sessions. Immediately, we identified this as an opportunity. We wanted to design a top-class monitor that's both revealing and effortless to work with—more so than what was currently available for under $5000.”

Obviously, one of the most important aspects of any new speaker technology is the construction of the drivers themselves. With the EX66, great care was taken in both the development of materials and the actual tuning of the speakers. “We characterized the resonance properties of a variety of different materials and discovered that the extent to which resonant modes are mitigated within the audible band greatly affects how accurate the speaker is,” Maddala explains. “We employed materials that create a cone with a tensile-strength-to-weight ratio that pushes breakup modes sufficiently high in the passband. Our 6” drivers have their first breakup mode at about 6.5kHz—but at that point, the signal is already down by over 30dB because the crossover point is at 2.5kHz. So the drivers are like perfect pistons.

“We did an extensive amount of tuning in-house,” Maddala adds. “But I also solicited input from music producers and engineers I got to know while composing film scores in Hollywood. Colleagues of mine, with credits ranging from the London Symphony Orchestra to Alanis Morrissette, helped in the final tweaking stages. In fact, we tracked and mixed a couple of scores on these monitors to get real world feedback during development. That’s really the best way to know if you’ve got a winning product—put it in the hands of those who will use it day in and day out, and see if they like the results.”