There’s a lot of small near-field monitors on the market, but this offering from ESI intrigued me. Mostly because they seem to offer a cheaper alternative to my trusty Yamaha HS50M monitors at around 75% of the price, so I called up my buddies at Time and Space and had them ship a pair up to me - if for nothing else, to satisfy my curiosity.
In the words of ESI “The monitor boasts an ultra-flat low frequency response with its newly designed larger silk dome tweeter and the top quality kevlar 5” driver delivers unparalleled punch in the low-mid frequency - a major improvement over the paper and polypropylene drivers used in most comparable products. ESI was the first vendor using kevlar for studio monitors in this price range as material inside the low frequency driver. Other vendors have since copied our idea, however there is much more to excellent sound of aktiv 05. A new tuning of all components by our engineers in Germany and the use of the completely new crossover design, turn aktiv 05 into yet another milestone in the ESI studio monitor legacy.”
Getting Them Out The Box
The easy part, a knife (although perhaps a bread knife was an inappropriate tool) to open the box and hey presto! A monitor, a power cable and some instructions. Although to be a little flippant, with a power socket and an input socket, the idea of having to read instructions does somewhat amuse me - even my Mum could figure that out and she is a 75 year old technophobe.
You can pick these babies for around £165 if you do a Google search; bearing that in mind, the build quality is as good as monitors costing twice the price - certainly as good as my Yamaha HS50Ms. There’s a nice dual XLR/Jack socket on the back, I always like them - it says to me it’s been designed by someone who uses the product, unlike the person who designed milk cartons or cash points that now insist in telling you crap you don’t need to read instead of just giving you your cash (sorry I digress). There’s nice blue LED on the front to let you know the monitors have power and as said earlier a silk dome tweeter and a 5” kevlar driver. They claim an output power of 60w v my HS50s 75w, however they seemed to be far louder…mmmm?
The Real Question
Of course the real question is how do the sound? I did a couple of tests, one where I A/B tested them against my Yamaha HS50m and then on their own. There is a reason for this, comparative testing is only one part of listening to monitors, but also listening to them on their own at length is also important. The reason for this is that in reality ALL monitors have their own sound, so comparative testing and then asking which sounds best is, on the whole, a pointless exercise. As long as a monitor is producing a fairly reasonable sound and you are used to the quirks, then if you like the monitor use it and you should be able to get good mixes.
The Aktiv 05 have a very up-front sound, comparing them to the Yamaha HS50 I kept finding a hole in the mid within the Yamaha HS50 or to turn that on its head, a low mid and mid peak in the Aktiv 05. The extension in the low mid of the Aktiv 05s made them slightly boomy too, although I fixed that by blocking the port with pair of socks from M&S, I must have mild OCD as I had to use a matching pair! As expected the silk dome tweeter also gives a smoother top end too. The low mid extension will also depend on the space you sit them in, on the whole a lot of home studio owners don’t have the room or the sense to pull their monitors away from the wall, if they did this would help a lot.
The combined mid peak and low mid extension, plus the softer top end makes them a little edgier than the HS50s and I’m guessing this would lead to quicker hearing fatigue during long mixing sessions. Secondly this combined peak may lead to some people ending up with a mid hole in their mixes if they did not compensate for it - an area of the spectrum that is often missing from too many home mixed tracks.
You might be starting the think that I don’t like the Aktiv 05. On the contrary, I’ve been listening to them for around 2 hours on my entire iTunes collection, throwing everything from Prince to Mozart, Robert Plant to U2 at them and they have a good sound - certainly good enough to get great mixes from in a home studio.
ESI may not be on your radar, but for a company vying for market share with the like’s of Yamaha, KRK, Behringer and Samson, I have been pleasantly surprised by what these speakers have to offer in terms of build and sound. If you have around £150 to spend on a pair of desk top monitors then you should certainly check these out. Will they be replacing my Yamaha HS50s? No. Would I be able to get great mixes on them? Yes. Check them out.