Bag End Monitors: impressions

Bryan and I spent some time with the Bag End monitors that Andy dropped off for us to review.

It’s a 3-piece system, two mains and a sub. The two mains are the M6 Time-Align, which are passive, and the sub is the Infrasub 12 PRO, which is active. The mains contain a 6″ low frequency cone and a tweeter, arranged concentrically (or coaxially)–that is, the tweeter mounted in the center of the midrange cone, right where the dust cap usually is. This has been common practice in car stereo systems for many years (mostly to save space) but is uncommon in pro audio; it’s part of what Bag End calls Time-Align. Check out their explanation at the previous link; concentric speakers just a part of the system.

Interestingly enough Earthworks Audio also sells what they call “The first 40 kHz Time Coherent Reference Speaker” in the form of the Sigma 6.2. While the goals of these two speakers are the same, the designs are different but both are unconventional: with the Sigma 6.2’s the box shape is quite different, and the tweeter and woofer don’t sit in the same vertical plane.

It’d be interesting to compare the two side-by-side, as I’ve never heard the Earthworks. Though any comparison may be unfair with the Bag End’s massive, nasty subwoofer thrown in–this thing is a monster! You can set the low cut for 20 Hz or 8Hz (!); that should speak volumes right there.

We listened to a bunch of CD’s we knew really well… and we were super-impressed. The detail in the mids and especially the highs were a complete pleasure to listen to, the imaging was incredible, and I didn’t get fatigued at all–I totally could’ve listened to those things for hours and hours. Bryan thought the Dynaudios we previously reviewed were a slight bit better in this regard, while I thought these Bags had a slight edge.

When it came to the lows, though, there wasn’t a contest with any speaker I’d ever heard in that space. Deep and clear, and even the image was great–it sounded like the bass was coming from right in the middle of the stereo image, right where it should be.

The only caveat was that listening to CD’s, I thought he lows weren’t quite as tight as they should be. More listening and mixing on them will show us what the truth is here.

We also engineered a live set with them. It was stripped-down setup: vocals, acoustic guitar (mic’d), electric guitar, and a melodica. Superlux ECM-999’s were used on the guitar amp and the acoustic, an SM-7 for vocals (through an RNC) and a SM-81 for the melodica.

Throwing the faders up, the Bags clearly showed that the acoustic sounded like crap; these speakers certainly didn’t hide that problem, which is good. Changing mic position made a big difference, but it still could’ve been a bit better. (As happens sometimes, we were pretty short on time.) Then, when applying effects (just a plate reverb) I felt that I was really able to zero in on exactly what I wanted the ‘verb to sound like.

After the set we gave the band a CD, and one of their travelling companions who wasn’t playing said that the set sounded awsome, and they joked that it sounded better than the album they spent months and $$$ recording. Always nice to hear!

And final step: how does the recording translate to the ol’ stereo back home? Well, the instruments sounded great, clear with a nice amount of reverb, room, and space around them–the Bags were definitely more honest about the acoustic guitar sounds, as my hesitations were mostly masked by my home stereo system. The only exception being the lows: I felt the acoustic could’ve used a bit more low end cut, although it works fine as there was nothing holding down the low end in this setup.

The vocals I have some reservations about. I feel like there’s a little too much reverb on them at certain points (though I tend to be pretty conservative w/ vocal reverb for live to broadcast performances), and when the singer went low the low-end sometimes got cloudy. Cutting out some more low’s, and maybe boosting the upper-mids and a little highs would’ve done the trick; also cutting a bit more low on the reverb return.

All in all, my first experience using these things was hugely enjoyable. We need to fiddle a bit more with relative levels of the sub and the mains to get the low end to translate really well, though that’ll be easier to judge with a full band.

And lastly, you have to take cost into account: the system is $3000+, list price from Bag End (around $600 per main and $2000 for the sub), and that doesn’t even count the power amp you need for the passive mains. Is it worth? We’ll know more as we dive in.

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