SPECTACULAR SPEAKER SPECS: BB4’S PURSUIT OF THE PERFECT MONITORS
SPECTACULAR SPEAKER SPECS: BB4’S PURSUIT OF THE PERFECT MONITORS
For any studio in pursuit of the optimum monitoring environment, perfecting the speaker system is one of the most essential steps. But getting it really right is about more than just plugging in the preferred pair – it’s a deep process that begins as soon as the studio is taking shape.
At BB4 Studios in Brooklyn, the facility’s designer and in-house engineer Christos Tsantilis began thinking about speakers very early on: Once the room size and console design had been agreed on, his attention turned to the monitors. “At that point it became, ‘How much power do we need for the room?’” Tsantilis recalls. “When we realized that all we needed was mid-sized speakers, I made several recommendations, and we zeroed in on a few models.”
Tsantilis’ extensive experience with critical listening environments helped him to guard against overwhelming BB4’s unique mixing + mastering suite. “A lot of people will have a mid-sized room – which is what we have at BB4 — and then purchase these mammoth speakers which take up a lot of space,” he notes. “Then you’re left without a lot of room to move around in. We didn’t want to have 28″ woofers taking over the suite!”
The solution for providing BB4 Studios with the extremely true and accurate sound that it sought was the PMC IB2S. Tsantilis realized that the IB2S, a passive reference monitor, would be the ideal speaker for his painstakingly crafted environment.
“I had worked on PMCs before, and I could hear that they were extremely pristine,” says Tsantilis. “Their three dimensional value and clarity are phenomenal. We had tried other speakers, and they couldn’t compare. The PMCs are just very, very true and very accurate – matched up with the right amplifier, it makes all the difference in the world.”
Next, BB4 took care of the low end with a pair of ADAM sub 12s, giving the studio a powerful 1-2 punch to cover the full frequency spectrum. “We always knew we’d have subs as well,” Tsantilis says. “The result is that we’re mimicking a large speaker system, without taking up too much space.”
While powered speakers have their place, the BB4 team felt that passive monitors such as the PMC IB2S gave them their best chance of success. “Passive speakers were important because we wanted to be able to switch out and audition a variety of amplifiers,” explains Tsantilis. “PMC recommends Brystons, and we think they’re awesome, but we wanted the opportunity to test out other amplifiers as well, and will continue to do so. So far our Brystons are doing really well with the PMC speakers combined with the active ADAM subs.”
After extensive testing, BB4 arrived at a tri-amp system for the PMC monitors and the active ADAMS for subs, which in total yields a quad amped system. BB4 selected the Bryston 4B-ST amplifier for the low end, and Bryston THX quad amps for the mids and high frequencies. Meanwhile, the self-powered ADAM subs are driven by their own amps. With 2700 W powering the PMCs, and an additional 600 W for the Adams, the BB4 system rates at a generous 3300 W in total. A custom crossover ensures maximum efficiency throughout the system.
“There are a lot of variables to contend with as you try to find the optimum match between a speaker and amplifier,” Tsantilis says. “Certain amps do great with the highs, while others are better for mids or lows. Some people only want to have one amplifier per speaker, and they won’t try bi-, tri-, or quad-amps. We tried all the above, and found that with this room and this particular setup, quad-amping worked the best.
“It’s a little hefty with all that in place,” he admits, “but we knew that we’d rather overpower it than underpower. It comes down to being able to play something cleanly at 118 dBs – for it to be clear, you need a lot of power. The PMCs really do sing now, even at this higher dB rating, although we would never actually recommend playing music at 118db since that level will destroy anyone’s hearing!”
The Details Make a Difference
As with every aspect of BB4 Studios, Tsantilis let no aspect of the monitoring system escape scrutiny. Every possible connection, angle and source was examined to help achieve a 100% trustworthy sweet spot.
“All of the little details do count,” he states. “If you take the time, you have a system that really sings in your room. The quad-amping had a lot to do with it, and the wiring had a lot to do with it: We tried standard speaker cabling at first, and it was fine, but when we switched over to solid silver (4n) cryogenically treated cabling it made even more of a difference sonically. The system became even more focused. We also used a different wire gauge per frequency response, because that makes a difference: If you use too thick of a wire on the highs, for example, you lose top end clarity.
“And obviously, it’s not just the speaker amp and wire that you use. Electricity has a lot to do with it. We made sure we powered the system properly with a 30-amp electrical system, and used the top-of-the-line AC cables as well. The system consists of a 30 amp Equi=Tech balanced power system with Oyade/Furutech AC cabling that’s been cryogenically treated and cooked. The outlet wall receptacles are also super-high-end GTX Furutech cryogentically treated and cooked.”
Many more decisions had to be made from there. A free-standing configuration was chosen over soffit-mounted, which goes hand-in-hand with determining speaker placement. “That’s essential — being able to place the speakers at the best spot in the room is key. That was set up from the beginning of the design – we had the basic idea of where they would sit, and used laser alignment and ray tracing computer programs to ensure that the room would have an RT60 reading of .3.
“It’s very important to keep your speakers sufficiently clear from the side and back walls. If you take the time to do that, it makes a huge difference because that’s where you get your 3D value – giving your speakers enough room to breathe is how you make the most of your monitoring systems.”
Custom speaker stands from Sound Anchor locked the speakers in at the precise height and angle that BB4 specified. “Sound Anchor does excellent work, and their customer service is amazing,” says Tsantilis. “They gave us exactly what we wanted. When the stands arrived here, we filled them with sand, which cuts down on the resonation.”
The engineer has two options for controlling the system. For the purest possible signal, they can engage a CTAudio audiophile-style center section with only a volume control and the absolute minimum amount of circuitry. If they require a greater degree of control during tracking or mixing, they can reach for the Dangerous Dbox monitor controller. “Less is more,” Tsantilis says. “That’s why we have two monitoring systems: one with maximum sonic clarity, and the other with all the bells and whistles.”
STAYING IN TUNE
Once the monitoring components were assembled, another major step awaited. “When you put the system together using multiple amps, you really have to tune the system properly – that’s what brings it all together,” Tsantilis explains. “Different drivers are receiving different wattage, which makes one part louder than the other and necessitates the crossover to level out the system.
“Then you need the left and right to be as correct as possible. If those are perfectly level, then the mixer/mastering engineer has to make fewer adjustments. The result is a more natural sound.”
BB4’s efforts show what’s required to make the absolute most out of a monitoring system. “It really comes down to everything,” Christos Tsantilis says. “You can have phenomenal speakers, but when they’re not positioned, powered, and connected properly, you won’t get your money’s worth: It’s like buying a Lamborghini and putting low-octane changed to water in the tank!
“The speakers are only one part of the whole design – it’s never just one thing: The entire facility has to work as a whole to get the depth that you need from your monitors. That’s what leads to a more truthful sound – it’s how you know you’re placing the instruments correctly in the mix, that you’re hearing it right. You can make better decisions, more quickly, if you know you’re hearing the truth.”