M Audio BX5 D2 Speakers

Device Type: Powered Speaker
Input: XLR balanced and 1/4” balanced/unbalanced
Output: __
Dimensions (H x W x D): 10” x 7” x 7.7"
Weight: 11 lbs./each
Availability: online and through authorized dealers
Price: $299/pair
Website: www.m-audio.com

Can You Handle the Truth?
What the heck is a "monitor" speaker? The word was initially applied to actual studio monitors, but it quickly came to be associated with any small- or mid-size bookshelf speaker. The M-Audio BX5 D2 is a bona-fide active (self-powered) monitor that can be used as a reference in a home studio (or desktop system). Accuracy is de rigueur for monitors, so if you're searching for a speaker with a sweet sound that makes everything, including nasty MP3s sound good this little guy won't cut it, but well-recorded electronica, jazz, classical, or most types of acoustic music the BX5 D2 will be a treat for your ears. They list for $299 a pair, but I've seen them going for closer to $230 online, and for that kind of money it's hard to beat.

The original BX5 debuted in 2003 and developed a loyal following, so M-Audio isn't about to mess with the BX5's sound signature. The BX5 D2 is the fourth generation model, with each succeeding version the engineers added a bit more bandwidth and improved build quality over the earlier models. Still, the styling is nothing fancy, it's just a matte black, vinyl-clad MDF cabinet. There's a tiny blue LED on the front baffle that you can use to determine just the right amount of toe-in (the LED is brightest only with the optimally angled toe-in when viewed from the listening position). You can't turn off the LED, but it's not bright enough to be distracting. Each BX5 D2 has a rear-mounted volume control, which I set to 1 o'clock, and then ran the speakers' volume from my Mac Mini computer. The bulk of my listening was done with Apple Lossless files.

Let's Do The Numbers
The BX5 D2 has a 1" silk dome tweeter set in a flared waveguide and a woven 5" Kevlar woofer. Grilles are not included. Each bi-amplified speaker has two Class A/B analog amps, there's a 30 watt amp for the tweeter, and a separate 40 watt amp on the woofer, that adds up to four channels of amplification per pair of speakers. That's cool, a lot of well-known active speakers aren't bi-amped, for example Audioengine's $399 per pair A5+ speakers have one 50 watt per channel stereo amp in the left speaker only that runs both speakers.

Thanks to the BX5 D2's pro status the rear panels don't have RCA inputs, just XLR balanced and 1/4” balanced/unbalanced inputs. I didn't have a set of interconnect cables terminated with ¼" plugs so I bought a set of two meter Hosa Cable CPR202 RCA to ¼" cables on Amazon for $6.99, and ran the cables between my Schiit Audio Bifrost DAC's RCA outputs and the BX5 D2's ¼" inputs. Of course, high-end cables with ¼" plugs can be special ordered from the usual suspects. The BX5 D2 has a rear port, but the speaker can be placed close to walls with no fear of over boosted bass or muddiness. Even when its just six inches from the wall the speaker's bass was fast, precise, and beautifully controlled.

Deep Listening
It's interesting, some speakers draw me into different types of music than I usually listen to, and the BX5 D2 had me from the get-go with electronica. Aphex Twin, Pole, Mouse on Mars, etc. remained in heavy rotation for days. The Cinemascope wide soundscapes were expansive, and the BX5 D2 was a champ at revealing inner detail and textures. Imaging was spacious and sharply focused.

Then again, Ry Cooder's deliciously nimble solo guitar on the Paris, Texas soundtrack was set in a field of deep reverberation, but the BX5 D2 didn't blur or soften guitar transients one bit. This is a truly gorgeous recording, and the BX5 D2 perfectly nailed it. The Kronos Quartet's lovely Pieces of Africa album features the string quartet with African percussion was a delight. Little speakers like this can't be counted on to liberate string tone with the necessary mix of warmth and detail, but the BX5 D2 got it just right.

The throbbing beats on Carl Craig's More Songs About Food and Revolutionary Art fully exercised the BX5 D2 woofers. They go down to around 50 Hertz, which is pretty deep for a desktop speaker, but midbass fullness was in short supply. The BX5 D2 sounds thin on some recordings, it doesn't have the richness of an Audioengine A5+ or Emotiva airmotiv 4, two of my favorite affordable desktop speakers. Bowie's "Diamond Dogs" was hashy and coarse over the BX5 D2s, the Emotiva airmotiv 4 provided a better foundation for the music, and a more laid back treble that was easier on the ear. Ah, but the Emotiva's bass definition is looser as well, and soundstage depth suffered by comparison with the BX5 D2s. If you want something that sounds decent with a wide range of recordings, buy the Audioengine A5+ or Emotiva airmotiv 4 speakers.

Then again, back with the BX5 D2 bluesman Doug MacLeod's There's a Time CD was downright vivid, sounding so far beyond what you might expect from a speaker you can buy for just $230. The BX5 D2 doesn't have any right to be that good, MacLeod's vocals and acoustic guitar balance was spot-on, and here I preferred the BX5 D2 over the Emotiva or Audioengine speakers.

I suppose the BX5 D2's bigger brother, the BX8 D2, which sports an 8" woofer and a bigger cabinet will deliver considerably more oomph. Those bad boys run $500 a pair. Or go with Plan B and stick with the BX5 D2s and then add M-Audio's 10", 240 watt SBX10 subwoofer ($399) to fill out the low-end response. The sub is fitted with XLR and ¼" inputs and outputs for easy setup of a 2.1 channel desktop system.

I didn't have either of those two options on hand, so I continued with just the BX5 D2 and enjoyed its transparency and speed. It was at its best with the clean sounding recordings, which is exactly what you'd expect from a monitor speaker. True, it's not going to make everyone happy, but no speaker, even ones that sell for a many, many times more than the BX5 D2 satisfy every taste.

JLM's picture

Can you describe how you decide which products receive recommendations or not?

So I gather that they are not forgiving (that has always been a consideration for me), but from other reviews have read that they have a very small sweet spot to listen in.

I'm debating between PSB Alpha PS1 and the BX5 D2 (currently on sale nearby for $200/pair).  The initial use would be for very casual listening in open plan living room with cathedral ceiling (about 10,000 cu. ft.).  Afraid that the Alpha PS1 wouldn't be able to fill the space, especially that any bass they could generate would 'get lost', and so require a sub (pushing the cost to at least $500).  Am trying to downside the visual impact from the current floorstanders/amp.  

I heard the BX5 D2 briefly and even with a head cold thought they sounded better than comparable studio monitors.  Obviously the BX5 D2 has more bass, but would require professional connectors.

Any advice?  TIA

Michael Lavorgna's picture

...were reviewed by Steve Guttenberg and I have not had an opportunity to hear them. I agree that the little PSBs may have a difficult time filling a larger space but if you've heard the BX5 D2s and liked them, you should get them!