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Inspired by the straightforward approach Equator Audio takes in selling the D5 direct to consumers — without middleman margins and BS sales tactics — I’m going to just cut to the chase here. The D5 studio monitor is high in quality, low in cost, sounds fantastic, offers amazing detail and imaging, and is backed by a 60 day money-back guarantee. Whether you are earnestly planning a purchase of compact nearfields or you’re just curious to hear for yourself if this monitor can live up to its fast-growing internet reputation — or heck, even if you’re just plain skeptical that a speaker this size can sound this good — go visit the Equator Audio website and order a D5 pair for yourself. If you’re as impressed as I am, you’ll find a use for them. If you decide they’re not for you, return them for a full refund.
When I first learned of the D5, I was drawn to its coaxial drivers. When you’re listening to a properly implemented point-source configuration of tweeter inside woofer, the signal that reaches your ear will be time and phase coherent, even at the critical crossover junction where woofer and tweeter response meet and overlap, which usually falls in the midrange band where the human ear tends to focus. Reduced smearing, tighter transients, richer detail, and smoother off-axis response are typical benefits of coaxial-driver design.
In my living room at home, I have Bag End M-6 Time-Align speakers (Tape Op #50). Their coaxial drivers produce a satisfying soundstage with an expansive sweet spot, and midrange clarity is superb. Several years ago, I also had the pleasure of using high-zoot Tannoy Eclipse 8 iDP monitors (#60) in my studio for a few months. I was impressed with the extremely smooth and coherent output across the whole frequency spectrum — and especially in the midrange — of Tannoy’s trademark Dual Concentric driver arrangement. Needless to say, I had high hopes for the D5.
When I received my pair of D5s, I was initially vexed by what I perceived as extra sibilance around 7 kHz, but throughout several weeks of use, this subtle “bump” slowly disappeared. (I later asked Equator founder Ted Keffalo about this, and he confirmed to me that this peak indeed exists on new units, but it smooths out after extended use.) Once the D5 settled into character, I found its midrange clarity congruous with my coaxial driver expectations. In addition, I was quite surprised at the low-end extension presented by the relatively small, 5.25’’ woofer inside its equally compact enclosure; and the 1’’ silk-dome tweeter mounted in the center of the woofer also offered extension into the highs (with a slight “lift”) that I was not expecting. In other words, I was hearing the midrange detail that I had hoped for, but I was also hearing detail in much more of the spectrum than I would have considered possible from a speaker sized like it belongs next to a laptop.
Apparently, Equator Audio has figured out a secret formula that allows them to manufacturer a speaker whose sonic capabilities belie its footprint. Many meticulously-engineered variables contribute to that formula — phase and time–coherent digitally controlled drivers, factory-applied DSP correction, 4th-order crossover, dual 50 watt amps, all-wood cabinet, tuned port, etc. — but just as importantly, a number of acclaimed recording engineers with so-called golden ears were called in to help voice the final product. The end result is a studio monitor that you can trust when you’re making critical decisions during tracking and mixing.
During the several months of use leading up to this review, I placed my D5 pair on various desktops, meter bridges, sound isolation pads, and stacks of books... in big rooms, in small rooms, in corners, on shelves... while I was mixing, editing, auditioning software, trying out new gear, enjoying some prerecorded music, watching movies, etc. My conclusions? Pretty much in any environment, the D5s sound great. And for critical listening, I prefer to place the D5s 24’’ or less from my ears. At such close proximity, reflections off the boundaries of the room or off nearby pieces of furniture are much lower in volume than the direct sound from the speakers. Therefore, room anomalies are masked, room resonance becomes less of an issue, and I hear much greater detail. (Note that traditional 2-way speakers don’t work as well in this situation because any movement of your head can lead to significant differences in ear-to-woofer and ear-to-tweeter distance.) Also, with the D5s close to my ears and their boundary switches set to freestanding mode, I feel the lows are best represented. Furthermore, at this distance, I hear what amounts to a small dip in the D5’s frequency response just above 1 kHz, and a very gentle rise above that, together contributing extra detail to the mids, upper-mids, and highs.
Used in this close-field manner (like wearing a set of “extra-superaural” headphones) mixing on a pair of D5s is not only plausible — even in less than ideal rooms — but it’s enjoyable too! Accurate imaging facilitates careful placement of instruments in the soundfield. Adjustments of vocal levels and effects translate well to other speakers and environments. There’s enough low end that EQ’ing most bass-heavy sounds can be done with confidence. Distortions, phasing, and other problems can be identified before they rear their nastiness later on (when fixing can mean having to undo good work). And once my D5s were broken-in, I’ve had no issues with ear fatigue listening to them hours on end. I have no reservations recommending the D5 for project studios, post-production, remote recording, broadcast, voiceovers, overdub rooms, etc. — anywhere a small powered monitor is needed.
While cutting to the chase at the beginning of this review, I neglected to mention one important point. A pair of D5s will set you back only $300, or you can buy them in singles at $150 a piece. Finding a powered speaker that sounds as good as the D5 — and is as trustworthy in recording and mixing applications — will be difficult at twice this price.
($299 pair direct; www.equatoraudio.com) –AH