There is maybe no easier font for satire in audio criticism than the floral superlatives assigned to hi-fi speakers and playback equipment. Reviewers write haikus in brown pencil, dithering about the big truths while Rudy Van Gelder [Tape Op #43] and Nikola Tesla nod from beyond with knowing approval, their own confirmation biases being fed by a rarefied Japanese coupling capacitor and speaker cables woven from the hay-colored hair of Icelandic princesses.
To that end, I’ll say simply there is a new speaker company in Brooklyn called Ex Machina Soundworks. They are making two models currently; the smaller Pulsar and the larger Quasar. I was sent a pair of Quasars to demo and liked them so much immediately that I bought them before finishing this review. In fairness, I had been shopping for the right midfield monitor for a while, but my main speakers for the past 17 years have been ProAc Studio 100s [#69]. I have made a lot of work that I believe in with these ProAcs, and estimate conservatively that I’ve clocked around 60,000 hours on them.
However, recently I’ve been working more frequently in idioms where the roll-off in the bottom octaves of my Studio 100s was becoming problematic. Last year, I finally blew a woofer, so the search started for some bigger, modern monitors to reflect the changing nature of my work. There was some program material I wasn’t hearing in the room, so I began researching obsessively, listening to everything in my price range, and saving my pennies for the big come up.
And now, the fawning superlatives – the short description is that the Quasars feel like a different class of tool. First of all, the Quasars are flat; really, really flat – like Meyer Sound Bluehorn System flat. The manual says +/- 1 dB from 30 Hz to 30 kHz. Moreover, they assert there is only +/- 15 degrees of phase shift from 50 Hz to 30 kHz. This is achieved through an onboard SHARC DSP card running Ex Machina’s proprietary algorithm, which calibrates both amplitude and phase for each speaker cabinet. Ex Machina does this individually by serial number. This processing mitigates any variances induced by materials or manufacturing, and means that any two Quasars across the entire production run are sufficiently matched to be used as a pair, or as part of a multichannel array.
This DSP does induce some system latency (44 ms with full phase and amplitude correction) – again similar to the Meyer Sound Bluehorn System. To ameliorate the issue in situations where that latency is unacceptable, Ex Machina has offered a switch on the back which disables the phase correction, reducing system delay to 3 ms; amplitude correction remains intact. The DSP phase correction is an addictive type of clarity. The apocryphal claim I’ve always heard as to why people love Yamaha NS-10s so much is that there is very little crossover distortion or phase shift in the critical bands that our ears are evolutionarily attuned to. The Quasars feel like this ideal has been extrapolated forward through decades worth of iterations in technology in all the myriad of disciplines that intersect to make a tool like this.
The manual goes into great detail about the exotic materials, purveyors, and physical qualities of the drivers such as “pistonic linearity,” but in brief, both the Pulsar and the Quasar have a dual concentric driver consisting of a 25 mm tweeter, an 18 cm midrange driver, and a separate 22 cm subwoofer. The distinction between the two models is that the Pulsar has one subwoofer and the Quasar has two; low end extension and SPLs increase accordingly.
The Quasars are indeed very loud and very, very clean. They rate at less than a half a percent THD+N at 95 dB SPL, and a pair of monitors has a maximum continuous output of 119 dB SPL from 100 Hz to 30 kHz, or 110 dB SPL down to 30 Hz. The tweeter and midrange drivers are both driven by 100 watts, and each subwoofer is fed with 250 watts – all individually powered by onboard Hypex Ncore Class D amplifiers.
Practically speaking, all this technology somehow congeals into a speaker that I immediately understood. The first three mixes I turned around on the Quasars were approved with no notes. Though they are definitely the largest and loudest speakers I’ve ever owned, they are also the best sounding monitor I’ve ever worked on at low volume as well. The imaging, amplitude, and phase coherence scale with loudness performed better than any other speaker I’ve used. The amount of available power and overall clarity made it possible to localize when and how distortion is entering the signal chain in a way that I’ve never felt on another monitoring system.
However, the Quasars are in no way flattering. I referenced audio on them that sounded actively bad. These speakers don’t obfuscate or seduce. Rumble, DC, hiss, intersample distortion or shitty biasing, resonances, inelegant balances, phase cancellation, and suspect software instrument sounds are all reproduced with a fidelity that is as unflatteringly perfect as the originating source. It’s also incredibly revealing to listen to film and television on the Quasars. Well-executed sound design is unbelievably immersive, and localization is hyper-accurate. Alternately, that ADR line that got phoned in or that lavalier mic the mixer forgot to high-pass is distractingly unmissable.
I’m honestly shocked that I’m into these. Historically, the idea of any processing (DSP) in the monitor path weirds me out. Integrated amps qualify as “maintenance hostile” in my opinion. They’re properly huge, but also somehow well behaved enough to be used as nearfields or midfields – I’m using them as nearfields. The tweeter is super touch-sensitive (physical contact with the tweeter is a warranty-voider), and they’re heavy as shit (89 pounds each), so gigging with these externally is probably not going to be a thing. So much of the underlying design of these monitors go against the grain for me on paper, but when I sit in front of a pair, what Ex Machina Soundworks have done with the Quasar is incontrovertible. You need to hear them too.