When the request went out for a review on the Blue Sky Big Blue speaker system, I figured what the hell. I've been toying around with the idea of stepping up to a larger pair of speakers for some time now, and this system is a great package-tri-amped three-ways and optional subwoofers.
It's not an optional subwoofer, it's just an extension of the speaker system. The idea of Blue Sky is to build a full-range monitoring system in separate boxes. Using bass management to send the bass signal to a larger speaker in its own cabinet just makes sense. Trying to force a two-way monitor to produce "full range" is a bad idea because the tweeter and woofer are stretched to capacity, sacrificing midrange frequencies and never delivering real low end because the box is too small. It's just physics. Doesn't matter what size system, it's the same concept. With bass-management, even a small system can provide true full range at a reasonable price, even in a small room. You know a lot of stuff happens below 50 Hz... and consumers are listening in their cars and homes to stuff below 50 Hz...
WTF? Am I hearing voices?
I'm the Voice of Reason, the metaphysical superego of Chris Fichera, food and golf connoisseur, occasional Grammy-winning engineer, one of the founders of Blue Sky, fits audio in between tee times. Yeah, well, it says "subs" on your website. Anyway, a bunch of big boxes arrived at the studio. I set up the pair of Big Blue SAT 12 three-ways in the control room sans the two SUB 15 subs-might as well see if they rock before we unbox all that stuff, right? Nice big cabs, with a 12" woofer, 4" midrange, and a dual-concentric diaphragm tweeter that looks like a nipple. Cool rubberized front face, with a bunch of slots. Kinda kinky setup when you think about it.
It's a Multi-Aperture Acoustic Diffraction Absorber, which helps to smooth out the frequency response without having to use a waveguide.
Um, sure. Hello, MAADA. What's great is that the front face can be rotated for horizontal or vertical orientation of the speakers (sweet!) There are three separate amplifiers in the cabs for the low (200 Watt), mid (200 Watt) and high (100 Watt)-so plenty of power there. Tweaks include four different flavors of baffle compensation for use as full-space (in the room) or half-space (against a wall); gain and input pad; individual trim for HF/MF/LF; and a pair of XLR inputs (one with a built-in 80 Hz high-pass, one without). Power on-state is indicated by a blue LED on the front-always a plus. (One of the rear dipswitches allows you to disable the front LED; there's a non-switchable rear power LED also.) Crank em up... um, well... hey dude, these speakers, um, they don't get that loud, man. Limiters are kicking in big time. S... U... C...
You gotta set them up right. Didn't you hear what I said about forcing a small box to fill a big room? Here, let me show you how to do this. First, GET THE SUBS OUT OF THE BOXES.
Yeah well, I thought we'd just start with the...
Shut it. Let me do this right. Your room is huge, man, what are you thinking?!? You've got M&K subs on your NEARFIELDS dude.
Yeah, well, they do rock and I guess this room is pretty damn big...
Yeah, well, these do rock too, and they were designed by some of the same guys that did those M&Ks. Go get a coffee, and I'll have this room tweaked.
No way. Show me your kung fu.
Okay. I already have the Blue Sky test files on my iPod, but you can download them from the website too. They include 1 kHz, 40-80 Hz pink noise, 500 Hz-2.5 kHz pink noise, and full-bandwidth pink noise. The signal goes through the SUB 15s on the way to the SAT 12s. I normally bypass the console and set up the system as-is. I send 500 Hz-2.5 kHz to the left channel, adjusting the SAT 12 level to 85 dB SPL using my handheld meter. Repeat for the right channel. Then send 40-80 Hz to the left channel only, adjusting the SUB 15 level to read 85 dB SPL. Repeat with the right channel. Then I play the full-band pink noise left/right and measure 85 dB SPL. I also walk around the room, especially if it's large, to determine if the bass is coupling in one particular area and decide the placement and/or whether an additional sub is required. You can do this with an analyzer, but I use my ear-I can hear it.
Wow, huge difference. These are rocking! Dude, the low end's killer. They're loud and clear. What's the deal?
Good design, man. Good design within a budget, actually. There are great super-expensive speakers, but there's definitely a price point you have to reach. We designed these with a budget in mind, and got them as far as we could without breaking the bank.
You did well in this regard. Talk about impressing the clients when they need to crank it-these are perfect. Certainly a great choice for a studio that needs more volume than nearfields can put out but doesn't have the dough for an esoteric setup. And the subwoofer...
LF cab-sorry-is worth the price of admission alone. 1000 Watts of power and 125 lbs of mass make for a tight, punchy bottom. I had these up in my studio for several weeks. At normal listening levels, they took a little getting used to. I use ported speakers, so the Big Blues seemed a little lean in the low midrange and bright on top. But after mixing on the Big Blues for a while, my ProAcs sounded a little covered and boxy. Lean and bright, covered and boxy-there were pros and cons for each, and somewhere in the middle was a really nice spot. I found myself making really good mix decisions based on the comparison. The Big Blue's high end was revealing-lots of detail, very forward, and "American-sounding"-and a wide range of material sounded great on them. One of the most impressive aspects was the integration of the LF cabs and the speakers. I can usually tell when speakers are summing with subs, but with the Big Blues, it was all one cohesive unit. When I switched over to movies and games, the system integration really shined. Gaming on these is sick. They're absolutely gnarly-exciting and lifelike, and dynamic as hell. Movies were equally thrilling-I wish I had gotten the 5.1 setup! Extra props here again to the subwoofer; it's huge-sounding yet tight, and it hung with anything I could throw at it. I don't think you can get a better sub without spending four times the cash, and I don't know if you ever need to.
All in all, I would say that if your studio is looking for a mid to far-field solution that's expandable, dependable, loud, and clear, this Big Blue setup is a no-brainer for a test run. I would be hard-pressed to find another system in this price range that covers as many bases. It's down 3 dB at 20 Hz and 30 kHz-very impressive stats-but more importantly, it makes me work when I'm mixing, which is crucial. They're definitely worth a listen. ($7500 MSRP for a single-sub 2.1 system; individually $2500 for SAT 12, $2500 for SUB 15; www.abluesky.com)
Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.