STUDIO TEST FINAL REPORT: Three Real-World Studios Demo the Sterling MX5 Studio Monitors

We put the Sterling MX5 Studio Monitors to work in three different recording studio environments. Here are the results…

Back in April, we put out a call for entries to win brand new pairs of the criminally-underrated Sterling MX5 studio monitors. We’ve been enjoying our own MX5’s and their smaller 3-inch brothers, the MX3’s in the office, and ultimately selected three different types of winners for some additional real-world testing: a Nashville home-studio run by a very talented singer/songwriter (Kristen Ford), a beats-production house (RayRayBeats) and a commercial post-production facility in California (Ryan D Young at Arcay Studios). Below are some of the thoughts each studio tester had after spending a few weeks recording, mixing and mastering using their new MX5’s.

KRISTEN FORD

I was thrilled to try out the 5” MX5 studio monitors. These monitors struck me at first by how heavy they were, how sturdy the construction was and the design was pretty slick. The materials don’t feel cheap. When thinking about a 5” monitor, the Yamaha HS5 immediately comes to mind; I have heard them in many studios. Those are priced around $200 each, and the MX5 are priced about $50 less. The MX5 look downright sexy and outclass the outdated look of the Yamaha HS5.

I was able to jump right into mixing and listening with the provided materials, stick-on footers, power cable and manual. Initially I used an 1/8” to RCA to try out the unbalanced input. The sound was okay, but overall with a Focusrite interface, TRS-cables-to-balanced-XLR-inputs, the volume was now much louder and the sound quality featured way more clarity.

The MX5 monitors were responsive to changes in EQ, the treble when pushed was piercingly sibilant, the bass was quite powerful. When listening at very low volume and the quality was still excellent. These puppies can go super loud, too. I had the volume on the back of each of the monitors at -0- right in the middle, and at one point got my interface volume about 2/3 the way up, so loud you couldn’t shout over them and I was worried I might blow the speakers or damage the cones if I went any louder, so I came back down. I am confident you can bump these monitors as you’re triumphing in the final mix, when you need to hear that tune loud and proud. These MX5s should also have no trouble supporting a keyboard, synth or electric bass should you be tracking directly.

In the genre test, hip-hop sounded incredible – the bass strong and present but not overpowering. Vocals for more folk and country-inspired tunes sounded great. I would say the weak spot for these monitors were genres such as classical or progressive rock, when there were lots of layers, especially when played at high volume, the mids feel a little robotic, or square, they don’t have the depth of some other more high-end monitors I’ve heard. Overall, though, I would recommend these MX5 studio monitors hands down for tracking, mixing, and just pure listening; they look super sexy and cost far less than you’d expect for such quality.

RAYMOND HONRATH (aka RayRayBeats)

ARRIVAL: Once I cut away the dull exterior packaging of my new MX5’s, a beautifully designed product box was revealed. I experienced the nostalgia of beholding a childhood birthday present. Not just some bullshit pajamas your grandma bought you, but that new video game console you specifically asked for. “Thanks Dad!” Once I carefully dissected all clear packing tape on both boxes I found my new toys inside, carefully situated between Styrofoam caps fitted above and below the speakers. Sterling Audio took great care in packaging this product and both speakers arrived with no harm.

Sterling MX5 Studio Monitors

MAKING MUSIC WITH THE STERLING MX5 MONITORS: My first priority was to go over some previous mixes with these new Sterling MX5s. Previously I had been mixing through my KRK Rokit 5’s and I was excited to see if there was a noticeable difference between the KRKs and the Sterlings. I was actually surprised to find that the bass tones were overwhelming my mixes when played through the MX5s! This was great news to me, because within my first five minutes of powering the Sterling monitors they had helped me identify a mixing issue and fix it! Bass is very important to a lot of my hip-hop mixes, so now I’ve defaulted to mixing primarily in the Sterling MX5s and referencing elsewhere. I’ve also found that the MX5 monitors have a uniquely wide frequency dispersion, so I can pace around the room contemplating my mix without it largely affecting how my ear perceives the signal. That’s really convenient for a serial pacer like me!

FINAL THOUGHTS: These Sterling MX5 speakers LOOK classy with their front baffle’s monochromatic design and backlit Sterling badge. They function exceptionally well, too. As someone who has a decade of experience using entry-level studio equipment, I can’t point out a single functionality issue with these monitors. Mixing isn’t a decibel contest (in fact, quite the opposite,) but these speakers are definitely louder than other I’ve owned in the same class. They’re an efficient addition to my home studio and at $149.99 a piece, you absolutely get everything you pay for and then some. I would recommend this product to anyone in the market for studio monitors at this price point.

RYAN D. YOUNG (ARCAY STUDIOS)

I’m a professional music and post-production engineer by day and an amateur musician by night. Throughout this past month, I put these speakers through the wringer and tested them in various music and post-production environments.

Immediately after unboxing the speakers, I noticed the size of the speakers. Using common-sense, I didn’t expect much low-end to come out of a 5” speaker. However, in my case, I found the size of the speaker to be an asset for my needs. The inputs on the back, the EQ switches, and the power of the built-in amplifier were all impressive and seemed to be good quality. The first bit of audio that I played through the speakers really blew me away! The volume knob was maybe at 10% of full-scale and they were LOUD! More importantly, the signal remained super clean the louder I went. I couldn’t hear any sort of distortion or clipping. The speakers had a great stereo field with no “blind spots” and no phasing if the speakers were placed far apart or close together. The compact size of the speakers brought some ideas to mind of how I’d test them out; here is what I did.

I started out with mixing some music tracks that I had recorded, mixed, and mastered some years back. I chose to start with these tracks because I know how every sample of audio was intended to sound. I used a subwoofer with bass-management and tuned the set with the EQ switches. Once I had my 2.1 setup ready to go, I found myself as deep in the mix as I was a few years ago. Again, the clarity of the mid-range was very impressive, allowing me to really perfect guitars and vocals. After spending some time with the vocals, I started to think of ways to use these speakers for post-production, specifically dialogue, ADR, and VO editing and ADR and VO recording.

Luckily, I had an ADR session already scheduled. I used one of the speakers as a monitor for the actor, where I would preview the production dialogue and output ADR beeps to cue him in for the recording. This is where the MX5 excelled and was a PERFECT fit for my needs. The clarity and tone that is output by these speakers is exactly the range of the human voice. Due to the small space of my studio where I recorded ADR, the size of the speaker helped out by fitting perfectly behind the podium and under the TV screen.

Lastly, I tested the set of speakers as the “Alt” speaker setup for my post-production mix stage. My “Main” setup is a 5.1 JBL LSR4300p, and the MX5 acted as the “Alt” 2.1 setup using the JBL Sub-Woofer (this was the same setup used for my music mix). At the press of a button, I was able to seamlessly check my film mixes between a 5.1 cinema surround sound setup and a 2.1 “near-field” home theater setup. Having this at my disposal made it easy to check how the average consumer would hear the mix versus how an audience would hear the same mix in a theatrical environment. Again, clarity was key! The MX5s handled everything I threw at them and helped me finesse my mix to please all audiences.

Thank you, again, to Sterling and Performer Magazine. The Sterling MX5s will continue to be an essential tool in my post-production facility.

There you have it. For more info, be sure to head to sterlingaudio.net and our social media channels for YOUR chance to win and demo great gear each month.

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