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Upgrading Mackie HR824 to Focal Solo 6BE and Focal Sub6

Brandon Drury —  October 26, 2009

I’m retarded. I just spent $3500.

I’ve decided that studio monitoring is the biggest problem in my life (yes both personal and recording) that I can solve with money. If only lack of sex could be solved with money. (Wait a minute!) After endless moments of hesitation, but only one loud “SCREW IT!” my wallet just got quite a bit lighter.

focal_solo6beI ordered a pair of Focal Solo 6BE and the matching Focal Sub6.

focal_sub6

Most hardcore upgrades I’ve done in audio land have been to answer questions just as much as they’ve been about higher audio quality. While I’ve certainly made big improvements in my monitoring, I’ve never been able to sit down to work and entirely trust my monitors. This “trust” is the single most important impact on sound quality on this side of the musician line. It’s time for my mixes to skyrocket!….I hope.

Studio Monitor Questions I Hope To Answer

  • Will high end monitors put me in a position to automatically improve my mixes after I’ve gotten used to them? Will my results immediately improve?
  • Is there a point of diminishing return with monitors? Would I be just as happy with something of equal price but just different from my Mackie HR824s. I know people who are entirely content with the KRK V8 monitors, for example. (Are they are anally crazed about studio monitoring as I am?) Is it really necessary to spend THIS much cash on monitors? Do the high end guys focus on the robo tiny details that maybe I wouldn’t notice anyway?
  • I’ve never been happy with my HR824s. I always felt they were the girlfriend out banging other guys. (I don’t trust them). Will I automatically gain the trust of the Focal Solo 6BE in my current room?
  • Is my unhappiness with the HR824s due to the design of the speaker or problems in my room. (I have reasons to believe both although I’m totally aware of the impact and importance of the room.)
  • One reason I question my Mackies. In one test I used one Mackie HR824. I tossed my cheapo Behringer test mic about 4′ in front of it and ran a sweep. Then I took that speaker off my cinder block stand and grabbed the other HR824 to toss it on that same cinder block stand in same position. It had a radically different frequency response. It’s clear my HR824s were not matched and room acoustics weren’t a factor. (Room acoustics would have been a factor if both speakers would have had an identical – if flawed – frequency response regardless of the position in the room.)
  • My room is treated with about 20 2′ x 4′ x 8” Helmholtz Resonator bass trips which I’m fairly positive I screwed up in designing and will be modifying to a more “safe” design. Additionally, I have nearly 30 “super chunk” unopened packages of 4lb Rockwool (2′ x 4′ x 16” roughly) in my room which some people tell me is the most effect bass trap around although it takes up a bunch of space. Some people tell me the packaging on the Rockwool renders it useless. Room modes are out of control (but probably more in control than they would be with nothing).
  • While my walls are about as treated as you can get (although possibly in very flawed ways), my ceiling is a bit light on treatment. I have a 9′ ceiling which is little light in the acoustical loafers. It has a drop ceiling which does absorb stuff in 1K and up range it. Above the drop ceiling I managed to get a single sheet of 2′ x 4′ x 4” Rockwool to fit. It’s possible that I need more aggressive treatments in the ceiling.
  • The corners of the room each contain a pair of unopened Rockwool packages. However, the point in which the walls meet the ceiling have zero treatment. In an ideal situation, I’d like to have some kind of corner treatment running along the entire edge.
  • I’ve tried dozens of new monitor placement positions this month. In all of them there has been a dip at 2Khz at between 5-10dB. A 2Khz wave has a wavelength of about 6 in give or take. In lab conditions this means it could be canceled out with a 2Khz signal that had to travel 3 in longer thus being 180 degrees out of phase. Note: I dedicate an entire chapter of Killer Home Recording: Audio Engineering to explaining this in as plain of English possible. I can’t think of a single reflection that could have possibly caused this but moving the test mic subtly seems to do no good. I’ve wondered if the Mackies are out of phase with each other in certain frequencies.
  • It’s entirely possible that my Mackies have actually been a mismatch or maybe one malfunctioned. Maybe in a pro environment I would have noticed this immediately. Maybe my environment is more pro than I think and I haven’t been putting the blame where it should.

Conclusion
I just wasted a bunch of cash and it’s very possible I’ll solve nothing. If nothing else, I get to pass my potential misfortunes on to you. Regardless, by saying goodbye to the Mackies, I think few people are going to say I made a mistake.

My Results
I should be receiving my monitors at the end of this week. I have all weekend to get used to them and I have to make final tweaks to an album I’m 95% finished with mixing. Then I add my results in the studio monitoring chapter of Killer Home Recording: Audio Engineering which can also be viewed in the Turbo Member Forum.

Brandon Drury

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Brandon Drury quit counting at 1,200 recorded songs in his busy home recording studio. He is the creator of RecordingReview.com and is the author of the Killer Home Recording series.
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9 responses to Upgrading Mackie HR824 to Focal Solo 6BE and Focal Sub6

  1. Brandon – do you use a graphic equalizer to amplify/attenuate appropriate frequencies in your control mix? Have you tried/found effective tuning your room to have a more balanced response in your Mackies?

  2. A graphic EQ is not the solution to room acoustics problems. The reason is simple. Where a 12dB boost at X frequency exists in one position, may be a 5dB cut when you move 6″. So you could theoretically EQ on exact spot, you’ll actually be making the problem worse if you don’t keep your head in traction.

    I’ve always questioned if my room treatments have worked effectively. This whole studio monitoring saga has been going on for years. I do know that after radical bass trapping I never really felt any more confident in the way my mixes translated. This is why I’ve continually fought this year after year.

    The long term solution is to purpose build a facility where I have control of all factors. That’s something I’d like to do this coming year.

  3. Hm, I see. Well, I guess the question is, is having one exact spot perfect with the rest of the room suffering better than having the entire room slightly less than perfect?

  4. Will be keen to hear your review. I have the Mackies and have considered upgrading to the twin 6´s if I can afford…

  5. Hey Brandon, how were the speakers?

  6. I’ve got a review coming shortly. The Focals have simply made my life better. I flat out love them. I couldn’t be happier. I shelled out major bucks, but I’m 100% pleased.

    I do wonder if my Mackie’s were just messed up. It’s possible I may have been totally happy with <$1,000 set of KRKs or whatever. I'm not using the Mackie HR824s as PA speakers in my studio for jamming and to avoid headphone mixes. It's obvious that one speaker has WAY more low end than the other even when I swap them. It's obvious that something wasn't right.

    So….I'm not sure I'm going to tell every home recorder to sell his car or skip a vacation to get high end monitors. However, they've been DAMN good to me.

    Brandon

  7. Hey Brandon, I too have a pair of HR824s. I can hear a difference between them. Although, it doesn’t sound quite as extreme as maybe you were experiencing. I even took them into a professional studio, and replaced their Genelecs with them to see if it was indeed the speakers. We could hear a difference. So, then we swapped them side to side, and the difference shifted with the speakers. I sent them back to Mackie multiple times, and of course they told me they were within spec. I insisted they send me a new pair after the second or third time. I believe they did, but it has been sometime since this occurred. However, I still notice a difference. I am skeptical of how accurate their “tested” frequency response is. From what you describe in your response posted above about the low end it makes me wonder if there might have been something wrong with the acoustic space switch on the back?

  8. . From what you describe in your response posted above about the low end it makes me wonder if there might have been something wrong with the acoustic space switch on the back?

    I never thought of that! That definitely could have been it. All I know is I’m 100% satisfied with my Focals (except for maybe the price I paid!)

    Brandon