For the first 8+ years of my recording life, I struggled with what I call “the lying whore girlfriend”. This is the girl many of us dealt with in high school that was performing various bad stuff on Santa’s long list of naughty guys when she was supposed to be your girlfriend. Everything that flew out of her mouth (as gross as that may be) was a total lie. You couldn’t believe a damn word she said. Looking back now, you just kinda want to punch her a few times. Right in the face. The “lying whore girlfriend” is what I call my old studio monitoring system. You can see where I was coming from here.
Note: I do want to emphasize this is a studio monitoring system. The brand/model of speakers is just part of the equation and it’s possible that something I had done or the room I was using them in just wasn’t working for me. There are people who love that particular monitor.
While it took a while to find the right girl, I now have my trusting wife. (Ignore all that males-needing-to-bang-everything stuff temporarily for this analogy.) In fact, I don’t even think of any other women. (Again, work with me.) I’ve found the one…..pair. When this woman says something, I believe her. PERIOD. Why? Because she’s told me many things in the past. Sometimes she’s even just given me “crazy talk”. However, each and every time I check her story it ends up being dead on. This trusting wife is my current monitoring system featuring the Focal Solo 6Be studio monitors and Sub6.
Note: This is an expensive mo fo. I don’t say “mo fo” (ever) but I generally can’t get away with the necessarily explicative and so we have to reduce ourselves to white rapper jargon. I don’t usually push such expensive gear here at RecordingReview. So don’t feel for one freakin’ second that you are SUPPOSED to have this kind of fancy crap. Out of pure desperation, I decided to blow a big ol’ chunk of my money on monitors that may not have done anything. The odds are strong that you can find monitors for a fraction of the price that are adequate for you. I think maybe I was just unlucky with my first monitors. Regardless, after the huge investment, I feel it was worth its weight in gold….which may actually have been cheaper.
I don’t know why magazines list the features of a product when this “inner net” can do that just fine. Head on over to the Focal website if you are looking for that kind of thing.
Firing Up The Focal Solo6BE Monitors
I never really thought the Mackie HR824s sounded bad. Listening to music for fun on them was just fine. Of course, “for fun” means I don’t think about audio and that, by definition, kinda taints my opinion. The problem was with the way the monitors translated. (For those who’ve experienced my Killer Home Recording system, you know how important this is.)
Regardless, when I first fired up the Focals, I simply pulled the Mackies off the stands and replaced them with the Focals. My room, mixing position, and everything else were identical.
Getting Used To The Focals
The very first mix I did on the Focals was before I had the Sub6 subwoofer. I just used the Solo6 BE pair. I mixed a metal tune. I had no idea what the Focals really sounded like. I just wanted to jump in and see what happened.
The Focal Solo 6BE monitors definitely go down pretty low. They are certainly not “meaty” down that low, but I was surprised by the usable the low end on such small monitors. I tend to prefer more low end in my monitors as I otherwise mix a little bass heavy. For those kind of guys who are “happy without a sub” you’d be very happy with the low end. If you need to impress rap clients, you’ll need quite a bit more.
After going with my gut and not expecting much, I took a listen on my trusty computer speakers. Holy crap! The very first mix, without really knowing these monitors translated 10x better than anything I had ever done on the Mackies on the first try. Amazing! I was immediately sold.
It turns out that I didn’t have to get used to them. Not only did I not have to get used to the Focal monitors, I didn’t have to move them around the room, or do any of the usual monkey jumping that I was constantly doing with the Mackie HR824s.
This taught me a few things:
#1 I had put too much emphasis on my room when trying to solve the translation issue.
My room is nothing pretty. I have unopened packages of 2′x4′x16” Rockwool all over the place along with quite a few Helmholtz resonators. From a bass absorption stand point, it’s about as solid as you are going to find when working with a normal room in a normal house. To do better a person would need a mansion or a purpose-built studio.
This isn’t to say that room treatment isn’t extremely important. However, it seems that a good monitor in an okay room is going to translate better than non-okay monitor in an okay room. For those of you who’ve done significant room treatments and haven’t gotten your monitors to translate well, you should probably try some different monitors. You can only go so far with acoustic treatments without bringing in the bulldozer.
#2 A good monitor doesn’t require a ton of learning.
There is some inherent quality to the Focal monitors that works right out of the box. This isn’t to say that they don’t have their own personality . They certainly do. However, it seems that “unsmeared” quality of the Focal Solo 6BE monitors is instantly doable in way that never really worked in Mackies in nearly nine years of use.
Adding The Focal Sub6
While the mixes done exclusively on the Solo 6BE monitors turned out great, I was guessing a bit in the low end. Adding the Focal Sub6 ended up being just the ticket. It adds that extra meat down below that I’ve found I want to hear and bands want to hear. Using the fully variable crossover low pass crossover, I was able to dial in exactly what I wanted. I wish the high pass filter would have been fully variable, too, but I’ve made it work with the fixed frequencies.
After tracking and mixing with a sub I can’t imagine every going back. How people mix without hearing those extra low octaves is beyond me. With that said, discretion is always key here. My monitoring system doesn’t sound like the hat-turned-sideways neighbor’s stereo in his 1991 Chevy Cavalier.
Focal Solo 6BE Personality
There are a few aspects I’ve had to get used to. Luckily, the few things that the Focals let slip by, my Audio Technica ATH-M50s (the best $109 I’ve ever spent) are completely intolerant of.
The Focals are a hair tame in the upper midrange. As a guy who generally mixes a hair light in that region anyway (I’m afraid of making a mix hurt) I find that this is actually a blessing in disguise. Guitars and snare drums end up having just a hair extra bite in them. Bass guitars have more definition. Vocals end up cutting through just a hair more. Once a person is aware of this, it’s very easy to work around it in a very predictable way. My old monitors never seemed to be predictable and making generalizations about their sound was impossible.
The downside to this is sibilance can sneak through on you. You have to crank up you ear sensitivity in this regard several notches. In fact, I do feel this is the only disappointing part of the Focals. When I’m just about to render a mix, switching to my the above mentioned studio monitor headphones immediately exposes any sibilance issues. Those headphones are militant against sibilance and will definitely let me know if anything needs my attention. Problem solved.
Dramatic Improvements In My Engineering Ability
To put it bluntly, if you are guessing about your audio engineering decisions because of poor monitoring, you will NEVER meet your engineering goals. When your monitoring kicks butt, your skill level increases dramatically. Suddenly, differences in fancy preamps becomes not only more important, but more practical. Smaller and smaller details become more and more obvious in ways that your wife will hear. Long story short, you won’t find a single greater improvement in your audio engineering ability than getting your hands on monitors you trust.
Focal Sub6 Subwoofer
The Focal Sub6 is a tremendous subwoofer. It can get very loud and I don’t think I’ve ever heard it do the “one note bass” thing. It will easily expose any excessive buildups in ultra-low frequencies. Guys who’ve done local movies hate it when they watch them in my control room because the Focal Sub6 illustrates everything they missed. (Which means it’s doing its job!). It, too, is highly recommended although a person on a budget could probably get a used pair of the Solo 6BE monitors and a cheaper sub to save a little cash without sacrificing too much. (I can’t say for sure on that one. My experience with cheaper subs in mixing is limited.)
The Focal Solo 6BE studio monitors with Sub6 sub are winners. They are a flat-out badass products. I make no reservations about entirely recommending them to anyone and everyone. The only reason they are not on Brandon’s Bulletproof Gear List is their price. (I don’t want broke people feeling they HAVE to have super high end stuff so I’m excluding high end gear from the list.) I give them 5 out of 5 without hesitation.