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Review: Blackmagic Design Audio Monitor

Audio is half of all the "AV" we work with, so after getting some great LCD screens, adding some good speakers should be the requisite next step. How does the Blackmagic Design Audio Monitor stack up for providing good sound reproduction?

I recently switched from Mac to PC for my editing. In this upgrade, I also wanted to eliminate the clutter of wires I had using a 2.1 Yamaha speaker system with my Mac. My first solution was to use the Dell speaker accessory (Figure 1, below) that fits under Dell monitors and takes power from the monitor itself, but requires only one audio cable to the speaker from the PC.

Figure 1. The Dell speaker accessory

This setup creates zero visible clutter and takes up no additional table space. The sound is okay, but lacking in bass or any real depth. Of course, I expected this since the enclosure is barely 3" deep and about 2" high. But it has an easily accessible volume knob, two headphone jacks on the side, and gets reasonably loud as it does have powered amps in it. For assessing how a clip will sound on tablets and phones, it’s probably perfect, as those contain even more constrained speaker systems.

While I primarily produce video, I do consider myself something of an audiophile. Good audio is important, and that’s what instigated this move to a better speaker system. I have tube amps to drive my electrostatic speakers, and several sets of good bookshelf speakers that would sound wonderful, but are just too big and cumbersome to implement on my edit desk. But I do know what good sound is, and in the interest of hearing how my work would sound on better systems, I decided to try an upgrade.

Enter the Blackmagic Audio Monitor

I saw Blackmagic Design’s Audio Monitor and decided to give it a listen based on the amazing things Blackmagic is doing with camcorders and HD video mixers. Here’s how Blackmagic describes the Audio Monitor (Figure 2, below) on their website:

  • “...the finest quality audio monitoring in an incredibly small one rack unit size! Featuring a dual subwoofer design with extra wide range speakers for amazing audio, all backed by a super powerful class A/B amplifier.”
  • “...the latest advanced audio analysis technology to create a wide and smooth frequency response curve with crisp highs and powerful deep bass.”
  • “...easy to read displays and the highest quality audio.”
  • “...powerful and loud enough to hear your audio in noisy environments.”

Figure 2. The Blackmagic Audio Monitor

Audio is one place where specs are irrelevant. You have to hear it, with your content, in your space, to see if it does what you expect it to do. Given Blackmagic Design’s track record of over-delivering quality and value at a given price point, and these lavish descriptions, I had high expectations. I’ve heard amazing things from Bose with their tiny $350 Wave radios, so I expected even better from Blackmagic Design’s $1,420 Audio Monitor.

Within the industry of rackmount audio monitors, there is stiff competition from around $500 and up. At the Blackmagic’s price of around $1,500, this audio monitor provides additional value added by offering the following:

  • automatic switching between SD, HD, and 4K on the SDI input
  • SDI, balanced XLR, Stereo RCA and AES/EBU audio inputs
  • a built-in LCD screen that shows video, status, and volume information.

Now, the video screen has to be small to fit in a 1 RU device, but it’s something you don't see at all in the competitors' devices till around $5,000, so there’s a lot of technical value in Blackmagic's offering.