Review: Numark NPM5 Studio Monitor System
A couple of readers have asked if we can look at the Numark NPM5 studio monitor system, and Numark has kindly provided us a review pair of these entry-level powered DJ monitors. We weren’t expecting audiophile quality at this price, but we were interested to see what is possible when you’re spending under US$100 for a pair of speakers, complete with built-in amplifier – and whether ultimately you’d be better off spending a little more.
First impressions and setting up
They’re about a foot tall, made of thin black plastic, with a slight taper towards the back, and angled very slightly upwards. There’s a black metal mesh grill across the front, that curves around the bottom of the fitting for the bass speaker. Each cabinet has a 5″ bass speaker and a 1″ tweeter, and there’s a front-firing bass port as well, hidden behind the grill. There’s a shiny plastic “Numark” badge glued to the front of each grill.
These are powered monitors, but they’re a powered “pair”. That means there’s a master and a slave; the master does all the amplifying, the slave is simply a passive speaker with a wire that connects the two. More expensive active monitors are independent, ie they’re two identical speakers, each with its own amplification circuitry built in, and each taking its own mono music feed. Here, you plug your source into one speaker and it feeds the other one. If you’ve ever owned computer speakers, you’ll be familiar with this concept.
Round the back of the master speaker, there is an on/off button, a mains cable (wired in), a pair of poles for connecting the cable to the other speaker, and a pair of RCA line ins. There are also three rotary controls, for gain (volume), bass and treble.
They’re monitor speakers so they’re designed to be used “close field” – you have them in a rough triangle with your listening position, pointing directly at your head. They’re not designed to fill rooms or, God forbid, to use at parties. Save yourself the expense of replacing them when you accidentally blow them – studio monitors are meant for the studio.
On powering up, there is a small blue LED in the left-hand speaker to show they’re switched on. We connected them into our system, and chose a couple of tunes to audition them with. The first impression I got was that there is a surprising amount of bass from them, and that they sounded OK for the price. They are also quite loud (they’re quoted at 20W, but for desktop or practice studio use, practically you’re not going to want to drive them very hard so that’s enough).
The gain, bass and treble controls were good to have, to adjust for room characteristics and source material, and the LED is nice because it reminds you to turn them off when you’re finished! However, I’d like to have seen at least one extra input to save unplugging and plugging in around the back when switching sources.
They sounded best on simple, bass-heavy house music, when they were quite impressive. But listening to more complex music with more going on (especially with things like vocals and pianos), they started to show their limitations.
While there is lots of bass, it’s boomy rather than full. The midrange is a little thin, lacking punch at times. And on some of this more complex material, the treble can be harsh and unrefined.
At very high volumes, they can rattle, basically because the cabinets vibrate (there is no padding provided to put between the cabinets and the surface you put them on; often with speakers you get sticky foam pads to isolate the speakers, which improves sound quality).
I concluded that the thin plastic cabinets were ultimately colouring the sound, and so I decided to dig out another small desktop monitoring system, the slightly more expensive M-Audio Audiophile AV40s. These are smaller than the Numarks, but made of wood, so heavier. Compared to the Numarks, the M-Audios had fuller, warmer bass, and more thump in the mid-range.
Ultimately you get what you pay for. For US$99, you can’t expect studio quality, and so I wasn’t surprised when I didn’t get it. Initially they sound good, and with the right music they certainly outperform 2.1 computer speakers, but don’t go buying these thinking they’re up there with even the cheapest studio monitors, because they produce too coloured a sound for that.
Definitely adding some isolation in the form of rubber or foam under the speakers will help, but ultimately I think it’s the thin plastic casings that both mean you can get them at a low price, but also that they’re never going to sound amazing.
You should have a listen and decide for yourself, though, as speakers are subjective. For simple, “thump thump thump” dance music, they’re a good buy, especially if you see them at a discount anywhere. But for a more refined all-round sound, save the extra and audition the M-Audio Audiophile AV40s, the Reloop ADM5s, or something else with a wooden cabinet.
Do you have the NPM5s? If you’ve only spent around $99 (or even less) on your speakers, how do you find your solution? Please share your thoughts and tips in the comments.