RCF Ayra 8 – from pro-audio to prosumers
We live in exciting times, none more so than in the pro-audio world. There seems to be a smaller line now been drawn between the pro and consumer market, many products now being sold as prosumer, a little play on words but which has big impact in the audio field. Years back, a professional series piece of equipment was very expensive and not something commonly seen in the home. The professional recording studio price is now seen in the home with much of the entry level equipment even being of a very high standard and indeed many phenomenal recordings have come straight from the home studio. It won’t be that long before the professional and huge commercial studios may even become a thing of the past. The main drawback will always be how well you know your equipment, what are the caveats, what is going to cause you to lose money? Recording/audio engineers are a funny bunch – they are nearly always pedantic about the final image and rightly so, just as a professional cameraman is and always will be.
The bad news turns good
A pretty good but slightly higher than just entry level home recording setup will cost you 5 000 dollars upwards but yet there are professional guitarists using only the minimum amount of gear recording takes of their own with equipment under 1 000 dollars, excluding microphones and instruments. We can argue about all the different products and their capabilities, at a cost, on the market but the fact will always remain that a bad musician will always blame the tools. Just listen to the various recorders currently on the market, which includes entry level to high end and you will be amazed at what a good sound engineer can do with entry level equipment. Even possibly with a bad musician.
Field recorders – carrying a tube driven 4 track machine into the forest
In 1965/68 a fairly good quality stereo deck (4 track) for home use would cost upwards of 500 dollars – a lot of money in those days. Moving on, for the same price we can buy a Zoom, Roland and Tascam to name a few – 6 channels, extremely good S/N ratio with good quality XY microphones. The older open reel tape decks, collector’s item or not, sadly sit around and gather dust. This even applies to high end Revox and Sony machines. Of course we bring them out when the opportunity arises – nothing gathers more interest in audiophile circles than vintage equipment but sadly, like steamers of old they no longer have any use.
Accuracy – the ear is in the detail
The modern home studio will have four pieces of equipment as bare minimum: a microphone, a microphone preamplifier / sound card, a recording and output device for listening or reproduction, usually a computer and set of headphones. Unfortunately as many have found, the headphone set does not do the final mix any justice – the sound needs to be totally neutral and as I found out many years back, somewhat flat with no life whatsoever. I also discovered that the HS10s, the kingpin from Yamaha were the ultimate in studio monitors. They simply sounded dreadful. Yet this is the thing, listen to them over a period of an hour or two with the same settings, usually no boost and equalisation, things started coming together. Things you never heard before become more natural – a straight mic preamp into a good active studio reference monitors starts sounding like it should and not the over-compressed, humps and bumps of the home sound system. And this is what this article is all about – true accuracy of your home recording.
The RCF Ayra 8
The RCF Ayra 5, 6 and 8 plus sub is little heard of but is manufactured in Asia through Italian outfit called RCF. They are well known for sterling PA systems but scant recognition is given to the brand from us wannabes because they were never in the budget market. Now they are. Costing about the same as any low to mid budget system the only way to test the final result is through exhaustive electronic tests which obviously includes high quality calibrated devices. How does one compare one monitor against another which covers the same frequency range? If they are both good, you cannot, they both depend on reproducing an accurate image so what would be the benchmark? But you can because your ear tells you different. This is why so many tell us which one to buy. Then you buy and find out it’s not so great. So listen first and then buy. How long is a piece of string? Depends on what you compare it to. If the HS10 is the reference the 8″ is the one I would opt for. Other reviews rate the 5s and 6s exceptional – in one case they say do not get the 8, the sub will make up for any deficit – maybe so but there is such a little price difference between the 5s and 6s it should not really break the bank. I did jot test the 5s or 6s. In fact I purchased without listening – breaking the cardinal rule, always listen first.
Nearfields – listen until your ears fall off
Nearfield monitors are designed to be listened to closely. Modern nearfields usually boast pretty powerful bi-amped (or tri-amped as in Fostex 8s) amplifiers and the Ayra 8 is no different. At 80W into the 8″ and 30W into the 3/4″ HF driver with no distortion present whatsoever at full power they will make you deaf after an hour or so – wonderful! What you pay for also is a monitor which is going to bring out the worst in your CD selection. The amplifier is class A/AB, possibly A for the tweeter and AB for the mid but this is a bit ambiguous. Cut out crossover distortion in the final transistors you have class AB. After playing for two hours at 3/4 volume setting the aluminium back plate does get hot.
These are not ‘hi-fi’ speakers and I would not connect them on to my notebook to play games – they look too good and they sound too good. For a gaming programmer: definitely. Testing them as the front speakers to a 5.1 sound system – perhaps. Definitely on your Art Pro, Presonus, Focusrite, Rane and Mackie system. They do have RCA connectors too, just in case you need to prove a point.
Nearfield monitors like the Ayra 8 are bad news for the way many of our mixes are done these days – much of our modern commercial music unfortunately does not lend itself to long hours of listening pleasure so when you do get your hands on a FLAC file covering something as diverse as Houses of the Holy by Zeppelin you will only realise how phenomenal these speakers really sound. Not that they were designed for this but cares. They will not make you tired and reach for the off switch.
Testing – without ears
The Ayra 8’s were also tested with pink noise, a GW Instek function generator on sweep, Hantek digital scope and a Behringer calibration microphone. They will need a sub for anything under about 50Hz.
RCF has been around for a long time and stealing a little bit from my friend Monty Python, this range is only the beginning of something completely different. Really nice build quality and with a white dome, priceless. Being of Italian design of course always adds that extra bit of credibility. The Ayra 8 is a truly brilliant reference monitor – they usually don’t look good but these do. Please get the sub with it otherwise steal the one from the home theater system – your wife won’t miss it.