Considering their $200 price tag, it’s amazing to see how many professional features M-Audio’s Studiophile AV 40 reference monitors are packed with, including 1/4-inch balanced inputs that can accommodate long cable runs. But you know the company had to make some compromises—and we found out where the moment we turned the speakers on.
At first, we attributed the low-level hum we heard from the amplifier to a ground loop, which can occur when components with different ground potentials are connected. But after connecting two other systems to the same outlets, we concluded the problem was with the amp. We returned the speakers to M-Audio, and the replacement set we received was a little quieter, but we still detected a funky buzz when we pressed our ear to the driver. If you’re using these speakers for recording, mix-down, or other critical listening tasks, the noise will haunt you because you won’t know if it’s coming from your instruments, your mic, or some piece of outboard gear.
The AV 40s do exhibit a characteristic that is essential for any speaker laying claim to the “studio monitor” moniker: pancake-flat frequency response that doesn’t add to, subtract from, or otherwise color recorded music. The 20-watt-per-channel class A/B amplifier is well suited for near-field listening, but if you also want to use the system for recreational listening or even gaming, simply flip the bass-boost switch on the back and be rewarded with just a little more thump in the low end. Even in this mode, bass response is far short of what M-Audio’s subwoofer-equipped Studiophile LX4 system dishes out, but it’s impressive for monitors in this price range.
Listening to the power funk of Tower of Power’s “Oakland Stroke,” we were impressed by the AV 40s’s ability to deliver the band’s full sonic spectrum, from the belch of Stephen “Doc” Kupka’s baritone sax to the crackle and snap of Dave Garibaldi’s drum work. But we’d score these speakers much higher if the amp were quieter.