A taste of the high end at a bargain price: Behringer 3031A active loudspeakers

I have been taking an interest in active loudspeakers after sampling AVI’s ADM 9.1 model which deliver clear, uncoloured sound in a convenient package with built-in DAC and remote volume control. though they lack bass extension and really need a sub-woofer to perform at their best.

The ADM 9.1s are good value considering that you get a complete just-add-source package; but still not exactly a casual purchase at £1250 (May 2012). What about some of those active monitors at the low end of the music studio market, can that deliver some of the active magic at a lower price?

A quick hunt led to these Behringer 3031A active monitors which offer a remarkable specification for the price – around £300 at the time of writing. Ribbon tweeter, 150w amplifier in each speaker, 50Hz to 24 KHz frequency response, what can go wrong? I could not resist getting a pair for review, especially as there are surprisingly few reports on these speakers out on the internet, considering that they have been available since 2009.

Note that I am reviewing these as hi-fi speakers even though they are designed for studio use.

pair

Why so few reviews? It may be because Behringer has a mixed reputation in the pro audio community. The products are popular and good value, but the company is accused of lack of originality in design and poor quality in manufacture. Since the prices undercut most competition there could be some industry in-fighting going on. Behringer undoubtedly aims at the low end of the studio and hobbyist market, and manufactures in large Chinese factories, but I doubt their quality is all that bad given that their largest reseller Thomann offers a 3-year warranty. Still, a cautionary note there.

“They’re heavy”, said the delivery man, and I unpacked the monitors to find a pair of very solid, weighty loudspeakers (15Kg each according to the spec). The cabinet is MDF though the front baffle is some kind of plastic with a metal plate into which the drivers are set. There are two slim vertical ports. No grilles and these will not win prizes for appearance, though they are not too bad. This is about the sound though; look elsewhere if you are after hi-fi as furniture.

Wiring up

The B3031As have two balanced inputs, with XLR or 1/4” jacks. Most hi-fi cables use unbalanced RCA phonos; however you can easily get RCA to jack plug cables from a music equipment store or online. Using a balanced connection is better, if your pre-amplifier offers that option, but I used an unbalanced mono 1/4” jack for each input without any issues. One interesting and cost-effective choice is the new Cambridge Audio DacMagic Plus, around £350 from Richer Sounds in the UK or $600 in the USA, which has balanced outputs and includes a pre-amplifier, though I have not tried this combination.

I tried the B3031As in two configurations. The first was with a Beresford Caiman DAC, which also has a built-in pre-amplifer. The second was with a Naim 32.5 pre-amplifier. Neither of these has balanced outputs. My source is a Logitech Squeezebox Touch. Note that this also has a volume control and built-in DAC, so for the most cost-effective system you could go straight from the Touch to the speakers, though I have not tried that as yet.

The main point is that you must have some sort of pre-amplifier output with a way of adjusting the volume, since the B3031As do not really have a volume control. There is an input level trim control which in effect is the same thing, but this is only designed for setting a convenient level during setup, not for constant use.

In order to use the Caiman I have to set the input trim near its maximum, in order to get a full range of volume from the speakers. The Naim 3.5 has a more powerful output and I can set the input trim to 0dB with very satisfactory results.

Although the sound was good direct from the Caiman, I got better results from the Naim, though obviously this adds greatly to the cost. A full pre-amplifier is also more convenient since you have additional inputs available.

Controls

The back panel of the B3031A has several controls. The on-off switch is conveniently sited on the top. The inputs are slightly less conveniently on the underside, though this does mean that the cables hang vertically which is tidy.

0200-final

Then there are several additional controls:

Input Trim: Control input gain from –6dB to +6bB, as mentioned above.

Low Frequency: Cut the response from 60Hz and below between 0 and –6dB. The purpose is to integrate smoothly with a subwoofer or, if monitoring, to simulate a small speaker system.

Room Compensation: Cut the response from 300Hz and below between 0 and –6dB. The purpose is to reduce excessive bass if the speakers are sites against a wall or in a corner.

High Frequency: Adjust the response around 8kHz from +2dB to –4dB. The purpose is to tailor the high frequencies to allow for room effects.

Power mode: You can set the power to On, Auto, or Off. This one mystifies me. You do not need Off since you can more easily press the Power switch on the top. The Auto mode is meant to put the speakers into standby when not in use, but in my tests it was a disaster. The speakers would turn off during quiet passages. Admittedly that was with the rather low output from the Caiman DAC; but I suggest NOT using this option.

Mute Low and Mute High: mutes the high or low drivers, apparently “for service use”.

Frequency response

Each speaker comes with an individual calibration certificate, which is a nice touch especially at this price point.

chart-final

I presume this is done in an anechoic chamber; the frequency response in a normal room will be less even. One point interests me though. The certificate shows that the bass response does not begin to drop noticeably until 40Hz; yet the published specification is 50Hz-24Khz. That accords with my listening tests, in that the bass is well extended and unlike AVI’s ADM 9.1, these speakers work fine without a subwoofer.

060-final

Electronics

The amplifier packs are easy to unscrew from the back panel so I took a look, though I do not recommend this as it may invalidate your warranty. Also note that amplifiers can give you an electric shock even after they have been unplugged, thanks to the charge held by capacitors.

1051-final

Note the beefy toroidal transformer.

Listening tests

So how do they sound? In a word, excellent. They display the characteristics you would expect from an active system: exceptional clarity, a somewhat lean sound due to absence of boom, neutral tone, and an honest reproduction of the source which occasionally counts against your enjoyment if it is slightly distorted (play Peaceful Easy Feeling by the Eagles. Hear the distortion? Good, you have an accurate system).

I positioned the speakers on stands well into the room and only a few feet apart. These are more suitable for hi-fi than some monitors because the ribbon tweeters have a wide dispersal, which means the sweet spot of good listening positions is larger.

When I first switched on, I thought the bass was a little light. Then I played Stravinksky’s Firebird in the great performance by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra conducted by Antal Doráti. The drum sounded with dramatic effect; it is obvious that these speakers have no problem with bass.

I played Roads by Portishead, a demanding track that begins with a pulsing low-frequency tone that can easily cause speakers to buzz or the sound to break up. The B3031A coped with this as well as I have heard; then Beth Gibbons’ vocals come in with startling clarity, a stunning contrast.

The B3031A’s coped with Sade’s By Your Side, on which the strong bass can easily overwhelm and distort, with ease. You can hear the silky vocals, the pumping percussion, the fingers sliding on the guitar, the ticking cymbals, the swirling organ.

Ashkenazy playing Chopin sounds dynamic and natural. There is no boominess in the lower end nor breakup in the loud passages.

Is there anything these speakers do not do well? A few observations. If you like to rock out to heavy metal, I am not sure that this type of speaker is the best, though the B3031A is better than some in this regard. They are just a bit too polite, and further, maybe a floorstander with the chest-shaking bass that only a floorstander can deliver is a better choice.

Although the sound is generally excellent, these speakers do not quite have the refinement and limpidity I have heard from active ATCs costing many times more, for example.

Be reasonable though. You can get a pair of these delivered for around £300. What else would sound as good for the money?

Conclusion

My immediate conclusion is that these are a fantastic hi-fi bargain. If you can live with the looks and the Behringer name, you are getting a real taste of the high-end for what most audio enthusiasts would regard as as a low-budget price.

Admittedly the setup is a little more complex than some, since you need a pre-amplifier of some kind, though there are now DACs around at a reasonable price which have this included.

Specifications

Inputs: Balanced XLR or 1/4” jack.

Input trim: –6dB to +6dB

Tweeter: 2” ribbon

Woofer: 8 3/4” Kevlar

Woofer amplification: 100w RMS 150w peak at 4 ohms, 0.1% THD

Tweeter amplification: 30w RMS 75w peak at 6 ohms, 0.1% THD

Crossover frequency: 3.6Khz

Frequency response: Quoted 50Hz to 24Khz, no range given.

Max spl: 113dB at 1m per pair

Power consumption: max 200w

Dimensions: 400 x 250 x 290mm

Weight: 15Kg

Buying the B3031A

If you buy a pair of these pay special attention to whether you are buying a single speaker or a pair. In the pro music market, monitors are often sold individually, which means that great price must be doubled if you are after a stereo pair. That said, the B3031A is often, but not always, sold in pairs. This usually works out better value. Check the small print carefully!

  

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8 thoughts on “A taste of the high end at a bargain price: Behringer 3031A active loudspeakers

  1. Kevin Smith

    Thanks for the review. I was very impressed with the 9.1s when I heard them a few years ago before they were improved to the T. How does the sound quality of the Behringers compare and which do you prefer?

    1. Tim Post author

      Unfortunately I no longer have the 9.1s to compare directly.

      The 9.1′s may be slightly more refined, I am not sure. However a big factor is that the Behringers are fine without a sub – though you can still use one if you want the extra grunt. Purely on sound I doubt the 9.1s are worth the extra.

      Then again, the 9.1s have the built-in DAC and remote volume control, and the looks are living-room friendly, all of which are also important.

      Tim

  2. Guillaume (France)

    Some ideas seem to be on the air…

    Some days ago, I was thinking about buy these b’s a an hifi equipement : with a ASUS ESSENCE ONE dac (2rca + 2 xlr, toslink, spdif and usb class2), and a nettop + a set top box for sources. Just as a temporary hifi system, because as i do not have lot of money to spend in a complete hifi system today. It would just be a transistional system :)

    But I have no found a lot of review about these on the web. And zero photo inside…

    In my opinion, today, thehifi traditionnal system with amplifier, tape loops, analog only input… is completly outdated and not matching to the new digital sources.

    Systems like active monotors (adm9t, …) + dac is much more exciting. And active filtering is definitly the future.

    So I will propably buy these, thank you for your report. Can you post a picture of the rear of driver ? when opened (to check if magnet is BIG or not)…

    Thank you!

  3. Brian

    Thanks for the excellent review and photos!
    I am probably buying a set of these B3031A this week – instead of yellow B1031A.

    - Is there any loss of clarity in the woofer upper midrange due to the high (3.6 kHz) crossover? The woofer plot seems to be great, but starting to “sag” around 2700 Hz. Mass? But, if they sound great, I’m happy. Perhaps I could EQ “boost” the 2500 Hz area in my rack equipment.
    -The nearly flat to 40 Hz and slow rolloff below that, is a surprise! Is there any slight chance that their graph is plotted wrong on the “decade” lines? i.e. I wonder if the flat at 40 is really the 50 hz line? I’m hoping though that it really is 40 hz. It looks to be only down 5 dB at 30 Hz! The graph looks fantastic, so, I ‘m hoping “no-sub needed” is indeed true as you mentioned.
    -The odd behaviour of the power mode suggests never use “auto” (my listening will be low levels). Do you leave it at “off” or “on” though? Presumably “on” means constant on, and no amp shut downs?
    -The amp looks fantastic (toroid etc). I will be using XLR balanced from my mixer and/or DAC.
    -Do the ribbons ever “rattle” from woofer vibrations as one user in Europe found? -Just wondering.

    Drop me a line when you have time. Thanks!

    -Brian.

    1. Tim Post author

      @Brian

      Bearing in mind that in-room frequency response is much less even, I don’t think the slight sag at 2700Hz is anything to worry about.

      The power I leave at constant on; the auto doesn’t work for me.

      No ribbon rattle on mine but I guess this is sample variation.

      You don’t *need* a sub but you might still want one; I do find it adds a little to the sound though it also introduces integration issues.

      I have found (as you would expect) that the speakers are sensitive to the quality of the input. I replaced the Caiman with a Teac UD-H01 which has XLR output and I use it with aysnc USB from the Squeezebox Touch (with firmware modification to support async USB). I get much better sound with this combo.

      Tim

      1. Brian

        Hi Tim,

        Thanks for clarifying some points for me. I appreciate it. I’m still considering getting a pair of these.

        -Just an off hunch, but, the puzzling Bass response graph – if true – could possibly be the result of a little-known, rarely used, box alignment wherein the ports/box are tuned far BELOW the cone resonance (normally, port tunings are roughly 1.4 octave above the woofer). Looking at the huge box, and the two small slits for ports – which may well be deep ducts as well as small in area – it’s possible (if woofer qts allows for it), that you have a woofer resonance somewhere around 40-45 Hz, but, a box/duct resonant tuning of somewhere 25-30 Hz. This might explain the shallow roll-off & only modest minus 5 dB at 30 Hz, and, the really steep 4th order roll-off doesn’t appear to start until below 25 Hz. (Other monitors would tune a 40 Hz woofer up at around 55 Hz, for example). I read somewhere that the port tuned way below cone is fine, since the distortions it generates are too low to be audible – if both resonances are low enough . It is tricky to set up I have heard.

        When you opened the back, was the box well braced & padded, and does the woofer appear to be cast basket, or stamped cheap metal, and, does it have a big 60 oz ceramic magnet, or, a small neo unit? -Just wondering.
        They never show or tell you what you are really buying these days. I commend & thank you for opening out the amplifier for instance! Nice looking unit!

        So, if I had this speaker, and, I had a dual 31-band EQ with a 31.5 Hz slider, what are the odds the 3031a speaker would respond well to a +4dB EQ boost at 31.5 Hz? -I’d be using the monitors a LOW volumes, so, no worries about excess cone motion. I’d likely shut down the 25 & 20 Hz on the EQ anyway to prevent excess rumble. Let me know if you think this might actually work a bit (to flatten up the low end).

        So, the Bass looks possibly very good. I’d still like your opinion(s) re: clarity & open sound in the highest woofer octave – 1800 Hz to 3600 Hz. That single octave is all I’m mostly worried about. Can a 9 inch woofer be crisp, clean and delicate enough in that range? We’re looking at second highest Bb to highest Bb on piano, or, high notes on solo violin/viola, or, in jazz, some soprano sax stuff. (The ribbon way up high takes the overtones of course). Maybe the kevlar is fast/light enough to pull it off cleanly? Or, maybe I should buy the 6.75 inch version 3030A? And a sub? I’m not doing critical monitoring – just listening to low volume jazz or ambient. I like full frequency range though.

        The only other all-ranger that’s somewhat affordable (nearly double the 3031A) is the KRK 10-3. I don’t know if want to go that high price wise.

        Thanks, -Brian.

  4. Brian

    Hi Tim,

    So, I just purchased a pair of B3031A! I’m picking them up at my post office next Saturday.

    My previous concerns about a “large” woofer responding well in its upper octave before tweeter comes in (1800 Hz – 3600 Hz) may be lessened now.

    Reason: I looked very closely at the x-large photos of the B3031A at Behringer’s website, and, I eyeballed and proportional “measured” (scaled) the woofer, based on their given box width of 9.8 inches. The most that the active part of the Kevlar woofer’s 8.75 inch diameter actually is, is around 6 inches – give or take a quarter inch. Beyond the Kevlar active cone, they have a bit of flat edge, then big curved surround, then a trace more flat edge, then the large metal sculpted rim plate. The wood edge outside that looks to be around 3/8 inch wide on each outside edge. Long story short, it’s some sort of 6 inch woofer. Great for the 3,000 Hz stuff for sure!

    To be fair, all woofers are measured outer rim to rim, so, my little 6.5 inch (rim to rim) old speakers here, are, with half inch bolting rim each side, and 1/2 inch of accordian edge, are actually 4.5 inch diameter cones! All rated 10 inch woofers are about 7.75 – 8 inches and so on….

    The miracle then, with the B3031A, is, that they can get that low 35-40 Hz stuff out of it. I have a new dual 31-band EQ here that I’ll be using with them – just to tweak them slightly, and maybe fix some room issues until I get a new place to live.

    Cheers Tim, and thanks again for helping me make the decision to buy them!

    -Brian

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