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Published on June 17th, 2011 | by Greg


Focusrite: Virtual Reference Monitoring In A Box

If you aren’t ob­sessed with sound and mu­sic, you can prob­a­bly safe­ly look away. To­day’s re­view, and prod­uct, are def­i­nite­ly niche- we’ll be throw­ing around acronyms and phras­es that might seem like a dif­fer­ent lan­guage if you aren’t im­mersed in the au­dio­phile world. It’s ac­tu­al­ly aimed at a sub­set of those folks, even- pri­mar­i­ly, peo­ple who mix sound and pro­duce mu­sic. This in­cludes a lot of folks, of course- ev­ery Garage Band and Pro Tools and EDM mu­si­cian for in­stance. And be­fore you ask, EDM is elec­tron­ic dance mu­sic, and many of the folks work­ing in that world have been look­ing for a box like this.

The Fo­cus­rite VRM Box is ac­tu­al­ly a cou­ple of things crammed in­to one. It’s sim­i­lar to a USB DAC- like one of the sev­er­al that we’ve checked out be­fore. You were warned- acronyms ga­lore! Plug it in­to your com­put­er via USB, and it works as a sound­card of sorts, of­fer­ing a low-dis­tor­tion, broad­er-range, high­er-qual­i­ty sound out­put. No ex­tra pow­er is re­quired- it pulls from the USB port. And both Macs and PCs are sup­port­ed. An S/PDIF op­ti­cal in­put con­nec­tion is al­so pro­vid­ed, but we didn’t test it out.

You’ll want to use a good set of head­phones, like those from Bey­er­dy­nam­ic or Sennheis­er or Gra­do- mi­ni-jack out­put isn’t sup­plied, so you can just leave the ear­buds in your iPod. Nope, in­stead the out­put is via 1/4-inch TRS- which we just found out stands for ‘tip, ring, sleeve’. And you can choose to lis­ten to mu­sic just like that, with no ex­tra ef­fects- there is even a nice in­di­ca­tor light to let you know. But the fun stuff hap­pens when you start play­ing around with the VRM part- and try out the ten dif­fer­ent sound sys­tems that they have acous­ti­cal­ly char­ac­ter­ized.

In­stead of mix­ing your song to one sys­tem, on­ly to have it sound com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent- and per­haps aw­ful- on an­oth­er, the VRM box gives you the pow­er to quick­ly and eas­i­ly test out your tracks in a va­ri­ety of en­vi­ron­ments. Liv­ing room, bed­room, and sound stu­dio sys­tems are cap­tured, and it’s im­pres­sive to see how dif­fer­ent they sound from one an­oth­er. The idea is sim­ple- you re­al­ly should lis­ten to your tracks and bal­ance them us­ing re­al-world live ref­er­ence mon­i­tors. But for those in apart­ments or oth­er crowd­ed ar­eas, it might an­noy the neigh­bors- or the fam­i­ly, as lis­ten­ing to the same sam­ples can get repet­i­tive quite quick­ly. With the VRM box, you just slap on the head­phones and close your eyes, chose the ap­pro­pri­ate stag­ing ef­fect, and you can al­most pre­tend that you are there, lis­ten­ing to sys­tems that cost more than your car (or per­haps your pos­ses­sions com­bined). There are al­so flatscreen TV and com­put­er speak­er ef­fects, though the lat­ter didn’t seem to ac­cu­rate­ly repli­cate $100+ PC speak­er sys­tems (which may be above the norm).

Of course, ev­ery space and sys­tem sounds a lit­tle dif­fer­ent, but Fo­cus­rite’s VRM Box makes a valiant at­tempt to cap­ture both el­e­ments- and does a pret­ty re­mark­able job. We’re not big-name mu­si­cians, but we did have some EDM folks play with the VRM and see what they thought. Im­pres­sions were pos­i­tive- it’s lightweight and portable, and pret­ty sim­ple. Cer­tain­ly, some of the ef­fects could be done through soft­ware, but the price on this box is pret­ty fair- at $100, it’s rea­son­able even for a good ex­ter­nal sound­card. And it’s a lot cheap­er than buy­ing and set­ting up a bunch of ex­pen­sive ref­er­ence mon­i­tors!

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About the Author

Greg dreamed up the idea for the Truly Network while living in Hawaii, which began with a single site called TrulyObscure. In 2010, when advertisers and readers were requesting coverage beyond the scope of that site, TrulyNet was launched, reaching a broader audience over a variety of niche sites. Formerly the head technology correspondent for the Des Moines Register at age 16, he has since lived and worked in five states and two countries, helping a list of organizations and companies that includes the United States Census Bureau, TripAdvisor, Events Photo Group, Berlitz, and Computer Geeks. He also served as the Content Strategy Manager for HearPlanet, a multi-platform app that has reached over a million users and has been featured in the New York Times, Hemispheres Magazine, National Geographic Adventure, Fox Business News, PC Magazine, and even Apple’s own iPhone ads. Greg has written as a restaurant critic and feature journalist for a number of national and international publications, including City Weekend Magazine, Red Egg Magazine, the Newton Daily News, Capital Change Magazine, and an arm of China Daily, Beijing Weekend. In addition, he has served as a consulting editor for the Foreign Language Press of Beijing, as well as a writer and editor for the George Washington University Hatchet, the school newspaper of his alma mater. Originally from Iowa, Greg is currently living in the West Village of Manhattan.

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