Akai RPM3 Review: The Façade

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When wandering through the Amazon – Erm… Amazon.com – the Akai RPM3 studio monitor pair seems like a pretty great deal. Firstly, you get two speakers for less than it would normally cost to buy just one. And if you are anything like I was when I was 16, you would completely ignore all the strange words and phrases like “frequency response,” and “impedance,” and would think, “Wow. I need to buy these.” Your naivete would incline you to think that $70 is enough money with which to buy a decent pair of monitors. As a “responsible young adult,” that was my thought process. Now that I have a bit more experience, I can advise you that they’re probably not the best choice. Here’s why.

Discovery…?

Finding any information on these speakers is painfully difficult. One would think that my 16 year-old mind would have taken that as a sign to avoid these monitors.  Unfortunately, it seems that I was more inclined to skimp on the necessary specs, rather than purchase higher quality mixing equipment.  On Akai’s website, they claim that the speakers have an 80Hz – 20kHz frequency response range. Unsurprisingly, the cookie-sized woofers have a laughably small amount of power in the lower frequencies.  However, the high end happens to be very clear, due to its 1-inch dome tweeters. Don’t worry, I checked – they’re not fake. When you cover them up, about 30 percent of the sound magically disappears.

Akai RPM3 Bass BoostOh, finally, the promise of bass!

In the magical world of mixing

On the back, there is a decent array of inputs, including RCA, quarter-inch, stereo eighth-inch, and USB. The fact that these monitors are USB is marketed as a major selling point, but I never had a much use for it. Yes, they can even be used as an audio interface, but the latency is just as unusable as using an average computer’s internal audio drivers.

In addition to the diverse amount of inputs, you get this nifty little switch labeled ”bass boost.” Oh, finally, the promise of bass! The premonition that the holy grail does exist – that the non-existent might just exist…   Uh, but no. In my experience, bass boost just makes the low-end sound even more muddy by amplifying the shiitake mushrooms out of it. In other words, it takes the lowest audible frequencies (according to their website, around 100Hz) and amplifies them beyond recognition. It simply doesn’t sound good. It just sounds like the punchline of a badly done Youtube Poop™  back in 2007. My only question is this: why? What would ever make Akai think that amplifying low-mid frequencies would even give the illusion of extended bass response? There’s no point – it doesn’t even sound better in a casual listening situation. Ultimately, I just don’t hear the sub-bass clarity that I need for accurately mixing a track, and adding a “bass boost” switch makes about as much improvement as a park bench wing on a Honda Civic. “I swear it runs 11’s. Just wait until VTEC kicks in!”

The lack of bass could be fixed with a subwoofer pretty easily, but the problem there lies in the fact that subwoofers often come at prices much higher than the Akai RPM3s, and that wholly defeats the purpose of buying an affordable pair of monitors.  Most producers would be better off saving their pennies for a slightly more expensive set of speakers, such as KRK Rokits, or Behringer 20/20 Truths.

In the real world

Although these speakers are undoubtedly not ideal for mixing, I’m not going to lie – my experience with the Akai RPM3s hasn’t been all bad. In fact, they’re super rugged, and I’ve used them for about 3 years.  They even almost managed to survive dorm life – until a few weeks ago when the stereo 8th-inch input decided it was going to become mono. Luckily, there’s 3 different input methods to choose from, so I switched to RCA, which sounds just as good. However, if I had the choice and/or funds, I would have bought a different brand of monitors ages ago.

I’m not saying they’re the best pair of listening speakers you can buy, but they’re surely better than ones you can pick up for 10 dollars at Wal-Mart. Unfortunately, for that price, you can also purchase seven horrible Wal-Mart speakers and some duct tape, and fabricate a ghetto-blaster-grenade for the price of the Akai RPM3s.  Furthermore, you could go with the smartest alternative and buy better listening speakers at an electronics store.  They would most definitely sound better than the Akai’s, but who would really want to do that anyway? Who needs logic?

In conclusion… (See what I did there?)

The Akai RPM3 studio monitors have a promising face, but in the end, a façade is all they have. They aren’t economical as listening speakers, and they’re not accurate enough to be used as studio monitors – even with the attractive price tag. Contrary to what you may think, I don’t regret my purchase. I’ve gotten more than three years of use out of them, and they’ve given me an alternate source to test my mixes on. I do not, however, recommend them by any means. Mow some lawns. Save some money and buy something a bit better. Your audience will thank you.

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