Fluid Audio Focus Headphone Mixing & Playback System review: An excellent value portable mixing solution
Calibrated headphones and virtual studio software at a bargain price. Fluid Audio’s new all-in-one headphone package enters the room.
+ Build quality is solid for the price
+ Well-designed and easy to use software
+ Software greatly improves the sound/usability of the headphones
– Headphone sound a touch boxed in
– Tilt EQ a little limiting
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A well-treated studio room and high-quality speakers are quite an outlay for any producer. It’s no surprise, then, that we’ve seen an array of innovative software solutions in recent years, which aim to provide the big-budget studio experience via headphones. Fluid Audio has teamed up with dSONIQ for its latest release, offering a complete solution for the budget-conscious, and including a pair of semi-closed back stereo headphones and accompanying Realphones software. But can this low-cost solution give big money results?
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The headphones sport 50mm neodymium drivers and a semi-open design, with a 20Hz to 20kHz frequency range, 32 Ohms impedance and 90dB nominal sound pressure level. They’re a mixture of solid metal and plastic and are lightweight enough to remain comfortable for long periods of tracking or mixing. Although they don’t feel premium, they also don’t look cheap. Included in the box is a travel pouch and the ubiquitous 3.5mm to 6.3mm adaptor, and the headphones themselves have a 3m cable with gold plated connectors.
We find that the headphones sound fairly average on our first listen. In terms of the frequency response, they can recreate enough lows and highs for most needs, but everything feels a little boxed in and the stereo field is narrow.
However, the Focus System is a game of two halves. Also included in the package is the Fluid Audio Edition of dSONIQ’s Realphones software, which is a cut-down version with a single headphone calibration and stripped-back room and speaker options. With just the headphone calibration switched on, the listening experience is greatly improved and a peaked area around 1-5kHz is reduced.
It seems that 75 per cent correction is the sweet spot here – most of the presets default to this, and you get a useful graph showing the curve when you adjust the slider. You can then choose from Dried, Normal or Live versions of a high-end studio sound, three sets of Fluid Audio’s own monitors, and a handful of other useful settings such as a mixcube, and mono setup.
The Fluid Audio monitor choices are fairly mid to low-level speakers, so don’t really provide a high-end experience, but it’s nice to have some options. We found ourselves using the Normal version of the main room dialled in at around 60 per cent with the Environment slider, and a slight adjustment using the Brightness tilt EQ to lift up the top end. This helps add a touch of width and a sense of more space, which makes it a little easier to place tracks in the stereo field.
Elsewhere in the software, there are mid and side solo buttons, a low-pass filter for quickly honing in on the low end, an output limiter, and useful user snapshots. You can also choose to automatically bypass the plug-in on mixdown, or to use the standalone version that works on your system audio in the background. It might be nice to have a touch more control over the EQ, but all in all, it’s a well-featured and easy to use piece of software for the price.
Our initial impressions of the headphones were a little lukewarm and we found the high-end transient definition, low-end punch and stereo spread a little lacking. However, the package as a whole works effectively. Once you add the calibration and tweak the software to your liking, these are surprisingly well-balanced headphones that could offer an improved mixing experience to beginners or those on a budget.
- Headphones and studio mixing software in one
- Semi-closed back design
- 50mm neodymium drivers
- 20Hz – 20kHz
- dSONIQ Realphones (Fluid Audio Edition) software
- Plug-in and standalone
- Includes virtual mixing rooms and Fluid Audio speakers