Fostex 6301NE cutaway view
I have little formal education in video; most of what I know I taught myself. One of the most important lessons I learned about video is that getting good video is fairly easy compared to getting good audio.
That’s why any technique that can step up your game with respect to audio is worth learning, and it also pays to look carefully at products made for audio professionals. The popular stuff is popular for a reason, and that includes the venerable Fostex 6301 powered loudspeakers.
The Fostex 6301 powered loudspeaker has been around for decades in more-or-less the same form, although there are a few minor variations. I received a pair of 6301NE speakers, which have both balanced XLR and unbalanced 1/4-inch inputs. There are other versions with different inputs, as well as a 6301B version that has a different type of built-in amplifier.
As for the 6301NE version that I have, it has a 20-Watt built-in amplifier, a four-inch (10 cm) speaker and an internal power supply that’s fed by a standard three-pin power cord. All this fits into a sturdy aluminum cabinet that measures about 7.5 inches high, 5 inches wide and 4.5 inches deep.
A pushbutton on/off switch and a rotary volume control are on the front panel, with a tiny power-on LED just above the power switch. The volume control is recessed into the front face of the speaker, which makes it a little tricky to adjust but nearly impervious to damage.
The Fostex 6301NE is so solid that it surprisingly weighs nearly 5 lbs. per speaker. However, keep in mind that it is in a thick metal cabinet, has an internal 20-Watt amplifier and a built-in power supply — no external wall-wart power supply is required.
Speaking of the internal amplifier, it is the Class-D variety, which means that the 6301NE draws a vanishingly small amount of power when it is turned on but not making any sound. I’m not encouraging you to leave your gear powered on all the time, but a pair of Fostex 6301NE speaker will not make a measurable difference in your power consumption if you do decide to leave them active all the time.
The Fostex 6301NE has only two controls: on/off and volume.
The 6301 has a mounting screw at the top and bottom of its cabinet that can be used to attach a U-shaped bracket suitable for attaching to a wall or other flat surface. Over the years, Fostex 6301 speakers have been mounted in every imaginable way, including in equipment racks, consoles and even in cars. The screw hole from the factory is not a standard 1/4-20 thread used on tripods, but many 6301s have been quickly modified for tripod mounting.
One last thing to note about the Fostex 6301 is that it is magnetically shielded. This is not as important as it used to be in the day of CRT monitors and magnetic recording media, but it is still worth noting that the speaker is magnetically shielded.
The first thing I always notice about the Fostex 6301 speaker is how heavy it is for its small size. All versions of the 6301 are built like bricks, amazingly sturdy and seemingly indestructible. They have the weight and solid feel to back up this claim.
The inputs on the rear are for line-level signals only, so they work fine connected to the control room monitor outputs on an audio mixer or driven by the line-level output of a computer (which is how I used them). The speaker is small enough that I easily found spots for a pair on my cramped computer desk.
The sound from the Fostex 6301NE is clear and bright, with a mid-bass boost that makes male voices warm. Musical instruments sound the way they should, with plenty of shimmer for cymbals and percussion sounds, as well as natural-sounding acoustic guitar, woodwinds and strings.
These speakers also work well for sound effects such as wind, car doors, sirens, kitchen sounds and anything that has lots of bright transients. They lack deep bass, so they are not the right speakers to monitor sub-bass sounds. However, anything with sound content from 150 Hz on up will be faithfully reproduced on the Fostex 6301NE.
MORE INFO MODEL: Fostex 6301NE
LIST PRICE: $240 each
There is plenty of volume, too. Although the 6301 is really meant to be a personal monitoring system for one person (or at most a small group) sitting a short distance in front of the speakers, they can fill a room with sound. In fact, they are sometimes used as stage monitors for musicians and actors, since they are small, loud and easy to connect to just about anything.
I’ve been using the Fostex 6301NE for several weeks as my computer monitor speakers and they never once ran out of power or failed to faithfully reproduce the sounds I asked them to make. They stayed cool and dispersed sound evenly. And they look cool, too.
The Fostex 6301 is an industry standard monitor speaker. You can get speakers for less money and you can get speakers with deeper bass. However, there is nothing in this price range that has the mix of bulletproof construction, easy connection capability and straightforward sound quality. If your audio sounds good on a Fostex 6301, it will sound good to the real world.
If you are building a system and need reliable audio monitors that you can turn on and forget, the Fostex 6301 should be on your short list of products.