Super Review (2nd Edition): Yamaha HS50M – The new NS-10M?

January 9, 2008 – 11:39 pm by Jonathan Grand

Yamaha HS50M

Yamaha is attempting (again) to replace the legendary standard, and studio owners and engineers appear to be accepting it! Are the HS Series going to be the new nearfield monitors of the if-it-sounds-good-here-sounds-good-on-anything type? Read on. We placed them under the microscope and under our refined ears. Extended review!

Preface: Some History

Yamaha introduced the NS-10 design, with the iconic white woofer, in 1978. At the time, they were marketed as home audio, compact bookshelf speakers, and did a terrible job at it. Long listening sessions proved fatiguing to the ear, due to tweeter-woofer alignment, phasing issues and the harsh quality of the tweeter, when used with the original crossover.
Then, a couple of well known mixing engineers revealed, by word of mouth, that  some of their recent multi-platinum productions had been mixed on NS-10s, instead of the Auratone cubes that were the untouched standard at that point.  For a good reason, most purchases and decisions in the audio world are made according to what the most experienced and successful use, and how they use it.  So, by word of mouth, more and more engineers started using NS-10s in their studios. They were the only speaker design with a contrasty white woofer on a black enclosure, which made them easily recognizable in any control room.
But the tweeter was indeed too harsh sounding, and some engineers started modifying their NS-10 with paper or cloth sheets over the tweeter, to absorb (and phase cancel) the high frequency output, or even performing after market crossover modifications.  Yamaha, confused because engineers were more interested in their home speakers than actual home users, grabbed the business opportunity and started catering to that new target market: the recording studio.

Engineers were laying the speakers on their side on a console, and complaining about the harshness, so Yamaha addressed those modifications in a new revision, NS-10M (for Monitor). These had an improved crossover circuit with slightly less high frequency output, and were designed to be placed horizontally, with the logo turned 90 degrees, and the tweeter shifted to one side (always in the top-outer corner).
And now they were selling like candy. But then, engineers kept arguing about the best amplifiers to use with their passive NS-10M, and even adding subwoofers to compensate for the lack of lows. The NS-10 were so famous and prone to experimentation, even their white woofers were being used as kick drum mics. Due to the fragility of the tweeters (prone to burnouts) replacement parts were constantly being traded.
Thousands of albums were made using the NS-10M nearfields as the main source of monitoring.  Virtually every well-known mixing engineer in history (Andy Wallace, Terry Date, Brendan O’Brien, the Lord-Alge brothers, Charles Dye, Dave Pensado, Ben Grosse, you name it) used them to make some of the most amazing production works ever. In 2007, they were awarded the Technical Grammy® Award.

But in the new millennium, Yamaha started having trouble finding the wood pulp to make the white woofer cones (or so they announced), and they weren’t yet prepared to release a new model, after decades of leaning back and cashing in with easy sales. Quickly, they put together a new line of active, black-woofer monitors, the MSP series. They were well built and great for mixing – but sounded smoother, and people were missing the NS-10 raw feel of present midrange – the Yamaha NS-10 look and feel.
So why not do things right? Why not release a redesigned line of white-woofer, active nearfields, with improved technology and lower price? That’s exactly what Yamaha did in 2006.

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The Facts: why NS-10M became the standard

I love hearing the “experts” bashing the NS-10 based on a 5-second listen, even more than I love hearing the clueless followers claiming that they sound “amazing and flat”.  They’re both right and wrong. But they don’t know why, or how.

-  Myth: “The NS-10M have a flat frequency response.”
-  False. Their 2 kHz bump of + 5 dB and low frequency drop starting at 200 Hz is part of what made them a studio workhorse. Far from being flat, they “open” the frequency range with a midrange-based response that exposes the most problematic and worst-sounding frequencies. In your consumer hi-fi, the EQ preset that makes most music sound “better” (“Loudness”, “Rock”) resembles the NS-10 frequency response, flipped upside down. Coincidence?

-  Myth: “The NS-10M sound plastic, harsh and ugly.”
-  That’s because you’re either speaker-spoiled, listen to bad mixes, or don’t know how to mix. They boost the uglier frequencies and hide the confortable ones. Like the Simon Cowell of studio monitors, if you can’t mix, they’ll tell it like it is. If you’re not ready to accept that, you’ll probably feel like leaving the room, cursing the speakers and promising to someday make great mixes and show them they were wrong! And that’s what happens to a lot of people. Similar situation, same effect.

-  Myth: “The NS-10M sound great!”
-  Well, they are defined in the midrange (see above) and very analytic – good if you’re used to critical listening. But I wouldn’t use them in a living room to play jazz at the fireplace.

Today, there are 2 types of nearfield monitors:
a) The “Genelec-type” that, thanks to new technologies, reproduce the kind of sound you hear from the mains, in a big studio. This is the type Yamaha tried to make with the MSP series.
Pros: flat response, so you can hear everything, the good and the bad. Great for mastering.
Cons: they are so defined and flat, that some people feel everything sounds good on them, especially before you get used to it. That makes them great Hi-Fi speakers.
b) What I call the Ugly Truth type (or If-It-Sounds-Good-Here-Sounds-Good-On-Anything type). This is merely theoretical, as only some speakers can do that, while others linger between the a and b types. These are the simple nearfield speakers designed to sound like mixing monitors – not like a Hi-Fi speakers. The Yamaha HS series belongs here.
Pros: They tend to make it easier to achieve a great mix.
Cons: They won’t impress the client, because frankly they don’t sound too great.

Basically, during mixing, most of us try to make the mix sound as “flat” as possible, to our ears. And when you try to make your mix sound flat on NS-10s, you end up cutting a specific group of mid frequencies around the 2 kHz range, and a lot of harsh high frequencies that cause ear fatigue (because the NS-10 are accelerating the process of fatiguing your ears, forcing you to notice the frequencies that usually don’t sound good in most consumer systems). Also, naturally boosting the midrange is a great way to make you pay more attention to the most important part of a mix – the mid range, where the vocals belong. And this leads to a better mix. It’s not magic. It’s physics. And Fletcher-Munson rules.

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HS50M Unpacking & Burning-in

The box contains only a power cable, instruction manuals and the speaker. Like most studio monitors, they’re sold in units, not in pairs.  The power rating is fixed and there is no switch – European models have a different transformer inside. The speakers were plugged in to play some test tracks. They sounded immediately detailed in the mid frequencies, with a definite NS10 feel to it. They were put through pink and brown noise for a couple hours, for testing purposes, and to verify if “burning in” made any difference. After a couple weeks of daily usage they seemed to sound better, with improved stereo imaging. Audiophiles would say it’s because they’ve been properly “burned in”; Studio professionals call it “getting your ears used to the speakers”. It’s up to you to see things either way. I’m a total audiophile turned studio geek, so I don’t want to subscribe to any particular view. Click the image on the left to expand.

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Design & Features

HS50M back panel

The HS50M look like smaller, more technologically advanced, active NS10s. These are good looking little speakers. The 5″ white polypropylene woofer cone looks cleaner than the one on the NS10, which had 2 glued wires in black, right in the center. The HS80M model copied that perfectly. Still, the iconic white woofer is something to bear with pride and Yamaha definitely thought about the home studio people. Back to the HS50M – having a smaller woofer and a smaller enclosure doesn’t mean the low end response will be even worse than that of the NS10, because this is a ported design. At the expense of a little definition, the response will start dropping lower than on NS10s, but it will drop faster (see below).

An important test – knocking on the enclosure gives back a solid, opaque sound of a speaker that is quite well built, for the price range.  Not too many hollow resonances, and the enclosure feels tight overall. In the HS80M things get worse, maybe because it’s a bigger enclosure.

Even using the unbalanced inputs, the level knob set to 12 o’clock (it snaps in a groove at that point, so it’s easy to set, even without seeing it) is loud enough for most applications, and allows more control on the preamp stage.

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Using the HS50M

Each speaker was placed on a stack of four 12″ x 12″ x 2″ wedge acoustic foam from Foam Factory (a hint if you’re still using humoristically overpriced Auralex products).  Standing vertically, aiming slightly inwards to the listening position, some test tracks were played. Hint: they do sound like NS-10s, as they should (see graph below).

But they’re studio monitors – the ultimate test is not sheer music listening, it’s recording and mixing, and maybe a quick home-made mastering.  So I recorded a couple songs, tracked some instruments, synths and sampled drums, and then vocals. After that, the mixing fun starts. As with all small monitors, it takes some time to understand how they show us the low frequencies (yes, they are there), but for me, contrary to most bigger speakers (7″ woofer and up) mid and high frequencies don’t require as much “learning”. So it took some AB’ing with some good mixes (check out Daughtry’s mainstream rock self-titled album). Things would start to sound good from the listening position, but walking around the room would reveal a lot more. Headphones confirm that there is still a lot to fix in the overall mix balance.

And then I thought of fiddling with the controls. The MID EQ switch seems very inviting, and makes you think Yamaha put it there, right on the top of the EQ panel, for a good reason. Switching it up (+2) brought the frequency curve everyone thought was so useful in the NS-10 for 20 years! The mids sounded boxy all of a sudden – something that was not noticeable in a good commercial record. Mixing with this setup was like having super-NS-10s. I could tear the mix apart and put it back together where everything sounded right, in about 10 minutes. Switching the MID EQ down (-2) had the opposite effect and made these speakers sound more like Hi-Fi bookshelf speakers – genius! It was then obvious that Yamaha had made a great product, purposefully or not.

HS50M vs NS-10 Frequency Response

As you can see in this (Moozek exclusive!) comparison of frequency response curves between the old NS-10M and the new babies, the flat settings make the curve look quite similar to the NS-10, but those still have an even more pronounced bump of +2 to 3 dB at 2kHz. And Yamaha allows you to replicate that with the MID EQ – although, surprisingly, that is never mentioned in the manual. The only other differences are exactly what we can expect from a smaller ported speaker vs. a bigger sealed one (low frequencies extend for longer, to 60-70 Hz, but then drop quickly, instead of a smooth descent starting at 200 Hz on the NS-10M).

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Troubles

Maybe a side effect of bad quality control, the right tweeter started distorting a little after about a month of use – something that is only noticeable when playing resonating piano chords. These are not expensive speakers and it’s hard to control this kind of problems, but still, it’s a problem and it can become annoying after a while.

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Conclusion

Sound: 9
Usefulness: 10
Build quality: 7

Pros: They are mixing workhorses! The future industry standard, and successor of the NS-10M.
Cons: If you’re one of those who hate NS-10, either change the way you think, or look elsewhere. Yamaha quality control could also improve.

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Tips

- Don’t be afraid to lay them horizontally, with the tweeters on the outside, if you’re used to using NS-10M. Even though the HS50M are designed to stand vertically, this doesn’t seem to have a considerable effect on sound stage.

- Remember, MID EQ switch at +2 “replicates” NS-10, -2 Hi-Fi speakers, and flat, somewhere in between.

- Auralex sells MoPads, which are overpriced foam stands to decouple the speakers. If you have the money, go ahead (who am I to boycott the brand), but you can get similar products and better deals at other places, like Foam Factory (FoamByMail). Of course foam decoupling will never beat solid, good quality speaker stands, but it’s still the most used method for nearfields in the studio.

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Thanks for reading! Hope you enjoyed :) Please comment and subscribe!

  1. 48 Responses to “Super Review (2nd Edition): Yamaha HS50M – The new NS-10M?”

  2. a ser verdade!!!

    By HC on Jan 10, 2008

  3. Was gonna look into a set of NS-10′s as a friend has a pair and they impressed me how suddenly mixing mistakes were more apparent (and I have a good set of dynaudios)and the mixes we did on them seemed to translate well. This may save me the time of sourcing a second hand set.

    By adam on Feb 3, 2008

  4. Thanks for the great article. I recently bought these for my home studio, and they really helped improve my mixes. Yamaha really did their homework. A+

    By mick on Jun 18, 2008

  5. My right tweeter has started distorting as well…when using the MKII Piano sound of my M Tron. Odd that you experienced the exact same thing. Luckily I think I still have a few days to exchange mine.

    By brian on Jun 30, 2008

  6. Thanks for the comments!

    The MSP5 are very good monitors too.

    I’m going to contact Yamaha support again regarding the tweeter problem. Just need to find time

    By Jonathan Grand on Aug 4, 2008

  7. Yesterday I bought a pair of these, and spent
    just 10 minutes to get use to them (I’v spent
    10 years trying to get use to various GENELEC sound systems).

    There is a lack of low end (subs of course)
    but it makes me even more concentrated in upper
    frequencies and less tiring then working on main (big full range) monitors.

    I use Beyerdynamic DT-880 Pro (5hz to 35hz) to check whats going on below 55hz.

    Looking forward to try HS10W subwoofer.

    Greets and thank u for your review

    By Nino on Oct 22, 2008

  8. Sorry there is typing mistake in beyerdynamic freq range, its from 5hz to 35 khz.

    By Nino on Oct 22, 2008

  9. @Nino

    Those are the only good Beyers I’ve tried. The old models used to be pretty bad!

    A headphone group review is long overdue. I’ve been thinking about it for a long time! :) Tried so many headphones in my life – and I’m always buying new ones.

    By Jonathan Grand on Nov 7, 2008

  10. Thanx for the review, but still can’t decide between this or the HS80m………

    By Gabriel Temmy on Nov 8, 2008

  11. Hi thanks for the great detailed review, I own a pair of HS 80′s and I have to say that for the price these provide a great solid bass response and clean hi’s I run them through a focusrite saffire adio interface with all settings set to FLAT…. one thing i notice is that when these speakers are used for music listening purposes I find the mid to Hi frequencies tend to be very harsh and there is a “hollow” somewhere in the sound spectrum.. i was just wondering if anyone else noticed this… I also just bought a pair of HS 50′s Just as sound reinforcement (or Fun)….. Overall Smashing speakers looking forward to adding the sub later on…..

    By MIKE on Jan 14, 2009

  12. Hey Jonathan! Thanks for the great article, I just acquired my very own pair of these amazing speakers and thanks to your article got a package of 2″ Wedge Foam from Foam Factory in the mail today. How did you stack the sheets of foam under the monitors? With the points touching the flat back of the sheet above it, or with the wedges interlocking?

    |>|>
    |>|>
    |>|>

    or

    |>|
    ||
    |<|

    (I know the end result doubles that and has 4 sheets.)

    By Michael Nelson on Jan 16, 2009

  13. Ugh, it butchered my failed attempt at an illustration, just ignore it and you can probably get what I’m talking about from the text.

    By Michael Nelson on Jan 16, 2009

  14. Hey Michael! Cool illustrations :) I use them with the wedges interlocking, making it a 2 1/4″ “solid” foam piece.

    Auralex uses solid pieces of foam, so I just tried to mimic what they do. Except this is a thicker foam block than what they give you with MoPads.

    By Jonathan Grand on Jan 16, 2009

  15. Jonathan, Great article! Could you give me some information on burn-in and why to practice it? i.e. fact or myth, proper burn in period, and best allocated frequencies to do so?

    Jordan

    By Jordan on Jan 29, 2009

  16. After using the HS80M’s back home for a few years, I found myself in a new country with a need for something a bit smaller.

    I had a great time with the HS80M’s..
    After reading this article, it was clear the 50′s would be up to the task. I considered the MSP’s, but figured – hey, go with what I know!

    I guess I’m going to find out tomorrow :)

    But I’m with Jordan (above) – any info regarding burn-in and how it alters characteristics would be a really interesting read.

    By Tim on Mar 2, 2009

  17. Though I don’t own a set of NS-10s as of yet, I do have the NS-1000Ms and I could not believe how revealing this monitor is, nor could I believed how poorly mixed a lot of music is. You can clearly hear the mics turn on and off, loops, plates, and compressed background effects, mistimed effects. I listened to one Celine Dion album in particular and without first checking the CD brochure I could tell the tracks were recorded and mixed in different studios by its reverb and gear’s sonic signature. In some other music we can hear a singer was recorded in multiple sessions on differentgear for just one track. I’ve had these against electrostatics and they did very well, one spot in the woofer’s midrange gives it away through a reduction in detail.

    By Anon on Mar 13, 2009

  18. Да, похоже что в действительности – так оно и есть. P.S. Сайт, кстати, у вас прикольно сверстан :)

    By Ростислав on Oct 18, 2009

  19. Thank you so much for the article. I use NS10m’s in my company’s recording studio. I have gotten very used to how they work and how that translates to other systems. I also use HS80′s in another studio. I bought them with the idea that they would be enough like the NS10′s that I could bring projects from one place to the other and was always dissapointed with the HS80′s because they felt dull and the mix felt very different between the two places. Your mention about the mid boost switch was something I had not tried. After reading your article, I set the mid boost to +2 and it was amazing. I could hear the upper midrange detail like I wanted now. Great article.

    By matt carpenter on Oct 30, 2009

  20. well, thanks for great and professional article. my question is that tweeters in my pair seems always to emit a noise, a really inaudible one, but still one that makes me nervous…and the second thing which happened last night, I have noticed a crack in the one of the speaker’s boomer white cone, about 1 inch, on the cone surface.

    my question is:
    1. do tweeters emit some kind of noise even when there is no cable plugged in except mains?
    2. with this crack in the boomer, have they become unreliable? any chances to repair (which will cost as near as a new monitor?)

    thanks

    By vlear on Nov 2, 2009

  21. Hi vlear.
    I have exactly the same problem with the noise.
    I send a few e-mails to many services and i’m still waiting.

    I wonder other don’t hear this or had PC/MAC in the same room and everything is normal because PC emit own noise:)
    Maybe our HS50M have a problem or overall AMP in HS50M emit static white noise which is especialy disturbing in tweeter and people don’t listen it:)

    We have to check other pair of Yamaha HS50M

    By Dorian on Nov 27, 2009

  22. Hi Vlear and Dorian, I recently bought a pair of these and I have your same problem. The tweeters emits a sort of annoying white noise constantly even there is no cable plugged-in. I see it is a common problem. :(

    By Ariel on Dec 25, 2009

  23. Thanks a lot for this article, Jonathan! I read lots of reviews on different monitors, but your one is so inspiring and well argumented that I’m now a happy owner of HS50M’s. Although still a beginner, I can already see that my mixes will improve dramatically with these (and that’s after just 1 day of use).
    Cheers!

    By Sergey on Jan 18, 2010

  24. HI Vlear, Dorian and Ariel,

    I got the same problems too!
    I have checked my cable, my AI, even the power source, but no idea what’s wrong with these noise.
    are they normal?
    searched online for a while but got no result.

    By Karc on Feb 5, 2010

  25. Hi- vlear, Dorian & Ariel.
    I also bought a pair of these – being adviced to it- and convinced of this good article.I am very satisfied – immediately easier achieving better mixes.
    But the first day using them , I also , like you, discovered some disturbing noise in ONE speaker. After thinking and switching cables , I found out the sound still was appearing without any connections- so I checked out where they were connected to the mains – and found that ‘noising’ one , was connected to an extension cord with plural transformers. Moving cord to another outlet , fixed this immediately.
    Thanks for a good ,informative article !

    By Asgeir on Mar 18, 2010

  26. I have been surfing online more than three hours today, yet I never found any interesting article like yours. It’s pretty worth enough for me. In my opinion, if all webmasters and bloggers made good content as you did, the internet will be much more useful than ever before.

    By ProstoHam on Jun 8, 2010

  27. @ProstoHam: Thank you for the kind words! Good content is harder to write, and without enough compensation for it, I eventually stopped writing it. This blog has been stopped for some time now.

    By Jonathan Grand on Jun 10, 2010

  28. I just wanted to say that this was a really great article and i learned a lot from it.
    Got my pair of Hs50m’s and I love them! Thanks a lot Jonathan.
    Cheers:)

    By Miguel on Aug 21, 2010

  29. Jonathan,
    Do you have pictures of yours HS50M on the stacks? I recently bought a pair. i love them right the way.-

    By Leonel on Sep 2, 2010

  30. Just got my set of HS50m’s and they are simply beautiful, in both looks and sound. My mixes are tighter, have more clarity and seem to need less work to get right.
    Great stuff, Yamaha! Money well spent…..

    By Decoder on Oct 19, 2010

  31. Hy. What option do i have if the 30 days expired?
    I hear noize in the tweeters without playing music, and high end distorsion when playing some songs (or some loud interviews with backgroung noise…)
    Thanks!

    By mrroq on Nov 29, 2010

  32. Thanks so much for this article. I just pulled them out of the box and was considering getting another pair for DJing on however when I get my cables tomorrow ill try them on -2 to see how they sound.

    Cheers Again
    Dean

    By Dean on Nov 29, 2010

  33. Hi! I want to buy some new monitor’s for my home studio and I’m considering the Yamaha’s HS50m, Genelec 8020 and the Adam A3X (or A5X). My room has no special acoustic treatment. Does it make sense to buy genelecs or adams to my studio? Will the genelecs sound like you said in the article?

    By Ariel on Dec 11, 2010

  34. Hey Jonathan! I just picked up a pair of the HS50m’s and man was I impressed! I was previously mixing on some old JBL stereo speakers and these monitors really added a whole other dimension to audio. They’re just so freakin clear! I searched for hours over reviews and finally came to your SUPER REVIEW! That was the deciding factor and now i’ve been converted the the ways of Yamaha!
    Thanks again Jonathan!

    By Kyle on Dec 21, 2010

  35. Really useful article, in fact, better than anything I have seen from Yamaha themselves. Thanks.

    Martin

    By Martin JG on Jan 9, 2011

  36. Hi

    I took the plunge and bought a pair after reading your review and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

    See, I was using KRK RP5 and I’ve always struggled to have a good mix on vocals, alot of guesswork and I’m never satisfied with the output cause the speakers just colour my mix.

    Yes definitely not something I would playback to my clients to listen cause its not impressive at all, but it helped so much during mixing.

    All my thumbs up for a good product and amazing,insightful, thorough review.

    I’m songwriter/producer from Malaysia by the way. Keep in touch!

    By Ryo on Jan 12, 2011

  37. Hi there,
    I am a AudioVisual Tech and have these in my Home Cinema Setup.
    NS-1000`s Front left and Right powered by a Plinius amp
    NS-10 Pro`s Surround Left and Right and
    Back Stereo Left and Right and
    Center Stereo top and bottom
    Yamaha SW-800`s x 2 Subwoffer Stereo
    Everything works perfectly together for Movies and TV and they can be picked up second hand for almost nothing.

    By Dario on Jan 16, 2011

  38. Your reference of foambymail.com is so helpful. They seem to make a great product and sell it at a reasonable price. I’m wondering if you have a similar suggestion for desks. I’m looking to get a desk that can hold two computer monitors, with a self on back to elevate the audio monitors. Do you know of a good place to find things like that at a good price?

    By Ben on Jan 17, 2011

  39. Excellent review!!… from someone who truly understands whats needed in a set mixing monitors. I’d happily give up my expensive genelecs for a more transparent monitor. Thanks for a great read.

    By James on Jan 31, 2011

  40. Yes. The HS50M are great. But…I hear too this annoying noise. it really get in my nerves. Did someone contacted yamaha?

    By Sotiris on Feb 28, 2011

  41. Hi Jonathan, I just brought a pair of the HS50m’s and I am really impressed. Thanks a lot for your precise and detailed SUPER REVIEW. As for the quality control, Yamaha should really do something about it. anyway thanks again for the superb review…

    By ambar das on Jun 27, 2011

  42. I LOVE these speakers. I listen to them ALL the time. LOVE them for engoneering. BTW if you are listening to your songs on these and the Mids and Highs Sound harsh then maybe, just maybe. You need to work on your mixing.

    By Sinista Beatz on Jul 15, 2011

  43. I feel that if you are a serious engineer,
    you would actually listen to EVERYTHING in these speakers.
    Casual, Professional, etc.
    This is the only way I can think of that will help me KEEP mixing my music top notch.
    Let the proper quality get stuck in your head, create a MIXING STANDARD.
    Watch me go Platinum…Using these HS 50 Monitors!! If you want speakers that will fondle your ears and lie to you, then get the KRK’s. But these don’t lie. and if the highs sound to harsh for you, then turn your highs down a little. That HARSH tinny digital crap is just that… CRAP. You can Learn how to get a WARM Analog sound EASILY with these.

    By Sinista Beatz on Jul 15, 2011

  1. 6 Trackback(s)

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