Barefoot Footprint01: First Listen and Comparison
Why does good monitoring matter? It's important since We make every decision in the studio based on what we hear. Would you prefer to surround yourself with tools that limit your potential or tools that let you fly in ways you might never have known? Lifting the ceiling from your potential is what great studio monitoring is all about. The launch of the Barefoot Sound Footprint01 gives access to this potential to more people than ever before.
The listener just wants to put in their earbuds or crank it up in their car and have an emotional experience. How do you as an audio producer get them there? You manipulate and fine-tune every detail. How do you do that? You work through a playback system that accurately represents every detail. The more accurate the monitoring, the more potential control you have over the listener’s experience.
How Do You Give the Listener What They Want?
I have the fortune of spending a lot of time at the Disneyland of pro audio: Vintage King Los Angeles. Surrounded by the best of the best monitoring at all price levels, I am compelled by monitors that reproduce lows, mids, and highs each through its own dedicated driver, aka the 3-way.
When it comes to monitors, you get what you pay for. What do you get? More accuracy, detail, spectral linearity, lower distortion, increased dynamics - the characteristics necessary to get out of the way and remain as true to the input source as possible. Why do high-end monitors have to come with a high price tag? Think of your own work. Does genius happen overnight? Did that song just mix itself? You know how much it takes to make work that is both uniquely your vision and exceptional enough to stand out in the crowd. These qualities are fitting of Barefoot Sound and the great reference monitors they produce.
Up until now, Barefoot Sound monitors have been bred like this, like race cars. If you're behind the wheel of a monitor the quality of a Barefoot, your track times are likely limited not by the performance of the vehicle, but by the nerve of the driver. Let’s go with this racing analogy.
Barefoot Monitors - Bred for the Track
Aside from the pure prestige of slinging earthbound single-seat aircraft with four sticky tires around a raceway at 200+mph, the purpose of a Formula One program is to trickle down the track-born tech to the street fleet. Yes, your SUV is a better ride thanks to drivers like Michael Schumacher and racing teams like Mercedes, Ferrari, Honda, Ford, BMW.
So when Barefoot introduces a ride for the people, its racing heritage is obvious. One measure of innovation is breaking a new quality/price threshold. In the pro audio world, the introduction of the “affordable Barefoot,” the Footprint01, has already made waves. Is it possible to get world champion, race car quality at a family sedan price?
I thought it would be interesting to compare the $3500 Footprint01 to the Barefoot it most closely physically resembles, the $8000 MicroMain35. The MM35 is essentially a smaller, less powerful, similarly voiced version of the world renown, nearly ubiquitous $10,500 Barefoot Sound MM27. Also in the mix, as a point of reference for my comparison, was one of the most popular, competing 3-way nearfields, the ATC SCM25A, a favorite, exceptional monitor with a completely different personality from Barefoot.
Barefoot Footprint01 First Listen
Thomas Barefoot, the creator and designer of the Footprint01, is not afraid of power, amplifier power. And to drive dual 8-inch subwoofers per monitor he gives you 500 watts in each cabinet. Between the midrange and tweeter, another 150 W are available. This is three times as much total power as other similarly-sized studio monitors. Dynamics are going to closely reproduce the input source, another key element to accurate monitoring.
The Footprint01 have way more than average headroom for tracking compared with other similarly sized nearfields and will have plenty of headroom for nearfield composing and mixing duties. The Footprint01 will have similar loudness capabilities to the Barefoot MM35, a monitor with uncommon headroom for its size.
Thankfully, the Footprint01 will not damage itself when playing at high levels thanks to a built-in, ultra-transparent limiter. You will know the limiter is kicking in when the green power indicator light on the front panel instantaneously flashes orange. You won't be blowing drivers or destroying the amplifiers when you've gone beyond the monitor’s physical limitations, intentionally or not.
Looking at the Footprint's overall frequency response, the Footprint01s accurately reproduced my reference tracks. All the music I listened to on these monitors sounded completely representative of my ear's memory of what those tracks should sound like. They sound natural and effortless with nothing obviously sticking out or edgy. The Footprint do not sound hyped.
Low-frequency capability is an area in which the Footprint design is clearly beyond most everything else available in this size and certainly by far at this price point. In a single cabinet, there are dual 8-inch, force-canceling subwoofers. The low-frequency extension is what you would call uncompromised. It's crazy, to put it directly, how low, clear and accurate the Footprints go. The sealed-cabinet Footprints extend much deeper than the single 8” woofer, ported cabinet design of the ATC SCM25A. For all their glory, the ATCs can’t reproduce the bottom octave like the Footprints. The physics are obvious.
Full Bass Extension
The primary difference I noted between the lows of the Footprint01 and the similarly sized and shaped MM35 was the MM35 seems to extend ever so slightly lower and have slightly faster, more accurately damped timing in the lowest of frequencies. Keep in mind, the perception of lows will depend on listening position since the Footprint 250Hz low crossover point is higher than the MM35 at 100 Hz. Since more of the upper bass frequencies “come straight at you” from it’s front-firing mid driver, MM35 are a bit punchier in the 100-250 range.
Moving up to the mid-range, The Footprint01 definitely have a more mid-forward presentation than the Barefoot MM35, I noticed more information in the 900 Hz to 1.5 kHz range.
The differences in the midrange actually become more apparent as you move farther away or get farther off-axis from the monitors. In my initial listening, I actually found the Footprint01’s presentation of vocals closer to my internalized sonic memory of the various music I played on them. Interestingly, the Footprint’s comparative midrange “bump” nearly disappears when the Footprint is switched to "hi-fi" mode on the MEME selector, tucking it right in line with the MM35. In normal, "Flat" mode, the Footprint 01 is also slightly more mid-forward than the ATC SCM 25A, a three-way monitor known for its midrange detail.
I’m leery of too much midrange, but I noticed the Footprint actually exposed things like honky midrange and boxy drum sounds I do not like in some of my reference recordings. Mixing on the Footprint01 would help me make a solid artistic choice about those details.
The Footprint01 have articulate and smooth top end. Totally non-fatiguing, as smooth as you would hope, the Footprint's top end is definitely in the Barefoot family, just slightly more restrained than the top end of the MM35. I almost liken the difference to a percussion shaker held a little more tightly (Footprint01) compared with a shaker held with a more open hand (MM35).
The Footprint’s imaging is 100% Barefoot, rock-solid with precise panning placement. When I compare to fully front-firing monitors, the bass from the Footprint’s side-firing woofers does feel comparatively “surround sound” and in the room. Because of their increased presence in the midrange, the Footprints floated the vocals between the speakers more so than the MM35.
Compared to Big Brother
On first listen, the Footprint01 come rewardingly close to the performance of their big brothers, the obvious differences being: a slightly less open top end, less punch in the chest-frequencies around 100-200 Hz, and a more forward midrange. All of the above qualities would not be noticed, much less thought of as deficiencies, were you not comparing the Footprint01 side-by-side to the flagships in the Barefoot line. And in the midrange, I actually appreciated the Footprint's vocal reproduction. Because my comparisons so far have only involved recorded music, tracking and mixing on the monitors may reveal more differences.
The Barefoot MicroMain family is the best of the best in terms of resolution and definition and clarity that can only be achieved with a spare-no-expense approach. The Footprint01 is not far behind, achieving a value far greater than its price.
The Footprint01 is no economy car, it’s more like a BMW M-Series, race track-capable and street legal. In some senses, if there were no MicroMains the Footprint01 might leave you wanting nothing. They are a remarkable achievement at only $3500 or much, much higher. Most importantly the Barefoot Footprint01 represent an achievement in access: no-compromise monitoring for more people.
This is the nature of technology and innovation: someone pushes the price/performance ratio and the rest of the world has to catch up. Thomas Barefoot currently holds the pole position.