Choosing Studio MonitorsDecember 21, 2011
Choosing Studio Monitors
Choosing studio monitors for the average project studio usually comes down to how much money the person is willing to spend. Maybe after this weeks article you may look at monitors differently and put a little more thought into such an important part of the recording or mixing chain.
When buying equipment for your studio the first thing you should purchase is a good pair of monitors and then room treatment. But what should you buy when it comes to monitors? How can I tell which monitor is better than another? What do you look for when you are ready to buy a monitor? These are all good questions that we will cover in this article.
LEARNING ABOUT THE MONITOR TYPES
First let's take a look at the different types of monitoring that you might want to have for your home studio. There are two types of monitors available for referencing audio. The two types are near-field monitors and room (mid field) monitors. There is pros and cons with both. Then you have a few choices to make once you decide between room and near field monitors. Most commonly is do you want to have passive or active monitors in your studio. Active monitors have some form of amplification which powers the monitors, whereas passive monitors need a separate amplifier to push sound through them. So let's take a closer look at these differences.
ROOM VS NEAR FIELD
As I said there are positives and negatives with both and this is the reason that most professional studios have both. They really work well together covering each others faults. Where one isn't so stronger the other is and vice versa. So what is really the difference?
Near-fields are designed for just that. To be used in the near-field. They are a short throw speaker with a limited range designed for general non-critical work. They should be used for low to medium volume levels.
Mid-field monitors are typically larger in size with a standard throw made for listening at normal distances at a louder volume. Most mid-field monitors are 3-ways. Meaning they have a woofer, mid-range and tweeter. These usually require a larger space then the average bedroom for proper listening, but if you have the room then they can be a good choice.
For most home studio set-ups near-fields and a good sub is all you really need to start off with. Mid field monitors really help out on the low end where near-fields drop the ball, but if you pair up your near-fields with a sub you shouldn't need room monitors right away.
PASSIVE OR ACTIVE
When deciding rather you want passive or active monitors in your studio it really depends on the user and his or hers personal preference and situation.
Active or powered monitors have quite a few things on the positive list going for them. They are smaller in size typically, so they save space. You do not have to match up your amplifier to your speakers because the amp is built in and already matched to the monitor. Also you don't have to worry about buying the cables that you have to deal with on passive monitors.
With passive monitors you have a lot of flexibility with your set up. You can choose the type of amp that you want to use with you monitors. When you are ready to upgrade you can do so by just upgrading your amp instead of buying a whole monitor set. Plus there is the uniqueness that you can get from just the right amplification. See amps have their own sonic characteristics. For some part of the fun is finding a great sonic combination with the monitor and the amplifier. If you don't know about ohms, watts, crossovers, etc. and don't want to know you just want something that works out the box passive monitors might not be for you.
WHAT TO BUY?
Okay, so now that we talked about the differences, what do you look for when you go buying?
First – You want create a reference CD that you can take to the store with you. The songs that are on this CD you should know every, every well. Like the back of your hand my Dad used to always say. Still not quite sure what that means but in this case know the material well. You should know all the instrumentation, the flaws in the tracks, etc. Also, don't just have a CD of perfect songs. Your CD should contain tracks with too much bass, tracks with too little bass and tracks with too much high end along with some normal sounding stuff. Maybe even just some drums sounds for good measure. You really want to get a good feel for what your new monitors can and can not do. Only in this way can you really compare each monitor to another in your local music equipment shop. If you walk into the Pro Audio section and they don't know your name then you haven't been in there enough yet looking at monitors.
Once you start listening to different monitors you should be looking for;
A clear mid range
A flat bottom end. In order to have a good mix you want a balance of bass, mid & treble. Bass heavy monitors with bass boost or bass enhancements are NOT what you want.
Good balance. You want a monitor that has balance in it's sound. It should not have too much of anything, but be flat in the way it sounds.
MORE TIPS ON BUYING MONITORS:
• Study the brands and see what is the best rated monitor for your price range.
• Ask round on forums, friends, etc. and see what other people are using and why.
• Date for a while! Yes, date your potential speakers for a little while before you take them home. Go into the store a few times with your trusty CD before you make your buying decision.
• Once you get them home make sure that you have them set up properly. Ideally your monitors should point towards the tip of your nose so the on-axis sound crosses right in front of your face. Of course there are no rules but this is a good starting point and then make adjustments as needed.
• Spend time getting to know your monitors. Learn your monitors well. I can't stress that enough. The better you know your room and your monitors, the better your choices will be.
• Don't choose monitors based on price alone or because your friends use them. Do some studying to see what is the best choice for you and your situation. Trust me you will be happier in the long run.
Stay tuned for more weekly tips and tutorials every Wednesday.
Article written by Alex Butler
Alex is an audio engineer, studio producer and freelance writer based out of Seattle, WA.