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01 FEBRUARY 2017

written by Mike

HOW TO CHOOSE

STUDIO MONITORS?

 

I was on a phone to my brother the other day talking about sound, music production and speakers. In his spare time, he likes to dabble in electronic music production and he needed my help with few things.

One of them was speakers and headphones. He made me realize that most people don’t know how to monitor audio and choose the right studio speakers. I may write another article where we will look at headphones but now let’s focus on speakers.

Why monitors?

Monitoring is used to describe judgment on sound. For that, you will need your ears and something that will transform electric energy into acoustic sound waves. These magical items are called loudspeaker aka studio monitors. Don’t confuse it with a computer visual display, which we also call monitors. The whole process relies on transducer system that sets diaphragm or cone into vibration.

Think of it as reversed microphone. Speaker’s cabinet or baffle reinforces the capability of the cone. Now, I’m not going to write a detailed article how it all works. First of all, I’m not an electrical engineer and second, you don’t need to know this.

A single coil in the monitor cannot react very well to all frequencies. That is why the signal goes into separate speakers. Mid frequency and high-frequency coils should be included in most small studio monitors. High-frequency cones are called tweeters.

For low frequencies, you may need to set up an additional speaker called a sub or a ‘woofer’.

It depends on what sort of monitoring your mixes require. If you are working on YouTube channel, then a couple of mid-range speakers will do the job. Mixing movies will require a full surround setup.

 

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So what are the essential characteristics of a good monitor?

Well, if we want to have a formal answer then I would start with:

Full frequency range

Frequency range is the sound scope of speakers. The ideal monitor will respond to full frequency range i.e. 20Hz to 20Khz. The sound will not be enhanced or affected in any way, and it will emulate your clear and balanced mix. It’s quite hard to find full frequency monitors. If you are mixing with a dedicated LFE channel you will need to get a subwoofer. For other mixes, standard setup will do.

 

Dynamic range

Your monitor will play quiet and loud sounds in the same proportion. Your low, mid and high frequencies will stay in the same balance when you listen to them very low or blasting it out. Companies like PMC will often present the dynamic range during a demo session.

Speakers like that can be quite expensive.

 

Dispersion angle

The speaker will reproduce the sound with the same power and balance in every angle and changing your position will not affect it as much. In theory.

Sounds easy right? Well, it is not.

There are many variables that can affect the sound of your mix and there is only one way to conquer them. Learn your monitors. Spend time listening to all kinds of music, loud and low. And learn how it all sounds. Chances are if your mix is similar to your favorite song, it will sound good. I will come back to choosing the right speakers in a moment. I said that there were many variables that can affect your listening. Today we are talking about monitors so let’s have a look at some that have a direct effect on speakers.

 

Monitor stands

You will hear a lot of people talking about some super expensive, earthquake proof speaker stands. In reality, it doesn’t matter that much as long as there is some elevation. Make sure the stand is heavy, and your speaker sits on it well. If you have a pair sitting on your desk, you can get a couple of mini stands.

 

Room treatment

You can have the best speakers in the world, but if your room is not treated, your work will suck. No argument here. I’m going to write about acoustics in the future so for now just remember that it is very important to have correct listening conditions. And no, fitting carton egg boxes to your walls does not count as acoustic treatment.

 

Monitoring level and calibration

Calibration is linked to acoustics. You will need to measure your room and treat it first. Then measure it again and calibrate the speakers.

What does it mean?

For example, you mounted some acoustic tiles on your walls or couple of acoustic panels on stands. You measure your room again, and there is still a peak around mid frequencies. The bad thing is you’ve run out of money and room for new tiles.

The good thing is that not all is lost! You can calibrate your speakers or your audio interface, by cutting out some mid frequencies. It will help you to balance the frequencies. The second part of calibration is setting up the monitoring level.

It means that when the volume fader in your software is 0, all the speakers are set to a preferred SPL level (sound pressure level). For that, you will need a microphone (measurement microphone would be the best) and some white noise coming out from your speakers. Now, by listening to each speaker on its own, you can play with its gain. There should be a small knob at the back of the cabinet. Standard monitoring level is 79dB SPL for game and television mixes and 85dB SPL for cinema mixes.

Of course, these can vary but it’s good to have sit’s benchmark, even if it’s just a bedroom studio. There is a reason the YouTube videos sound bad and vary in volume so much; wrong monitoring level is one of them.

 

Distance

In small bedroom studio, a minimum distance from monitor to your head should be around 3-7ft/1-2m. For stereo monitoring, you need to place your monitors, so two speakers plus you form a triangle. Too close to your ears and the mix will be masked by standing waves. Too much distance and the reflections from your desk, walls, and ceiling, will affect the sound.

It’s important to make sure your ‘sweet spot’ is not affected by any reflections or phase cancelation. In the future, I will share with you optimal monitor placements with graphic guides.

Ok, so which monitors do you need? That is the question.

The answer I will give is – the ones that you like the most.

It all depends on your work, but it’s always best to get neutral speakers, the kind that will do well in every situation. I chose my monitors after a deep research and few listening sessions. I had a CD with a couple of songs that I knew inside out and tested them on different types of monitors.

There should be an audio and music shop near you. If they don’t have a dedicated listening room, ask if you can try some of them out.

I can give you my opinion on few that I know quite well. 

 

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Rokit KRK

I’m not a fan of these. I know they are very popular with electronic music producers but for me, there is too much low-end and it overshadows everything else. They have a lot of fans, though, and they are not that expensive.

Genelec

Expensive and used in many studios. I didn’t like them that much. Not sure why. I guess they sounded a bit thin for me, but I have friends who love them. I think the price put me off a bit too. 

PMC

British loudspeaker company. Very, very expensive. But also very good. One-time guys from the company organized a demo evening, so I got a chance to listen to them. Their unique bass channel structure makes the sound crisp and clear. And the balance was amazing. Low frequencies didn’t affect the sound when we listened to it on different volumes. Impressive. But pricey.

Dynaudio

Superb speakers. The company I work for uses them in all our editing rooms. They are a bit expensive, but you will know why. Great quality and balance. I would buy them as a second pair if I needed one. 

Adam

Well, I’m not going to lie. I’m biased toward Adam monitors. I own a pair, and I don’t think I would exchange it for anything else. Part of it is because I know them so well. But it was love from the first sound.

Crisp, clean with a delicate tone. Ribbon tweeter makes everything sound very smooth. And they can handle the bass very well too. You may prefer something else but if you have a chance try them out. By the way, I don’t even have their expensive line. I got a pair of AX5 which is enough for a small studio monitoring.

Alright, that is it for now. It’s only an introduction and in future articles, I will share with you monitor placements and why it is important to have at least a couple of different speaker pairs.

Both cheap and expensive.  

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