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  1. #11
    Tech Wizard
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    Mega Post Mode ON!
    (Just 'cause I see this question asked sooo much.)

    Monitors, why?

    I fear there is much confusion surrounding the basic principles of owning and using monitor speakers. If we just go ahead and compare them to headphones we'll see some pretty basic differences, but that doesn't substantiate much. Just to start, the basic characteristics to keep in mind would be:

    • Stereo Spacing
    • Air
    • Frequency Response
    • Depth
    • Build Quality


    The first thing you'll notice is that good quality monitor speakers provide a realistic (and useful) stereo image. The quality of the stereo image varies from speaker to speaker set, but it's a vast difference from headphones. It's useful because when mixing it becomes easier to place things in the image based on what you're hearing. I like to compare it to having a larger canvas to paint on, it's easier to place things. A lot of people also seem to forget to concept of air. If you know anything about sound then you know how air comes into play. Since you're sitting away from monitor speakers you're allowing sound waves to form, mixing in with the room you're listening in. This is actually a good thing, as you don't want things to sound completely dead.
    Obviously frequency response is important, but this is more common sense-ish, a good monitor is more likely to produce more accurate sound waves than a small headphone driver. Beyond this point the determining factor among monitors is build quality, not size! Sure, a large woofer can probably reach lower frequencies, but it's the entire build that will determine how well, if at all, it manages to do that.
    Adding into the concept of air and stereo spacing, monitors provide depth, true 3D imaging. If stereo imaging is your x-axis, then depth is your y-axis.

    These are the basic principles, and things you want to look out for when using monitors. The reason why most professionals don't rely on headphones is because the gap between them and monitors in these respects is too big.

    Powered VS Passive

    I'm sure someone with a electrical degree could write a whole book on this, so I'll stick to the real life application.

    Honestly, it's often a case of quality vs price. If anything there are a lot more powered monitors available for studio work, and for good reason. You don't have to deal with matching things up with a good amp, and you're guaranteed to get the maximum quality out of the build. Considering all of this, they are also much more economic and make working in different locations easy. Because of this, most studios usually only deal with good powered monitors. The only time I really see engineers/producers bickering about amps these days is when they get themselves some original Yamaha NS-10's (which is a different can of worms altogether). If anything, the fact that Yamaha made some NS-10 remakes that are now only powered should highlight the shift from passive to powered in the studio landscape (PA is COMPLETELY different).

    But what about that low-end?!

    A lot of people seem to bass addicted these days. The joke being that any speaker that can hit between 50-200hz can properly push out the bass we hear. Once you start going below 20hz, or even 40hz, then we're starting to deal with sub. In all honesty, the main presence of sub, is well, presence. It's just very slow moving sound waves that pack a lot of energy which 'cause things to move and rumble, sure we can hear them to a certain degree, but it's much more about the energy we feel.

    Considering this I think people should focus their attention on adding a sub-woofer to their setup if they really want to feel sub. Even professional speaker companies make sub's to be added to sets because most L+R sets aren't designed to push out below 40hz. The other point being that there is little point in sub being stereo. The sound waves are so big and refract around everything, so there's hardly any difference, a mono sub on the floor is all you need.

    In the end what you want are monitor speakers that provide a good low-end (50-200hz). The quality of this range varies from speaker to speaker, company to company. It's best to check the manual of speakers as they tend to showcase how linear the speaker is in producing the frequency range. Most speakers begin to drop off around the sub level. I've seen 8" woofers produce muddy low-end imaging, and seen 5" woofers produce beautiful linear low-end all the way to 50hz. So take all of that bass hype with a grain of salt, and please go out and test the speakers!

    Continued

  2. #12
    Tech Wizard
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    How about some examples

    So all this info is fine and dandy, but what about some real life examples. We obviously all have budgets and restrictions, so the best of the best is usually outside of our reach. Considering this, how do we go about picking monitors to invest into?

    Low Budget ($100-$500)

    Before I say anything else, yes $500 for a pair of speakers is low-budget. That's just how it is. In this bracket you just want to aim for the cleanest monitors you can get. The trickiest part is finding speakers that provide a clean low-end to a certain degree and are otherwise relatively neutral. They most likely won't sound super wide, provide a ton of depth or push a lot of air, but they should get the job done.


    I personally only have experience with the KRK's, but I can't imagine there being a huge difference between these speakers. They are most certainly hyped (mid and highs primarily), and don't provide a very clean low-end. That's the toll you pay for venturing into this price bracket I'm afraid. You can most certainly do the work on these, it will just be harder. Since the quality, stereo imaging and frequency reproduction isn't the best you'll have a harder time hearing exactly what you need to hear. Though I have seen engineers/producers work on these for so long that they simply shaped their ears to make it work for them, so it is doable! These speakers come closer to consumer level reference, which makes them great for a second set if you'd like to put your track through the paces. (The increase in woofer size will most likely only extend the low-end, don't expect a huge quality increase)

    Mid-Level Budget ($500 - $3000)

    This is where I imagine most serious producers/engineers are. Willing to save a bunch, and want to make the best possible investment considering our budget. This bracket is a lot more fun and can be tailored a bit.


    Any of these speakers will most likely provide a relatively clean reproduction of the frequency spectrum. Obviously each speaker has it's own characteristics, and will have a different low-end cut-off point. This is where personal preference comes into play. Ideally you sit down and give what you want a listen, then simply pick the one you think sounds best. Some will be clearer, heavier, more detailed, provide a cleaner bass, have better spacing, etc. But in most cases these differences will come down to preference, as they should all at least provide you with a good usable reference. In simple terms, any type of music should sound good and translate on them! (This being the big difference with the low-budget category). Once you're in this price bracket you should expect this level of quality or you're dealing with crappy speakers.

    When investing into speakers like these go with your gut feeling and keep in mind what you'll be using them for. If you only plan to do one thing and it requires a clean detailed low-end, focus on that. If you are doing a myriad of things, spanning from classical music all the way to dubstep, you're better off with the cleanest overall speaker you can find. If your work involves spacing such as foley, sound effects or general movie mixing then you'll want whatever has the best sounding stereo (surround) spacing and maybe think of adding a subwoofer.
    These are just examples, but good things to keep in mind when picking something.

    High-End Budget ($3000 and up)

    At this point you've probably gotten a bit of a rig together, and should have some info in terms of what you need. Most stores and manufacturers will be more than happy to give you a demo session of their products in this bracket. Which I highly suggest you do!

    Hopefully you've gotten multiple speaker sets by now, or are looking into expanding for the first time. Instead of laying out all the amazing speakers you can buy with this amount of money, I'd rather explain how to go about expansion.

    In most cases you want to have 3 sets:

    • Nearfield
    • Midfield
    • Farfield

    It's pretty self-explanatory. Near field monitors are generally the kind you find in the low & mid level bracket. They are designed to be placed relatively close to the listener, usually at the end of your desk (or mixing desk).
    Farfield monitors are usually the giant three way (or more) speaker systems that are installed directly into your wall at a relative distance. This is done because they will be able to produce the most energy (low-end) and need the space to let the low frequency sound waves properly develop. These speakers are super expensive, and really showcase what high-end audio can sound like.
    Midfield monitors are the link between your nearfield and farfields. They aren't quite as amazing as the farfields, but are still better than the nearfields, providing a good middle ground. Middle-budget speakers can fill this role, as well as some more expensive speakers. In either case you want to be able to provide a clean low-end as far as you can go. These are usually the speakers you end up working on the most as they make mixing easier than trying to fit things into your nearfields or pulling things out of your farfields. You'll then generally switch between the sets as you mix to keep your mix translating correctly. Farfield being more similar to cinema quality, nearfields closer to consumer.

    You can then always continue expanding towards a 5.1 system, but that's even more things to consider, and I haven't seen anyone asking about that on these forums.

    The small details

    These are just small to keep in mind that could potentially help.

    Once you invest into speakers, please have them run in a bit! Just like cartridge needles, the cones need some time to loosen up a bit so they can function optimally. It's generally not that long, 10-20 hours maybe. Most manufacturers will even give recommendations in the speaker manual.

    Stick to it! You will need to spend a significant amount of time working with your monitors before you really get to know them. So do yourself a favor and use them a lot! As you learn to work with them you'll understand how things sound on them. Then it's just a matter of keeping the characteristics of the speaker in mind when mixing. As you do this your mixes will translate more to other speaker systems. Luckily this experience is transferable to a certain degree. If after months or years of working on monitors you are sitting in front of completely different ones, you'll quickly hear their character since you can directly compare to what you yourself are so used to hearing.

    Use proper speaker placement. I can't stress this enough, especially if you're dealing with smaller speakers. It's simple though, make a triangle where your own head and the two speakers are the points. Then you'll be in the best position for proper stereo imaging and won't experience unnecessary frequency phasing. It also helps to bring the tweeters up to your ear level, as they are much more directional than the woofers. You can easily kill two birds with one stone here, as most tweeters aren't at ear level and need to be raised. You can buy small platforms specifically designed for speakers and set those on your desk or behind your desk on larger stands. Some, but not all, stands will even have isolation material added, which you should add anyway if they don't have it. This will help isolate the speakers from your desk or floor and provide a clearer signal as less vibrations are being lost to surrounding material. You'd be surprised at how much proper placement and some isolation does, you might be able to hold back on that expensive room treatment now!

    Provide good clean power. Believe it or not, but the power being supplied to audio equipment can make an impact on how it operates and sounds. This is why a lot of manufacturers place such importance on sticking a extremely clean and stable power supply in their products. In most cases you won't have to worry about this, just don't go running your speakers off a power strip that has been known to make lights slowly dim in and out.

    Conclusion

    Do your research, consider your options and budget, go test the speakers (if you can), stick to your purchase and happy mixing!
    Last edited by R01; 06-27-2013 at 02:15 PM.

  3. #13
    Tech Guru Tarekith's Avatar
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    Just to clarify, I'd consider sub anything below about 80Hz. When you start getting into 40Hz and below you're getting into infrasonics, and no budget monitor or sub is going to be anywhere CLOSE to accurate on those kinds of frequencies. Nor should they be to some extent, it's pretty rare you're going to ever hear or feel 20Hz reproduced in the real world (or in a club, most PA's are probably high passed above this point anyway). Just because the specs of your monitors say they can reproduce sound down to 30Hz, doesn't mean they do so accurately or with enough power to get the transient response time right.

    Also, I might be a rogue engineer on this point, but I often do my best to keep people from going with a dedicated sub. Unless you have a treated studio and are getting a high end sub, I've never met anyone who got a sub and had it actually HELP them when it comes to mixing. More often than not it just makes for one more variable they have to figure out. Does make it more fun to listen to the music I'm sure, but from a producing standpoint I'd rather have slightly better stereo monitors than a cheaper set with a sub.

    Just my $.02

  4. #14
    Tech Wizard
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    Totally agree with you on the specs Tarekith. Those aren't always completely true. Though I will say that a lot of good PA guys put a lot of work into providing good sub at shows and festivals, so I wouldn't ignore it completely. (They usually outnumber the line-array speakers pretty heavily ) (Guess I'm a snob, I like to keep my 40-80hz range)

    I wouldn't say you're a rogue engineer. It's more based on application when it comes to sub. For most music related stuff, stereo monitors are more than enough. But I mix a lot of movies in surround, and even the downgraded stereo is still 2.1 so a sub is crucial there. I also don't ever really mix with it from the start. Generally I'll get the track where I want it on two speakers (or 5 in my case) and send what I want to the LFE channel at the end.
    I've also never seen an engineer skimp on good stereo speakers because they wanted that sub so badly. Usually it's people like me who need it for practical reasons that end up adding it to a set. Sub is definitely not a requirement for mixing. But hey, if I was producing some EDM and had enough extra cash to add a sub so I could check it at the end of the mix, I wouldn't stop myself.

  5. #15
    Tech Mentor
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    Thanks guys, reading this has been really useful, but I still have a few questions (sorry, a lil bit of thread hijacking).

    My budget is pretty flexible up to 600, but I obviously want to spend as little money as possible.

    I am brand new to producing, but I am confident I will carry it on, and don't want to lose money buying twice/three times like I did when starting DJing upgrading my equipment fairly rapidly.

    Before reading this I had my heart set on Rokits or the new Reloop Waves, but would I be better off spending some more and getting the VXT4s or 6s?

    Also is there very little difference in the quality between different sizes?

    If I got Rokits/waves I would also use them for DJing and general listening. Would I be able to do this with VXTs or similar?

  6. #16
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    I bought some Alesis M1Active 520usb's for 200 for a pair, Amazing value for money! It's a low price and you really get good sound quality! Check it out man

  7. #17
    Tech Guru Bunford's Avatar
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    Just as an out there question, would high end multimedia 2.1 speakers like the Bose Companion 3 be usable for a home project studio setup or would they be too coloured?
    Ableton 9.7.5, Native Instruments Komplete Ultimate 11, MOTU 828 Mk2, Nektar Impact LX61+, Ableton Push, Native Instruments Kore 2, and a random selection of soft synths and sample libraries.
    Windows 10 Pro 64 bit with Core i7 4960X Extreme Edition 12 core CPU, 64GB RAM, SanDisk Ultra Extreme SSDs and a GeForce GTX 970 G1 Gaming GPU.

  8. #18
    Tech Guru Tarekith's Avatar
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    ANYTHING is useable if that's all you have access to. That said, usually speakers designed for consumer use are create to hype the sound and not always be flat. Personally, I would just keep saving for some real studio monitors unless that's just not an option for some reason.

  9. #19
    Tech Guru Timbo21's Avatar
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    Just about those SN10's

    I worked in some of the big recording studios in the late 80's and early 90's. Some amazing records were mixed on the Yamaha NS10's, which these have copied, albeit with a larger bass driver.

    I couldn't understand why they became so popular. They didn't sound like anyone's home hifi that I ever heard. They predominantly emphasise the middle frequencies. You don't get anything much below 100hz, or above 12k, but perhaps that is why they were so popular. Our ears are most sensitive to the mids.

    Occasionally I heard other, more accurate, near field monitors brought in, and they sounded uninspiring, and you couldn't really work on them. For some strange reason the Yamaha NS10's sort of worked. I say 'sort of' because invariably the bass needed to be 'fixed' at the cut. You can't really tell what's happening below 80hz on them. You will hear a bit of 60hz area, but you have to be careful if you start boosting down there, you'll come to play it on a system with more extended bass and it will be booming all over the place.

  10. #20
    Tech Wizard
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    Quote Originally Posted by Timbo21 View Post
    Just about those SN10's

    I worked in some of the big recording studios in the late 80's and early 90's. Some amazing records were mixed on the Yamaha NS10's, which these have copied, albeit with a larger bass driver.

    I couldn't understand why they became so popular. They didn't sound like anyone's home hifi that I ever heard. They predominantly emphasise the middle frequencies. You don't get anything much below 100hz, or above 12k, but perhaps that is why they were so popular. Our ears are most sensitive to the mids.

    Occasionally I heard other, more accurate, near field monitors brought in, and they sounded uninspiring, and you couldn't really work on them. For some strange reason the Yamaha NS10's sort of worked. I say 'sort of' because invariably the bass needed to be 'fixed' at the cut. You can't really tell what's happening below 80hz on them. You will hear a bit of 60hz area, but you have to be careful if you start boosting down there, you'll come to play it on a system with more extended bass and it will be booming all over the place.
    They were used because they emulated what a mix would sound like closer to consumer level. By no means will anyone ever tell you that the NS-10's were good monitors, they were just the measuring stick everyone used to judge by. Hell, the earliest ones were used by Bob Clearmountain and he hung some tissue over the tweeter because it was so harsh. They were also the only set of speakers you could pretty much count on seeing in any recording studio, which really made them a standard.

    By no means would I recommend NS-10's as your main mix monitors. They are great as reference, but out shined by so many better more-cost effective powered speakers these days.

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