As a producer or an engineer, elevating sound in a professional atmosphere requires wearing a few different hats. Having a great ear is always helpful, and using a quality pair of headphones never hurts. Don’t be bashful with your monitor selection– it’s just as important as your listening talents and accompanying gear. As oppose to your standard or “entertainment” based speaker systems, studio monitors are meant to reproduce audio signals without any bias or emphasis on any particular frequency. You’ll be presented with accurate response regardless of volume level. You can mix critically this way, which is an opportunity you simply don’t get on most home speakers lacking range and musical-transient capturing. Mixing and editing on studio monitors gives you full dynamic control, and offers a more practical means of getting your track to translate well on car radios, phones and other media-playing units.
Passive vs. Active
If studio monitors existed as a tweet, you’d see #passive and #active constantly popping up. They’re such an important component to your monitor amplification process, yet many don’t understand the difference or realize there even is one. Active monitors, or “powered” monitors, are quite common for home studios and smaller-scale productions. They don’t require an external amp to drive them, as they come with their own amplifiers built-in. The Yamaha HS Series is not only recognizable, but satisfyingly efficient for most studio setups. For engineers, producers and sound designers of all backgrounds, these are considered some of the best active monitors on the market.
Passive monitors, or “unpowered” monitors, do not have the luxury of being independently-powered units. While they may lack convenience in that regard, you’ll have more freedoms in setting up multi-speaker arrays and sometimes a more effective means of splitting low and high end. You may end up spending less for a passive monitor, as the onboard amp isn’t included. Aesthetically similar to the Yamaha HS Series, the Avantone Pro CLA-10 is a powerful passive studio monitor pair given the stamp of approval by engineers everywhere.
Near, Far, Wherever You Are
On the subject of jargon essential to your monitor knowledge, let’s take a quick moment to discuss the differences between near and far-field. Don’t overthink it; near-field is optimal for a close listening distance and far-field is meant for sound propelled over a greater distance. This becomes an important part of your mix process as you consider where you’re working, the size of your space and your positioning relative to the monitor pair. We’ll get to that “Triangle” concept in a little while. For now, the important nugget of information to take from this excerpt is that near-field monitors are compact and smaller in size, therefore translating well to standard studios. As your room gets larger, and you find yourself physically farther from your monitors, far-field is the better bet.
The Anatomy of a Monitor
While using your engineering ears is absolutely vital for hearing which monitors suit your needs in the studio, it’s helpful to take a car mechanic type-role as well. Huh? In other words, knowing the in’s and out’s of how a monitor works will only further enhance your knowledge of this audio-based science. To get things rolling, let’s take a look at drivers. In a typical monitor, you’ll find two variants of what is classified as a driver: a woofer and a tweeter. In a nutshell, woofers handle your low, low-mid and midrange frequencies. (Now you know why your buddy’s subwoofer installed in the back of the Honda Civic had bowel-shaking bass) Tweeters, conversely, are responsible for handling high-mids and high frequencies. Often times, you’ll see single, bi and tri-amp information tacked onto a monitor description. This simply refers to the way the input signal is divided between drivers; bi-amp and tri-amp configurations tend to have more accurate frequency response, with clear & defined sound.
Cabinets are designed around a monitor’s driver, constructed with quality and performance in mind. Despite what some may say, front port and rear port speakers do, in fact, sound different. This is particularly true when we consider room placement and positioning; front ported cabinets are better for being up against a wall, while rear ported cabinets will have poor frequency response fluctuation in that scenario. Again, we will have a chat about placement and ideal setup momentarily.
Keep seeing those interesting holes in some of the cabinets of monitors you’re browsing? They do, in fact, serve a purpose. A ported monitor will feature that hole, while those without are unported. Ported monitors redirect air pressure internalized within the cabinet, in an effort to elongate a monitor’s frequency response and offer more sonic color. Unported monitors tend to have a tighter bass response, so there are evident pros and cons to each.
Maximizing Your Sound
We’ve broken down what exactly a studio monitor is. We’ve explored the wonderful shapes and sizes they come in. We’ve even had an anatomy lesson and discussed some fundamental parts of your standard monitor. Ready to produce the next big pop anthem?
Not so fast.
As alluded to earlier, it’s important to assess your surroundings and space when it comes to choosing the right pair of studio monitors to maximize your sound. For a general home studio setup, the Mackie CR3s (pictured) may be a great go-to if you’re a rookie or a seasoned veteran in this industry. They are ported, active monitors that deliver quality sound on a budget. Other similar options may include JBL 305P MKIIs or KRK Rokit 6 G4s. When considering the size of your selection, look no further than the space you plan on working. Bigger studios may require something with a little more girth, while a more modest setup doesn’t need something taking up excessive room.
If you want something with aux cord or Bluetooth connectivity, look no further than PreSonus Eris E3.5 (pictured) or Mackie CR4BT monitors respectively. You’d be surprised how useful that sort of connection can be in today’s day and age!
Regardless of what pair you end up falling in love with, we cannot stress the importance of monitor placement enough. Having an acoustically-divine studio space and killer-quality monitors will only get you so far if you aren’t taking full advantage of “The Triangle”. Monitors should always be at ear height; if they don’t achieve this naturally, monitor stands will get the job done. They should also be as far apart as you are from your central listening position. See if your head and the two monitors form an equilateral triangle. Ideally, you’d want your setup with the wall behind the studio desk, and closer to the center of the room. Monitors placed too close to a corner or pinned up against a wall will negatively increase bass response.
Ultimately, getting your hands on the “best” pair of studio monitors is a highly subjective concept. With that being said, use this guide as a reference for obtaining a pair that best suits your needs and creative space. Let us at SamAsh.com get you started.