Which Studio Monitors Should I Buy?
Studio monitors are the link between what we hear when we are recording and what the world hears when they hear what we have created. Today we will talk about the use of stereo monitors though if you are mixing in surround, much of the overall theory will be applicable.
The idea is to get what you mixed and think sounds good to you, to sound good where ever it is played. Think about that for a minute.
Very few of us have the same hearing across the 20hz to 20khz spectrum. (The acknowledged limits of human hearing.) For instance, I have a dip in my hearing around 2khz to 4khz. I had it tested by a doctor, and I learned a bunch. The doctor said my hearing was actually pretty good for someone who stood in front of a loud guitar amp for years. None the less I have a dip in that frequency range.
So you and I can both be listening to the same piece of music on the same exact speaker system and you are hearing the 2khz 6db higher (you are hearing more of the upper mid range frequencies) than me. I realize this and compensate for it. But most of us could never really know it because we’re both used to our own hearing parameters and many of us assume our hearing is fine.
The bottom line of choosing monitor speakers is to get all of that music that you’ve worked on and you hear and think is great to translate to others that hear it.
So how do you know which monitors are right for you?
How do I know that what I mix is acceptable?
The first way is that everyday folks will tell you they really like the way your music sounds (and they buy it which is the absolute Rubicon of every engineer / producer.)
The second is when people who have credibility in music business comment on how good it sounds. If you start to play it for people who really know (and maybe make their living from music) and they are receptive, you are on your way!
For many engineers, the golden rule is listen to their work on as many different monitor systems as possible.
For me, a couple different sets of studio monitors, some headphones, a set of Auratones and a boom box in the corner were all in my arsenal over the years. I would mix listening to each of them. (obviously not at one time)
Then I’d burn a CD and go listen to the mix in a car.
Engineers get used to the different ways the different systems sound, and get a real world view of what they are mixing. After a while if you work on it hard enough, instincts take over and your mixes will sound good anywhere. Notice I said work on it hard enough.
Having said all of that, over time, if you use the same monitors in the same acoustic environment, you’ll get in tuned to what you are using.
(Room acoustics is a subject we’ll cover in an upcoming post.)
I used the same set of monitor speakers for over thirty years. I could mix on them and get very satisfactory results.
But a few years ago I started using the self powered Bi-amp type studio monitors and was blown away by how much I was not hearing clearly. I was hearing it but the clarity of these new speakers is amazing. Even the good ones with 5 inch woofers are amazing.
Don’t go cheap on speakers you are going to mix on. Remember to check your mix on headphones but be careful when you make big decisions using them. Many folks listen to music and gaming on earbuds. You should check things out on those also.
Purchase a name brand speaker system like JBL, KRK, Genelec, Yamaha, Presonus etc, and buy the best you can. Buy speakers designed for the studio, they won’t hype certain frequencies that we like to have hyped. They are designed to stay relatively flat across the frequency spectrum. A 6 inch or 8 inch woofer will do the job, but 8 is better. If you are on a budget, in stead of buying a high end mic to sing into right away, spend that money on a good set of studio monitors. If you need a mic, buy a SM57 or a 58 to sing into.
Like I said above, there are really good 4 inch and 5 inch monitors, but you may not get a real feel for the low end. But whatever works. Some folks implement sub woofers, but I’ve not had much luck at that. Never could get the bass right with a sub woofer in a regular room.
And at the end of the day, don’t let your monitors be your Achilles heel. Studio monitors should be friend not foe. And if you shop a little, you may be surprised how affordable a good pair of speakers are.
If you mix in your bedroom, mix at low levels and stay close to the speakers. Get used to mixing at lower levels and the room acoustics will not enter into the equation so much, and if you use good speakers, the mix will translate in the outer world.
It will be good.