If there is one topic in the realm of recording that I am passionate about, it is the topic of studio reference monitors. With the right studio monitors you'll be able to hear every instrument clearly, hear the depth and space created by reverbs and delays, and hear the presence and detail of every instrument in every frequency range. Great monitors can either inspire you to make great music, or make you question every decision along the way. For this reason, great studio monitors are vital to your success in the studio. I mean, if you're going to spend 16 hours a day listening to music, you ought to have great monitors, right?
In the following paragraphs I'll give you some tips for choosing great monitors. Use these tips and you'll be able to find great studio monitors at any budget.
- Balanced Frequency Response - It is important that you choose a set of monitors that are balanced at all frequency ranges. Many monitors are "hyped" or "scooped" and emphasize the lows and highs. These monitors may get you excited, but they are not necessarily giving you an accurate picture of what is happening in your mix. Hyped monitors also tend to be fatiguing on your ears, making it harder to work for longer periods of time. Strive to find a set of monitors that tell you the truth about what is happening your mix.
- Clear Stereo Image - You want to find monitors that when placed correctly in front of you give you a great stereo image (left to right) with a clear center image (where the vocals, snare drum sit, often called a "phantom center"). Monitors with great imaging will sometimes give you the impression that sound is immolating from beyond the edges of the speakers. You have great stereo imaging when the center image is clear, the mix sounds wide, and you can clearly hear items as they are panned across the monitors.
- Near, Mid, or Far-Field Monitors - Monitors are categorized by their size and application. "Near-Field Monitors" are smaller and meant for listening up close (Yamaha NS10M are famous near-field monitors). "Mid-Field Monitors" are a bit bigger and louder and are meant for listening a bit farther back. Far-Field monitors (like those made by Quested or Tannoy) can be quite large and loud and are oftentimes mounted inside the walls of professional studios. As studios have gotten smaller with the growing popularity of home studios, near-field and mid-field monitors are more common and likely what you'll be looking for for your home studio needs.
- Active or Passive Monitors - Active speakers have amplifiers included inside the speakers' casing. Passive monitors do not and require separate amplifiers. Neither option is necessarily better than the other. It depends on your needs. Active monitors' can be wonderful because the manufacturer has chosen speakers and amps that they believe work well together. With passive monitors YOU get to decide which amplifier sounds best with your speakers.
- Sub Woofers - Sub woofers have become increasingly popular in recent years. While most monitors do not require an additional sub, it can be helpful, especially if you are mixing pop, r&b, rap, dance or hip hop. These genres rely heavily on the low end and you may need a sub to really understand what is happening in those sub-sonic frequencies. Please understand that in a studio situation, your sub should be a balanced extension of your monitors, not a loud boomy mess like in the back of your neighbor's Camaro.
HOW TO CHOOSE
- Audition Before You Buy - Everyone's ears are different. Everyone's tastes in music are different. You will need to decide for yourself which monitors are best for you. I do not recommend buying a set of monitors without first hearing them. Find a friend, head to a local studio or music store... do whatever you have to do to try out the monitors you are considering. If you're like me, you may end up owning several pairs of monitors before you land on the pair that suits you just right. Be patient.
- Audition with Music You Know - Bring a CD full of music you know like the back of your hand. Bring music you've mixed as well as music from other artists that you are intimately familiar with. If you're in front of a set of great monitors you'll likely hear things you've never noticed before. You should be able to hear reverbs tails clearly, and hear a proper amount of separation between instruments. You should be saying, "Yeah, now THAT'S the way this song is supposed to sound!"
- Try out some monitors that are out of your price range - There are many great monitors on the market that sound amazing at low price points. The only way you're going to know if a set of monitors sounds like a more expensive pair is if you try out the expensive ones! Try out a set of ProAc Studio 100's. Try out some Genelec 1030's. You may find a great pair of inexpensive monitors that cost far less than their pricey counterparts if you're willing to use your ears and decide for yourself what truly sounds good.
- Consider buying monitors that your heroes use - Yes, you're still going to want to try them out, but if you love the way Chris Lord Alge's mixes sound, why not try what he uses? After all, guys like Tony Maserati and Michael Brauer chose the monitors they use, and they're some of the best mixers in the world! You may want to take a clue from one of them and try what they're using. Doesn't work 100% of the time, but it's a good starting point.
A FEW RECOMMENDATIONS
As I mentioned, I have spent a lot of time and resources finding monitors that suite my tastes. I promise, this journey will be worth it. As a way of helping you get started I've included a few models you may want to try as you continue your quest. I've also listed the monitors that I personally use.
What I use....
- ProAc Studio 100 Passive Monitors - These monitors have become an industry standard for near-field studio monitors. They sound great when paired with a Bryston 4B amp or any other high end amplifier. Used by studio greats like Tony Maserati, Michael Brauer and Rick Ruben. My friend (and mixing great) Reid Shippen turned me onto them a few years ago. I love their amazing clarity and detail!
- Dynaudio BM15A Active Studio Monitors - The BM15A's are a near to mid-field monitor. They're bigger monitors and are pretty dang heavy too. These monitors are exciting and wow clients.
- KRK V4 Powered Studio Monitors - These monitors are discontinued but you can still find them around here and there. The V4's are rather small, but they tell me a lot about the balance of my mix. I turn them down pretty low and do all my vocal rides on these monitors.
(Note: It is worth mentioning that it is rare to rely on just one set of monitors. That’s why I have 3. Each set of monitors will help tell you something different about your mixes. When my mixes sound good on all three monitors, I have a winner!)
Other monitors you should check out....
- KRK Rokit Powered 6 Generation 2 Studio Monitors - KRK makes some great monitors. I found the entry level Rokit series to be surprisingly easy to mix on and not too fatiguing on the ears.
- Mackie HR824mk2 Studio Monitors - The Mackie 824's are a studio classic and truly exceptional for the money. I know more that a few professional producers who choose to use these monitors and love them.
- Yamaha HS80M Powered Studio Monitors - These new Yamaha monitors are the descendants of the historic NS10M studio monitors. These monitors sound great and should be considered for any sized studio.
- ADAM Audio A7 Powered Studio Monitors - These reference monitors feature ADAM's famous ribbon tweaters and have a really great sound. These monitors are MUCH better than their price tag would indicate. Some of the best, and most affordable monitors to come on the market in quite some time