Choosing Powered and Active Studio Monitor Speakers
The positioning, orientation and mounting of studio monitors can have a huge influence on the final sound of a room and of course your mix. I wouldn’t go out and buy hi-fi speakers and a massive sub woofer if you have a room with parallel walls the size of a match box and don’t intend to apply much acoustic treatment.
We should be looking for a happy medium, neither too bright nor too much bass. If the aspirations we have for our work are that it should sound as good as it can on the widest range of systems out there; from top of the range hi-fi systems, portable mono radios to ipod players, then the perceived tonal balance of our monitors should be as close to the peoples average as possible. I encourage students to check their mixes in as many different environments as possible before putting their mix down; from studio monitors, built in computer speaker to simulate a poor quality mono radio (we use an Auratone speaker in professional studios for this), the car stereo (a favourite of mine), and even standing in a different room to hear only the reflections of your mix from a number of ‘natural’ diffusers and part absorbers which make up the hallway, curtains, plant in the corner and chest of draws under the stairs.
The most common nearfield monitoring systems found in professional studios are Yamaha NS10’s, usually used closed up and reasonably close to each other. The idea of having the same make of studio monitors in every studio you go to seems like a good one, you’d expect the sound to be the very similar from one studio to another, but because they’re passive (they need an external amp which can differ) the mix can sound completely different. On top this of course the differing sound of the rooms themselves. I personally wouldn’t fancy listening to NS10’s all day every day; high-mid frequencies feature prominently in their curve so they can be quite harsh on the ear, and there’s not much bottom end at all. I remember some engineers using them with a subwoofer, but not many. My NS10’s and amp are in my Dad’s garage – I just didn’t have the surface space for them in my programming suite right now but when I move, i’ll try and fit them in somewhere . The more ways I can check the mix as I go the better of course.
This is the main reason why engineers like to use the same room for mixing time after time – they know the sound of the room, monitors and what’s powering the monitors, they are of course used to the console, outboard, assistants, staff, restaurant etc but in some cases they’re superstitious. Mark ‘Spike’ Stent was never comfortable venturing outside of the old Olympic Studio 3 after all the success he had in that mixing room. Once he outgrew the room, he had no choice but to move and he ended up buying the SSL G-series console he’d mixed so many hits on and plonking it in a bespoke control room he had built at Olympic just after my time there in the late 90’s. His near-fields of choice were the passive KRK 9000‘s. I wonder if they still are.
Then you have the main monitors or ‘biggies’ – some teachers and magazines say ‘far-fields’. One use for these monitors is when the A&R guy pops into the studio to tell us all that we need more midi or something (A&R people are much better these days, especially the ones who employ me now!). The biggies have plenty of bottom end, they are VERY flattering – you can fart down a mic and it’d sound amazing out of the biggies! The typical 90’s A&R guy will always leave the studio happy after hearing the a rough balance of the mix on the biggies before we’ve even turned on the (automation) computer. And of course after he’d played producer soloing the entire desk for no reason.
But is this what we want all of the time when mixing a record? Of course not – we are not looking for the most pleasing experience for our ears, we want an accurate tool that will help us make the correct decisions, but at the same time not give us earache after an hour of monitoring. For this we want a pair of what I would call ‘alternative near-fields’. I say alternative nearfields because these monitors would not be the standard Yamaha NS10’s and be situated (usually) either side them. These are the monitors we should buy for our home studio set-up. So what are we looking for when we are choosing near-field monitors? And where do we put them?
To be continued…