Buyers Guide: How do I Choose the Right Studio Monitor?
For music producers, a set of studio monitors is indispensable. In order to hear an accurate reproduction of the production, the built-in speakers in your laptop or computer are simply insufficient. There is very little bass, and not a lot of definition in the high frequencies either. Hi-fi speakers are also not suitable as studio monitors, otherwise known as reference monitors. Good studio monitors ensure your music production sounds good no matter where it's played. If you're in the dark about which studio monitors are right for you, we've compiled this Buyers Guide to lend a hand by answering some questions you may have. What do studio monitors do? What types of studio monitors are there? Why are they so essential?
What do studio monitors do?
Studio monitors are speakers that enable you to mix and master music productions. During mixing, the individual audio tracks are balanced to perfection so all the elements of the track sound as good as they possibly can. A drum part shouldn't take over, the instruments need to be balanced and the vocals need to cut through the mix, of course! After that comes the mastering process. Mastering is all about correcting sounds so you can be sure your track will sound balanced, no matter where it's played - in the car, an MP3 player, or your neighbour's stereo. To do this, a neutral sound is very important, so studio monitors are designed to reproduce audio that sounds as uncoloured and transparent as possible. If your production sounds good over a pair of studio speakers, you can rest assured it'll sound good on any other sound system. That's why studio monitors are essential.
Active and passive
Here at Bax Music, we carry both active and passive studio monitors. The main difference between the two is that with passive monitors, you need an amplifier, and with active ones, you don't. If you're just starting out in the world of music production, you probably don't own an amplifier yet. If that's the case, we strongly recommend a set of active studio monitors.
Nearfield, midfield and main monitor
If you're a music producer with a home studio, a set of nearfield monitors will probably suffice. For the very best results, these speakers should be placed within 2 metres of your listening position. Midfield monitors are more powerful than nearfields and deliver a maximum result at a distance of 2 to 4 metres. In larger spaces, it's best to use main monitors, which requires a distance of more than 4 metres from your listening position.
Studio monitors come in all shapes and sizes. Manufacturers refer to the speaker size in terms of the diameter of the largest woofer in inches, not the size of the cabinet. The smaller the woofer, the smaller the cabinet. Simple as that. Small active studio monitors usually have a lower power capacity than larger studio monitors. That's why smaller monitors are not suitable in large studio spaces, and large monitors in a small studio would simply be a shame. If you own a small home studio, a 4, 5, or 6-inch studio monitor set should be plenty powerful enough. If you work in a larger semi-professional studio, however, we recommend 6 to 8-inch monitors.
2-way or 3-way studio speakers?
There are two kinds of studio monitors: 2-way and 3-way. A 2-way studio monitor has two speaker drivers - a tweeter for the high tones and a woofer for the mid-range and low frequencies. A 3-way studio monitor has three drivers - the mid and low frequencies are split up. A 3-way speaker usually has a broader frequency range than a 2-way and allows more space for details and definition. Most studio monitors, however, are 2-way, which is sufficient for mixing dance music, for instance. When it's essential to hear every detail, like with complex film music, then a 3-way monitor is a better option.
The audio inputs, a.k.a connectors, are located on the rear of the studio monitors. Some examples of these inputs are XLR, jack and RCA. Jack (TRS) and XLR are balanced inputs, which means the signal is free of static (noise) and interference. An RCA connector, also known as a cinch, is unbalanced. If you're working with a cable that's over five metres in length, you're likely to hear some noise. In small studios (or a home-DJ setup), studio monitors are usually placed close to the audio interface or sound card. If that's true in your case, then you can easily utilise all three inputs. If you have a larger studio, then you'll probably want to choose between XLR or jack connectors. We recommend adapting your speaker monitor inputs to your audio interface outputs, or vice versa; in other words, jack to jack, or XLR to XLR.
An audio interface is a sound card for producers and musicians. It's usually a compact, autonomous device, but it can also be an internal audio card in your computer, for instance. An external audio interface tends to perform better than regular sound cards though, as it ensures a more professional-sounding result. Besides a set of studio monitors, we also highly recommend investing in a good audio interface.
Per piece or per set
Most studio monitors are sold individually. Some, however, are sold in a set of two, because you need both to create a good stereo image. Bax-shop advises purchasing two identical studio monitors, or immediately go for a set of two. We include in the product names on our website whether a monitor is sold individually or as a set.
Positioning the studio monitors
The audio quality of your studio monitors is partially dependent on where you place them in your studio. The optimal setup is minimum 30 cm away from the rear wall and both at an equal distance from your own head, creating an equilateral triangle as it were. A listening angle of 60 degrees is recommended. Make sure the tweeters are level with your ears, which means you may need to get a pair of speaker stands. If you've done it right, you'll find yourself in what's known as the 'sweet spot', which is where the stereo image is ideal. To make the most of your studio monitors' sound, use monitor/isolation pads to reduce unwanted resonance and vibration transfer to your desk.
A subwoofer is a load speaker that's designed to produce extremely tones that are significantly lower than a standard woofer. When you're producing music for film or commercials in particular, a subwoofer is essential. If you specialise in pop music, then a subwoofer probably won't be high on your list of priorities. It's vital to keep your musical goal in mind when purchasing a set of studio speakers.
Besides a good set of studio monitors, especially for producers who are just starting out, it's important to pay attention to the necessary accessories like cables, speaker stands, an audio interface and of course music production software.