DJ & Studio MonitorBuyer's Guides
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If you're writing, producing, and mixing music, then good sound is essential - not just because it's inspiring, but because you need to be able to hear exactly what you're doing. So, whether you're a musician, producer or DJ, a good set of studio monitors is an important investment. Compared to your average home stereo speakers, studio monitors have a few specialised features that make them good at their job. The most popular studio monitors are near-fields, which are calibrated to ensure good sound from a close range and make sure that the acoustics of the room don't warp the audio image - giving you a clearer picture of what you're working on.
Reference Monitors or Hi-Fi Speakers
Studio monitors are designed for an entirely different goal than standard off-the-shelf Hi-Fi speakers. If you're just listening to music in your living room, then it's fine if your speakers polish up the sound a bit and add their own flavour - inject a little sparkle into the trebles and give the bass a nice boost so you can really feel it. Of course, this is a matter of taste, but if you're a producer, you want a set of speakers that do nothing to the sound and give you a completely honest representation of your recordings and mixes. Your studio monitors are basically your best friends - they always help you out and never, ever lie to you. To keep the audio as honest and neutral as possible, any good monitor will have a broader frequency spectrum than a standard Hi-Fi speaker. This means that the trebles aren't emphasised, the bass is never boosted, and no loudness curve is added to intensify the sound, to make it warmer, or to add clarity. Instead, a good monitor will simply repeat everything that you've laid down - warts 'n all.
Active & Powered Studio Monitors
Most near-field monitors will have a built-in amplifier which means that they're active. An active monitor can be directly linked to an audio interface, mixer, or other audio gear fitted with a line output. The woofer and tweeter are also provided with their own dedicated amplifier - and if you have a three-way monitor, the same will go for the mid-range driver. Because the job of reproducing the audio is perfectly divided among the internal components, powered monitors deliver really detailed sound, no matter how complex the music is.
Monitor Stands & Monitor Pads
In our blog, The Finer Points of Studio Monitor Placement, we explain in detail how essential the position of your studio monitors is. For this reason, it's recommended to use a set of studio monitor stands. Even if you're a little tight on space, you can use smaller desktop stands. Some studio workstations will feature monitor shelves placed in the optimum position. It's worth noting that the distance between your monitors and your ears is important. Basically, you'll want to make sure that the points where you set up your monitors and where you sit draw an equilateral triangle. The height is also important. Since the treble reproduced by studio monitors is very focussed, if they're not set up at ear-height, then the trebles can sound a bit dead. To prevent this, always make sure that the tweeters of your monitors are sitting at the same height as your ears, or maybe even a littler higher so that the bit between the woofer and tweeter is pointing at your ear. If you can't set up your monitors at the right height, you can also tilt them to achieve the same result. On top of that, you'll want some studio monitor isolation pads to lift the housings away from the stand or desktop and prevent resonant transfer. Some pads are also slanted so they tilt the monitor in the right direction.
Audio Interfaces, Converters & Monitor Controllers
There are a few different ways you can set up your studio monitors. While simply plugging them into the mini-jack socket of your laptop or PC seems obvious, it's actually a bad idea. The mini-jack port is always an unbalanced line output which will cause a lot of noise. Also, the digital-to-analogue conversion of the average built-in sound card won't be designed for professional studio sound, so the quality will suffer. So, if you're investing in a good set of studio monitors, it only makes sense to invest in an audio interface as well. Most audio interfaces (also known as external sound cards) will have a pair of balanced jack or XLR outputs supported by far better DA converters than your computer. There are some studio monitors that can be hooked up via USB as well, which have a built-in sound card. However, these models are pretty rare and are more designed for entry-level production work. Bluetooth is another feature that you see more and more, but not necessarily with more professional models, simply because Bluetooth treats the audio with a form of data compression that reduces the sound quality. If you're using an audio interface with an awkward volume knob or it's sitting just out of reach, then you could also add a studio monitor controller to your setup. These controllers are placed between the monitors and the audio interface. Most models will have a really large volume knob as well as a few extra functions to aid the production and mixing process. There are also controllers that can switch between multiple sets of monitors, switch between mono and stereo, and even mute the sound.
Frequently Asked Questions About Studio Monitors
What separates the best studio monitor from a good studio monitor?
Top-tier studio monitors will cut no corners when it comes to the components used to build them. The tweeters and woofers are often designed by the manufacturer themselves, and they'll usually be run by a highly accurate and powerful built-in amplifier. A powerful amplifier doesn't just result in more volume, but tighter sound.
Do I need a set of DJ or studio monitors?
In reality, there are no monitors that are specifically designed for DJs. A DJ can just pick out a pair of studio monitors that does whey they need them to do. For a DJ, neutral sound will be less important, but a tight low end and powerful volume will be crucial.
How big do my studio monitors need to be?
The bigger your studio monitors are, the bigger the distance between the monitors needs to be to maintain a good balance between the woofer and tweeter output. If the distance has to be too wide to create that golden listening triangle between you and your monitors, then they're too big. A good solution is to use smaller monitors and a studio subwoofer. Find out more about how studio subwoofers work in our blog, Studio Subwoofers: The What & Why.