Knowledge Base

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Monitor speakers are designed to provide a flat frequency response so that that the audio signal is reproduced faithfully, within the budgetary constraints of the speaker. The monitor design focus is to avoid artificially boosting bass, treble or other frequencies in an attempt to make the speaker sound 'good' and to avoid resonances from the speaker and cabinet. As the producer you need to hear accurately what you are mixing, without the speaker adding its own color to the sound. For example, say your speakers don't reproduce bass well. You will likely compensate by adding bass to the mix with an EQ. When someone listens to this mix on a good system there will be too much bass. In other words, speaker/monitor errors cause mixing errors as you correct speaker errors along with the mix. For a more thorough discussion see the Wikipedia article on Monitors here.
 
For home and project studio enthusiasts monitors are generally 'bookshelf' sized and sit relatively close to the user (near-field monitor) so as to minimize the influence of the sound from the room and a more direct sound from the speaker is heard.
 
FL Studio setup using Event Opal studio monitors and B&W Hi-Fi speakers for reference

Popular monitor speaker brands include:

Adam, Alesis, Dynaudio, Behringer, Event, Focal, Fostex, Genelec, JBL, KRK, Kurzweil, M-Audio, Mackie, Tannoy, Tascam & Yamaha.

Generally monitor speakers include in-built amplification and are so known as 'active monitors'. These will usually connect directly to your soundcard (with the correct adapter) or audio interface. Some monitor speakers are 'passive' and require external amplification.

Buy a pair from the manufacturers listed above.
 
How much should I pay?

Making a monitor speaker requires precision manufacturing, quality materials & considerable research & development effort. You can expect that the more you pay the better the monitor will be, TO A LIMIT. Based on reviews and customer experiences, here's what the following budgets will get you (when buying in the brand range above):

  • $50 ~ 200 - Don't! Buy headphones instead. See 'Can I use headphones' below
  • $200 ~ 300 - Marginal to Good
  • $300 ~ 500 - Good to Very Good
  • $500 ~ 1000 - Very good to Excellent
  • $1000 ~ 3000 - Excellent with bragging rights
  • $3001+ - Don't! Save your money and spend the difference in our shop :)

Prices are in USD (per pair).

NOTE: There is a lot of marketing hype surrounding 'monitor' speakers and their performance. A cheap monitor speaker will likely suffer the same flaws as a cheap hi-fi speaker. A well designed, engineered and manufactured speaker is a precision instrument that will require a reasonable outlay. The laws of physics are involved here and they can't be cheated!   

Placement

 

Form an equilateral triangle between the speakers and your head with the high-frequency drivers (tweeters) at approximately ear height, directly facing you. This is important as high frequencies are directional and you won't hear their true level otherwise.
 
Also make sure the speakers are not pushed hard-up against any wall. The gap between the speaker and the wall should be not less than a 5 cm (2"). The front panel of the speaker should not be placed more than 1 meter (39") from the wall. This placement will minimize low frequency frequency phase cancellations as bass frequencies reflect off the rear wall and mix with the direct speaker output.


Acoustic treatment, what about the room?

The sound of the room will also have a big impact on what you hear. Generally it's a great idea to add sound absorbing material on your walls and possibly ceiling to absorb sound to reduce internal slap-echo general reverberation.
 
Let's qualify 'sound absorbing'. This means some material (probably 2 - 10 cm thick) that, when you shout into it, sounds 'dead'. High density insulation (above 25 kg/m3), high density foam and other layered or laminated sound absorbing blanket/materials will all work. Important here is thickness and density required to absorb lower frequencies which are the hardest to control.  
 
You don't need to cover every surface 100%, just enough to control the sound. The purpose is to better reveal the direct sound coming from your speakers so it's not masked by room noise. It also helps to flatten the frequency response. Standing waves (resonances) in the room can cause big peaks and dips in the frequency response (+/- 18 dB easily). Notice how dramatically bass seems to change as you move about a room with a pair of speakers playing in it. See this video for an inexpensive solution to acoustic treatment.
 
Another level of control you may consider is 'room correction'. This can be useful to finesse the frequency response to as flat as possible after the major room issues have been sorted with acoustic treatment. For example, the Event Opals (shown above) are used with the StudioEQ room correction software in this video.

Many examples

This Flickr slideshow has wide range of FL Studio customers' studio setups. Rooms range from basic to advanced, but it will give you some idea what a typical home/project studio looks like today. Note the lack of acoustic treatment, it's something most people overlook.

Can I use Hi-Fi speakers?

Yes you can. The much lauded Yamaha NS10 monitor speakers that carried mixes forward for over 20 years (and still being used today) were Hi-Fi speakers rebadged for the studio. Generally Hi-Fi speakers from reputable manufacturers (B&W, Dynaudio, Polk,Wharfedale, Yamaha etc), follow a similar price-performance relationship as do monitor speakers (see above). If the NS10's were on sale today as 'Hi-Fi speakers' they would probably be in the $200 bracket.
 
However, as the price/performance equation is similar for 'Monitor' and 'Hi-Fi' speakers, and unless you already own a set of quality Hi-Fi speakers, purchase monitor speakers, otherwise will waste all your time arguing with self proclaimed music production 'experts' that your Hi-Fi speakers are as good or better than monitors, which they may well be. But, you will never convince the 'experts' and that gets boring. You have better things to do, like make music :)
 
For your reference here's some pictures of Hi-Fi speakers used at Abby Road studios, a real proper professional studio even! 


Can I use headphones?

Yes you can, with practice. We have heard many excellent mixes made with a cheap pair of PC speakers and a good set of headphones. Headphones are like magnifying glasses for your sound. They allow you to hear things simply not audible with most monitor speakers. Headphones are certainly a great place to start if you are not sure how far you are going to take this music production malarkey.
 
Two excellent and reasonably priced headphones consistently praised in our forums are the Audio Technica ATH-M50 and Sennheiser HD280 Pro.
 
Image-Line Support Team.