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Do monitors really make a difference?

I've just been reading a comparison test on monitors in Future Music magazine. The people doing the testing were all producers with excellent track records in the industry. However, judging from their comments they were finding it difficult to come to solid conclusions about the worth of the monitors they were considering...

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I've just been reading a comparison test on monitors in Future Music magazine. The people doing the testing were all producers with excellent track records in the industry. However, judging from their comments they were finding it difficult to come to solid conclusions about the worth of the monitors they were considering.

But the most important question was not asked, which is, "What do you want your monitors to do for you?" Have a little think...

OK, here's my view... The role of monitors in recording is twofold. Firstly, you need to know exactly what it is you are recording, or have just recorded and are playing back. The monitors should tell you exactly the nature of the waveform on tape or disk. So in this respect monitors need to fulfill the normal sound engineering requirements of flat frequency response and low distortion (the other common parameter of low noise is not an issue here). Now it is a plain and simple fact that moving coil loudspeakers are not very good in either respect. But nearly every recording that you would ever listen to has been monitored on moving coil loudspeakers, so maybe this isn't the most important issue.

The other function of monitors is to tell you, as an engineer, what your recording will sound like to your eventual audience - the people who buy your records or CDs, or listen on radio. In fact radio could be more important because this is where the decision to buy will often be made.

So now it is important that your monitors be representative of a typical listening system. A sort of average of all the loudspeakers in the world, if you like. Maybe this could be done for real. Maybe a manufacturer could buy a whole range of typical domestic loudspeakers, test them in this way and that, and produce the perfect average monitor. It really could be possible.

However, until then it is worth bearing in mind that there is no such thing as the perfect monitor. Buy the best you can afford in terms of frequency response and distortion (and not too over-enhanced in the bass end), and with a sound quality you can live with. Then when you are working on your mix, take your mix out of the studio and play it on every different pair of speakers you can find, including your car stereo and personal stereo headphones. Modify as necessary.

This way you can produce a mix that is 'averaged out' across a range of typical loudspeakers and you can be sure that it will sound as good as it possibly can to any of your listeners. Remember that a mix that only sounds good in your studio is not a good mix.

By David Mellor Monday October 16, 2006
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