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Why are you monitoring in the near field when your listeners are in the reverberant field? Are your mixes 'real-world ready'?

Almost every recording engineer uses nearfield monitors, close to the ears. But people listen with their speakers on the other side of the room. Surely there is a contradiction here?

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The original thinking behind nearfield monitoring was that if you listened close to the speakers, then the direct sound would be so much higher in level than the reverberant sound that the control room acoustics wouldn't really matter.

This is clearly true, and you can hear it easily just by listening from a distance, then walking up close. Remember to keep your ears level with the speakers, or varying height will alter the sound.

Today's reason for nearfield monitors is that manufacturers can sell small speakers that are cheap to make and ship for a lot of money. Twenty years ago you would have expected much bigger speakers for the equivalent money. And of course bigger speakers are always likely to be better, but that's another story.

The problem with nearfield monitoring is that it doesn't replicate the listening experience. People listen to speakers that are on the other side of the room. They are not in the near field, they are in the reverberant field.

One consequence of this is that you are likely to mix vocals at too low a level. The level will sound right to you on your nearfields, but low to anyone listening from the reverberant field.

The reason for this is that the vocal is normally panned center. Both speakers reproduce the vocal at the same level, and the two acoustic signals add together causing a 6 dB rise.

In the reverberant field, this happens too - but only to the direct sound from the loudspeakers. There is also the reflected sound to consider too.

Now unless the listening room is totally symmetrical and the speakers placed with exact precision, the reflections due to the sound from the left speaker will be different to those produced by the right. When they add, because they are not identical, the level will increase by only 3 dB or so.

Because in the reverberant field, the direct sound is actually lower in level than the reflected sound, the vocal will be 3 dB down compared to the what the mix engineer expected.

3 dB may not sound like much, but it is enough to make a difference. The remedy is to make sure that your mix sounds good everywhere in your control room, and in other rooms too.

If you stay locked to your nearfield mixing position, your mixes will not be 'real-world ready'!

By David Mellor Sunday December 4, 2005
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