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Why your new monitors should make your mix sound bad

Bought a new pair of studio monitors? Do your mixes sound great? Yes? Oh dear, you've wasted your money.

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So here's the scenario. You think that a new pair of monitor loudspeakers will help you make better mixes. So you buy the most expensive pair you can afford, from a pro audio dealer.

Obviously you're keen to get them set up and hear them working. When everything is connected, you play a few of your recent mixes.

And hey - they sound great!

Well you read the headline of this article so you can expect that this is where I tell you that you have wasted your money. And you have.

It is vitally important to understand the threefold purpose of studio monitors, which is...

  1. To allow you to hear accurately what you are recording, both while you are selecting and setting the microphone(s), and afterwards on playback.
  2. To gain an understanding of what your mix will sound like to ordinary people who listen to your music.
  3. To help you focus your efforts towards mixing to the very best of your abilities.

Point 3 is really a blend of points 1 and 2, so strictly speaking it is redundant. But even so, it is worth saying clearly that your monitor speakers need to help you mix and not stand in your way.

So what went wrong with your new monitor purchase? The answer is simple. If your new monitors really are better than your old ones, they should make the defects in your mixes more clear. Unless your mixes are already perfect (in which case you didn't need the new monitors anyway), new monitors that really are better should make your mixes sound worse than they did before by making the faults more obvious. And, moving forward, they should address Point 3 better than your previous pair of monitors did.

In summary, your monitors don't create the mix - you do. And good monitors should help you get to that perfect mix in as short and as straight-line a path as possible.

By the way, points 1 and 2 above are to a certain extent contradictory. Accuracy is important to a mix engineer, but it is important also to compare your mix on a range of typical listening systems - home hi-fi, portable radio, 'boom box' stereo, car audio, ear buds and headphones, and even a club PA system if that's possible for you. When your mix sounds great on anything, then it's a great mix. You can move on and write your next chart-topping hit...

P.S. Of course there is always the possibility that your mixes sound bad because your new monitors actually are bad. But c'mon - this is 2017 and you should be able to expect a pro audio dealer to sell you products that are fully capable of professional work. So-called hi-fi speakers - well that's another story.

P.P.S. One more thing - if clients come to your studio, you will also benefit from having another pair of speakers that make your mixes sound really great. Accuracy is not the issue here. Getting the client to spend more money with you is!

By David Mellor Sunday April 2, 2017
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