Adventures In Audio

Choosing studio monitors - Is it your most important buying decision?

According to this month's Sound On Sound magazine, choosing monitors is your most important buying decision. But is it? And how do you make your choice? This video will make your decision easy. It's a simple matter of either/or. Watch...

Automated transcript

So here we have the latest issue of sound on sound magazine it's dated september 2021. well it's only august at the moment but who's counting so what does it say on the cover choosing monitors choosing monitors and quite clearly it says your most important buying decision well what i'd like to consider here is whether it is indeed your most important buying decision and what can happen if you get it wrong firstly i'll say that this is an excellent article it's long and detailed it's written by chris cough who's someone i've spoken to on a number of occasions but i'm not sure whether we've ever actually met in person over the years in fact i'd say that the article contains just about everything that as a producer or engineer you'd need to know about monitor loudspeakers so i'd recommend that you get the mag and read the article you can buy the mac on the newsstands now or you can go to soundsound.com and get a digital subscription so choosing monitors what is it that you have to decide we can simplify this in a number of ways and firstly i'll make a big simplification and say big or small do you want big monitors or do you want small monitors or we could say main monitors or near field monitors what do i mean by main monitors i mean monitors that are large and are some distance away from you as the engineer here's the photo of a bbc radio studio and you can see their monitors there's some distance from the engineer they're also spaced away from the walls which is the way the bbc likes it so when you listen on main monitors you're hearing the sound from the monitors directly and you're hearing quite a lot of reverberation from the room you're listening pretty much as a real world listener would listen although on better quality equipment in better acoustics small monitors on the other hand you'll probably use as near fields what this means is that the monitors are so close to you that you hear mostly the direct sound and the reflected sound from the room is insignificant in comparison so this is a good way of working it's not the only way of working but it's a good way and small loudspeakers are commonly used as near field monitors which isn't to say they have to but they are so we can cut through this quickly and say that you're going to choose small monitors and use them in the near field the reason for this is that maybe you can't afford big monitors or more likely you don't have the space for big monitors so small it is and let's stick with that by the way if you want to learn how to make your buying decisions i'm not telling you what to buy but learn how to make these decisions then you might take a look at equipping your home recording studio which is a downloadable ebook that you can get from audio masterclass i'll put the link down in the description so your next decision is whether you should choose accurate monitors or flawed monitors that sounds like a peculiar thing why would you want bad monitors there's a good reason why and i will tell you in a moment so how can monitors be flawed there are two principal ways one is the frequency response and one is the time response there are other ways but frequency and time are the main two in my opinion so the frequency response should be flat with a good extension on the low frequency end if it goes like that it's not so good because you're not hearing all the bass that you need to hear to make good monitoring decisions but is a fundamental law of physics that to get good low frequency and good extension on the low frequency end you need big loudspeakers and there really is no substitute for that but we've already said that you're going to choose small loudspeakers so what can we do the answer to this is to make the small loudspeaker a base reflex design so there are two main alternatives one is the closed box which is completely sealed the other is the base reflex where the inside of the cabinet is connected to a tube to a hole to the outside world and this gives the base reflex loudspeaker a resonant frequency and if the designer positions that resonant frequency just where the roll-off would have otherwise started you can get a bit of extra extension on the bass and that's a good thing more bass and we all like that but there's a problem with that imagine a kick drum or a bass drum as we sometimes like to call it in the uk so the drummer hits the pedal and the kick drum goes out that's the way the head of the kick drum will move so that's the way your last speaker diaphragm should move as well kick out kick in dive from out diaphragm in that's the way it should be if you've got a good time response but the problem with the bass reflex loudspeaker is that it has a resonance and what this means is when the kick drum goes kick out kick in the diaphragm of the loudspeaker goes kick out bounce around a bit okay kick out bounce around a bit back in again okay that sounds sounds funny i can't stop myself laughing but you get the idea so instead of going like that it goes boom like that also if you get the idea so what's the problem you've got a boomy bass and worse still it centers around one frequency which is the resonant frequency so sometimes and i didn't make this up sometimes we call this a one note bass and that is characteristic of bass reflex speakers of course designers will try their best to ameliorate this some designs are worse and the one not bass effect will be worse some designs are better and the one note based effect is as good as it possibly can be within reasonable parameters so what i can say from this is that the closed box is going to be more accurate time wise than the base reflex loudspeaker and more accuracy should seem like a good thing well it is a good thing it's a very good thing because it will tell you exactly what's in your recording or in the olden days we would say what's on the tape it tells you exactly what's on the tape and as an engineer that's what you need to know you need to have as much information as possible about what your recording actually sounds like irrespective of the monitor loudspeaker so that's a good thing it's a really good thing because you can make all your recording and mixing decisions in full knowledge of what's on the tape at least as nearly as possible but the thing is that's not what your listeners hear because your listener has bass reflex loudspeakers nearly all commercially sold high file loudspeakers are base reflex designs simply because there's more bass and people like more bass and why shouldn't they and it has to be said that the average music lover doesn't really care whether there's a one-note bass or not in fact they might choose loudspeakers particularly because they like the notes that they produce and once again why not if that's what people like you can't argue against that so as an engineer and producer working in your own studio your home studio perhaps you also need to know what your listeners are hearing so you need to know what's on the tape and what your listeners hear so should you choose a closed box to hear accurately what's on the tape or should you choose base reflex loudspeakers so you hear what your listeners hear well it isn't an either or choice if you can afford it you should have both you should have the closed box and the base reflexed now for me i prefer the closed box and indeed i have the classic yamaha ns10m i love these loudspeakers i know a lot of people quibble with them for one reason or another but when i listen to my recordings or anybody's recordings through these loudspeakers i feel as though i'm hearing exactly what the recording sounds like exactly what's on the tape whereas if i listen through bass reflex monitors i'm hearing an interpretation of that so if i'm making a serious recording i'll do all my recording editing and mixing listening through my closed box loudspeakers because i know that they're more accurate but before i finalize the project i will check them on a pair of bass reflex monitors i've got a pair of krk rocket 5. so i'm not particularly recommending those they're just one of a number of good bass reflex loudspeakers and if need be i'll tweak my mix so it sounds as good as possible on both the closed box and on the bass reflex so going back to sound on sound this is apparently the most important decision you'll ever make but we can take this a stage further okay you've decided whether to choose closed box or base reflex or both great but which make and model do you choose of each this most important buying decision the thing is though that a decision may be between something that's obviously good and obviously bad in which case the decision is easy to make you choose a thing that's obviously good but you might be choosing between two things which are very very close and you can't really tell which is good and which is bad well the answer is almost there for you if you can't tell the difference it doesn't matter which you choose okay there could be some element of chance that could have swayed your decision one way or another if you had access to more information but in the big white world of recording it really isn't going to matter all that much because two things the first is that nearly every loudspeaker that's sold into the pro audio market is fully capable of professional results with very few exceptions so when you've bought your monitors with their closed box base reflex or if you're lucky enough both and you've decided on a make and model the next step is to learn how to use them yes you have to learn how to use your monitors the reason for this is that you don't really know what they sound like yes you can plug them in and play some music through them and you can hear what they sound like but you haven't learned what they sound like the way you do that is to get some music which is in your favorite genre or style music that you would like to emulate or work in the same genre or style and preferably you should choose successful commercial releases so if your music can sound like a successful commercial release surely it's got a good chance of being successful itself so you gather together some successful commercial releases on a spotify playlist or something like that and you play them through your new monitor loudspeakers in your studio so over time you get to learn what your monitor speakers sound like so there we have it now you know how to make your most important buying decision or as i said earlier you can download equipping your home recording studio the ebook from audio masterclass and that will cover the whole range of studio equipment it won't tell you what to buy but it'll tell you how to go about deciding i'm david miller course director of audio masterclass thank you for listening.

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Mark Philpot:  David, ever used Genelec 8050Bs to master with. These I find neutral and clean. Arendahl 1723 THX monitor speakers may prove to be capable for this as well. What are your thoughts?

Jim Davis:  The problems with bass reflex can be overcome my using dual chamber bass reflex as described by George Augspurger back in 1961. Some modern speakers use dual chamber bass reflex and have superb low distortion bass. Two examples are the Fyne Audio F502 and the Tannoy Revolution XT8F, both of which were designed by Dr Paul Mills.

WT1701:  I love my Tannoy FSM 🙂

Tony Rapa:  What I like about your videos is that you give practical and, very importantly, untribal advice. What do I mean by untribal? For example, closed or bass-reflex? Well, in an ideal world, both, you say. Which brand should I go for? Well, most brands offer excellent monitors these days, so go with the ones you like, you say. Etc, etc. In other words, the focus is on production and not the gear itself.

Audio Masterclass replies to Tony Rapa: "Untribal" - I shall try to incorporate that word into my vocabulary more. DM

Tony Rapa replies to Tony Rapa: @Audio Masterclass oops... 😉

namegoeshere:  Thank you Mr. Paul McCartney. This was very informative.

Ian L.:  Is it deliberate that some of the images in the free book (pdf version) are laterally inverted?

Tony french:  Is he saying something ?

Laelz Dunk:  Are You dumb everyone knows that NS10s were garbage only reason they made their fame was thru wierd sound signature, that was so bad that only good recordings sounded OK on them. So people started using them in studio. That model was meant for home stereo but it sounded so bad nobody wanted it. If u tell me you listen something for reference on them I take you as a joke.

ROLLOW ARLIN:  The room dictates how good which monitors will sound. l prefer closed back cans for myself and a pair for one other. I keep 4 pair of cheapo's ready when the gang shows up. Keeps everybody quiet while the tunes play. Keep your monitors because even moving the furniture messes with the din.

Carl Dal:  I have No boom in my system. I have front porten speakers

Igor Beuk:  PSY Trance have rumbling basseline and it is simple sound can be made with any instrument, if you start with that Bass then it is SAW EQ and sometimes Compressor. SAW is what is happening and adding shine , suboscillatiors it is always Saw working with Kick that is pitched down shine . Thos results cam be achieved using different techniques and sometimes masking will give desired result. For that Genre of Music Rock rules are the best way to make Music with Drums, Bass , Guitar, Vocal, Keyboard spectrum placemat and everything is that simple but always tend to make something interesting

Igor Beuk:  OK but people adapted to place and Acoustics and make decisions like PRO's but what is weird PRO Studios are not accepting rules and usually they they deliberately make wrong decisions but not too much of course. These are mistakes like hunger and accentuation of harmonics that the artist deliberately removed in order to get a warm sound or a deep bass, and then the professionals increase the volume of resonances just to fill Reference Levels .

Melanie Zette:  There are a lot of excellent bass reflex speakers

Audio Masterclass replies to Melanie Zette: I don't disagree. I would say though that there are some speakers that are excellent allowing for the fact that they are bass reflex. And people who like a lot of bass, and there's nothing wrong with that, will always prefer them. DM

Charles Pablo:  Most studio monitors have a flat response. The only doubt I have is the quality of the drivers and the crossover components. Room treatment also is a big factor. Its better to have a reasonable quality headphones

tony hodgkinson:  Finally I understand why I never liked ported speakers, I've never heard it explained so easily as you describe. My ears so hate one note boom bass so much I always opt for sealed boxes.

Dad4:  What’s for lunch and, or dinner is always the most important decision

Nick Carter:  7:46 next time someone laughs at my Rokkit monitors I’m pointing them here!

Tony french:  The secret of bores is that they say everything

Lathe Of Heaven:  I love your clear and light-hearted explanations, David. Even with things I know already, your descriptions clarify.

meis 18mofo:  nah, I chose none at all, headphones only, so picking speakers wasn't very imporant to me personally lol

Søren Nielsen:  I agree with almost everything in your videos, incl. what you say about base reflex, however only if it is designed to increase base output, which it really isn´t very good at.
So why should one consider base reflex at all?
I once had a friend who worked at one of the large loudspeaker makers, unfortunately he is not amongst us anymore.
Anyways I´ve learned a lot from him, and one of the things were the good and bad things about base reflex.
Normally people talk about pulse response which is the upside of closed speakers, and of extended Bas response as the upside for reflex. But he told me that this was not at all the truth.
First, he said, never design reflex for extended range, this will only cause you trouble and distortion.
Instead, you should tune the system for lowest possible distortion in the midrange, as so subwoofers are not considered.
This is done by searching two evenly large impedance peaks in the systems resonance behavior.
By doing this you will end up with something, that are likely not to extend the Bas response, but the drivers will hardly move when playing, thus the distortion is lowered massively.
Of course, there is other things that matters, but I learned how important this particular thing was for drivers that reproduces both bas and midrange. Looking at measurements on a lot of speakers, I guess not many designers have recognized this behavior, they mostly have bas on their minds, when designing reflex systems.

Melanie Zette replies to Søren Nielsen: Bass reflex is a wide universe, according to drivers, multiple alignments are possible. Some of them are near to closed speakers. Anyways there's no free lunch, to have bass you have to go big.

Daniel Verakis:  Insignificant rambling

Morbid Man Music:  It totally depends on the build, whether one should use one over another.

Marco Fratnik:  No frankly, you hear the real thing on NS-10 because they have no bass reflex ? What about the resonance of their poor cones, f. response, phase shift ? Well, whatever, I've been recording for over 30 years, I still prefer my Trio 6 be.

KenTeel:  I think that speakers are kind of like acoustic guitars. Each one of them has its own characteristics. You chose your speakers, with a general idea of what you're looking for (like whether or not you're choosing a dreadnaught, concert sized, etc. sized guitar) Then you find out the weak spots in your monitor speakers, and you compensate for those weak spots (rolling back the treble, or enhancing it. Or, rolling back the bass or enhancing it, etc. You do these things to establish a base point. ) You learn to compensate for your speakers. No speakers are perfect, but some have a more flat response than others. Generally the bigger the woofer in a speaker, the further back you have to stand from a speaker box, in order to get an accurate representation of what the speaker sounds like. Bigger speakers require bigger rooms. Smaller speakers have the advantage of allowing you to sit closer to the speaker and still hear it fully. I think that trial and error is one of the best teachers. You have to make mistakes in order to know what not to do next time. There is no substitute for experience. Fortunately home studio recording doesn't involve an hourly clock or big budgets, generally, so you can make mistakes without a costly result. This is one of the great things about being able to record at home. (PS: If you really learn the limitations of your speakers, you can mix on damn near any set of speakers. But, you have to know the limitations of your speakers, and know them well. If you have this knowledge, you can compensate for their characteristics, when recording and mixing.)

fabrizio:  thanks

TES Productions:  Informative video.

There is a new development. The new Neumann KH150 dsp speakers eliminate that bass reflex resonance while keeping the low frequency extension. See the reviews of this in Sound and Recording and Audio Scientific Review. The frequency response is quite flat and distortion is below audible level.

It is ironic that you focus on a flat frequency response when you use Yamaha NS10 speakers, which have a terrible frequency response curve. I encourage viewers to look at the frequency response curve of these.

In addition, you have completely ignored the issue of a subwoofer.

michael s:  I have a variety of speakers yet my mains are the Alesis Monitor 2 set, which are midfield and have larger woofers, along with some medium sized floor speakers. I just bought 2 more sets of speakers and I have a time delay device to tweak the room. I spin records and play are lot of different genres,so I like to mix and match amps,speakers,preamps,and cartridges...

Pete731:  Just catching up with some of these Audio Masterclass videos. I bough this edition of SoS and found the article very informative but felt there was a glaring omission. That of using a separate sub.

Audio Masterclass replies to Pete731: Using a subwoofer would be a whole topic in it's own right, in my opinion. I might have a go at it myself, unless SOS beats me to it. DM

Pete731 replies to Pete731: @Audio Masterclass After some searching I did find an article on the SOS website dating from 2007. I know the principles would be the same but it might benefit from an update. By the way, thanks for the videos and keep up the good work!

joob:  I have seen so many up and coming producers produce flawless mixes on budget headphones, some even on cheap consumer gear. Theres lots of bad options but good options seemingly dont have to be expensive.

I find fancy monitors to be an absolute waste of money if the room is not properly treated, both transient detail as well as any sort of detail in the bass is lost to the room.

Audio Masterclass replies to joob: Agreed. I reckon Mark Ronson could produce better on a $1 eBay earbud than I could in Abbey Road. DM

Guido Werner replies to joob: A lot of producers hire engineers with a good room and great speakers

Coastwalker:  Sound advice. A lot of listeners will be hearing through earbuds and from laptop or phone speakers. So these days perhaps the reflex speakers should be supplemented with them as well. As an aside does anyone know how "The Todd Terry Project- Bango (BONUS BANG)" manages to put sounds behind you when listening to stereo speakers?

joob replies to Coastwalker: Think of what makes a sound sound like its behind you.
Theres a couple key elements to it:
Its quieter than the other elements.
It has more small room reverberation than the other elements (convolution reverb does it beautifully).
It may have binaural properties such as slightly muffled high end.

Audio Masterclass replies to Coastwalker: I agree, I normally do recommend a range of listening systems, including New York cyclists. That's worth looking up. As for hearing stuff behind you, there have been systems that claim 3D sound from two speakers. I've tried them and they are impressive in the short term, but tiring to listen to in the long. Again, worth checking out. DM

Silvina Arriaga:  David, what Are your favourite bands?

Audio Masterclass replies to Silvina Arriaga: Come on, has to be the Beatles - Every song has a different arrangement. And if you ask guitarist, then David Gilmour - Every note with a different articulation. Discuss.

Silvina Arriaga replies to Silvina Arriaga: @Audio Masterclass Thank you

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Friday August 20, 2021

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David Mellor

David Mellor

David Mellor is CEO and Course Director of Audio Masterclass. David has designed courses in audio education and training since 1986 and is the publisher and principal writer of Adventures In Audio.

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