The quick guide to studio monitors and why you should want a pair now

So you got yourself a home studio. You got the computer, MIDI controllers and a decent set of headphones, but you may be missing an integral piece to any studio setup, monitors. In my opinion, studio monitors are frequently overlooked, but can have the greatest impact on the quality and end result of your productions. So why do monitors make a huge difference? Why should you invest in a good pair? Let’s take a look why its good to have a decent pair of monitors and how you can choose the right ones for you. 

Clean translation of frequencies.

Ever wonder why your mixes don’t translate well? Does you mix always sound good on your speakers but as soon as you play it somewhere else it sound horrible? The reason is usually because you are mixing with the wrong set of speakers. The speakers you may be using are consumer-level loudspeakers that are not meant for mixing. Monitors are different compared to your hi-fi loudspeakers. Hi-fi speakers actually ‘color’ the sound that you hear and tend to bring out certain frequencies to give you a better listening experience. This usually means that the low-end and high-end frequencies will be boosted slightly, a feature we don’t want when mixing. We can never get a good mix if we are constantly fighting with the speakers. Studio monitors will give you a flat frequency curve that makes mixing a whole lot easier. Never “guess” if you need more bass or need to cut down the highs. With proper monitors, you’ll know whats needed because of their clarity. A good monitoring system can produce mixes that are clear, balanced thats translated well across a broad range of speaker systems.

Choosing the right reference monitors.

Choosing the right reference monitors depends on how you will use them and what you actually do. I hate to say this but in this case you get what you pay for. Cheaper monitors tend to be less flat than more expensive ones. Singer/songwriters may be fine with a set of 5” monitors, while urban/hip-hop producers will likely choose a larger monitor (8″) plus a subwoofer to achieve a greater bass response. Most studio’s only need a stereo configuration. If you are looking to score or produce sound for TV, film or video games, then a surround sound setup may be necessary. Since the monitoring system plays such a crucial role in the studio, it’s important to get high-quality monitors that fit your needs. That being said, you don’t have to spend your life’s savings on a decent set but plan to invest around $500.

Test drive different monitors to choose one thats right for you.

Studio monitors comes in all shapes and sizes. One thing to keep in mind before shopping is the bigger the speaker, the better it can produce low frequencies. It’s always best to visit your local dealer and listen to a few models before buying. I recommend you bring the type of music you’ll be mixing and ask the salesperson to play your songs on a couple of speakers. With this listening session you’ll get an idea on what you like and what “fits” your style. Ask yourself these questions during the listening session.

  • Does the bass sound tight and controlled, or muddy and floppy?
  • Hows the stereo field? Does it sound wide?
  • Are the high-end frequencies smooth, or too in your face?
  • Do I hear details in the mix that I’ve never heard before?

If you end up choosing a set of 5″ monitors, remember to cut the ultra low frequencies on all tracks because you won’t hear them on most 5″ monitors (but low end rumble will be there). If your into hip hop and EDM, a subwoofer may be on your list of wants as well.

The great sub

Lets face it, subwoofers are in cars, home theatres and desktop audio systems. It’s important for you to hear the ultra-low bass frequencies in your tracks so you can control them accordingly. Adding a subwoofer to your studio will help you contain the sub-sonic frequencies and ultimately get a tighter low end. Some subs include a foot switch that lets you bypass the sub output. Having the ability to quickly bypass the sub is important so that you hear how a mix will sound on systems without a sub.

Wrap up

Don’t go crazy when looking for monitors. Buy something within your budget and learn to work with them. Learn how they produce sound and translate to other systems. Try to get something with a 6-inch to 8-inch woofer on it so that you can tame the low frequency information properly without a sub. But as I said earlier. If you get a set of 5″ monitors remember to roll off the low end on all your tracks (which you should be doing anyway).

Don’t be cheap! Get something decent to last and stay in your studio for a long time. Remember to listen before you buy and always mix at normal listening volumes. Loud always sounds better and it will ultimately ruin your mix. I like to mix on a low volume. If you can get a mix to sound good at low volumes your set because once you turn it up, your mix will sound incredible.

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