So here's the list; In the order of importance as I see them they are as follows:
- Audio Interface
- DAW Software
- Power Conditioner
- Acoustic Treatment
- Studio Monitors (speakers)
- External Hard Drive
- Cables & Accessories
Today's subject, part #8, is Studio Monitors. Notice I didn't call them speakers. Why? Well a speaker is typically no built in crossover, amplification, it's connected to a small radio or maybe a stereo receiver in your home, typically small, often underpowered or with loads of unrestrained power, and it's typically not as good a piece of gear as you may believe. Now I know many may disagree with some of those statements - and in fairness some of them may be partially right - but it's still not designed specifically for accurate representation, it's often built more for constant use and durability. Compared to the Studio Monitor - your home stereo may be likened to the stubborn mule. It can carry a heavy load and work often - but the quality of the work isn't on par with what you need for a studio. Why? You frequently have an inexpensive cone and poorly manufactured parts, no active management of the sounds the different speaker parts are firing in your direction, and the ability of the speaker to play sounds across the spectrum is, at best, very limited.
To be a studio monitor, you need all the things a typical speaker lacks - a bunch of electrical engineers, a couple audiophiles, a physicist or two and a manufacturer who put them all together in a room to push the envelope of sound. There are different types of Studio Monitors as well. Some come with a subwoofer, some it's an optional add on. Some are for large open studio spaces and some are 'nearfield' monitors. Most of the people building a home studio will want the nearfield monitors. So, that's what I'll mainly be focusing on today.
One thing to be cautious of before you buy - studio monitors aren't always sold in pairs. This way, you can replace them if they ever break and you can also buy 5, six or seven (or more) of them to play audio throughout a room, office or even a building. Say you have a very long room that you use as a studio, but you move a room divider and it becomes a home theater. A flip of a switch can allow you to fill the entire room with balanced sound and the odd monitor of the bunch works as a center channel in your 5.1 or 7.1 Home Theater system. Or, perhaps you just want to have a mono feed to one room or one studio monitor to test your mixes.One of the best things about Studio Monitors is that they will allow you to listen comfortably, without the need for headphones for hours. You won't be as likely to get ear fatigue (often happens after a few hours of headphone use). because by moving your head slightly - the sound comes in your direction in a slightly different way almost each and every time. You can move farther away from the source, or even leave the room to test the mix.
When you shop for your Studio Monitors - look for ‘Powered’ or ‘Bi-Amplified’ monitors. Do your best to avoid Passive or Non-powered monitors. They require additional amplifying equipment, which can be costly and eat up some of your space. Don’t try to use a home stereo amplifier – the quality just isn’t there, it can add noise and can even mask some sounds.
Which studio monitors are right for you is ultimately dependent on your end use. As the writer of this, I use Behringer Truth B2031A Studio Monitors. Are they the best? No. Are they the cheapest or most expensive? Again, no. I chose them because, simply put, I liked them. I used a pair for mixing and 'fell in love' with them years ago. When it came time to replace them I was very close to picking up a set of KRK Kokit RP8G2 studio monitors. Again, not the best, but some I liked. That's important for many people - liking the sound of your studio monitors. I use mine for mixing, and frequently for casual listening when I'm doing everything else. To me, enjoying the sound is part of it. If you can, get yourself to a music store and demo the studio monitors. I've listened to the same mix on several and been surprised by what I did, or what I didn't, hear. Make sure the setup is roughly the same for each monitor as well. You want them to be all about the same distance from each other and from you. Make sure they are plugged in through the same equipment. One set of monitors through one source, may sound quite different through another. By contrast, the setup at many 'Box stores' for their home stereo setup are all different. I often see speakers set apart by mere inches, and others apart by 6' or more. That doesn't give you an apples to apples comparison.
So - now to start looking at Studio Monitors available for your space. One thing I want to be sure you know is that most of these Studio monitors are not the 'top of the line'. We're talking your home studio you're building here, and I have to put some marker in for where a budget begins and ends. If your budget wasn't a concern, you probably wouldn't be looking to put the studio in your home, and would just build a custom studio as an addition of your house. From the 'mid level' monitors on up these studio monitors would be on par with several studios I've worked in, better than most radio stations and perhaps a perfect fit for your budget and space.
Let's start with Low end. I hasten to recommend any of these, but if you desperately need something other than your computer's speakers, or some relief from headphones, these are some options in the 'low end':
M-Audio AV20 Basically - a set of computer speakers - I'm not sure these would be very capable of mixing anything well. Probably better suited in a conference room attached to a projector. In that setting they are worth every penny - but likely not more. These are here mainly as an option to replace your laptop speakers.
M-Audio Studiophile AV 40 Not much more here than the AV20, These are getting into the 'multimedia' speaker set. Good for PC speakers, good for watching movies at your studio - give you some basic listening ability and surprisingly popular with may VO talents I have worked with.
Behringer MS40 These are another multimedia PC speaker to my ear. Considered the entry into the Behringer line - about on par with the AV 40's, and good for about the same purposes.
Stepping into the mid level studio monitors are a BIG step up from the low end. With a 5" -6" woofer and a tweeter. These start to accurately represent some of the tones you will need. Not all are good for multi layer mixing, but fine for working with basic 1-2 tracks of audio and really increasing the sound coming from your computer. In rough order they are:
Samson MediaOne 5A Samson makes some smaller units I just didn't like - but this one starts to give me some useful sound. It's not much of a step up from the AV40 or the MS40 - but it is a slight step up.
M-Audio Studiophile BX5a I actually found these to be fairly good for the mid tones, work well for many VO talents (these are the second most popular I've seen in ther studios). Surprisingly I've found that they travel fairly well - again great multimedia speakers for a PC.
Alesis M1 Active 520 a huge leap over the 'low end' these will allow you to hear sounds not present in the options named yet.
Now we're getting into the higher end for the home studio. Some of these are still on the smaller side, still can work as nearfield monitors and give you a more 'true' representation of the sounds you'll be looking for when mixing. Again - in rough order:
Alesis M1 Active Mk2 This is a big step from their small brother - they begin to clearly define many sounds.
KRK Rokit RP5G2 These are on the low end of KRK's line - but they do reproduce sound well. Not revealing quite enough for complicated mixing purposes, they will do very well for one to two tracks of audio. A great set for casual listening as well.
KRK ROKIT RP-6 G2 A decent upgrade to the RP5G2 - I did find these sounded similar, but there was a better presence to many things I listened to on this pair of studio monitors - compared to their small, yet capable, little brother.
Yamaha HS 50M These are one of the Sony MDR 7506's of the monitor world. Many won't go to anything else. the difference is that they can be tricky to mix on, though if you can mix on these, several audio engineers will attest that it will sound great almost everywhere! These are often used in professional studios.
Focal CMS 50 Focal CMS50 These are not inexpensive, but they are favored by several engineers I have worked with over some larger monitors - even at their small size. These are often used in professional studios.
Some don't like using these next ones as nearfield monitors, but I have seen them used - and used some of them as such myself - with some good results. They will also allow you to have a really great sound that will not leave you with shortcomings. If you do decide to turn that other bedroom or basement into a studio - these will be right at home.
Focal CMS 65 Focal CMS65 - While I found these a bit difficult to listen to up close, they are good for a large space. The low end seems under-represented to me as a nearfield monitor, but begins to show it's presence with a bit more space. One thing I can say about these monitors - they are very crisp. These are often used in professional studios.
KRK RP8G2 Just a great listening experience here. They reproduce much very well. Tied to a KRK K10S Powered Subwoofer you can extend their range into casual listening, or for insuring the bass is well represented for club mixes. These are often used in professional studios.
Mackie MR5 The Mackie is another like the Sony MDR 7506 - many who put these in their studio see no reason to swap them out. It's a decent, hard working monitor. Mixing on this monitor sounds good on several other sources. This is a jack of all trades' - so nothing sounds great on it, but by the same token, nothing sounds bad on it either. These are often used in professional recording studios.
Behringer Truth B2031A Behringer Truth B2031A - the price of these don't necessarily represent a shortcoming. Some consider these an 'older' style of monitor and they have in fact been replaced by Behringer making them a steal for some - myself included. While a bit complex, a series of switches allows you to compensate this for a variety of environments. Plain & simple - they deliver a great sound. These are often used in professional studios.
Yamaha HS80M Yamaha HS80M is very similar to it's little brother, but not exactly - and more 'punch' to the bottom end. These are often used in professional studios.
[EDIT] One final thought - thank you to Paul Strikwerda in the comments for reminding me of this - isolate your monitors. You can use something like the Next Acoustics MOFO Rizers. As of this posting, no reason not to - they're on special for about $35 less than the competition. You can also buy Auralex MOPADs or Auralex SpeakerDudes, but you can also 'get away' with other vibration absorbing materials like Tall Cymbal Felts, stacks of foam rubber, or other do-it-yourself options.[EDIT]
Disagree? Did I leave out a brand you love? Leave it in the comments!
Mel - Your Audio Pro