Estimated reading time for this article: 6 minutes

While talking about tools for a mix studio, the monitors are, probably, the main devices since they allow us to listen to our works.

It is then a key step to choose the best possible tools for our production needs.

Several are the things to be taken into account. We can group then as follows:

  • the way the people listen to music
  • final destination of out product (stereo music, immersive music, music for video and/or cinema)
  • listening environment
  • available budget
  • personal taste and available technologies

Let’s go through every single aspect.

How we do listen music in the third millennium

The way people listen to music has deeply changed in the last few years and we have several options to choose from.

Following is a list where we might have missed something:

  • cell phone earbuds
  • headset
  • bluetooth speaker (with several options and features)
  • stereo or near stereo soundbar
  • immersive sound bar
  • surround systems
  • immersive audio systems (Dolby Atmos or not)
  • PC multimedia monitors
  • radio
  • TV set without sound bar
  • Hi-Fi set
  • automobile
  • cinema

The statistics show that the majority of people use headsets or earbuds but it is evident that we have to consider all the other available ways of listening.

It is worthwhile to mention that the headphone listening is being updated and even immersive audio formats are becoming more and more available on this device.

While the infamous Yamaha NS10 were present in all studios until few years ago because of their capability of translating the mix upon the various listening systems (mainly Hi-Fi, radio and car audio sets by that time) the actual approach to the problem needs to be faced with systems capable of covering a wide field of needs.

The new musical genres also have had a role in this change. The bass heavy contents typical of Trap, R&B, Dance music, the high compression amount coming from the loudness war in Pop and Rock are two examples just to give you an idea.

We are lucky enough, though, since the monitor’s vendor catched up with this trend and we now have available a lot of equipments capable of delivering things such as good low end response (eventually helped by a sub-woofer), a good dynamic range and a level of detail fine enough to reproduce all the sonic levels and the transients of the music.

Even if technology made big steps we still have to consider that physical dimensions still matter to influence performances.

Choosing monitors for the studios can then be also a matter of selecting more than one set to focus each one on specific goals.

Big speakers are good for the low end.

Small monitors are capable of focusing on medium/high frequencies.

Snap Recording Studio

Think about the final destination of the mix

The final destination of the deliverable also plays its role in the selection.

If the studio is aimed to deliver stereo mix only it could be good to buy two or three stereo monitor sets selecting on the base of the type on the listening tool (the list we reported above) or according to the emission field (Near Field, Mid Field, Far Field).

For a Dolby Atmos studio the monitor set needs to comply with several specifications (as we talk about it here) so there is not so much room for choices.

We need to say that, in this case, soundbars are not allowed since they use wall reflection patterns to emulate spacial sounds and this is not going to work in acoustically treated rooms.

As for music for movies the situation is similar to immersive music.

The mixing environment needs to be as close as possible to the real deal. Very often the cinema mixing rooms are reproducing the dimensions and the speaker placement of the cinemas. This is usually expensive and, for this reason, very often movie mixes are performed by very specialized companies.

How the listening environment influences the choice

All the closed environments (even those acoustically treated) do have reflections and so stationary waves.

The position of the sources (the monitor) and their distances from the walls determine the behavior of the acoustic waves in the entire audio band.

The acoustic treatment and the room geometry can really improve the situation and there are some well established rules to put the monitors in place.

Generally speaking a rectangular room is preferred over a squared one. The speakers have to be symmetrically placed along the shorter wall to avoid L-R unbalance. The listening point is placed at almost one third of the room length (38%). This determines the distance between the speakers and the rear wall given the fact that head and speakers should be on the vertices on an equilateral triangle.

The distance of the monitors with the rear wall determined at which frequencies the reflections cause wave cancellation and energy peaks.

To reduce the effect of reflections we can use acoustic treatment (we shall talk about it in a dedicated post) but sometimes the use of nearfield monitors can reduce the impact of reflected field over the direct one. Near field monitors are usually small two way speakers.

Mid Field speakers (quite often three way monitors) can help in giving a wider listening area and a better idea of the scene allowing the listener to better understand instrument positions, details and reverb tails.

The greater the distance from the speaker the higher is the impact of the listening environment. I In this case the room acoustic must be treated in great detail to avoid problems.

The Far Field listening is realized with big, full range monitors quite often installed in the walls. It is strongly advised to use this approach only in (professionally) acoustically treated rooms.

The smaller is the room the higher is the confusion caused by reflections in the low end. Keep in mind that a 20Hz signal has 17m of wavelength. In this case it is better not to use speakers capable of delivering low frequency signals eventually filtering the program with a 40Hz (or more) high pass filter.

Another option is to use DSP correction systems.

The concept is old but the realization has become reliable in the last few years. There are pros and cons and we shall discuss this in a specific post.

Green Road Studio

What is the right budget for a consistent monitoring system?

When dealing with speakers, perhaps more than with other audio gear, one needs to consider the price of quality.

Good monitors usually are not cheap.

If you want consistency, good frequency response, details, scene representation capability, clear reverb tails, speakers must be of high quality and with an accurate design. This fact inevitably yields a high price. It is worth saying that the investment lasts for several years so, once the right monitoring system is selected, it ensures a good and pleasant listening for a long time.

So, as of the budget, speaking about monitors, the higher the better. A good listening system is the key for a good mix.

What about the personal taste and the available technologies?

De gustibus non est disputandum and we shall not put ourselves into the game. As a buyer, though, this is also an aspect to consider because working in a pleasant environment is important given the long hours you will be spending in your studio.

The available technologies influence the sound and this makes it possible to go toward one or the other solution. A ribbon tweeter sounds different from a dome one. The bass reflex is different from the pneumatic suspension and/or a wave guide. A two way system sounds different from a three way one. A DSP can be acceptable or completely refused by the engineers.

Personal experience and taste must be the driver here. The engineer has to make his/her choice.

To facilitate the decision it might be worth asking a professional store (such as Milk Audio Store) to compare different systems by directly listening to them, eventually bringing some to the studio for a demo.

Conclusion

It is now evident how the good selection of the monitor systems is key for a good mix.

It might be worth it to postpone the buying of a preamp or a compressor and save that money for better speakers.

There are many topics to consider and we have tried to summarize them here.

The last thing to say is that while on the market for a new monitor set you better listen extensively to many models aiming to choose those that will guarantee results consistent with the goals of your studio and your business. Buona musica!

Sono un ingegnere elettronico con la passione per la musica ed il suono. Mi sono avvicinato alla musica da autodidatta (salvo una breve parentesi alla University of the Blues di Dallas) e ho suonato nei peggiori locali italiani (con casuali puntate all'estero). Ho costruito la mia prima radio FM appena finita la terza media. Ho continuato con amplificatori a valvole e transistor fino ad arrivare alla produzione di circuiti integrati. Collaboro da anni con varie riviste (cartacee e web) di musica nelle quali mi occupo di recensioni di strumenti musicali e sistemi per l'elaborazione del suono. Trovate le mie pubblicazioni su Accordo (accordo.it), la rivista Chitarre (dal 2010 al 2015) e su Audio Central Magazine (audiocentralmagazine.com). Produco musica da un po' nello NTFC Studio che serve sostanzialmente per le produzioni di NTFC Band.