Recording Studio Essentials: Everything You Need to Know about Monitor Speakers
If you’re feeling the buzz, and have a creative vibe, you might be considering getting some basic recording and playback gear. Home studios don’t require spending enormous amounts of cash, and most of the stuff you already own – a decent computer, maybe an external DAC, a mic or two, and headphones, will be good enough for starters.
If you want to go a step further, then consider getting a dedicated pair of active studio monitors speakers. These will bring out the music and content just as you’ve recorded it, with all its flaws and strengths. They’ll be the steppingstone for any changes you make to get that perfect tune. Professional gear like studio monitors won’t be what you’ll use in everyday listening.
Passive speakers are more the norm here, and many bring their own flavour to the recording. Deep bass or pronounced highs, there are different types of home speakers depending on the genre that gets you going. For music recording and content creation though, something that is as neutral as possible will be a better option. It leaves room for any corrections further down the road.
Here transparency and accuracy are everything, ensuring what you’ve created sounds just as it should across a range of different listening sources. Choosing your first pair of active monitor speakers will be a little different from the speakers paired with your home hi-fi or surround. There are a few considerations that will make music production, editing and playback an enjoyable experience. Choices and prices abound, so choosing what’s right from the onset will prove more worthwhile.
Types of Studio Monitors
Active vs Passive
The basic distinction here is between passive and active monitor speakers. Passive monitors require power fed from separate amps, while active studio speakers have these built in. Though most recording in the past was done with passive speakers, times have moved on, and the majority of professional studio work is now done using active studio monitors.
The advantages here are that each of the drivers, responsible for the high, mid and low-range frequencies is fine-tuned for the best possible presentation and accuracy. There will be no coloration or distortion, inherent in the amp or source itself and transferred through the speakers. In short, precision and transparency are best delivered by an active studio monitor.
All studio monitors have adequate power for home studios, though those in high-end production will have more kick. They offer more leverage in providing a larger spread of dynamic range to reveal more nuance and details in each note until they peak out at the highest volumes. A good starting point here is 50 Watts of power in the mids/bass and 20 Watts in the treble. Though overall power is not as important here as say your hi-fi speakers, it will bring in more precision in your work.
Possibly more important is how that power is spread in each driver. This leads to single-amp, bi-amp and tri-amp monitors. Single-amp monitors rely on one amplifier to generate sound in all drivers. The problem here is crossover, or the interference in frequencies between different drivers.
For better separation and more clarity, bi-amp monitors work better and are relatively cheap. The ultimate in precision, timing and clarity is where frequencies and drivers are powered each by a separate amp, or tri-amp monitors. The additional gear generally means these are more expensive, but you get what you pay for.
Sound Reproduction and Playback
What you hear out of the active monitor speakers will ultimately depend on the driver setup. The minimum here is a tweeter and bass combo, though for things like vocals better clarity and separation are provided with mid-range frequency drivers. Materials and driver design can largely affect sound quality, and the majority of monitors aren’t lacking in this respect. Pro-spec monitors may have exotic materials like Kevlar, but this doesn’t warrant that they will be more transparent.
Low frequencies may be enhanced in speakers with smaller dimensions with the inclusion of ports or vents. Ported cabinets can extend low-frequency range by utilising surroundings (like furniture or walls), but this can be at the expense of accuracy. Closed or front-ported monitors are generally considered to be more sonically neutral. If you feel the bass is lacking, a better combo is a pair of monitors and a separate woofer.
Different features, like adjustable input sensitivity and gain, or the sound before it is amplified is commonplace in most active studio monitors. This lets you fine tune separate frequencies beforehand. In addition, the inputs themselves can make or break a monitor speaker. XLR inputs are a good choice for balanced sound and with minimal interference hitting the cables.
Lastly, digital processing of some form will help in eliminating the acoustic imperfections of rooms, or incorrect speaker placement. Studio monitors are competitively priced for their function in music and content production. A relatively cheap pair costing a few hundred, will give you hours of fun, and clear, accurate and transparent sound. Once you’ve hit the limitations of these, and have acquired more gear, there are five figure monitors with all that you’ll ever want or need.