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  • How Picky Are You About Monitor Speakers?

    Back in the day, my opinion was that all speakers sucked (at least, ones I could afford) so it hardly mattered what I used as long as I "learned" them. This wasn't too hard to do because I'd get material I'd worked on mastered professionally in really good mastering suites, so I knew what the music was supposed to sound like and I could compensate to some degree...

    But I'm hearing more and more speakers that are actually quite good, to the point where I now have definite favorite speakers and ones I don't really feel I need to "learn" to the same degree. I attribute a lot of this to powered monitors being able to really tailor the transducer and electronics to work as a pair.

    When people look back at the "home recording revolution," a lot of people think computers, ADAT, Mackie Mixers, etc. But I think decent mics at reasonable cost and steady advances in powered monitors are a part of the picture as well. What's your current attitude about monitor speakers?
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  • #2
    I've never used monitor speakers. I prefer the intimacy of headphones

    But since the hearing in my right ear started to deteriorate, my mixes are mainly based on guesswork
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    • #3
      Originally posted by Anderton View Post
      Back in the day, my opinion was that all speakers sucked (at least, ones I could afford) so it hardly mattered what I used as long as I "learned" them. This wasn't too hard to do because I'd get material I'd worked on mastered professionally in really good mastering suites, so I knew what the music was supposed to sound like and I could compensate to some degree...

      But I'm hearing more and more speakers that are actually quite good, to the point where I now have definite favorite speakers and ones I don't really feel I need to "learn" to the same degree. I attribute a lot of this to powered monitors being able to really tailor the transducer and electronics to work as a pair.

      When people look back at the "home recording revolution," a lot of people think computers, ADAT, Mackie Mixers, etc. But I think decent mics at reasonable cost and steady advances in powered monitors are a part of the picture as well. What's your current attitude about monitor speakers?
      I am very skeptical of the translatability of so-called 'accurate monitors' to the reality of ear-buds, cheap cans, hi-def TV infotainment fortresses and an infinite variety of computer speakers.

      That's how I think about monitors. I own them, use them and hope they somehow translate. But I don't understand why they would.

      So I back them up w/2 good sets of headphones.
      Last edited by Etienne Rambert; 12-17-2014, 03:06 AM.
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      • #4
        I wish I could afford to be more picky, but I'm not complaining. For many years I couldn't afford to buy great factory made speakers so I learned to build my own. Along with that came learning all the acoustic technology involved in tuning cabs and buying the right components. I suppose If I took all the time and investment and just saved that money I'd have much better gear today, but I wouldn't have learned what I have in that process. Nor would I have had to work as hard as I did working around those flaws to get the best results possible, so maybe the path I chose wasn't so bad after all.

        I use 6 different sets of monitors for mixing now. Two are active, and two are powered by a studio reference power head, one is powered by a high end Hi Fi Head and I use a stereo PA system for the high powered testing. I even have Triaxial Car speakers in cabs to mimic an auto response. I can switch any set on with a push of a button solo or in combinations. I find this technique gives me the least amount of compatibility issues playing back mixes on other systems.

        I don't do allot of work for other artists. I did maybe a half dozen projects last year for local bands. This is fine for me because it keeps me in touch with what's going on. The rest of the time I spend with my own work. I don't need nor desire to have things classy looking. They just need to be efficient and do their job well, Some of my cabs are raw unfinished wood. For some reason I prefer not to finish the exteriors. That rawness is more earthy and basic to me. I focus more on what they do vs. how they look and as a result hope they would produce results as good as they look.

        I'll likely continue to use this mix of this gear. I'd say the only thing I cant compensate for is the years of abuse to my ears having played with loud bands for so many years. I know one ear doesn't hear as well as the other so I flip the left and right sides allot when I have the mix close to being completed. I also use some Visual software like HarBal to detect and correct frequency issues my ears might miss. Maybe I have learned to compensate for those hearing losses because I don't even need to use that much any more.

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        • #5
          I don't have the money to be picky. The old passive Tannoy Reveal 5's that I use are not too bad at all, considering what they're worth. Did some mastering work (which, for me, still involves checking on various consumer systems) earlier in the year for a friend, and he used mine, ahead of test masters sent back by a well-known mastering house in the UK. Go figure...
          Last edited by gubu; 12-17-2014, 06:16 AM.
          flip the phase

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          • #6
            Speakers are definitely getting better. I worked with JBL 4311s for several years, and when I refurbished my remote truck with the idea in mind that it would be used by other engineers, I picked out a set of speakers that would work well both with the kind of music that the truck was equipped to record best (acoustic). On the recommendation of a few NPR engineers who had worked with me in the past, I ended up choosing a hi-fi speaker, the KEF 103.2. Everyone who worked in the truck, including me, was pleased with how well they worked. "Translation" was important since a lot of the work we did was live performances mixed straight to stereo.

            I've retired the truck, but I still have, and use those speakers in the "laboratory studio." Every now and then I think about buying some new speakers, but I haven't convinced myself that I need them. But don't bring me any electronic dance music projects. I don't have anything appropriate for that.
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            • #7
              i've always put money into good monitors. if i were a doctor, I'd want to have a good stethoscope, and these are like our stethoscopes


              also, when I'm working, I want to hear good audio to keep me motivated and happy. so that's also part of it

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              • #8
                I would agree with you about decent mics at a reasonable price being a big part of the project studio revolution. When I first started recording back in the 70s a decent large diaphragm condenser mic was a high dollar item; you just didn't have anything remotely close to the selection of LDC's we have today.

                Monitors have also gotten much better, and we have more choices than we once did.
                **********

                "Look at it this way: think of how stupid the average person is, and then realize half of 'em are stupider than that."

                - George Carlin

                "It shouldn't be expected that people are necessarily doing what they appear to be doing on records."

                - Sir George Martin, All You Need Is Ears

                "The music business will be revitalized by musicians, not the labels or Live Nation. When the musicians decide to put music first, instead of money, the public will flock to the fruits and the scene will be healthy again."

                - Bob Lefsetz, The Lefsetz Letter

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                • #9
                  I want whatever I do to translate, so I've tried to do this with good monitors. But good monitors are only half of it. The whole tuned room thing really helps, and I've heard the change firsthand. But I still don't really have a very well-tuned room, and dialing the bottom end can sometimes be a little challenging, so I still listen to my mix on multiple speakers (headphones, car stereo, boombox, and another set of monitors) to be absolutely sure. But with my monitors, Adam A7s and Yorkville YSM1 passives, I feel like I am nailing the midrange and top end pretty well.
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                  • #10
                    I've got Mackie HR824s which, as Ken says with his Adam A7s and Yorkvilles, I feel like I've got a handle on the mids and top range pretty well.

                    I have a tiny studio - about 9' x 10'. I built some absorption panels from the specs on Ethan Winer's great website, and they help tremendously, but I really need a lot more bass absorption - corner traps - 'cause these Mackies do get down to about 35hz, but the room has to be just so or the bass definition is poor.

                    I'm working through Mixing Secrets for the Small Studio by MIke Senior, and he's got me provisionally convinced that, in addition to fixing the room for bass, I should probably try supplementing my mixes by listening to a modern version of the old Auratone speakers. BTW - this book of Senior's is just super IMHO.

                    Monitors matter to me not just for mixing, but also just for listening for pleasure and education. I don't care about tweaking out the speakers to some tiny percentages of perfection, I just want to hear and feel all that is there and know when a mix is particularly outstanding.

                    Headphones and monitors are two different worlds to me. I do mix for and listen to headphones and love that, but I know the mix won't translate to regular speakers. I still instinctively think of regular external speakers as the baseline, but that's not very realistic any more is it? But you can't really mix for all the various situations equally well - external hifi, car speakers, ear buds, good headphones, restaurant speakers, club monitors, laptop speakers, etc etc etc.

                    Maybe part of the reason mixes are so compressed and hyped and over-louded is 'cause such mixes cut through no matter what. That is, people are mixing just to be heard in any setting, forget about how it sounds as longs as it can penetrate the roaring ambience. There's no baseline any more other than just being heard.

                    nat whilk ii
                    Last edited by nat whilk II; 12-17-2014, 02:59 PM.

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                    • #11
                      Nat, if you want to check out modern speakers that are similar to the old "Horrortones", try out the Avantone Mixcubes.
                      **********

                      "Look at it this way: think of how stupid the average person is, and then realize half of 'em are stupider than that."

                      - George Carlin

                      "It shouldn't be expected that people are necessarily doing what they appear to be doing on records."

                      - Sir George Martin, All You Need Is Ears

                      "The music business will be revitalized by musicians, not the labels or Live Nation. When the musicians decide to put music first, instead of money, the public will flock to the fruits and the scene will be healthy again."

                      - Bob Lefsetz, The Lefsetz Letter

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                      • #12
                        basic answer? every set we have had needed to be "learned"

                        you take the mix everywhere to see what you have, the truck, the car, the home system, the club

                        Some bass heavy but thin on the test systems, some thick and bassy as a mofo

                        Our current mixers are very able to handle deep deep bottom end and we learned that we need to back off of those freqs a bit to distribute to "normal" systems

                        last monitors had a depth thingie that was full pan killer on mix down but had a hallow spot about 3 oclock and 3 feet deep - we didn't find this until the new monitors

                        buy what you can afford and learn them on every system that you can play back on to dial them, and more important, you, in

                        just my 2 pennies
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                        • #13
                          I use the same Yamaha NS-10's I've had for a couple of decades now. I did most of my recording in headphones, then would listen back on the NS-10's, and mix on them. Then I'd a-b with a couple of Quadraflex cabinets I did upgrades on the speakers and crossovers with to get a feel for what my drivel would sound like coming out of common stereos and car systems. The NS-10's lack bass, so I setup another amp to pump through the Quadraflex's during the process at a lower volume just to add some bass. It's a rigged up kinda deal...But it'd what I got. Those NS-10's remain one of the best investments I ever made.
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                          • #14
                            It depends on the purpose. For keyboard stage monitors, I like good ones. For stage vocal monitors, they just have to not suck.

                            For studio monitors, well, you can't mix what you can't hear. When people are talking about spending lots of money on an expensive soundcard for their first home studio, I routinely advice to get an inexpensive soundcard and add the savings to the budget for monitors (and/or mics, mic preamps, and best of all, instruments!) For folks using softsynths or live plugins where really low latency is important, a more expensive card can be much better (or just get firewire ...) But for recording, latency isn't important, and the sound difference between decent and best converters is barely audible to golden ears. Meanwhile, the difference for just one step up in price on monitors can make a huge difference.

                            Above someone mentioned that what you hear on perfect monitors won't translate to cheaper speakers. Well, that's why we have comparison monitors! Even without comparison monitors, a good mix done on great monitors will sound much better than the best mix you can do on crappy monitors, played through a high-end system, where all the flaws you couldn't hear are glaringly obvious.

                            Go cheap on soundcard. Even the cheap ones are far more transparent than most of what we could afford back in the bad ol' days of analog.

                            Go cheap on mics: great mikes are great, but there are a lot of really good inexpensive mics that have made a lot of hit records, and if they can do it, you should be able to as well.

                            Spend a buck or two on a decent mic preamp or two -- that'll help those inexpensive dynamic mikes sound a lot better, and they're useful for lots of things.

                            But don't cheap out on the monitors. That's the last place (other than instruments) to cut corners.
                            learjeff.net

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                            • #15
                              I took some favorite rock recordings to Guitar Center and listened to all the monitors they had. I ended up buying a pair of M-Audio BX8s because I thought they sounded best for the kind of music I mostly listen to. They sounded better to me than some that cost three times as much. Of course if I had I taken a different set of CDs (like jazz or classical) I may have ended up buying a different pair.

                              One thing about monitors is I think there is probably a point of diminishing returns when it comes to cost. I haven't looked lately but I think for about $800 or $900 you could get a pretty decent pair. I've never heard $10,000 monitors but I can't imagine that they would be ten times better sounding than a $1000 pair.

                              I have old stereo speakers and headphones that I listen to too and of course I always check the mix in the car as well.

                              It's alway useful to have source material that you know really well when your trying to judge monitors.
                              Last edited by Folder; 12-17-2014, 10:41 PM.

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