Nearfield vs. Midfield Monitors - Which is Right for You?
By Phil O'Keefe |
What's the difference, and which one is right for you?
Studio monitors are one of the most important tools in any recording setup since you base so many decisions on what you hear from them; because of this, monitor accuracy and proper setup are crucial. But what type of monitors are best for a home or project studio? With so many variables involved it's difficult to give specific recommendations, but we can cut through some of the confusion by helping you determine whether nearfield or midfield monitors are better suited to your specific situation.
FIgure 1: KRK's 10-3 G3 (left) and ROKIT 4 (right) monitors. The 4's are intended for nearfield use, while the larger and more powerful 10-3's can be configured to be suitable for nearfield or midfield monitoring.
What Do We Mean by "Field," Anyway?
Don't let the technical terminology confuse you. When you see the term "nearfield," it simply means "close distance." When you're using speakers in a nearfield monitoring configuration, they'll normally be set up in an equilateral triangle arrangement, with the speakers sitting about a meter apart from each other, and your head (and ears) positioned at the third point of the triangle, about one meter away from each of the two speakers and centered between them. Your ears should be at about the same height as the monitors, or at the very least the monitors should be angled so that they're "aimed" directly at your ears.
This kind of a close-in setup places the monitors near enough to you that you'll hear primarily the direct sound coming from the speakers, with the reflections off of the various room surfaces minimized. It's not that there aren't any reflections, it's just that the close distance to the speakers and lower amplifier power levels required for decent volume levels at close listening distances minimize their effect on what you're hearing.
Midfield monitors tend to be larger and more powerful than their nearfield cousins. While most nearfield designs are compact two-way systems with a tweeter and a moderately-sized (4-8") second driver handling the midrange and bass frequencies, midfield monitors have larger woofers (typically 8-10" and sometimes even larger) and often use three-way designs, with a dedicated midrange driver to go along with the tweeter and woofer. With beefier power amplifiers pushing dedicated drivers and larger cabinets designed to provide more bass extension and proper mid- and high-frequency dispersion at greater distances, they are far more suitable for use in larger listening rooms at greater listening distances.
The Pros and Cons of Each
Nearfield monitoring is a good choice for those working in smaller rooms, or rooms with more challenging acoustics. While they won't completely eliminate the effect of room acoustics on what you hear they will help minimize related issues, especially if you keep your playback levels reasonable. Where they often struggle is to provide higher volume levels at greater distances, or a wider "sweet spot" that will support more than one listener at a time. For that, we need to turn to midfield monitors.
With their larger drivers and more powerful amplifiers, midfield monitors can fill larger rooms with high-quality sound, and be positioned further away from the listeners without an apparent loss of bass or detail. They provide a larger monitoring sweet spot, more volume, and a generally "bigger" sound. If you have a larger room and work with other people a lot, and if you need higher volume levels and better bass extension, then midfield monitors are worth considering. However, be aware that they are more likely to excite the room "modes" (acoustical cancellations and reinforcement at various bass frequencies related to the room's dimensions), and that can lead to inaccuracies. If you're going to use larger, louder monitors and position them further away from you, good room design and acoustical treatment become more important than ever.
Which Is Right for You?
If you tend to work alone and have a small or acoustically-challenged room, then nearfield speakers and close-in monitoring are most likely the best choice. While they won't completely alleviate the effects of poor room acoustics or eliminate the need for acoustical treatment, nearfield monitors will typically result in more accurate monitoring in smaller rooms than larger, more powerful speakers that are placed further away from you.
Are you working on dance remixes in a larger control room? Want to "feel" a bit of the bass as well as hear it? Do you collaborate with other musicians and producers regularly? Then a set of midfield monitors may be the way to go, as long as you're willing to put the time and effort into analyzing your room and making sure it's suitable for larger speakers - and can afford to address any acoustical treatment needs that may be necessary.
No matter which design is right for you, remember to give you speakers a good day or two of moderate-level playback to break them in before you start using them, and then listen to as many great commercial mixes on them as possible to get acquainted with them and learn how expertly crafted mixes "should" sound on them.
Monitor Speaker Setup: The Very Basics by Craig Anderton
Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.