When it comes to audio production, the tools you use can make a huge difference. And this is especially true of monitors as they are the primary interface to your music, the window into your mixes and recordings. As such choosing monitors that provide an accurate representation of your sound is an investment that will pay you back many times over.
In this guide, the team at HEDD Audio will walk you through the different things you should consider when looking for studio monitors so that you can make the best decision possible.
The first place to start when choosing studio monitors is with your specific needs. There are a set of simple baseline factors you should consider:
What are the physical aspects of the space you will be working out of, your studio? Everything from its size to its shape and the doors and windows, if any, will impact the sound.
What music do you work with and how do you work with it? The needs of a primarily computer-based setup will be different to a setup that also includes hardware equipment and perhaps even microphones for recording vocals or instruments.
Do you need portability or will your setup be fixed? Some audio professionals sometimes need to move with their equipment, including the monitors, and this will impact which monitors you should choose.
Keeping these base considerations in mind will help you in the decision-making process.
Of all the basic considerations we’ve mentioned above, the size of your room is the most significant and the one you will likely need to spend the most time working on in a variety of ways.
Rooms that are smaller than around 16sqm will require smaller form monitors, which will generate less low-frequencies that can easily muddle the sound in smaller spaces. Near-field monitors are an ideal solution for small spaces as they are designed to be placed close to your listening position (the place in the room where you will sit). Ideally these monitors should have front-firing bass ports, so that back-wall resonances can be reduced.
Large rooms, or rooms that span from around 25–40 sqm, will call for larger studio monitors that can adequately cover the space as well as provide reliable low-end response. Therefore, mid-field monitors are the solution of choice here, as they will provide the necessary power and accuracy required of such spaces.
Regardless of the size of your room and the choice of studio monitors, you will need to think about room treatment! This is the most important thing to bear in mind, and will require the most work.
“Putting some serious effort into getting your room acoustic right, will make a major difference when it comes to judging the quality of a pair of loudspeakers.” - Klaus Heinz
Without some acoustic treatment you will face certain challenges that can hinder performance and accuracy. You can treat a room in a variety of ways, from small and simple but essential improvements like bass traps to full acoustic optimisation and the use of room correcting hardware such as Sonarworks and Trinnov. Whatever you do to treat the acoustics of your room will help ensure that your monitors can live up to their potential.
Frequency response is the range of frequencies a monitor can reproduce, and it is a crucial factor in how the sound will be perceived. Generally speaking you want monitors with a flat frequency response meaning that they do not emphasise any particular part of the frequency spectrum. This will in turn ensure that the sound coming out of the monitors is accurate, or respectful of its source, which is crucial in the mixing stage of audio production.
The frequency response will also be impacted by the acoustics of the room in which the monitors are placed. This is why room treatment, especially with regards to issues such as reflection and resonance, is key – you may need to install panels, bass traps, and other types of diffusers to ensure that the frequency response of your monitors is not adversely affected by the room environment.
The world of studio monitors can feel daunting, especially for first timers. They come in a variety of types that reflect the needs of professional users: from how they are powered to the number of components and whether or not they are analogue or digital. Knowing how to navigate these different aspects of a studio monitor will help you make the right choice.
Self-powered, or so called active, monitors can be considered the better solution for audio production because all the components in a speaker such as the cabinet, woofer, tweeter, and electronics are designed with a specific amplification system in mind. That way, certain limitations of passive crossover components can be overcome. Also, the direct coupling of drivers to the amplifier’s output leads to better amplifier control. Active speakers are used in most studios, and are ideal as an entry point into professional studio monitor usage.
Passive monitors on the other hand feature a somewhat traditional approach, requiring external amplifiers. The distribution of frequencies to the different speaker drivers is realised through passive filters based on components such as coils and condensers, whereas in active speakers this is done through powered electronic circuitry. As a result passive speakers can have different coloration options, meaning that the speakers can be given a specific sound based on how they are amplified and the internal components they use.
The next type to bear in mind, and which you’ll likely come across often when looking at studio monitors, is the number of drivers that a monitor includes which is often described as two-way or three-way.
Two-way monitors refer to a design that includes a tweeter for high frequencies and a woofer for mid-range and low frequencies. They are the most simple type of monitor you can buy, and make a great entry point as well as providing a solid foundation for any studio. They tend to be more affordable and can still provide excellent accuracy.
Three-way monitors add a mid-range driver to the design, thus providing a dedicated driver for the critical midrange area, which contains the sonic core of the most common instruments. A well made 3-way system will provide better insights into your audio and improve the stereo imaging as well. In a larger room, three-way monitors will cover a wider frequency range and the increased dynamic headroom will mean you won’t need to rely as much on headphones or subwoofers.
The choice between two-way and three-way monitors is also related to size – two-ways will be smaller, three-ways bigger. Many monitors will then further be differentiated in terms of inches, generally 5 or 6 for two-way and 8 or 10 for three-way models. Again the difference in sizes will impact various aspects of the monitors from their ability to provide clarity in the midrange or more accurately produce lower frequencies.
While monitors were analogue for most of the 20th century, advances in digital technology mean that we can now have speakers that make use of the flexibility of Digital Signal Processors, or DSP. This difference impacts what’s known as the monitor’s signal path, or how it reproduces sound. While some believe that digital monitors can cause sonic degradation, DSP-powered monitors have become increasingly common in recent years. Just as with any other analogue versus digital product, there are excellent sounding analogue monitors and poor sounding digital speakers – and vice versa.
Here is a summary of the pros and cons of using DSP-powered monitors:
Testing and comparing monitors is a good way to finalise your decision. Here are some simple tips to bear in mind when testing:
Choosing the right studio monitors for your sound and needs is an important and difficult decision that will require a lot of preparation and evaluation.
As with any such investment it is worth it when you consider that the monitors you choose will have a direct impact on how your music is heard and felt by others. Do not decide or judge on a monitor due to its approach (digital or analogue) alone, take the time to listen and to compare.
The HEDD MK2 monitor range features both two-way and three-way active digital monitors that are trusted by professionals worldwide for their flexibility, clarity, and precision. Whether you’re just starting out or looking to upgrade, the MK2 range has something for you.
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