Adventures In Audio
Do monitors really make a difference?

David Mellor

David Mellor is CEO and Course Director of Audio Masterclass. David has designed courses in audio education and training since 1986 and is the publisher and principal writer of Adventures In Audio.

Monday October 16, 2006
FREE EBOOK DOWNLOAD ►

I've just been reading a comparison test on monitors in Future Music magazine. The people doing the testing were all producers with excellent track records in the industry. However, judging from their comments they were finding it difficult to come to solid conclusions about the worth of the monitors they were considering.

But the most important question was not asked, which is, "What do you want your monitors to do for you?" Have a little think...

OK, here's my view... The role of monitors in recording is twofold. Firstly, you need to know exactly what it is you are recording, or have just recorded and are playing back. The monitors should tell you exactly the nature of the waveform on tape or disk. So in this respect monitors need to fulfill the normal sound engineering requirements of flat frequency response and low distortion (the other common parameter of low noise is not an issue here). Now it is a plain and simple fact that moving coil loudspeakers are not very good in either respect. But nearly every recording that you would ever listen to has been monitored on moving coil loudspeakers, so maybe this isn't the most important issue.

The other function of monitors is to tell you, as an engineer, what your recording will sound like to your eventual audience - the people who buy your records or CDs, or listen on radio. In fact radio could be more important because this is where the decision to buy will often be made.

So now it is important that your monitors be representative of a typical listening system. A sort of average of all the loudspeakers in the world, if you like. Maybe this could be done for real. Maybe a manufacturer could buy a whole range of typical domestic loudspeakers, test them in this way and that, and produce the perfect average monitor. It really could be possible.

However, until then it is worth bearing in mind that there is no such thing as the perfect monitor. Buy the best you can afford in terms of frequency response and distortion (and not too over-enhanced in the bass end), and with a sound quality you can live with. Then when you are working on your mix, take your mix out of the studio and play it on every different pair of speakers you can find, including your car stereo and personal stereo headphones. Modify as necessary.

This way you can produce a mix that is 'averaged out' across a range of typical loudspeakers and you can be sure that it will sound as good as it possibly can to any of your listeners. Remember that a mix that only sounds good in your studio is not a good mix.

Like, follow, and comment on this article at Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Instagram or the social network of your choice.

Come on the Audio Masterclass Pro Home Studio MiniCourse - 60 great hints and tips to get your home recording studio MOVING

It's FREE!

Get It Now >>

How to choose the best key for your song

What is comb filtering? What does it sound like?

NEW: Audio crossfades come to Final Cut Pro X 10.4.9!

What is the difference between EQ and filters? *With Audio*

What difference will a preamp make to your recording?

Watch our video on linear phase filters and frequency response with the FabFilter Pro Q 2

Read our post on linear phase filters and frequency response with the Fabfilter Pro Q 2

Harmonic distortion with the Soundtoys Decapitator

What's the best height for studio monitors? Answer - Not too low!

What is the Red Book standard? Do I need to use it? Why?

Will floating point change the way we record?

Mixing: What is the 'Pedalboard Exception'?

The difference between mic level and line level

The problem with parallel compression that you didn't know you had. What it sounds like and how to fix it.

Compressing a snare drum to even out the level

What does parallel compression on vocals sound like?

How to automate tracks that have parallel compression

Why mono is better than stereo for recording vocals and dialogue

Clipping and compressing a drum recording to achieve an exciting sound texture

What can we learn about room acoustics from this image?

Can you hear the subtle effect of the knee control of the compressor? (With audio and video demonstrations)

What is the best studio microphone?

What is the Neve sound? (Using the Slate Digital FG-73)

What is the difference between recording, mixing and mastering?