In the olden days of recording, a pro studio would have a pair of really good loudspeakers so that they could hear every detail of what they were recording.
It's a law of the universe that really good speakers also have to be large, otherwise a) they can't reproduce the bass, and b) what bass they can reproduce isn't as clean as it should be.
But there would also be a tiny speaker equivalent to what you would find in a 1960s or 1970s transistor radio.
That was used to hear the sound the way a typical listener would hear it.
But by the 1980s, people had hi-fi systems at home. Well they were called hi-fi. The fi wasn't generally as hi as all that, and the speakers were usually quite small. About the size of nearfields, coincidentally.
Actually it's not a coincidence, because nearfield monitors became popular to emulate this new 'medium-fi' experience in the home.
At the same time, engineers discovered that by having the monitors really close, the acoustics of the control room became less of an influence.
So in time, monitoring on nearfields became pretty much the standard.
But there is a problem…
If you need to have large loudspeakers to reproduce a recording really accurately, wouldn't you be making a mistake by monitoring and mixing on small nearfields?
Well it depends on your philosophy of sound really. Should the sound on the recording be perfect in every way, or should it be adapted to suit the likely listening conditions?
You'll have to make your own judgment on that because there isn't one correct answer.
But if the sound quality of nearfields is a concern, why not bring the main monitors closer?
Well you can do that, but then you won't be able to check what domestic reproduction would sound like because you have now occupied the space where the nearfields could have been.
But now you can have the best of both worlds in one package. Well, two packages for stereo.
Welcome the Focal SM9, which is like a nearfield and a main monitor in one box.
This trick is achieved by providing 8-inch and 6.5-inch bass and midrange drive units, plus a tweeter, on the front panel, and an enormous 11-inch passive radiator on the side.
A passive radiator is like an unpowered loudspeaker drive unit that works a bit like the port in a bass reflex enclosure, but better and without the 'chuff'.
And what's more, you can switch the SM9 into 'main' or 'nearfield' mode, via a 'Focus' switch.
In nearfield mode, the larger drive unit is disconnected, and the crossover frequency between the two small drive units shifted to give the 'small speaker' sound, appropriate to fine-tuning mixes for domestic consumption.
Whether or not this idea catches on we will have to wait and see. But in my mind it is a fascinating development. I wouldn't be surprised to see other manufacturers jumping onto this promising bandwagon.
P.S. Why do monitors always have to be black?