In the music industry, there are many types of speakers, all with their own purpose. Monitors are what you use to hear the details accurately and easily – as opposed to PA systems for loudness or so-called “entertainment” speakers (desktop, surround sound, etc.) for general enjoyment. Whereas other speakers try to sound good, monitors have a mission is to be realistic. if a monitor sounds really nice, it may actually be a terrible monitor. This isn’t always true – just food for thought.
Little else matters in a sound studio without a great listening system. But few people know what it takes to have a good one. So a common piece of advice that I give is to learn the basics of what makes a speaker do what it does. Then, you can understand better how to judge one.
Speakers move air using a cone that acts like a wall. It pushes and pulls the cone using a magnet that can turn on and off thousands of times per second. This creates waves in the air, which your ears perceive as sound.
Moving air is the most important process that a speaker does. How exactly it does that and the consequences of the waves that are created gets complicated very quickly. So here are some of the most important points for you.
- Separate your speakers from everything else. Preferably using acoustic foam and/or speaker stands. Give them room and space them the same amount of distance as you sit from them.
- Place speakers based on the height of where you sit so that the small cone (tweeter) is at ear level.
- While music is playing, feel part of the speaker box that is not near a cone. The less vibrations you feel, the better your speaker is – unless it’s just not putting out much bass or volume.
- Be wary of speakers that have vents or “ports”. It means their designers took the easy way out to get bass.
Because monitors are so crucial to professional music production, they are at the center of holy wars, just as much as any Mac vs PC debate. All you have to do is find something that is a reasonable price and makes sense scientifically. Believe it or not, some brands make both excellent and terrible monitors. Can you guess which end of the price range gets the bad ones? You would be wrong to say low, high, or anything in between. The reality is that some companies specialize in budget monitors with great value and go on to make so-so expensive paperweights. The opposite is also true.
If this is your first time around the block, there’s no better experience than sitting in front of a bunch of monitors side-by-side and experimenting. It will teach you so much about speakers, price, translation, music itself, and more. Some stores have setups to let you do this. Even websites that sell music gear will often give you a “free trial” of sorts for monitors via a “risk-free” guarantee or a generous return policy, etc. This isn’t even limited to monitors – it applies to amps, keyboards, and even high-end microphones.
Once you’ve chosen a set, be prepared for a symbiotic relationship. Your speakers will grow on you in certain ways and you will become intimately familiar with their imperfections.