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Listening - A Question Of Studio Monitoring
Monitoring in a music studio
is, quite simply, the most important part of the studio
set up. Your studio may contain the most advanced
equipment available, but without accurate monitoring,
you will never hear an accurate mix, which is kinda
pointless, isn't it?!
So, what's the difference
between a good pair of hi fi speakers and true studio
Well. hi fi speakers
exaggerate the lows, and often the highs, to create
maximum impact. This can be good to listen to, but it's
seldom accurate. Studio monitors are designed to be very
accurate to insure a real reproduction of what's
actually being recorded. They're also built to much
sturdier and exacting standards than hi fi speakers, to
cater for the vigorous demands of studio use.
Monitors must be very transparent sounding to enable you
to mix parts of the music like vocals, bass and even
reverb trails without each part colliding into one and
To fully understand the concept of monitoring, you must
understand that it's an art. It's more than just
conveniently placing a pair of speakers in the room.
We're all different, as are studio monitors, and we use
the ones with which we're most comfortable and can best
judge the mix. I've used Yamaha NS10s, Dyn-Audio and
Tannoys over the years, but have settled with a pair of
Alesis M1 active for near-field monitoring and a pair of
Alesis Monitor Two's for midfield monitoring. They're my
personal preference and what I'm used to. There are more
expensive monitors available on the market, but
surprisingly accurate results can be achieved with less
expensive monitors just by following a few simple rules.
When monitoring, you're
listening to the placement of sound, dynamics, eq,
reverb trails, echoes and delays etc. Correctly placed
monitors allow you to do this. Hi fi speakers, however
good, do not!
A professional, well recorded mix will sound good on
anything, and that is the single most important
principle to remember. If you use a pair of hi fi
speakers to monitor, your mix may well sound great to
YOU on THOSE speakers, but I guarantee it won't sound
great to others elsewhere! So, the first rule is, don't
use hi fi speakers to monitor.
Nearfield monitors are
intended for mounting close to the listener. The idea is
to improve the direct acoustic path between the speaker
and the listener by making it shorter, thereby giving
less opportunity for the reflected sounds to get back in
and muddle things up. With nearfield monitoring, the
surrounding acoustic environment becomes less of a
problem. However, try to optimise the listening
environment whenever possible and be aware of the effect
that the size of the listening room can have on low
frequency response. Usually, the smaller the room, the
stronger the bottom end will be.
The ideal placement of
speakers is out in the room, away from side and rear
walls, and reflective surfaces like tiles, windows or
table tops. Unfortunately, and particularly in home
studios, this isn't always possible. So do what is
practical with the environment you have.
The physical spacing between
the speakers is very important, approximately 3 feet
apart. A good set of monitors, if positioned correctly
in a reasonably non-reverberant room, will give accurate
results. There should be equal distance between the
listener and either speaker. In other words, the
listener and the two speakers are the three corners of a
triangle with equal length sides.
Both speakers must be turned
in accordingly so that from your prime position, you see
only the face of both speakers. Also, your ears should
be level with the tweeters, so, if you're placement of
the speakers is higher, perhaps on a shelf or wall
mounted on brackets, then the speakers must be tilted
Most studios use monitor
speakers in the horizontal position. This set-up will
promote a strongly focused centre image, ideal for the
vocalist, for example. And because the image width is
narrower, the sounds can be placed with greater
precision than when the speakers are placed vertically.
Also, in the horizontal position, there will be much
less chance of first reflections from the studio
environment colouring your mix.
However, that isn't to say
that monitors shouldn't ever be used in the vertical
position. Indeed, some manufacturers recommend that in
'perfect' situations, they should be. With vertical
placement you hear the mix with the deepest and widest
soundstage possible. But this wide a dispersion pattern
can add strong reflections to the sound you hear,
muddying the mix, hence the preference for the
The rules for midfield monitors are the same as with
nearfield, except that the three cornered triangle is
much bigger, usually a minimum of 6 ft.
So, the second rule is,
place the monitors correctly, read the instructions that
come with the monitors and attain a better understanding
of your listening environment.
When recording for any
length of time, you will get listening fatigue, So take
regular breaks every few hours. It's amazing how
differently things can sound when you return refreshed.
There is also an old saying;
"If a song sounds great at low volume, it'll sound great
at any level. But a song that sounds great loud will not
necessarily sound great at a lower volume".
Think also of the effect on
your hearing over time when constantly listening at loud
So, the third rule is, take regular breakes when
recording, make your regular listening level a sensible
one and listen at louder levels only occasionally, for
feel and bass purposes.
There is of course, a place
for the car stereo and hi fi in the process. When I'm
happy with the mix, I listen on my hi fi and car stereo.
If it still sounds good, then I can be confident that
it's a good mix.
So, the fourth rule is, a professional, well recorded
mix will sound great on any system. So use your car
stereo and hi fi to 'final check' your mix.
About The Author:
David Wright is a solo keyboard player and recording artist,
composer and producer who founded the electronic music label AD
Music in 1989.
AD Music - Record Label
David Wright's Own Site
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