Why Are Studio Monitors Important?

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For a beginning producer or DJ, getting the first pair of studio monitors can be considered a rite of passage. With the ever-decreasing prices of high-quality studio monitors, home studios are becoming more popular than ever, and more people can embark on this career path with a relatively low investment.

Some novices mistake using lower-quality regular speakers instead of studio monitors for their mixing and editing work. While this isn’t a huge error per se (more on that later), studio monitors have been designed specifically for valuable production work. They should be a centerpiece of any aspiring artist’s equipment.

A pair of studio monitors can play clearer, noise-free audio as close to the original recording as possible, allowing for more fine-tuning that will work well on commercial equipment.

What Makes Studio Monitors Special

At a glance, a studio monitor looks similar, if not the same, to a bookshelf speaker. The differences on the outside are relatively minor, and it’s easy to mistake the two pieces of audio equipment. However, the inside is what matters. Studio monitors use specially designed audio drivers and internal mechanical parts to accurately represent the recorded sound.

The best way to visualize the differences between regular speakers and studio monitors is to test them using frequency response measurement software. While there are some differences between the various measurement methods, they all boil down to testing how strong the output signal of a speaker is for all frequencies in the audible spectrum.

The frequency response curve remains relatively stable and flat throughout the audible range for studio monitors, with minimal variations and distortions, depending on its quality.

Typically, professional-grade studio monitors have a nearly flat curve for the entire 20-20 000Hz range that human ears can hear. Entry-level monitors don’t fare so well with the lowest frequencies and might have slight problems with other ranges, but they are still far more effective than speakers in the same price and quality range.

When you test a traditional speaker for its frequency response, you’ll usually see that the bass (low frequencies) is boosted, with the graph dipping in the midrange frequencies, only to end with a sharply elevated treble.

This effect, known as ‘coloring,’ is what makes specific music genres more enjoyable and palatable to our ears, allowing a broad audience to enjoy music on relatively inexpensive devices.

The Importance of Studio Monitors

For the best possible result, recording and editing experts need to work with the most accurate representation of the original sound. That’s so any edits can be more truthful and easier to translate to lower-grade speakers.

If you’ve to work with a pair of regular speakers, the boosted bass might give you the impression that it doesn’t need to be tweaked, or you might turn it down if you don’t need so much of it. Someone listening to your edits on a setup that doesn’t boost bass as much as your speakers will then hear an absence of bass, which can make for a wholly different experience than intended.

Studio monitors also pick up distortions in the original soundtrack better and can easily amplify certain frequencies to make editing them easier. The transparency (i.e., lack of coloration) allows for a more truthful representation and gives every editor an even playing field when working with the same original track.

The result is a more consistent, distortion-free sound that can translate better into various reproduction devices, whether desktop speakers, car radios, high-quality headphones, or iPad earphones.

Why Are Studio Monitors Important

Studio Monitor Types and Differences

There are a few distinct types of studio monitors that can have different equipment requirements and uses.

Some studio monitors come without an amplifier, which makes them passive monitors. While these were prevalent a few decades ago due to the difficulty of building high-quality amplifiers into the cabinets, most home studios no longer have much use for them.

So instead, the most popular monitors used in beginner home studios and professional production houses are active monitors. These have integrated amplifiers, usually two or three, to make manipulating responses and tuning much easier and more straightforward.

If you have paired studio monitors, one serves as a passive monitor, i.e., without an amplifier or power source. Instead, all amplification needs are provided by the active monitor to give a more even response.

Studio monitors are also separated by effective listening distance. There are two main categories, near-field, and far-field monitors. Near-field monitors have a sweet spot that is between two and five feet away from the speakers. Home studios most commonly use near-field monitors due to space restrictions.

Far-field monitors have a sweet spot that is over five feet away. Theoretically, they don’t distort sound over a longer distance, provided the space is ideally soundproofed (which it often isn’t). These are typically used in professional production houses for more testing or simply showing off.

Do You Need Studio Monitors?

If you plan on doing any serious audio editing, investing in even a pair of mid-range studio monitors can make a world of difference. However, that doesn’t mean that you should throw away your existing regular speakers.

While studio monitors are perfect for editing due to sound clarity and transparency, they don’t make for a great listening experience. Most home studios use a secondary pair of traditional speakers or headphones to test how the result will sound like ‘in the wild’ since the audience will have vastly different audio setups.

Headphones have a better response due to a lack of sound reflections from the wall, but they can be a hassle to wear for prolonged periods and have different frequency response curves. Headphones are also vital when working with any voiceover work.

Studio monitors interfere with the recording process since the microphones only need to pick up voices.

Additionally, studio monitors by themselves won’t do a lot. Improper equipment placement and room treatment will introduce interference and sound distortion at every step of the way, making the editing more problematic.

However, some room soundproofing and a decent pair of studio monitors will get a sound producer most of the way toward professional-grade results.

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