Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Picking a Pair of Refrence Monitors

What's the most important part of any production? What you're producing! Therefore, what is the most important tool in your production arsenal? (Aside from your ears) Your monitors! If you can't hear what you're creating, then you can't perfect it. Having a pair of quality monitors that you know and trust will take your productions to new places. This being said, picking a set of monitors is an extremely personal decision and no amount of information I give to you here will be able to make this decision for you. You need to listen and use your ears to decide which set of monitors will be best for you and your music. However, I can give you some guidelines that might make purchasing such an important (and expensive) part of your home studio a little bit easier.

-Passive VS Active Sytems

I'm assuming that most of my readers are producers and DJ's who work out of their bedrooms. Taking this into account the whole passive VS active war is quickly won by the active systems. However, it's worth taking a look at each to understand the differences.

First and foremost a passive system requires an amplifier. I'm assuming most of you are short on: space, money and, time to learn about: ohms, watts, amplifiers, crossovers and, limiters. If you just want to make music and not worry about these things, just go with an active system, you'll thank yourself later. However, passive systems do offer some advantages. There is typically less electronic noise with passive systems because the power source (amplifier) is farther away from the drivers but, the speaker wire can be a source of interference if you're not careful. Also, you can purchase a much higher quality amplifier than you can normally get in most active systems and, you can choose an amplifier to meet your needs exactly. It's important to remember that amplifiers have their own sonic character (sound) when purchasing one be sure to listen to it powering your monitors before you buy it.

An active system on the other hand has amplifiers that are built into the cabinet that houses the drivers. No need for an external amplifier, just plug them into the master out of your mixer or interface and you’re good to go! The amplifiers (most active systems have 2, one for each end of the frequency spectrum) that are part of an active system are tuned and balanced for use with those drivers. No need to worry about getting the perfect amplifier for your system, it’s essentially already been done for you. Be careful with budget monitor systems though, often times the amplifiers in those aren’t as good as they would like you to believe.

The bottom line of this debate. With the technology today, if you spend the money, you can get an active system that rivals most passive systems for anywhere near the same price. Be weary though, the market is flooded with cheap crappy active systems that will, in the long run, just be a waste of money.

Here’s a good article from Sound on Sound that can help you understand the differences between these two even better.

Know Your Budget

Before you begin searching, you need to know how much money you have to dedicate to this purchase. This part is a little scary, quality monitors aren't cheap, so just prepare yourself. A decent pair of active near field studio monitors can usually be had for around 700 to 1,500 dollars. Find a price that you’re comfortable with spending and then research and listen to (if possible) every monitor that falls into your price range. Higher price does usually mean better components, but this isn't always the case. Only your ears and your music will be able to tell you what you really need. Remember what I said about monitors being the most important tool in your production arsenal though. If you don’t have the money to get a quality set that you’re happy with. Don’t get them! Wait it out until you can afford the system that you are happy with.

Accuracy VS Good Sound

A monitor system isn't designed to work like a hi-fi system in a home. Monitors are designed to provide as flat of frequency response as possible. In other words good monitors won't add or take away anything from your sound. Monitors aren't designed to sound "good" they are designed to sound "accurate" just because you think a monitor sounds great, doesn't mean your work will sound great on them. In fact a good monitor may make your music sound horrible. They will show you things you've never heard, and when you hear things you've never heard; you're probably going to want to take a closer look at that set of monitors. They may be your new babies.

What's Your Personal Style?

It's important to hear monitors with your music before buying anything. I recommend taking a CD to your local music shop with a few tracks that you've created and know really well. You might also want to throw some of your favorite professional tracks on that CD too so that you can hear those mixes from your perspective monitors as well. If you produce hip-hop or dance music (which I’m assuming most of you do) you obviously really want to concentrate on bass. Look for monitors with larger low end drivers. (subs) And you might even want to consider looking at a 2.1 system (2 monitors and a subwoofer) Blue Sky makes a very nice affordable one. This isn't necessary but hip-hop and dance music is created to be felt, if you don't have a sub, or monitors with good low end response you may find yourself pumping your monitors to get that bass your searching for. Pushing any sound system to the limit will cause it to distort what we're hearing and this is obviously something that we don't want. While we're on this low end subject, it's worth mentioning that Mackie monitors are notorious for their low end coloration (addition of low end information) I've worked with multiple Mackie setups and can attest to this myself. While they may "thump", your track won't thump like they do on Mackies when you listen to it on another system. Not to say Mackies are a bad choice, it's just something to remember when you hear them. They sound deeper because, they are, not because they're better than other systems. You will notice all these difference as you listen to more and more monitors. Only you will be able to decided which ones you really like.

A Few Brands Worth Checking Out

Adams: Their A7 monitors are unbelievable (just ask trees :D)

Genelec: If you've got the money... Check em out

Dynaudio: Never actual heard them, however I've only heard good things.

Blue Sky: Another personal favorite of mine, however not the most durable of monitor systems.

Tannoy: They've been building speakers since 1926, they know what's up.

KRK: A good "bedroom" monitor; simple, rough, and fairly accurate.

All this being said I hope that this post can help you in your quest to perfect the sound that you're all searching for. There are tons of resources that can help you pick out a pair of monitors, and the research on your part shouldn't stop here. Monitors are an expensive investment and I recommend doing as much homework as possible before you buy a set. Remember what matters: YOUR EARS! Listen, listen, listen to every set you can. Once you start listening you will begin to hear the subtle differences. When you've found some your comfortable with take them home and rock out with whatever it is you rock out with! Good Luck! If you have any questions you can always contact me at: nlucini@me.com or click the call me widget at the bottom of the sidebar.

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