All About Studio Monitors
Why do I need studio monitors? Can’t I just use headphones?
Hearing accurately is critical to making good recording and mixing decisions. For the podcasters among us, a good pair of headphones might provide you with all the information needed to make a clear, intelligible voice recording. But music is different. Music needs to sound great on all sorts of playback mediums, like laptop speakers, in the car, iPod earphones, fancy hi-fi systems, phone speakers, etc.
The truth is, headphones can’t give us the full sonic picture we need to be sure our EQ, compression and other choices translate well across all those devices. If you’re having trouble making your music or recordings sound great on different playback mediums, it’s probably time to think about buying some quality studio monitors.
Their booming bass, stereo depth and dynamic range are the features that will help you feel much more confident that everyone is enjoying the sound of your music, regardless of how they choose to listen.
With so many options, from small desktop designs to big 8-inch woofers, it can be difficult to navigate the complex world of studio monitors that’s been evolving over the last 50 years. We’ve compiled a list of important details you’ll need to consider when selecting the speakers that are right for you.
Powered vs. Passive
For the purposes of hobbyists and professional engineers alike, powered or active monitors are almost always the way to go. This means the amplifier is built into the speaker cabinet, eliminating the need for clunky external amp. Most monitors are powered by a single three-prong IEC cable.
Special shout-out to the Yamaha NS-10, which is a classic passive monitor design no longer in production.
Size Matters, but Bigger Isn’t Always Better
Studio monitors come in a multitude of sizes, normally in 5-, 6-, and 8-inch configurations. Generally speaking, the larger the speaker cone, the more bass the speaker can reproduce. This is true in a controlled environment, but the issue gets stickier in smaller untreated rooms (like a bedroom studio). Bass tends to build up in the corners of small rectangular rooms, resulting in a clouded stereo image. In cases of small rooms with no acoustic treatment, smaller speakers of the 5- or 6- inch variety are more appropriate than large 8-inch. The low-end will be easier to
manage, and you’ll have more space between your ears and the speakers (which is always good in a tight space!).
If you’re in a large room, you’re in luck. Grab yourself a nice pair of 8” monitors and enjoy the extended low-end. Just be sure to space them properly.
Where should I set up my monitors?
Ideally in a rectangular room, the speakers would throw along the longer surface, meaning the front and back walls are the shorter in length. This isn’t possible for everybody’s home setup, but don’t worry too much if that’s you. It’s not the end of the world.
For best results, do not place your speakers across the corner of a wall. This can lead to all sorts of frustrating bass problems. Corner desks save space and look great, but they don’t serve our purposes well.
All stereo monitor pairs have a “sweet spot” that varies by manufacturer and is altered by whatever space you’re in. The sweet spot is the ideal location for listening. As a rule of thumb, your speakers and listening position should form an equilateral triangle. It’s good to experiment with the spacing of your monitors while keeping this ratio in mind. You’ll notice as you move the speakers apart that the sweet spot can shift, widen or disappear. Use your ears to determine at what distance they sound best.
If possible, move your speakers away from the wall 12 or more inches, and you’ll hear a noticeable improvement!
Studio monitors normally have one of three connections, or a combination:
Balanced TRS (1/4”)
If your interface has balanced outputs, it is recommended you use balanced cables to minimize the effects of RF interference and to ensure a strong signal. XLR to TRS cables are a good solution for those with 1/4” outputs and XLR monitor inputs or vice-versa.
Do I need a subwoofer?
Quick answer: probably not. If you feel you’re not getting enough low-end out of your speakers, try treating your room first, then expanding to the sub or getting larger speakers as you see fit. If you do buy a sub, consider one that can be switched on and off easily, so you can reference your mix with and without it.
Use the settings on the back!
Many monitors come with additional feature sets, including EQ or room correction DSP (digital signal processing). Certain models, like those in the Yamaha HS Series, have different settings to help tame the bass or to scoop the midrange. Experiment with these settings, but be sure to maintain the same settings on both speakers.
- Use heavy speaker stands. The more mass coupled to your speaker cabinets, the better. Some can be filled with shot or sand. These will also keep
the listening position consistent. If you’re placing your monitors on a desk, consider purchasing Auralex MoPAD or similar isolation pads to keep rattling to a minimum.
- Keep the tweeters at ear-level. Adjust the height of your speakers so the high-frequency tweeters are at the same height as your ears when sitting at the listening position.
- TREAT YOUR SPACE! Add bass traps and midrange absorbers to combat the sound of a small boxy room. The smaller the room, the more bass trapping needed.
Entry-level Monitor Recommendations
Note: studio monitors are often sold one speaker at a time.
For small- to medium-sized rooms:
M-Audio BX-5 D3
KRK Rokit 6
For larger spaces:
KRK Rokit 8
Presonus Eris E8 Pair
The Best Monitors For Home Recording
1. KRK Rokit 5 pair (5” driver)
2. JBL LSR305 pair (5”)
3. JBL LSR308 pair (8”)
4. Yamaha HS5 (5”) – doesn’t come as a pair
5. Yamaha HS8 (8”) – doesn’t come as a pair
Monitors are only one piece needed for a home recording studio. Here are some other things you may need: