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The Truth about
Studio Monitors

A Common Sense approach to uncovering the
"Truth" about what we hear

by Tweak

large product image

Dynaudio BM6a MKII

So lets talk about studio monitors. A thorny subject to be sure, with as many opinions as is believable. As with microphones and sequencers, the debate often turns into flame-fests.   Yet there has been some progress in our understanding of monitors.  Nearly everyone seems to agree that one needs a "near field" monitor to accurately assess the music they are creating.  A near field monitor is one that you keep pretty close to you, typically between 3-5 feet.  The idea here is that the music we  hear is dramatically altered by room acoustics.  Go try a little experiment.  Take any speaker and put it in the corner of a room.  You will hear bass resonating through the room that does not exist when the speaker is in the middle of the room. 
 

Those with big buck studios can afford to treat their room acoustically, with bass traps and other devices.  Perhaps those are the only places where one still sees the mammoth monitors that create wall sized sound. The near field monitor is the solution to minimize as much as possible the interaction of sound with the room.  Because they are positioned close to you, you hear the sound directly.  Because they are so close you need less volume, so less of the sound travels to walls and corners and bounces back at you. 
 

Unlike a hi-fi speaker, which is designed, hopefully, to make all audio material sound pleasing to the ear, the studio monitor has as it's main objective to paint an accurate audio image of the material, with no unnatural emphasis or de-emphasis of particular frequencies. This is what it means when a monitor is said to be "flat".  and "uncolored" or "transparent".  That's the theory at least.  Reality sometimes paints a different picture. And this is where the arguing typically begins. 
 

Monitors for the Home and Project Studio Tweak's Opinions!  Disclaimer:  Your mileage may vary.  I LOVE great sound above accuracy, but greatly dislike a strident top end, harshness and a boomy overhanging bass that masks frequencies..  Those be my biases. I only tell you what I like and make no claim my statements are objective.

Note if you don't see your favorite (under $1200 a pair)monitors below that means either I did not hear them or I don't like them.

 

Dynaudio Acoustics BM5A Active Nearfield Monitor
This high-performance monitor comes in a very compact design and it is extremely well suited for production environments where space is a concern. The BM 5A is well suited for music monitoring and mixing, broadcasting, OB vans, edit suites, playback suites, project studios and smaller post production facilities. Tweak: Highly regarded by pros.  Bass is definitely strong for a monitor this size. Too much? Go back and forth with the A7's and make up your own mind.  The top is well defined, clear, not excessive.  People love these. I suggest listening to these next to others this size.  BTW, the woofer i actually a 6.9" not a 5"

 

Dynaudio BM6A MKII Active Nearfield Monitor
This two-way active analog nearfield monitor with a 6.9 in. woofer and a 1.1 in. soft dome tweeter delivers distinctive Dynaudio clarity and accuracy, exposing every audible detail for the critical and demanding engineer
... Tweak: Professionals I have known rave about these "the most beautiful sound in a compact monitor".  My jury is out.

 Adam A7 Powered Nearfield Monitor
The A7 matches the A.R.T. tweeter with a state of the art 6.5-inch woofer that introduces a new cone material combining high rigidity and high internal damping with low weight, resulting in an extremely accurate monitor with all the clarity, detail and spectacular imaging traditionally associated with the ADAM name.  Tweak: Adams are legend in the studio world.  Listening to the A7 is a different experience; its like someone just took your earmuffs off.  What you get is midrange clarity that is lifelike, a high end that is brilliant, yet avoid harshness, at least to my ears.  While the bass is there, there is absolutely no masking.  This a a different kind of monitor. 

 

Main  KRK VXT8 Active Studio Monitor
Drawing upon the design characteristics of their Exposť E8B, the new VXT Series of monitors consists of 3 models -- the VXT4, VXT6, and VXT8. Tweak:  Aggressive beautiful sound.  Not for small rooms.  These babies have power.  Sound is subjective, you know, but these are at the top of my class.  Straight up.


KRK RP5G2 Rokit G2 Powered 2-Way Active Monitor
The KRK RP5G2 Rokit G2 Powered Studio Monitor takes this KRK design to new heights. All of the great stuff that Rokit's have been known for including front-firing bass port, soft-domed tweeter, glass aramid composite yellow cone are still there, but the G2 Rokit's feature refined voicing and a new curved baffle that looks great, reduces diffraction and provides even better monitoring accuracy. Tweak: Surprising bass, and even more surprising, its not tubby like a lot of 5's. Great starter monitors.

Priced from 149.50
KRK RP6G2 Rokit G2 Powered 2-Way Active Monitor
The KRK RP6G2 Rokit G2 Powered Studio Monitor takes this KRK design to new heights. All of the great stuff that Rokit‚€™s have been known for including front-firing bass port, soft-domed tweeter, glass aramid composite yellow cone are still there, but the G2 Rokit‚€™s feature refined voicing and a new curved baffle that looks great, reduces diffraction and provides even better monitoring accuracy. Tweak:  Not my fave. But they are a slight step up from the RP5G2.  They get the job done.

KRK RP8G2 Rokit G2 Powered 2-Way Active Monitor
The KRK RP8G2 Rokit G2 Powered Studio Monitor gives you amazing performance and accuracy for the home or project studio. All of the great stuff that Rokit's have been known for... Tweak: These are known by ME as a great bang for the buck!.  When i listen to them next to the big boys over a grand a pair I start thinking about how little difference there really is. These give you that full bass that an 8" woofer provides, plus a clean top.  If all you have is 5 bills or so, its a no brainer.  My polls vouch for this one, and so do my ears.


Yamaha HS80M Active Studio Monitor (120 Watts, 1x8 in.)
The new HS Series powered monitors were designed to be true studio reference monitors in the tradition of the famous NS10Ms. When choosing your next pair of near field reference monitors, remember it's not just important that they sound good; they have to be an honest reference for your mix. The new HS Series of reference monitors were designed to give you exceptionally flat response
...
Tweak:   What!? I don't agree that they are anything like the NS10M, which sounded like utter garbage--that's insane! The person who wrote that obviously never heard the NS10m.  I find the HS80M sound excellent.  Very comparable the the KRKRPG82 and the dynaudio Bm5a. Yet a little more open, a tad boxy, but definitely worthy.

M-Audio BX8A Deluxe Active Monitors
The M Audio Studiophile BX8A Studio Monitors are revered around the world for their exceptional sonic accuracy. The new Studiophile BX8A Deluxe system builds on this legacy with new waveguides and enhanced driver integration for greater high-frequency clarity and refined sound. Tweak: These are workhorses. Tough monitors that can take it. I've used these and know the sound.  They do have a sound that is hard to define.  I find them colored. Not in a bad way, but hey we are under 500 a pair.

M-Audio BX5A Deluxe Active Studio Monitors
The Studiophile BX5A Deluxe monitors update the best-selling M-Audio BX5A systems with a variety of enhancements. New waveguides deliver excellent imaging. Custom amplifier tuning enhances the integration between the high and low frequencies, delivering refined spectral balance and a smoother response. A new low-frequency transducer in the BX5A Deluxe system adds extra definition to the bass response.  Tweak:  The bass is good.  A little tubby, but at this price that is what you get. Like the BX8a, these seem colored to my ears.  Rugged. Great for newbies. 

Mackie HR824MKII 2-Way Active Studio Monitor (1x8 in.)
The high-resolution HR824mk2 Active studio reference monitor sounds as smooth as it looks. The new Zero Edge Baffle minimizes diffraction for a crystal clear image of your mix, and controls sound waves for wide, even dispersion. Combine this with uniform response and tight bass extension, and your studio‚€™s sweet spot becomes a full-on sweet zone. Tweak:  i have the original HR824, not the mk2, and they are different. These are definitely in the same class as the HS80, Bm5a and KRK RP8G2

Mackie MR8 2-Way Active Studio Monitor (1x8 in.)
Mackie MR8 Studio Monitors deliver truly professional quality and everything you need for critical monitoring ‚€” at a price that‚€™s unbelievably affordable. Wide, even dispersion means a broad sweet spot, minimizing funny dips or peaks in frequency response when you move off axis. Tweak: Not bad for the price.  Solid and full sound.  If you have limited cash this is a good way to go.

Should a Monitor be Flat?  I want my Bass! The Story of Studio A vs. Studio B
 

Should a monitor really be flat?  Some say no. They say buy a monitor that you like to listen to, that your favorite music sounds great on, then match your efforts in the mix to produce that sound you love.  Others, however, say if certain frequencies are  over represented, you will under-represent them in your mix.  Huh? Ok here we go.  Studio Jock A has a bass-shy set of nearfields.  S/he like the bass strong and thumpin' So they make those little 6 inch woofs pop to the beat.  When Jock A goes to Jock B's studio, equipped with subwoofers, Jock A realizes his or her mix is nothing but one giant wash of low frequency mud.  Ah, dude, you lost that one. But before you go post on my forum "HELP ME!!!!!!!, my mix thounds like thiiiit" keep reading, ok?
 

I like my Bass!  Do I need a subwoofer?
If you really like bass you need a subwoofer so you can actually hear what bass you are creating.  With small speakers you are NOT going to hear the full bass tone and you won't know if you hit a low C or a C#. But the people with subs will know.  However, be advised to keep your subwoofer at a very low level when mixing, because, as I point out in the article, you run a risk of creating a bass-shy mix.

Now Jock B in his premium subwoofer enhanced bass studio smiles condescendingly at Jock A, tweaks a mix to pure sonic bass perfection. The Bass is just blowin' everyone's chest away like a heart attack, but the rest of the mix appears strong and balanced in all frequency regions.  Jock B smugly walks a CD to Jock A's studio and loads his latest mix.  To their astonishment, the bass is gone, not even present except a little wimpy tap-tap-tap of a cardboard sounding kik drum. Tweak rolls on the floor, laughing his a** off.   Jock B sputters, having lost his composure, "W-w-w.here did my bass go!??" Ahem, the "truth" is that because Jock B heard the bass so well in his studio, he did not put enough into the mix, and the little "flat" monitors at studio A didn't give a flying cone excursion. 


This brings us to Tweak's Law, which says, whatever your monitors are good at is exactly what your mix will be bad at.  So then, what is the "Truth" in monitoring?  Who has the Truth? Hehe, how dare they name a monitor after it!  Is it just like a war of religions?  Nope.  The "truth" really has less to do with the monitor itself and more to do with the experience of the producer.  The truth is that if your music is successful, people will listen to it in the car, on boom boxes, on their walkman, on mom's kitchen radio with the 3 inch speaker, in living rooms with surround systems, in listening booths a cd stores, on TV, and every once in a while, maybe 1 out of every 100 listens, someone will hear it on good speakers, and maybe, if you are lucky 1 out of 1000 on studio monitors.  The real truth is in the understanding of how your mix on your monitors translates to other listening conditions.  That is, you have to really "know" your monitors.  The main thing is to get a set you are comfortable with, that you can listen to all day.  Your ears will actually "learn" the monitor.  As you check you mix on other systems, you will learn about your systems deficiencies and compensate.  The truth is not a quality of the object, but a quality of ear, mind and experience. "It's in your head".
 

So what makes a good Monitor?
 

So, then, what makes a good monitor, other than the sound it produces?  A good monitor is rugged, and can handle peaks, overloads, feedback mistakes and come back ready for more.  It's funny.  I started my sound development business on hi-end 3-way audiophile speakers, which worked great for a year.  But with the constant tweaking of sound experiments in sub bass regions, the woofers just popped right out of their cones with a 360 degree rip around the cone. Bummer. Hi-Fi speakers are not made to take abuse above typical programmed material.  Sure you can use them, just don't use them as the main monitors. 

A good monitor does not artificially exaggerate frequencies.  You do not want a speaker that sounds like a "disco smile".  That's where the bass and the treble are boosted and the mids are cut. They call it a "smile" because that's how it looks on a graphic equalizer.  Lots of people really like that sound.  If you like that sound, mix up a nice smile for your monitors.  Then it might actually translate on other systems.  But if you speakers make that automatically, you mix will be shown lacking in bass and high transients.  Using that principle was the secret behind the Yamaha NS-10s, the most horrible sounding speaker ever made. On an NS10 there was no bass, no high end, just screeching awful sounding peaky mids.  People who referenced on them had to boost the bass massively and cut the mids.  The resultant mix?  Yep, the disco smile. It made hit after hit and people thought they were magic. If you could make the shrill box sound passable, it would sound great everywhere else. 
 

Lookup Reviews on Studio Monitors

 

So now you know my biases.  I know you are wondering which monitors I think are "best" over there on the right.  I know you aren't going to let me get away with just saying "the ones your ears like".  So many choices!  All the monitors you see are workable solutions.  So how do you know if your ears like them?  You have to listen (Doh!) of course, but listen "comparatively".  I suggest taking along your absolute most known CD--a  mix you know intimately and have head a few million times, like "Stairway to Heaven".  You "know" how it should sound.  It's in your bones. If you hear stuff you have never heard before, give that monitor a point.  Now listen for deficiencies in the bass.  Is the voice coil working really hard to produce very little bass?  Is there a certain bass resonance, a sound of air rushing out the ports? Is the high end smooth?  Or is it harsh and grainy.  Is the box squawking at mid range frequencies?  These are all "box deficiencies".  The more speakers you listen to, the more you will hear the problems.  Then it dawns on you, you can find a problem with every enclosure and know there is no perfect monitor.  So you look at the higher end and you find that the better priced monitors typically exhibit fewer objectionable problems.  The end is always a compromise with what you like and what you want to spend. 
 

Summing Up

Fortunately, when you get your new monitors home, and set them up, placing them exactly where your ears want them, the learning process begins. As you gain experience attending to your audio, you will learn to improve your mixes.  You'll know your monitor's "blind spots" and will learn to check on other systems.  The more you do that, the more your monitors become a true reference.  I hope I have shown that reference is not a quality of a box, but a quality of your attention and experience.

So, who wins?  You KNOW how I hate these what's the best....OK, just cause i really think this case is pretty clear.

Tweak's Pick for the Money.  I tried to dethrone it, but my ears say for 5 bills, this is a great buy. Tweak's Pick

KRK RP8G2 Rokit G2 Powered 2-Way Active Monitor
The KRK RP8G2 Rokit G2 Powered Studio Monitor gives you amazing performance and accuracy for the home or project studio. All of the great stuff that Rokit's have been known for including front-firing bass port, soft-domed tweeter, glass aramid composite yellow cone are still there, but the G2 Rokit's feature refined voicing and a new curved baffle that looks great, reduces diffraction and provides even better monitoring accuracy.

 


Reader Polls


Questions

q: What is the difference between Active Monitors and regular Speakers

Tweak: Active monitors have have a power amp built right into them.  Usually, these are mounted on the back.  "Regular speakers" which are also called passive monitors, require an amplifier to drive them. The idea behind active monitors is to match them to an amp which is ideal to drive them.  This takes some of the guesswork out of buying a monitoring system.  Also, since active monitors are connected directly to your mixing board or audio interface, they eliminate speaker wires and hence another source of potential trouble


q: OK Tweak, just tell me the most important thing I need to know in One Sentence.  Keep it real simple dude!

Tweak: Hah.  Ok, here's one for you.  The ideal monitor must deliver sound quality when you have sound quality and not deliver it when you do not have it. 


q: Argh.  What do you have Tweak?  Do you like them?

Tweak: These.  Yes they are nice.  If buying today I'd consider Dynaudio's BM5a, the Adam A7 and Yamaha HS80 and it would be a very hard choice.


q: Hey Tweak, I have Passive monitors. How in th' heck do I hook up my sound card to my home stereo.  I can use passive studio monitors with a stereo right?

Tweak: Passive monitors work exactly like any other speaker system, so yes, plug them in like you would your speakers, observing the proper polarity for positive and negative.  You may want to pay attention to the watts per channel of the amp.  You don't want to connect a 35 watt RMS receiver to some big monitors that are designed to handle 100 watts per channel.  And underpowered amp does more harm than an overpowered amp especially when you crank the underpowered amp up.  I have used receivers of 100-120 watts RMS with passive monitors and they worked fine.

Also see:

At what volumes should one monitor ?


q: Is it possible to get a flat mix with any monitor, given you do acoustical treatment to the room and measure the room's response with test equipment?

Tweak: Indeed, bass traps and sound diffusers can dramatically help any monitor deliver its potential. A bad room can mess with the sound of the best monitors in the world.  Check out this thread in the forums

Getting a flat monitor mix with any monitors
 



 


 

 

Reviews of Monitors at Studio-Central

 

I am,

Rich the TweakMeister


 


Cool Quote:

"The winds which passed over my dwelling were such as sweep over the ridges of mountains, bearing the broken strains, or celestial parts only, of terrestrial music. The morning wind forever blows, the poem of creation is uninterrupted; but few are the ears that hear it.."

Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862), U.S. philosopher

Tweak's Articles on Essential Studio Concepts

Hooking Up Audio
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The Many Functions of MIDI Data
The Audio Interface
Signal Flow Computer-based Studio
Signal Flow of an MPC Hip Hop Studio
Signal Flow of a MultiTrack Studio
Assembling Your Studio Rig
Studio setup in a Nutshell
5 Hot Tips
Building a Quiet Room
Understanding MIDI Interfaces
The War on Hum
Multiple Video Displays
Latency and how to Deal
Word Clock
TimeCode
Everything About Cables
Digital Audio Converters
Bit Depth and Sample Rate
Studio Monitors
Impedance for Musicicans
How to setup a Patchbay
Room Acoustics Basics
Studio Monitors Price List
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Catalog of MIDI Interfaces

 

 


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