About Studio Monitors
Ever since Altec Lansing introduced the Duplex 604 in 1944, mix engineers have relied on studio monitors to provide them with the accurate details needed to make critical mixing decisions. Studio monitors come in a variety of configurations with many different options. There are active studio monitors with built-in amplifiers and passive studio monitors that use external amplifiers, nearfield studio monitors with small low-frequency drivers and large studio monitors with multiple drivers for mid and low frequencies, and some even include onboard DSP for acoustic management. Each style and configuration has its advantages.
Size and Cabinet Configuration
Studio monitors come in configurations ranging from small near-field models popularized in the late '70s by Yamaha's NS-10 to larger tri-amped models found in upscale production houses. Small reference monitors, such as Avantone MixCubes are great for getting a consumer's perspective on your mix, but most studio monitors are designed to provide as flat and uncolored sound as possible, and they generally include a woofer for low frequencies and a tweeter for high frequencies. The size of the woofer determines the range and clarity of bass and lower midrange frequencies, and otherwise identical studio monitors in the same series often come with a range of woofer sizes. Additional speakers for midrange allow the monitor to more efficiently express the complete frequency range, but cost and size can make overly large monitors impractical for smaller studios.
Powered and Passive Monitors
There are two basic types of studio monitors: powered (active) studio monitors and unpowered (passive) studio monitors. Although powered studio monitors first gained popularity in the early 2000s, they are more common today than passive monitors. These monitors typically feature active crossovers and multiple built-in amplifiers that are designed to provide ideal power to each individual speaker. Active monitors such as KRK Rokit series models may also include simple equalizers and gain controls that allow you to adjust for frequency imbalances in your room, and more advanced models such as JBL's LSR 6000 line include sophisticated DSP to compensate for more complex room acoustics. Passive studio monitors are relatively rare today, but some engineers swear by them. Although they require separate power amplifiers, their lack of onboard electronics may contribute to the reputation for pristine sound high-end passive monitors such as those made by Amphion enjoy.
Subwoofers and Surround Sound Systems
Subwoofers have become increasingly common in modern recording studios, both for standard stereo mixing and for surround-sound media production. Adding a studio subwoofer to a stereo pair of studio monitors allows you to monitor in 2.1 stereo. The benefit of a 2.1 setup is that it extends the low-frequency range of your monitors and allows the low-frequency drivers to more efficiently produce midrange frequencies. Because the bass frequencies produced by the subwoofer aren't as directional as mids and highs, a single subwoofer is all you need. While you can create your own surround-sound monitoring set up, there are also special packages by manufacturers such as Genelec that include a subwoofer and five or more matched satellite speakers for easy surround monitoring.
Monitor Management and Headphones
Many studios use multiple sets of studio monitors to check mixes, and it's common practice to A/B between typical consumer speakers and reference monitors during the final stages of mixing. Monitor management systems such as the Dangerous Music Monitor ST and the Mackie Big Knob make switching between sets of speakers or bypassing subwoofers easy. In addition to studio monitors, a pair of studio-grade headphones, such as AKG K240s, can be extremely useful for critical listening, and most studio monitor management systems also include high-quality headphone amplifiers.
Questions about Studio Monitors?
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