Recently I had the painful experience of procuing a new near-field audio monitoring system for our studio. The purpose of near field monitors is to provide the listener in close proximity a “sweet spot” in which there is clear and accurate representation of the audio content being captured, or already captured, during the recording process. it is important that this representation “travels” well to a variety of other listening environments and speaker systems. You don’t necessarily have to spend a lot of money.
I had spent many years in a cloud of uncertainty while tracking and mixing. I tried the usual popular brands and ol’ standbys, ranging from Yamaha NS10s to more contemporary two way systems (2 speakers: woofer/mid-range and tweeter). Frankly, I was irritated y anomalies in the cross-overs, beamy high frequencies (read “disproportionate, obtrusive highs”), blurry mid-range and wooly lows. In addition, I found many two way monitors were unclear in their stereo imaging and were low-fidelity.
Eventually, I narrowed down my search to three-way systems (3 speakers: woofer, tweeter and mid-range), a radical stance. I firmly believe a three-way system is necessary to achieve the tight, clear imaging and clear mid-range that is provided by a dedicated “middle” mid-range-speaker, providing it’s properly crossed over.
A word of warning for you: because of the clarity and solidity of sound from my three-ways, after working with them for a period of time, I realized that volume levels had crept up unnoticeably, simply because there were none of those beaming/shrill frequencies. For this reason, I bought an SPL (sound pressure level) meter that measures the sound level in decibels thereby warning me if it’s too loud. So, just to play safe, the ol’ meter is always close by. Permanent hearing damage can result when listening to loud volumes at close range.
The speakers are customarily placed at the angles of an isosceles triangle, focusing on the listening position, which is about the same distance from the two speakers as they are from each other. If you listen from oustside of that sweet spot, the audio sounds dull. In the sweet spot, everything sounds clear and permits accurate panning.
Many people place monitors on their sides. That is generally not a good idea unless the manufacturer designed their particular box to lie on its side. Very few do!
If the monitors are placed on a recording / mixing console, note that the reflections from the console can taint the sound with phase aberrations and a surpous of reflected content.
With better monitors, tracking becomes more coherent. Therefore, mixing is more precise and the result is more accurate.
When I grumbled about the cost of my new monitors to an engineer friend of mine, he suggested that I measure the cost against the longevity of my ears. Judged that way, the price seems pretty reasonable!
So now, let’s strap on our best ears – the point of this article – and play safe. And, don’t forget, to have fun.