How do I choose the right studio monitors for my music and my room?

Monitoring is one of the most integral parts of studio recording and mixing. If you can’t hear exactly how it sounds, how can you know what changes need making? Studio monitors come in so many shapes and sizes, and there are a plethora of different options to think about too, but we’ll start with one of the simplest:

how-to-choose-monitors

Should I buy active or passive monitors?

You should know whether you’re in the market for some active or passive monitors. Active monitors have a built in power supply, so they can be plugged straight into a socket, and they’re on. Passive speakers however, require a separate, external power source, such as a power amp. Power amps will be sold separately from the speakers, and it’s worth noting that active options do have a number of advantages. If the amplifiers are built into the speakers, then the power requirements and crossover will be exactly tailored to that speaker’s particular needs. A lot of active designs also come with controls for room EQ too.

Should I buy the biggest monitors I can afford?

It’s incredibly important to remember to buy speakers that suit the size of your space. Bigger isn’t always better, and for most people mixing in their bedrooms – a pair with 5 or 6 inch drivers will absolutely suffice. The size of your speakers also depends on the music you wish to make. As a rough and not entirely accurate rule, larger speakers have a better low frequency response – so if you’re making bass heavy music like dubstep, you might want a larger set of monitors, for more low frequency accuracy. On the flip side, if you’re mainly making classical music, or acoustic folk, you’ll probably prefer to mix with smaller speakers, for better accuracy higher up the frequency spectrum.

Let me count the ways…

The vast majority of studio monitors are two way, which means that sound will be generated by a woofer/ mid range, as well as a tweeter. This means there’s a single crossover point, between lower and higher frequencies. Two way systems are incredibly common, and they’re much more affordable, but the general consensus among audio pro’s is that three way options, which feature 3 separate drivers and two crossover points, do sound superior.

Do I need a subwoofer?

If you’re unhappy with the bass response you’re getting from a stereo set of monitors, you can always expand and add a sub into the mix too. The necessity of this really depends on what you’re mixing though. If you’re mixing for film, it’s practically essential, or if it’s likely to be played on a huge dance club PA, it’s probably worth knowing how it’s going to sound – but if you’re just mixing music for people to listen to on Spotify – a stereo set will probably suffice. It’s worth noting as well that Subwoofers can cause havoc in smaller rooms, and they can cause some quite unwanted inaccuracies, which can only be fixed by…

What about acoustic treatment?

If you’re serious about your monitoring, it’s worth being serious about acoustically treating your room too. It’s important to make sure you’re hearing as much detail as you can, and by controlling the reflections in your room, you’ll be able to hear much more of your speakers.

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Chris Milnes

Christopher Milnes is a Leeds-based musician and music producer. He’s received various awards and scholarships for his music production work, notably The David Thompson Scholarship, and the O2 Think Bigger award, as well as the conservatoire prize at Leeds College of Music. His work has been broadcast on BBC radio 1, BBC Radio 3, and many other radio and TV stations.

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