What’s a Studio Monitor, and Do I Need One?
The first thing you should know about studio monitors is that they are probably not going to sound very good to your ears. No, that doesn’t mean they’re bad. What it means is that they fulfil a different function to your headphones, your home stereo, or your car system. If you’re looking for booming bass and warm character, the studio monitor speakers are not going to deliver. One of the best things you can say about studio monitors is that they sound flat, almost boring. So what does a studio monitor do? And why do you need one?
The sound of rooms
To start explaining this question, you need to know that the room in which you’re sitting now has a particular sound to it. In fact, the spot where you’re sitting has its own sound. Don’t believe it? Put some music on (not through headphones!) and listen for a while. Then go into the corner of the room and listen there. Did you hear the music change? Suddenly the kick drum and the bass dominate the music. Go back to where you were before – they seem to fade into the background again. It stands to reason that if you move the speakers you will have a similar effect. Just lifting them off the carpet a couple of feet will reduce bass, for example.
Why studio monitors are flat
Now if you want to reduce the effect a room has on sound, you can install acoustic baffling. Sound reflects off large flat surfaces like walls and floors. Acoustic baffles break up the surface area, so sound is unable to reflect. Bass traps in the corners also stop bass build up. Both these things can make the room as neutral or flat as possible. Studio monitors are designed along the same lines, and are a much simpler option than acoustic baffling! They have a flat frequency response, which means they do not accentuate any particular frequency. Studio monitors are about truth.
Telling it like it is
You need a studio monitor because it can help your music sound better. How? Studio monitors let you hear into the mix without giving you false impressions. They don’t boost the bass, giving you the false impression that you have too much. On the other hand, if you hear too much bass through your monitors, it’s going to distort when pushed through a regular speaker. M-Audio’s BX Carbon range of studio monitors for example is designed to give tonal evenness across the spectrum. They have two built-in amplifiers dedicated to the high and low frequencies, making reproduction more transparent.
Form a relationship
Just like in a good relationship, you also need to know the strengths and weaknesses of your studio monitor partners. Why? Well, studio monitors are not designed, as we’ve learnt, to produce loads of bass.
Let’s say a kick drum’s sweet spot is at 80 Hz. You want it to stand out, but when you listen through the monitors, you don’t think it’s loud enough. So you EQ that frequency till it punches out. But when you play the track on a regular stereo, or in the car or through headphones, the bass is embarrassingly loud, even distorted. So you have to learn how your studio monitors reproduce lower frequencies, and trust in them. Once you understand your monitors, you will be able to trust that the bass is there and make fewer trips back to the mixing board!