speakers come in all shapes and sizes, WITH features almost as broad as their price range - let’s explore! At the end of the day, after all our computer based processing has been completed, the material we’ve lovingly captured and crafted needs to be transformed back from a bunch of 1s and 0s into an analogue waveform and fired out of speakers into our ears so we can hear it. Now, we need to make sure you have speakers that suit the user, the music and the room - and although there are many to choose from, finding the right model for your setup isn’t as difficult as you might think; let us demystify things for you.
I need fancy ones, no?!?!
Flat or flattery?
What’s a crossover?
Studio monitors, together with headphones are reference points that help you to triangulate your sound and THERE IS NO ONE POINT OF REFERENCE that will tell you EXACTLY how it is. Music is subjective and so is the listening experience, so rejoice - you don’t neccesarily need to spend £50,000 to be in the picture, in fact I’d most definitely say it’s more important to have a few different points of reference to give you a more accurate idea of where your mix stands.
Studio speakers can crudely be placed in either of 2 camps, those that exagerate or hype the signal somewhat to give an impressive, if slightly blurred, sound and those that try and tell you how it is by being flatter and more transparent. Both have their merits (there’s no shame in impressing clients with the big bassy speakers) and sometimes listening on something less distracting can help you focus.
When you task a speaker with handling a full range of frequencies (20Hz to 20,000Hz being our audible frequency range, but many speakers work well outwith these limits) you may find that although low frequencies are represented fine and dandy, highs may be struggling to poke through or mids seem cloudy. So - a crossover splits the range into managable chunks and tasks a seperate driver (some have 2, 3 or even 4 drivers) and takes the strain right off. Play to your strengths and all that!
Music is subjective and so is the listening experience
Active or Passive To cut a long story short, unless you have an old power amplifier that you really want to show off there’s arguably no point looking at passive. 99.9% of what’s available on the market these days are active speakers (as in they have their own power modules built in) - requiring only a balanced (or unbalanced) XLR / Jack / RCA feed from your desk / interface which is infinitely more practical.
What size? Essentially, the bigger the driver in a speaker the easier time that speaker will have representing lower frequencies. Bass frequencies have very long wavelengths and require physical distance to fully develop in a room, so if you’re working with dance music or drop-tuned heavy metal, 7 or 8 inch speakers may be advisable. That said, you’d be amazed at what the smaller speakers of 6,5,4 even 3 inch drivers are capable of representing. Basically - smaller room, smaller speakers!
Do I need a sub? YES because they are awesome. But seriously, you may not. The main advantage of a sub is that we have a much fuller, more present and ‘mono’ bass (stereo bass can cause issues in untreated rooms) which will give you an idea of what your mix will sound like on a much bigger system (like in a club) - but 7 and 8 inch drivers on main monitors are more than capable of shifting enough air to make your boots shake and sometimes to keep the neighbours onside, we need to do without (or at least have a bypass switch ready to hand!)
Do I need room /treatment? As I alluded to before, listening is not an exact science. Speakers will react differently in different rooms and sometimes DRASTIC improvements can be made to the clarity of your speakers by taking the simplest steps. Basic monitor pads can decouple your monitors from surrounding surfaces and prevent bass exaggeration, and stands can get them to the right height to make sure you are listening in the sweetspot.