AUDIO TIPS: Monitors

Audio Tip #12: MONITORS

When you get your new monitors home and set them up, placing them exactly where your ears want them, the learning process begins as you gain experience attending to your audio, you will learn to improve your mixes. You'll know your monitor's blind spots and will learn to check on other systems. The more you do that, the more your monitors become a true reference. Remember this fact: reference is not a quality of a box, but a quality of your attention and experience.

A good monitor does not artificially exaggerate frequencies. You do not want a speaker that sounds like a 'disco smile.' That's where the bass and the treble are boosted and the mids are cut. They call it a 'smile' because that's how it looks on a graphic equalizer. Lots of people really like that sound. If that is the sound that you're after, then use your EQ and go for it. Then it might actually translate on other systems. But if you speakers make that automatically, you mix will be shown lacking in bass and high transients.

Nearly everyone seems to agree that one needs a "near field" monitor to accurately assess the music they are creating. A near field monitor is one that you keep pretty close to you, typically between 3-5 feet. The idea here is that the music we hear is dramatically altered by room acoustics. Go try a little experiment. Take any speaker and put it in the corner of a room. You will hear bass resonating through the room that does not exist when the speaker is in the middle of the room.

Your near-field monitors should be placed about 6'-10' apart, directly centered on your position at the console. The centerlines of the speakers should be angled together, converging on a spot about a foot behind your head. Some people like to spread their near-fields even more, to emphasize the stereo image.

Here's the real skinny on the monitors that you choose for your home studio. If your music is successful, people will listen to it in the car, on boom boxes on their Walkman, on the radio

with the 3 inch speaker, in listening booths a CD stores, on TV, and every once in a while, someone will hear it on good speakers. The real truth is in the understanding of how your mix on your monitors translates to other listening conditions. This means that you have to really 'know' your monitors. The main thing is to get a set you are comfortable with, that you can listen to all day. Your ears will actually learn the monitor. As you check your mix on other systems, you will learn about your system's deficiencies and compensate.

There is a school of thought that says a monitor shouldn't really be flat. This school of thought holds that instead of buying the flattest response monitor that you can find, you should instead buy a monitor that you like to listen to, that your favorite music sounds great on, and then match your efforts in the mix to produce that sound you love. Others, however, say if certain frequencies are over represented, you will under-represent them in your mix. What this means is that, whatever your monitors are good at is exactly what your mix will be bad at. What it all boils down to is that the results you get when listening to your mixes on systems other than what you recorded them on has less to do with the monitor itself and more to do with the experience of the producer.

If you don't have a console at home that will allow you to flip polarity, you can do a little experiment that will allow you to put your speakers out of phase and hear the effects of 'out of phase.' Simply go behind one of your speakers and switch the wires from positive to negative and negative to positive. This will put one speaker out of phase and also your system. Then sit between the speakers and listen to your favorite CD. Then flip the speaker back again and compare. Notice the difference? Putting both speakers out of phase is called being absolutely out of phase and it will sound normal to your ear. This is because both speakers are out of phase and have nothing to relate to. The other way, where only one speaker is out of phase, is called being relatively out of phase.