If you are in the process of learning more about music production, then you must have heard about studio monitors. But do you know how important these devices are in the world of audio? If you are serious about starting your very own studio for professional audio productions, then you first need to ask yourself – What is a Studio Monitor?
People who are not very familiar with professional audio equipment will usually have many questions about the subject of today’s article. If you are one of them, don’t worry, as we will be going through the characteristics of a studio monitor, and learn more about the crucial role they play in audio productions. Ready to learn? Me too!
Introduction – A Vital Tool
Studio monitors are essentially loudspeakers that are designed for situations where accurate audio reproduction is vital. Hence, they are often utilised in places such as recording studios, television studios, radio studios and even home studios. On the other hand, reference monitors are loudspeakers typically used to gauge what a recording will sound like on consumer level speakers.
Audio practitioners expect studio monitors to be capable of producing relatively flat phase and frequency responses. Simply put, it does not emphasize or de-emphasize any particular frequencies, thus, giving an accurate reproduction (“uncolored” sound) of the original audio. There will also be no phase shifting of frequencies (no distortion in sound-stage perspective for stereo recordings).
Studio monitors are often designed to be used as “near-field” loudspeakers. This means that they are built to be small enough to be placed on a speaker stand or desk, in order to be closer to the listener. Hence, most of the sound that the listener hears, is coming directly from the speaker, rather than reflecting off walls and ceilings (thus being “colored” and creating reverberation).
Its also good to know that studio monitors are engineered to be more durable, as compared to home Hi-Fi loudspeakers. Home Hi-Fi loudspeaker systems are designed to reproduce compressed commercial audio recordings, whereas studio monitors are meant to handle high volumes and sudden sound bursts that happens when playing back unmastered mixes in the studio.
Let us now look at the topics that will be covered:
- Industry practices
- Amplification system
- Comparison to Hi-Fi speakers
Studio monitors are often used by audio engineers in broadcasting and recording studios, in order to evaluate the quality of various audio productions. The audio tracks in these projects, will be mixed and mastered to meet industry requirements. Audio engineers will often observe and rectify technical defects (if any), such as audible distortion or background noise.
Engineers will usually aim to make the audio sound good on various playback systems including low quality clock radios and “boom boxes”, club PA systems, and also car or home stereos. Broadcasting giant BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation), believes in using studio monitors that are of “the highest practicable standard of performance”.
However, some professionals argue that audio monitoring should be carried out with loudspeakers that are of average technical quality, as it is a more accurate representation of the consumer-grade systems that end-users are likely to be listening with. It is also suggested that some technical defects can only be heard with high-grade audio equipment and can be ignored.
On the contrary, the BBC’s view on studio monitors is that they should be “as free as possible from avoidable defects”. It is argued that there are many types of low-quality sound systems and it is impossible to compensate for the poor characteristics of every one. Technical flaws must not be obvious to any listener and also remain undetected by the operating staff.
Studio monitors can either be “active” (with built-in power amplifier(s)), or “passive” (requires an external power amplifier). Active monitors are usually bi-amplified, meaning that the sound signal from the speaker’s input is filtered into two separate low and high frequency components. The filtering is carried out by an internal active crossover unit.
Both of the frequency components will be amplified by separate low and high frequency amplifiers, before being routed to a woofer (for the low frequencies) and to a tweeter or horn (for the high frequencies). Bi-amplification is often implemented in order to achieve a cleaner overall sound reproduction, since signals are easier to process before power amplification.
Comparison to Hi-Fi Speakers
In reality, there are no speakers (monitor or hi-fi) that has a completely flat frequency response. Every speaker will color the sound to some extent. Although studio monitors are thought to be completely transparent (no coloration at all), there are no clear-cut distinctions when compared to consumer speakers. Despite this, manufacturers still emphasize the difference in their marketing efforts.
In general, studio monitors are built to have high physical durability, in order to withstand high volumes and physical knocks that may happen in the studio. They are also optimized for listening at shorter distances (near field monitors) as compared to hi-fi speakers. But this does not necessarily makes them unsuitable for use in a home-sized environment.
It is very important to take note of the fact that studio monitors are used by many professional producers and audio engineers. The general consensus among audio professionals is that studio monitors are ideal when it comes to producing audio that translates better to other sound systems.
We have come to the end of this article. Do you now see the need to use studio monitors for your own casual listening? Or is your home stereo system good enough for you?
Tell me what you think in the comments section below, and don’t forget to share this article!