I’m sure you remember the first time you saw the price tag on a studio monitor. Your eyes probably widened, and your jaw hit the floor. A studio monitor can take quite a toll on your wallet, and you probably won’t just buy one. But why all the fuzz? Your home speakers can do the trick, right? So, do you need studio monitors to mix?
You need studio monitors to mix because they will give you the cleanest sound possible. Home speakers hide noise and imperfections. If you use them to mix, your final mix will sound inconsistent from one device to the next.
If that didn’t convince you, then strap in because I will be going over the difference between these two types of speakers and give you my recommendations for some quality monitors and offer an alternative to both.
What are Home Speakers
Home speakers are the conventional speakers you might find on most boomboxes or wired home audio systems. They don’t usually provide a power amplifier. Instead, they have two terminals in the back for power and sound, so they rely entirely on a separate source of power. Home speakers usually come in pairs and are relatively inexpensive when compared to studio monitors
What are Studio Monitors
Monitors, on the other hand, give you the flattest and most accurate representation of your playback. They have a separate terminal in the back for connecting power and an XLR audio input terminal. They are sold in single units as well as in pairs.
The difference between home speakers and studio monitors
The most significant difference between home speakers and studio monitors is sound quality. Studio monitors are designed to sound flat while home speakers are designed to enhance the listening experience.
The speakers are also technically different. Most home speakers are “passive,” meaning they require external power to work. If you take a look behind a conventional home speaker, you will see only two connection terminals. These are for providing both power and sound to the speaker. Studio monitors are active or powered, meaning the power amplifier is built into the speaker so you can plug them right into the wall.
Active Speakers vs. Passive Speakers
Active speakers have some significant advantages to passive speakers. It’s typical to see active monitors with multiple power amplifiers. The woofer, tweeter, and midrange speaker each get a separate power source. The woofer usually hogs up a lot of power. With a dedicated amplifier, the tweeter will sound great regardless of how much power the woofer is using, which can result in a punchier, more accurate sound.
Another advantage of having dedicated power amplifiers for each speaker is that building top quality crossovers is much easier as crossover can be placed before the power amp. Additionally, active circuitry can be used to obtain steeper filter slopes. This can reduce the overlap between the woofer, mid-range speaker, and tweeter, which produces a clean, more accurate sound.
The problem with mixing with home Speakers
Home speakers are designed to be heard how the manufacturer wants you to listen to music, which is usually as pleasant as possible. The intent is to mask away any imperfections.
The reason this is a problem is because the sound was pre-designed by someone else, Not by you. When you are mixing, it is up to you, the engineer, to select what you want to tweak. If the mix needs more bass or treble, you won’t really know because the mix that you are hearing on the home speakers are basically lying to you. So you do not hear the real mix, you are hearing the manufacturers EQ’d version of your mix.
“home speakers are basically lying to you.”
Worse yet, If you attempt to export a mix made using home speakers, you will find that it will sound radically different from speaker to speaker. When you take a track that is was with home speakers and attempt to hear it on another speaker system, you may find that it will sound radically different from speaker to speaker and nothing like you heard it at home.
But what about You know your mix might not get played on professional equipment. In Fact, most of the time it won’t. But just because people are going to listen to your track on lower-end devices, doesn’t mean you should mix for those devices. Can you guarantee the listeners don’t have quality speakers? You should be shooting for the best mix possible. That starts with good quality, flat, natural playback.
When to use home speakers
Audio professionals need studio monitors to mix and hear what is really going on in the track to address any imperfections.
However, most music enthusiasts are passive listeners. They simply want to enjoy the music. A pair of conventional Hi-Fi home speakers do a great job here by boosting the sounds, making the flattest mixes sound punchy and rich.
Whether you are a music professional or a music lover, there’s nothing wrong with listening to music your favorite music through a good pair of conventional home speakers. After all, most music consumers prefer speakers that will enhance their listening experience.
I think by now you realize how critical it is to get yourself a pair of studio monitors. Next up I will go over some tips for
How to shop for studio monitors
It’s important not to have a consumer mindset. If you are shopping at a local music store, chances are the dealer will be playing extremely well-recorded music CDs. But you won’t be listening to perfectly polished music while you use them. You want to demo the monitors with something a lot rawer to reveal imperfections. If you buy a pair that was demoed with say, steely dan, you might find that those monitors, while great, don’t reveal the imperfections you need to hear when mixing.
When you shop for studio monitors, become very familiar with exactly how that song and playlist. Then go to your local music store and have them demo any of the monitors that you can. You will be able to hear the difference from speaker to speaker.
Here’s a pro tip when shopping for studio monitors. Make yourself a dedicated tester mix, and make yourself a checklist of things to look for. To do this simply rip a CD with some mixes you deliberately messed-up. Try to hide some imperfections in the tracks and start listening. You will know exactly what to look for when demoing a pair of studio speakers. Using this method should help you choose the perfect monitors.
Also, try not to select a pair of speakers that make your music sound better than it is. While studio speakers are not designed for this, you might find that a particular manufacturer may have tweaked the speakers in such a way to make the music sound better than it is, so to shop around. Remember, you are buying studio monitors to mix, not just for your listening pleasure. Your music will only sound good on most speakers if it is mixed on the most revealing speaker system.
5-inch vs. 8-inch studio monitors?
Monitors are measured by their largest speaker cone. Most typical sizes are 5 to 8-inch speakers. The most significant difference between an 8 inch and a 5-inch speaker is that 5-inch speaker does not produce as much low-ends as the 8inch. The drawback of using smaller speakers is that you won’t get much lower ends, and you will be chasing a good base tone because the speakers can’t produce any more base.
If you are just starting, it’s better to start with a 5-inch speaker. Thir less expensive, more compact, and it won’t be too bassy so you won’t drive your neighbors crazy.
If you are looking for even more tips check out this awesome video by Jeff from Manchester Music as he breaks down his tip ist for buying a new studio monitors.
If you are looking for some options, here are three of the best selling studio monitors on Amazon.
- Presonus Eris E3.5-3.5″ Near Field Studio Monitor. You can buy on amazon here here
- Mackie Studio Monitor, Black w/silver trim, 3-inch (CR3LTD). You can buy on amazon here here
- Yamaha HS5 Powered Studio Monitors here
If studio monitors are just a little out of your budget, studio headphones are the next best option. Studio headphones, sometimes called monitoring headphones, are mainly used for mixing and editing, much like studio monitors, but with the additional benefits of having sound isolation and (usually) a lower price tag.
So, do you need studio monitors to mix? Yes, but ultimately, the decision is yours. However, your goal should be to mix in a flat natural unenhanced state. You can not properly mix on a set of home stereo speakers. There’s just no way around it. Simply put, consumer speakers mask any extended highs or lows or any other imperfections. Professional studio monitors let you hear everything. But if you want to use those bose speakers for your listening pleasure, by all means, go for it.
So what are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments below. If you enjoyed this post, you can find all our posts here. Below are some of our recommended products related to this post. Thanks for reading, and never stop making music.