PLEASE NOTE: This article has been archived. It first appeared on ProRec.com in October 1998, contributed by then Contributing Editors Jay Kahrs. We will not be making any updates to the article. Please visit the home page for our latest content. Thank you!
They’re all supposed to be flat and accurate and they never color the sound. What you put into them is what comes out. Truthful, faithful reproduction.
You can believe the hype if you want to, but no monitor is flat. None. Zero. Zilch.
Every manufacturer says that their monitor is the best and has a flat response from 20hz to 20khz, but it’s not true. Think about it for a minute… If all monitors were flat why do they all sound so different?
Take the Mackies and the Event 20/20 BAS. They both claim to be flat and non-colored but if you have them next to each other and A/B them, they sound drastically different. They both sound good, but one isn’t better then the other.
The same thing goes for passive monitors. NS-10’s sound way different than Monitor 1’s and KRK’s. Which one is better? That depends on what you want from a set of monitors.
In most pro studios you’ll find two sets of monitors. The nearfields and the mains or farfields. Nearfields are the small speakers that sit on top of or just behind the console. The mains are usually soffit (installed flush into the back wall) mounted and have 10” or larger speakers with a horn or tweeter.
Usually 90% of the tracking and mixing is done on the nearfields and the remaining 5% is done on the mains. The reason for this is that the nearfields are closer to what 99.9% of your finished product will be heard on. They usually have a fair amount of midrange detail. This is really important for a number of reasons. The most important reason is that guitars, pianos, keyboards, strings ad most importantly vocals live the midrange. The detail is important so that can pick things apart and “seat” them in the mix better. That’s the main reason that NS-10’s are so popular, they have tons of mids plus once your mix sounds good on them, it usually sounds good anywhere.
The mains are there for two reasons. First, they have an amount of bass that nearfields can’t produce just because of their size. This is good because you have to know what’s going from 100hz and below in your mix. If your bottom is undefined and sloppy you might miss it on the nearfields but you’ll hear the rumble on the mains. The other thing the mains do for the engineer is give him/her an idea of what the fished product will sound like when it’s pumped through a club or a large PA at a concert.
Most project studios have only one set of monitors. There is nothing wrong with having or using one set of monitors. In my studio I only have one set of monitors right now. I do my A/B ing with headphones.
When it comes down to it you can mix on anything. Yup, that’s right, I said that you can mix on any set of speakers you own. The key is to know the sound of your speakers. I remember the first time I mixed on a set of NS-10’s. I came home with my reference tape and I put it on and I shocked by what I heard. Bass, absolute shitloads of bass. There was so much bass it covered the vocals and I almost blew up the speakers on my boombox. I went back into the studio the next day and listened to the mixes again. It took awhile to hear the bass on the NS-10’s but it was there. Anyway, with lots of A/B ing and running cassettes to play on my box I got the mixes where I wanted them (finally).
Needless to say since I got used to the way NS-10’s sound I can usually mix on them without having to A/B between either other speakers or CD’s.
Next month I’ll have more on how to choose a set of monitors that’s right for your personal needs.