Rusty's Tip Of The Week #10 -Monitoring

Tip #10 How can you trust what you are hearing.....

Another endless topic thats become even more confusing now that so much music is listened to on nothing more than iphone earbuds.

Common sense and best practice audio are the best places to start i have always found.

You will have noticed that so many pics of control rooms the world over still seem to have those smallish rectangular speakers with the white woofer- The Yamaha NS10 - and there's a very good reason  - consistency.

Certainly in the hey day engineers and producers could jetset about the globe and be fairly sure that there would be some monitor speakers they had used countless times before at every studio they worked at. (-ed - "Even the very first DG's control room c1985 - see pic- saw to it that probably the most notable piece of kit it had at the time was NS10's so that producers coming in to do demos(yes done at real studios back in the day) had monitors they were used to.")

This is very important and beats super quality every time because as an engineer especially when tracking you are often listening to tracks individually, not as a mix and having a consistent reference that every time you dial up the kick drum you know how it should sound, and likewise for all the other basic instruments.

Of course monitors can be a personal preference and many engineers carry their own from studio to studio. for the same reasons as above.

The reason NS10's are good for this is they are only average quality and quite mid range sounding (sometimes they are run with a sub for electro music for eg) so it stands to reason that if it sounds good on them it will sound even better on higher quality speakers.
 Theres also something about them that engineers recognized years ago that the way the box works frequency wise  is very helpful in balancing parts together especially vocals .

Of course today the list of Nearfield Monitors is endless. Nearfield becoming the main preference because in theory because of their smaller nature to 'mains' they are much less affected by the acoustics of the room, so if you are basically within 2meteres of them, roughly on axis, they will sound very similar from place to place. this is of course very popular for home studios wheres theres little or no tuning done at all. Plus they are nearly always self powered now so the internal amp is well matched to the drivers, whereas NS10's will need a separate amp.

The way i would evaluate monitors is to set them up where you will be most using them, then play a combination of single tracks such as kick, snare, bass, guitar, vocals, piano
and then play your favourite fully mixed and mastered tunes that you are used to hearing all the time and think about how accurately the speakers recreate the sonic in your head
you associate the way the solo tracks and the songs with, so picking some songs you have heard 1000's of times is a good idea. You dont need to worry about any fancy acoustic theory, set them up where you will be working , move them around and use your ears.

You dont want anything too bassy or hifi sounding either because then you may tend to under do the bass side, or not hear parts that have been "smoothed out"a lot by the nature of the monitors. Thats why the slightly gnarly unported (less bass) NS10's are such a benchmark.

Worrying about how your mix will sound on lots of different monitors(and now days earbuds) is best left to mastering engineers but its certainly a good idea now days to listen on headphones and ear buds to see if theres anything sounding horribly wrong, and the same if you do have a second set of speakers, prefarable larger and more bassy than the nearfileds. A good set of professional studio cans you trust and use a lot is of course important as well, but they won't give as true a representation of how it soudns in a room with some air around it and again thats why good consistent monitoring is essential.  Then there is always the car stereo , never to be underestimated and worth burning a cd if it doesnt have an aux input.

Russell Pilling has been listening to NS10's(with a sub since 2002) KRK,  JBL, Klipsch, Genelec and many more big and small monitors for about 30 years.

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