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The cm guide to monitors

The cm guide to
Why do I need to buy monitors?
If youre new to the world of music production, you may be wondering what all this monitoring business is about. After all, surely you can listen through your hi-fi speakers just as you do when listening to your music collection? Well, for a start your hi-fi is probably set up in the wrong place. Your speakers may be either side of your television, and even if they arent, theyre still going to be positioned for everyday use, rather than critical close-up listening. Hi-fi systems are often rather delicate too; theyre designed to play music at comfortable listening levels. In most cases, this music will have been compressed and limited as part of the final mastering process, and will therefore be quite gentle to domestic equipment. When recording and mixing your own music, however, youll often be listening to uncompressed and unlimited solo instruments quite loudly, in order to check for subtle defects and to correctly hear any changes you've made. Unfortunately, during music production, sonic accidents are a regular event too: cables get unplugged (often causing loud bangs), playback levels can be unexpectedly high, and signal processing can cause terrifyingly loud noises. You can turn the volume down but your hi-fi speakers may already be destroyed.

Your monitors are one of the most important parts of your studio setup, so it pays to have all the right information before splashing out
ithout wanting to get all misty-eyed and nostalgic about the subject, the face of music production has changed beyond all recognition over the last few years. Recording studio control rooms once resembled the insides space ships and could seem spectacular and disorientating to anyone whod never been inside one before. This is no longer the case for two reasons: firstly, the technology that we deal with in Computer Music is now so advanced that even a laptop can achieve results that once required a roomful of equipment. Secondly, developments in magnets, coils and speaker-cones mean that modern monitors are now compact, powerful, and affordable. Nonetheless, your personal choice of monitors is a crucial one, since any unwanted colouration can cause you to make incorrect sound adjustments and miss important things that need attention. With this in mind, lets take a closer look at the different types of monitors and what you need to consider when investing in a pair. they should provide near-perfect sound reproduction and can help you check bass levels, they dont reflect how most people listen to music. Main monitors can also be tiring to work with, and even in the worlds largest recording studios, theyre often unused. Midfields were originally designed to reduce fatigue whilst providing excellent sound quality. However, most midfield monitors are still far too big to fit into the restricted space of most home and project studios. Nearfield monitors were once of somewhat dubious quality, so as to reflect typical home systems. Studios often chose Auratone 5Cs (little wooden boxes with a single speaker) or Yamaha NS-10s (black cabinets with distinctive white speaker cones), which represented the average home stereo. However, home music systems have improved so much that theres little benefit to listening on compromised monitor systems any more. These advances have blurred the boundary between midfield and nearfield monitors to the extent that producers are often happy to work with just a single pair of modern, high-quality nearfield monitors. Most serious producers still have their music mastered elsewhere, though, since an independent engineer will often spot any remaining imperfections.

Choosing right

Monitors come in three styles: main, midfield and nearfield. Main monitors cost thousand of pounds and are built into the structure of the building. Well start by assuming that you neither want to rebuild your home or spend anything like that kind of money. The good news is that you dont really need main monitors. Although

1 While the NS-10s were great in their day, they're not really what you want for use with modern systems

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The cm guide to monitors

Passive or active?

Testing tracks
Before you set off to do any monitor shopping, arm yourself with some test tracks

ll of the monitors in our round-up fit into the high-quality nearfield category, but theres still one important decision that you need to make: do you want active monitors or passive ones? Passive monitors connect like hi-fi loudspeaker systems: you buy a suitably-powered audio amplifier (assuming you dont already own one) and plug it into your soundcard. Then, using high-grade loudspeaker cable, you plug the monitors into your amp. Provided that the amplifier is compatible with both the monitors and the soundcard, the system should work without problems. But choosing an amplifier can be just as difficult as choosing monitors. Printed specifications vary wildly in their accuracy and
7 Passive monitors will cost you less, but then again you'll need to shell out for a separate amp

only tell a small part of the story. For all manner of reasons, a pair of monitors that sound good with one amplifier may sound rubbish when used with a different one. Ironically, choosing an underpowered amp may be more likely to damage passive speakers than an overpowered one, because a distorting amp can burn out the tweeter units. With active monitors, the choice of amplifier is made for you since its already built into the monitor cabinets. Youll need to check that your soundcards output level (-10dBv or +4dBm) is compatible, and soundcard output connections should be balanced since active monitors are very susceptible to computer interference when using unbalanced connections. If you can connect digitally to such monitors, however, then you neednt worry about these issues. Volume controls on active monitors are just for calibration purposes and not for everyday use. Instead, you use the monitor level control on your audio interface hardware or on-screen control panel. Alternatively, you can purchase a monitor control box. You shouldnt use

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1 Active monitors, such a these compact ones from Genelec, come with amps built-in

ONE OF YOUR FAVOURITE TRACKS: youve probably listened to your favourite songs on more systems than anything else, and will know how they sound. A CLEAR, CRISP VOCAL TRACK: were more used to hearing the human voice than any other sound, so this can show up monitoring defects. AN ACOUSTIC TRACK: most people instinctively seem to know how acoustic instruments should sound, so a slow acoustic rock or folk song is a good test.

your sequencers master fader for volume, however, since this is for setting the final mix recording level.

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Active decision

Its not a case of passive or active monitors being better or worse than each other. Within a given price range, passives will be preferable since the cost of an amp isnt included. There are more active speakers on the market now than passive ones, as overall performance is more predictable. In all cases, remember that nearfield monitors aren't capable of the extended bass response of midfield and main studio monitors. If youre mixing records where the low-end response is vital, double-check your mixes on a full-range system before committing them to CD.

A FULL-RANGE DANCE TRACK: many modern dance tracks have an extremely wide spectral range. The bass frequencies should be clean and unmuddied, and the top end crisp. Your ear has a comparatively short memory, and rapid switching between monitors will reveal differences that would otherwise not be apparent, so try to find a store thats set up to do this.

Monitor set-up procedure


THE SOUND OF your monitors can easily be compromised by a badly set up room. If youve not already done so, go to our website and download the Hear No Evil PDF (www.computermusic.co.uk/ tutorial/hear.asp) for tips on setting up your room properly. Theres very little cost involved, and you may have many of the materials required in your home already. As for the monitors themselves, start by adjusting the height of the monitor stands until the centres of the cabinets are level with your ears in your normal seating position. When it comes to lateral positioning, you may have to move your desk further back into the centre of the room in order to get the monitors in the correct position behind your workstation.

This is partly because monitors shouldnt be placed directly against a wall. Instead, try to keep the back of the monitors at least six inches away from any surrounding walls otherwise youll get an exaggerated, boomy bass response.

Sitting pretty

Tysall TION: Paul ILLUSTRA

Having placed your monitors the correct distance from the walls, youre probably wondering how far away from the monitors you need to be sitting. This is largely a matter of personal preference, but many people sit too close, which gives them an unnaturally dead impression of how the music will sound on other systems. About four feet is an ideal distance for most nearfields. The next thing to do is fine-tune the stereo width. The rule of thumb here is that the distance between the two monitors should always be no greater than the distance between your head and either monitor; ie, if youre four feet away from the monitors, they should be no more than four feet apart otherwise your stereo width will be too wide. Finally, angle each monitor so that they point at each of your ears. Its not as neat-looking as having them pointing straight ahead but if you do that, youll be listening to them off-axis, and will be increasing the chances of unwanted high-frequency reflections. With many monitors, you can tune the sound by using controls on the back panel, or by stuffing wadding into the bass reflex ports.

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The cm guide to monitors

Monitor round-up
ere weve put together a small selection of passive and active speakers from the vast number of project studio monitors that are available. If youve got the money, you can pay considerably more for a pair of monitors should you wish to but they might not necessarily sound better than some of the models shown here. With monitors more so than any other equipment you must make your own personal judgement by ear, rather than relying on recommendations by other people. Always shop around for deals when purchasing monitors. Theyre bulky items and shops can offer massive discounts on models which arent selling well for them. Although you may feel a degree of loyalty towards the store where you performed your listening tests, by shopping around you can save a great deal of money so ADAM ANF10 RRP 399, typical price 380 never be frightened to ask for a discount.

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ADAM made quite a splash with the launch of the ANF10. These passive monitors from Germany are unusual because they use custom ribbonbased tweeter technology to improve imaging and transient response. By all accounts this approach has succeeded, and its been commented that their detailed sound can reveal mixing defects that often go unnoticed on other monitor systems. www.adam-audio.com

DynAudio BM5
RRP 449, typical price 349 Originally retailing at just under 500, BM5s can now be picked up for less than 350 a pair. Theyve been the passive monitor of choice for many discerning professionals over the years, and are still used as a benchmark against which other monitors are measured. BM5s provide a very clean and detailed sound, and its claimed that they have one of the lowest distortion ratings of any monitor system. An active version the BM5A is now available too. www.dynaudio.com

Event 20/20 V2
RRP 270, typical price 199 You may not have heard of Event, but their speaker designers have worked for the some of the most famous monitor manufacturers in the industry. The 20/20 is a highly-respected passive monitor, and the new V2 version can be picked up for just under 200 a pair which really is a bargain. A bi-amplified active version, the 20/20 BAS V2, is available for just over 500. www.event1.com

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The cm guide to monitors

Active mon itor s

While shopping
YOU SHOULD NEVER purchase monitors without listening to them carefully first, so it pays to find a shop thats set up for listening tests. Dont judge monitors on looks; the only aspect that can be weighed up without music playback is the cabinets, which should feel solidly-built with no boxiness to the sound you get when you tap the sides with your knuckles. Monitors should not simply sound nice you want truthful, neutral sound. Good monitors will help you work towards great productions, rather than making shoddy music sound better. Nevertheless, monitors that sound good to you might sound awful to someone elses ears and vice versa. Monitors will always sound different once you get them home. If you have a good relationship with the store, then they may let you take the monitors away and return them later should you not like what you hear in your own environment. Be warned though: not all music stores are this accommodating. Even those that are will Tannoy Active Reveal 6D quickly lose patience with you if you keep RRP 499, typical price 450 bringing products back to the shop. Its The monitors in Tannoys Reveal range are well only fair of them to expect you to do your respected for their clean, transparent sound. This research in advance and that youll latest incarnation sports S/PDIF RCA digital make wise choices when you do connections and a Jack/XLR balanced input. They spend your money. cm have a trim control (so the analogue input can be
fed from anything between -10dBv and +4dBm) and switches to tailor the response to various listening positions. The original passive Tannoy Reveals can now be picked up for around 120 another bargain worth considering. www.tannoy.com

Behringer Truth 2031A


RRP 257, typical price 195 If youre on a very tight budget, but still need active monitors, then like all Behringer products the Truth 2031As offer excellent value for money. The combined Jack/XLR connections are balanced, and even at this price, you still get a set of switches to tailor the response to suit a range of different installations. www.behringer.com

Genelec 8020A
RRP 470, typical price 399 Finally, if youre short on space but still expect the best sound possible, then you might like to take a listen to the Genelecs bi-amplified 8020As. Like most Genelecs, they look like theyve melted in the sun this is to avoid diffraction effects. At 24cm high, 15cm wide and 14cm deep, these are amongst the smallest high-quality active nearfield monitors you can buy. www.genelec.com

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