Resources for the Recording Musician
January 13, 2007

Monitors - Help

I just purchased an expensive Mac Pro. (Spent more money then I wanted and blew my budget)  I now need monitors,  Can you suggest reasonably priced monitors for a home Studio.  I am not a professional, so I don't need incredible monitors, but since I spent a lot of money on the computer I don't want them to sound like crap.  I will be running Pro Tools.  Some people have suggested Near field monitors, if so, what brand, etc.  Thanks!

I am on a budget, but willing to spend between $200 - $250 for the pair.

Sometimes it's best to consult with someone who is NOT a salesman so you can put together the right system for your needs and your budget.  Unfortunately, you blew your budget on a computer that most likely has WAY more processing power than you'll need if you are just doing basic home studio stuff.  I personally would have recommended a much more cost effective computer system, and would have gone with PC instead of Mac (many more software options for PCs these days)... or at least stuck with just a cheaper Mac instead of the expensive top of the line system.

But, that choice has been made already, unless you are able to return it or sell it at close to the price you paid.

If you do a search for studio monitors, you really aren't going to find anything of any value for $250 for a PAIR.  You can find some really cheap monitors at around $100 to $150 per speaker ($200 to $300 per pair), but I would avoid most of those.

Monitors are really the LAST place you want to skimp on, yet it's the last thing that most people think about so they end up buying cheap monitors.

If you think about it, EVERY decision you make in recording and mixing is based on what you hear through your monitors, so if you buy cheap monitors that don't give you an accurate picture of what things really sound like, you will be making some wrong decisions and then your music will not translate well to other systems.

However, it's also important to have more than one set of monitors, especially when you are mixing.  You'll notice most of the major studios have a big set of monitors, and then at least one or two smaller sets of near field monitors on the console.  You need at least one set of full range monitors that have a clean and accurate low end, extending down into the sub region, so you can hear what's going on down there.  The low end is one of the hardest things to get right in a mix, and so you need monitors where you can hear that range properly.  Once you get the low end dialed in, though, you'll usually spend most of your mixing time concentrating on what's happening in the mid-range, working on smaller near field monitors that have a very detailed mid-range, and also doing lots of checking on even smaller, crappy multimedia type speakers to get an idea of how the general public will hear it.

Charles Dye, in his DVD "Mix It Like A Record", shows that he spends most of his time mixing at very soft volumes on small speakers, including one set of computer type multimedia speakers that he actually sets up off to the side of his mix position to give him kind of an "acoustic mono" representation of the mix (since he hears those mostly through one ear).  Also, by setting those off in a different location in the room, the room will interact with those speakers in a different way, letting you hear it a bit differently.

The goal is to get your music sounding good on EVERY system in many different locations, which is why you should always check on a boom box, in your car, your home theater/stereo, headphones, etc., and work on it until it sounds good everywhere.

The room, and the position of your monitors within the room, will play a BIG part in the sound of the monitors, especially in the all important low end.  Chances are you are going to need at least some acoustic treatment in your room, and the smaller the room, the more you will need - especially for the low end (such as broadband panel bass traps, which are VERY important).  So, you'll have to keep this in mind also when evaluation monitors... they are going to sound different in a show room than they will in your studio.  I got a VERY different sound out of my own big pair of monitors when I moved from one house to another, and it took a lot of work and a total re-orientation of the studio within the room in the new house before I got the proper low end response back from those monitors.

People suggest near field monitors because by keeping the monitors close to you, you can partially reduce some of the acoustic problems from reflections from walls and ceilings, but this is usually just for mid and high frequencies, while the low frequencies will still be very much affected by the size and dimensions of your room, as well as the placement of the monitors within your room.

Regarding your particular budget, I really don't know of any monitors I can suggest to you for that low of a price.  You may have to start with the very cheap set of multimedia speakers, or monitors, and then save up for your proper pair of monitors later on.  As stated above, you'll want at least a couple sets of monitors, so you could probably start with the cheap set, but you'll have a hard time judging low end on them properly, which is going to make things very difficult for you.

My personal recommendation for a decent pair of monitors that you could actually do some real work on would be the DynAudio BM5A Active Nearfield Monitors.  But, those are around $1000 for a pair, and even those aren't going to give you deep bass until you pair them up with a subwoofer.  $1000 might sound expensive to you, but that's still quite cheap for a good set of studio monitors, and those have received great reviews for the price range.  I personally use the bigger DynAudio Bm15A monitors, as well as a set of five DynAudio BM6A monitors matched up with a BM12 subwoofer for surround mixing.  Checked the used market in your area.  You can often find some great studio monitors at a great price from people selling off their studio gear, or upgrading to even better monitors.

My smaller set of "crappy" monitors is the Auratone Cubes... which you'll also find in a lot of studios.  They each just have one 3.5" speaker, so they give you lots of midrange, but no low end or extended high end.  They are great for working out the levels/balances during a mix because all you hear is the mid-range.  Then, I also have a small Sony boom box that I set up on a stool off to the side of my mix position, which I check on a regular basis, with and without the "bass boost" feature it has.  I also check my mixes on headphones.  So, just in my control room, I have 4 sets of monitors I can listen to, as well as several sets of headphones.  Then, when I think I'm done, I also take it upstairs to my office computer, and listen on an old Boston Acoustics set of computer multimedia speaks that have two small satellite speakers and one little sub-woofer.  Then I go listen in my car, and also on my portable MP3 player with the little ear bud type headphones.  When it sounds good on all of those, I know I'm finished.

My big set of DynAudio BM15A monitors was around $2500 or so for the pair, and those are still relatively cheap compared to what you'll find in many major studios.

But, in your case, buy your cheap set of monitors first if you just need something to get to work with right away and can't wait until you can save up for a better set.  If you don't already have a decent pair of headphones, you may want to get a good set of those now as well.  I personally like the Audio Technica ATHM50 Professional Monitor Headphones.  But, then, start saving up and plan on at least $1000 to $2000 for your good pair of monitors that you'll need at some point to really know what's going on.  You might also want to invest in a sub-woofer at some point, especially if you do any kind of electronic dance or hip-hop music where the sub frequencies are very important.  However, it's best to have one set of monitors that gives you deep bass without the use of a sub, as a sub can be very hard to match up properly with another set of monitors, and can fool you into thinking you have more bass than you really do.  Subs are also highly dependent on where you place them in the room, and for best results they should be used with a cross-over system to remove those sub frequencies from the monitors you are using them with.  Some subs have a cross-over built-in to them for this purpose.  I personally have my sub on its own separate switch so I can turn it on or off independent of any other set of monitors (so I can also use it with any of the sets of monitors as needed).  Now that I have my room dialed in and tuned properly, I really only use the sub for the surround set of BM6A monitors when doing surround work, or with a stereo set of the BM6A to extend the bass on those for a quick check when doing stereo mixes (but usually leave the sub off most of the time).

Sorry I can't get more specific on monitors in your price range, but there really aren't many monitor pairs out there that are of decent quality that fall into that range.  If at all possible, try to buy from a place that has a 30 day return policy so you can try them out in your own studio first to see if they will work in your room and with the placement in your room.  Next thing you should do is to look at acoustic treatments... you can find lots of great information on the RealTraps site, and I highly recommend (and use) Ethan's products.

Good luck!

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