Resources for the Recording Musician
December 2, 2006

Studio Monitors: Using Stereo System Speakers

I recently picked up a pair of Fisher three-way speakers with 10 in. woofers for 25$ at the local Salvation Army.  Hooked these up to my home stereo system and they really sound great.

I've been looking for a decent pair of studio monitors and now these sort of fell in my lap.

Any reason not to use home stereo speakers as the monitors in your home music studio?

Generally, speakers designed for home stereo systems have a "hyped" response to make them stand out on the showroom floor so that more people will buy them.  Studio monitors, on the other hand, are designed to give you a more accurate and true representation, with as flat of a response as possible.

However, there is no such thing as a truly "flat" response speaker, and everything changes quite a bit with the size of your room and where you place the speakers.  It's that interaction between the speakers and the room (and the placement within the room) that makes a really huge difference in how things sound.

You can generally learn to work with pretty much any speaker system as long as you learn how things should sound through those speakers in your particular room.  One way to do this is to listen to "reference" CDs as much as possible in your studio and check your work against those CDs often while you are recording or mixing to make sure you are in the same ball park.

Also, you'll notice that most professional studios have more than one set of monitor speakers.  The goal with recording and mixing is to get your music to sound good on ANY system that it's played back on.  You really will have a harder time getting there with just one set of monitors in one position in one room.  You should have at least one set of full range monitors that accurately reproduce the low end for you so you know what's going on down there (low end is one of the hardest things to get right in a mix).  Then you should also have a smaller pair of "consumer" speakers that are mostly mid-range without much extended lows or highs to listen to.  Possibly a set of computer/multimedia speakers.  And, then, also check out the mixes on headphones and in your car, and through your home theater system or boom box or anything else in other rooms/spaces.  All those things well help you make sure your mixes translate well to other systems, while also helping you learn what things should sound like in your studio in order for them to translate well to other systems.

Famous mix engineer Charles Dye says he likes to have the big main monitors in the studio he mixes at to check the low end, and then a smaller set of near field monitors for the majority of the mixing,  Then he uses a small powered set of computer speakers that are off to the side of his mix position which give him a different perspective because they are located in a different part of the room, exciting different room nodes, and he can turn to face them to hear a stereo sound, or he can continue facing forward and hear them mostly through one ear to get a kind of forced mono type of sound (similar to the way a lot of people listen to music in the background).

Fisher was never a "high-end" consumer brand by any means, so don't expect really accurate monitoring from those, but, the 10-inch woofers, if powered by a suitable amp, "should" give you a decent representation of the low end if they are not too cheaply constructed.  I would also then consider a smaller, 2-way pair of near-field studio monitors, with something like a 6-inch woofer, to give you a more accurate sound, especially in the critical mid-range area.  Then, top that off with a cheap pair of computer/multimedia speakers, or some used Auratones or something similar, as an additional reference.  Get yourself a decent speaker/monitor switcher that will allow you to quickly switch between those three sets, and you'll be set!  Of course, you don't need to get these all at once if you are tight on cash, but I would definitely save up for a pair of decent near-field monitors to augment those Fishers.

Anyway, good luck with it!

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