how well do you think you could drive if your car windshield was warped and you couldn’t see clearly? How well could you thread a needle with gloves on?The accuracy of what you hear will affect every decision you make in the audio recording process, especially in the mixing and mastering stage. Bad monitoring is just like these two examples, but you won’t know it until you listen to your song in a different room, through different speakers.
The main component of your monitoring setup is your speakers and headphones that you use to listen back on. Studio speakers are called Monitors. Ultimately, the goal is to hear your music with as much accuracy as possible, and having good monitoring speakers is only half the battle. The other half is room acoustics. The adjustments you make, will be in reverse of the imperfections of what you hear. For example, if your monitoring system is bass heavy, as you adjust your mix for a nice, well balanced bass level, you will likely adjust the bass volume really low. Or consider the opposite, if you are using small speakers, and no subwoofer, they likely don’t have much bass output. So during the mixing, you’ll add more bass, and it will sound nice, and well balanced. But then you listen to it in your car, and the bass is overwhelmingly too loud. So, less of something in your monitoring means more of it in your mix. This applies not only to bass, but any frequency area. Quite often, if a subwoofer is implemented, the top range of the sub does not meet the bottom range of the speakers, and there can be a frequency gap. This is very common, and such a frequency gap is very difficult to hear, so you likely won’t even know that it exists. But then, during the mixing, you find yourself adding a bit of lower mids to almost everything, because that sounds good, but then when you listen on another system, the mix sounds muddy, and has no energy.
The room acoustics also play a huge role in what you hear. This is one of the most misunderstood, and under estimated factors that hinder many amateur audio engineers. This reason is because we have brains. We don’t notice poor acoustics because our brains interpret the sound to make it sound normal to us. Just like our eyes adapt to lighting variations, to make things look normal, our ears adapt to sound variations to make it sound normal, and they are very good at it. I can asses a rooms acoustics better with my eyes then I can with my ears. I do not trust my ears for this, but if I look around, I can tell by the size and shape of the room, what treatment is used and where it is placed.
How the room affects the sound is a very complicated topic, but also very important to understand. We cover room treatment in the next chapter, and I also strongly suggest going over lesson 5.15 the blind spot in our ear, and how frequencies interact, and also the next lessons, 1.17 how waves interact, and lesson 1.18- room treatment, and lesson 1.19 ear fatigue.
So, you want to have monitor speakers that have a flat frequency response, which means a neutral amount of bass, mids, and treble, and a room that allows you to accurately hear the sound from the speakers. With these 2 principles applied, your mixes will suddenly sound great on any playback system, and the amount of time it takes you to mix a song will be drastically reduced. I remember when it used to take me on average 2 days to mix a song. The instant I upgraded my monitors to the APS Klasiks, my average time went down to 1 day, and my mixes sounded better. There was no change in my mixing skill, only better monitors.
Technical specifications of monitors
2 way- means there are 2 speaker drivers within one enclosure. A tweeter, and a mid range. This tends to give better sound quality than a single speaker because a large speaker can not reproduce high frequencies with as much accuracy, and a small speaker cannot produce as much volume for lower frequencies. So, by separating the frequency ranges into their own optimal speaker, greater clarity is achieved. The downside is there is generally a level of crossover distortion where the 2 speakers frequencies overlap, but with good speakers this will be minimal.
3 way- means there are 3 speaker drivers within a single enclosure, for an optimal sized speaker producing the treble, the mids, and the bass.
Ported vs sealed enclosure- a Port is a hole in the enclosure which leads down a corridor of some kind, and then to the inside. It allows airflow in and out of the enclosure that flows with the in and out movements of the bass speaker. the “corridor” is precisely engineered to contain a specific volume of air to have just the right resonant frequency of the frequency that is desired to be boosted. This is an easy way to get more volume in the bass frequencies. The downside, is that the sound coming out of the port is out of phase with the sound coming from the speaker driver, and will therefore cause comb filtering on the sound. Another drawback is that since a port is tuned to a specific frequency, a ported speaker will have at the frequency it is tuned to, and a valley in the adjacent frequencies. Another drawback is that the sound coming from the port has a slow transient response, which can make it sluggish. Now, you might be thinking.. why would anyone ever want a port??? Because these drawbacks are largely theoretical, and in practice not very audible. Sealed enclosures, by design, are capable of better sound quality, more linear frequency response, and faster transient response particularly in the low frequencies, but they need to be done right. They need a larger enclosure, more powerful amplification, and they tend to have less bass. I wouldn’t say one design is “better” than the other, it simply depends on user preference. I will say, however, that if you are implementing a dedicated subwoofer, I would recommend a sealed enclosure for the main monitors, because the sub is taking care of the bass. Some speakers designs have 2 ports, one for the bass, and one for the mids. A port for mids is actually detrimental to the sound quality, and is merely a sales gimmick. Stick with speakers that are a sealed enclosure, or have a single bass port.
So what about using headphones? Good question.
Headphones can give you really great sound quality at a much lower price point than speakers. The problem with headphones though is ear fatigue.
Ear fatigue is where you’ve heard the song so many times, that nothing sounds right, and nothing sounds wrong. You know each part in your head, and you can’t tell if it’s playing at a nice volume to suit the song. You’ve heard that guitar part so many times, that you can’t tell that the strum is too bright and needs a de-easer to tame it down, or that the mix is muddy in the mids. Headphones have a tendency to bring on ear fatigue sooner, and heavier.
The trick is to use headphones to fight against ear fatigue. Use speakers for 95% of the mixing, and when you think the song is mixed, then listen to it through headphones. It will give you a new perspective of what the song sounds like, and you’ll be adjusting things that are so obvious, but you didn’t even notice on your speakers.
mixing and mastering, having good monitoring is crucial so that you can hear the parts that need to be adjusted, and to be able to clearly hear the effect of the adjustments you make.
But not all speakers are created equal, and the imperfections of