- Posted: 14/03/26
Ear-ing Your Near-Field Studio Monitors!
If you asked one of my friends in the audio industry what piece of gear am I most interested in, or what subject I get most excited to talk about when it comes to gear, it’d be Microphones…well almost haha, it’d be Monitors! So, since we have covered acoustically treating our control room, choosing our D.A.W, EQ, Compression,TDR, Getting our Mixes ready to be Mastered and Converters our final stop on this Signal Path Series stops at Monitors. It wouldn’t be right to conclude the series without talking about what we use to analyze our mixes, along with detailing some of the major factors in choosing home studio monitors. Just a few caveats, this entire series we’ve tried to focus on the home studio so, we will continue in that vein. The basis of this discussion is on near-field monitors (monitors meant to be used in a short distance environment, often right on/near the mixing desk or console). The good news is that most of this information can be easily related to other monitors as well so, not everything changes. Note that there are differences in the construction and purpose of mid-field and long range monitoring that we won’t delve into here. Another thing to note is a continuing theme from the other articles; we won’t really be going into specifics on whether one monitor is different than another particular monitor. At the end of the article, we hope that you will be able to take what we discuss and apply that in your own A/B tests and make those “monitor vs. monitor” decisions for yourself, after all, a large part of your monitor choice will be based on personal taste, the type of music you predominately deal with, and of course, the room you mix in.
If you are looking around for your first pair of monitors or just looking to upgrade, one of the first options you will encounter will be the size of the monitors. Depending on how far you are sitting from your monitors will be a large factor in your choice, in addition to the size of your room and the listening levels you will be monitoring with. For instance, in the studio that I often work with we do a lot of pop, and dance music. It’s important from time to time to turn the volume up to get the feel of how it might translate at something approaching nightclub levels. In our case, we needed to make sure our mixes will translate at the higher SPL levels without distorting. If you’re doing other types of music you can see how this may or may not factor into your choice. With any near-field monitor the size of the cabinet has been factored in to the monitor being in the “near distance” category, so the majority of units in this category will work for most situations. While we are talking about the size of the monitor and referencing the SPL possibilities in relation to that, you also want to notice the size of the cones. Generally, a larger woofer means further bass extension in the low frequency range. Check your tweeter and the way it’s designed, this can mean larger or smaller “sweet spot”. The waveguide (whether it’s there or not) helps to keep the high frequency information directed toward your listening position.
Active vs. Passive
One of the largest decisions on which monitor to go with is the “active vs. passive” decision. To me, it’s pretty basic once you relate it to your situation. Active monitors are powered by their own amps (It’s an easier setup for me). The amps are inside the monitor cabinet and either shared between the tweeter and woofer or each have their own. With active studio monitors you don’t have to deal with cabling to amps or picking out amps to go with your monitors. In comparison with the ease of having your amp decision made for you with active monitors, passive monitors allow you to make that decision for yourself, and of course if you buy passive monitors and then buy monitor amps you have the ability to upgrade either without throwing out your whole setup. One thing to consider with passive monitoring that you don’t have to consider with active monitors is cable length. You want to keep your cabling short as possible and keep them out of the way of DC interference. At lower price ranges from what I’ve seen so far there isn’t much difference other than those that we just illustrated. At higher price ranges, I’ve heard you can really see active monitoring breakaway from passive in expensiveness. The monitoring in the studio I frequent hasn’t changed much so, I’m only speculating in that area.
Ported or Sealed Cabinet / To Port or Not to Port, That is the Question!
Both of these monitors (Adam, Event) are ported, and we noted in the previous figure and paragraph what the ports do, but let’s expand just a little. Budget monitors, especially near fields, are limited by size and price point. Because of price point, compromises have to be made in materials and engineering. Ports are added to cabinets to help them extend their frequency reach farther than would be capable without them. With that said, it is often true that even though ported monitors can extend lower, their extension to these frequencies may translate in a less controlled fashion. Be advised, the ports do have a resonant frequency. Know this resonant frequency and be careful that this doesn’t cloud your judgment when mixing. This problem may manifest itself in instances where that resonant frequency takes longer to dissipate then other frequencies. So, to compensate you may find yourself mixing this frequency lower due to the fact you are hearing more of it. Get it? On past the ports, you’ll notice the Adam monitor on the left has edges that are tapered back. This is done to reduce edge diffraction. There is further discussion of edge diffraction here if you want to get into the intricacies of the science. Diffraction relates to the bending of waves around an object, so in this instance the Adam monitor has its edges tapered to reduce baffle resonant waves from bending in different (non-sweet spot targeted) directions. We said a little earlier that high frequencies are very directional, so if you relate that to the diffraction conversation this means that the majority of baffle diffraction constitute low frequency waves. It’s debatable how much this will affect your sound, but it’s something to think about when choosing your monitor’s construction. The Adams as you see, (above this paragraph) at least are geared to minimize whatever edge diffraction does exist.
2 or 3 Way?
Most studio monitors in the low to mid-price range are two-way monitors, meaning they have a woofer to handle the low frequencies and a tweeter to handle the higher frequencies. Usually with higher priced models you will see some three-way designs. Three way monitors enclose a tweeter, slightly larger mid-range driver and a woofer. What would be the reason for having an extra driver for the mid-range? You guessed it! More accuracy. Our ears are most sensitive in the 1-2 kHz range (reference your Fletcher Munson’s everyone!) and having an extra driver specifically supplied to reproduce this range can lead to a more accurate monitoring experience. With the two way design, each driver inevitably is forced to reproduce some frequencies that are slightly out of its “sweet spot” no pun intended. With the woofer producing frequencies higher than its intended range and the tweeter lower, this can produce less accurate representations of those ranges with less detail and depth.
In relation to the two vs three way driver discussion, don’t forget to think a little further about the crossover frequency. When looking for monitors keep in mind where the driver’s crossover. Look to minimize each driver “stretching” too much to produce lower or higher than intended. Many times this can be a key difference in monitors. If one has a more suitable crossover frequency many times this will translate to more accurate and in depth detail, all other things being equal.
Check out your monitor’s EQ section. Make sure it’s suitable for your room. You may or may not need the high pass filter or the high frequency boost, but be sure to note if the monitor offers them to compensate for how your room reacts with them. If you know you’ll be using a sub (please only with adequately spaced rooms/no subs if your room is tiny) you will want to use your woofer on your main monitors more as a mid-range speaker and use the high pass on the EQ section to leave the low frequency reproduction to your sub. If your room is heavily deadened you may look for the high frequency boost, etc. Last but not least, check the connections balanced vs. unbalanced. XLR connectors are balanced, TS and RCA cables are unbalanced. TRS cables are the balanced versions of TS cables. Most monitors I see now have the combi-connectors on them so they take balanced and unbalanced lines and there isn’t much to hinder you either way. Just note that unbalanced connections deteriorate over long lengths so if you know your connections will be long across your control room you’ll want to steer toward balanced connections that cut out interference by definition, whereas unbalanced connections are susceptible to more interference because of the lack of the ground connection. Balanced connections do cost more however.
It’s bittersweet I guess, but I hope you have learned along the way. We have. This is the final SPS article for now. Who knows what we’ll tackle in the future, but let these articles be your guide to better understanding your studio. In this article we covered port/non port, cabinet construction, frequency crossover, size of cones, active vs. passive, monitor EQ sections, Balanced vs. Unbalanced connections, and we touched on size of the monitors. If you research different monitors there are more things we didn’t talk specifically about (tweeter waveguides, tweeter design and material, SPL capability, heat sinks, etc.) but, even though this isn’t an exhaustive discussion, continuing your research with the knowledge that we did gain through this article should aide in your selections. This is the last article of the SPS but of course you can read and re-read any of these articles to help solidify these topics. I frequently have to revisit these subjects just to keep them fresh for myself.
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(Referenced: Linkwitzlabs , Soundondsound.com)