Last blog was about the computer based approach to beat-making. This post will pick up where I left off and examine the wild and unpredictable world of monitoring.
Forget it, folks, headphones simply won’t cut it for mixing and producing. You will need a decent set of nearfield monitors to achieve quality results. Even then, the size and shape of your room is going to have a severe impact on the reliability of the sound that you hear. Generally speaking, the smaller the room the less reliable the sound reproduction – bass will become boomy (or non-existance in certain frequencies) whilst highs will become resonant and fluttery. Changing your room is rarely a simple thing, though, and few of us have access to the cash needed for large-scale renovations. If you’re like me, you’re limited by what you can do in your rented property.
What you can control are the speakers that you use in your environment.
The rules of thumb(s) are as follows:
1. Get yourself a pair of speakers with a decent-sized bass driver (6 to 8 inches). You can go bigger if you have a decent-sized room with fair acoustics but most of us don’t have such luck. Any smaller than 6 inches and your bass response will be seriously compromised. Even between 6 to 8 inch drivers will have little worthwhile response below 60 to 70Hz. That’s not a huge issue as you can supplement the system with a matched sub-woofer (provided your monitors have a matched sub and you feel you could trust it in your room). You may, in fact, choose to avoid dealing with sub-bass issues in your production environment simply because you will be unable to trust what you hear.
2. Let your ears be the guide. Once you have a budget (and, really, you are looking at an absolute minimum of AU$600 for a decent pair of monitors – probably better off around AU$1000 a pair) you should head to your local pro-audio store and actually listen to potential purchases. Every speaker has a different character. No speaker delivers a truly flat response. You certainly can’t trust the frequency graphs that come with their promotional material and, in any case, data collected about the speakers will have been collected in a anechoic chamber – far from a real mix room. In the end, trust your ears. And remember, the question isn’t whether they sound ‘good’ it’s whether they sound ‘right’. Take a song you are absolutely familiar with and play that at the store – does it sound like you know it should?
3. Stick to credible brands. Certain brands have good reputations – certain brands are heavily hyped. Having spoken to numerous producers I can say that I’ve heard good things about the following brands of monitor speakers: Roland (I use the DS7’s and I trust them), Genelec, JBL, Alesis, Adam and Mackie. Other brands may be fine – I haven’t heard.
4. It’s a good idea to seek out a pair of active (amplified) monitors. These will generally give you less power handling than passive systems but have the benefit of (most of the time) having well matched drivers and amplifiers (often legitimately bi-amplified rather than uni-amplified with a cross-over). In the case of nearfield monitors, lower power handling is rarely an issue (between 50 watts RMS and 80 watts RMS to the bass driver is sufficient). Passive monitors can sometimes be picked up for cheaper but any savings will be lost when trying to find a Class-A amplifier with the right power output.
Next post – the hardware sampler approach.