Soundware Guide to Choosing Monitor Speakers

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Soundware Beginners Guide to...

...Speakers


Even if you've made a professional quality recording on your computer, the way it's mixed can make or break it as a finished track. To mix properly, we need to be sure that what we hear through the speakers is as accurate a representation of the actual sound as possible, so that the mix we hear through our speakers will sound good on as many different sound systems as possible. A good pair of studio monitors is essential to this.

The way speakers are positioned can also have a big impact on the way we perceive sound coming from them.

There are many different types of speakers to choose from. If you're not sure which is suitable for your requirements, please contact us and we'll do our best to help.

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How Speakers Work

The theory upon which all loudspeakers are based is very simple. To make a speaker, the electrical current from a hi-fi or amplifier is passed through a wire coil, attached to a diaphragm and with a magnet fixed within the coil. The current in the coil within the magnetic field causes the coil to move (because of the Motor Effect), which causes the diaphragm to move – at the same frequency as the original sound vibrations. As the diaphragm moves, it will cause the air around it to vibrate as well, and will transmit sound waves identical (in a perfect world – in reality there is always a certain amount of electrical interference, resistance etc. which affects the resulting sound) to the original sound waves.


  A simple loudspeaker

However, it's difficult to make a single speaker cone produce an accurate representation of the entire sound spectrum - so most speakers use two cones (or "drivers"), a "tweeter" for high frequencies and a "woofer" for low frequencies. The point at which the low and high frequencies are split (usually around 2kHz) is called the crossover frequency. Some high-end studio monitors refine this technique even further and use three or more drivers.

Speaker Positioning

The placement of speakers in a room can have a huge effect on the sound they produce, so it's important to position your monitor speakers properly to get the most accurate reproduction of your mixes. Their placement in relation to the listener is also important, as the sound of a speaker changes depending on where it is in relation to the listener.

It's best to place your speakers so that they're sitting on two points of an imaginary equilateral triangle (the length of the sides can vary, although five to six feet is considered ideal) - the third point of which should be your head when you're listening to the speakers. This placement gives the most accurate reproduction of the stereo field. Set the height so that the tweeter cone is level with your ears - since high frequencies are most easily distorted by being "off-axis", it's best to be in line with the high frequency driver. Turn the speakers so that they're pointing inwards slightly, for the same reason. Always place your speakers upright unless they are specifically designed to be placed on their sides - this can lead to phase problems.

Placement of speakers within a room can vary depending on their design - some benefit from being placed against a wall, and some need to be well away from walls in a free space. Try to avoid placing speakers in corners, though - this can make the bass frequencies sound boomy. Speaker stands are useful as they can prevent resonances from desks or cabinets - but wherever you place your speakers, make sure that they're firmly fixed in place to prevent vibrations.

When you think your speakers are correctly placed, use them to listen to some commercially-produced music. Does the mix sound balanced? Is the bass or mid range coming through too strongly, or not strongly enough? If so, look at your placement again, and consider changing it to combat this. If you continuously run into problems, consider looking into some form of acoustic treatment for the room you're mixing in - it may be that the shape of the room is affecting the sound.

Types of Speakers:

Passive

Audio signals sent to speakers will always need amplified to an appropriate level before they are sent to the speaker drivers. In passive crossover monitors, the speaker accepts its input from a separate external amplifier, splits the signal into high and low frequencies and distributes it to the drivers.

Examples of Passive Monitors:


Behringer 1C Passive Monitors

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Powered

Passive monitor speakers can lose sound quality because of the length of wire connecting the amplifier to the speakers. A way of avoiding this is by using powered speakers. These have their own inbuilt amplifiers and do not need external amplification. Because of this the quality of the sound signal is maintained, as it does not have to pass through as much wire and circuitry to reach the drivers.

Examples of Powered Monitors:


Yamaha MSP3


M-Audio Studio Pro 4

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Active

Both passive and powered speakers split the signal after it has been amplified. Active speakers work differently, by using electronic circuitry to split the frequency at line level and then feeding the split signals into individual amplifiers, which then connect to the drivers. The active electronics can split the signal much more accurately, and can incorporate equalisation features to help match speakers to a room's characteristics. Again, active speakers are self-contained and need no external amplification.

Examples of Active Monitors:


Samson Resolv 50a

Fostex PM0.4

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