What is a Studio Monitor?
Studio monitors are essential pieces of equipment in any recording studio. Whether that be at home, or in a professional environment. They are vital for the mixing and mastering process, but what is a studio monitor? The term studio monitor is a little bit confusing, as a monitor is often referred to as a screen. But in this instance the term studio monitors refer to professional speakers.
What’s the difference between Speakers and Studio Monitors?
This was a question I asked myself when I began learning about audio production. Consumer speakers are made to make music sound great for the general listener, no matter which part of the room they are in. Consumer speakers usually add more bass and treble to the audio to bring music to life. They can come in all shapes, forms, and sizes; small, large, square, round, rectangular, wireless, Bluetooth, cable connected, and so on.
Studio monitors are very different. They are designed to produce audio or music accurately, naturally, and clearly. The best studio monitors have a flat and precise sound that will help you notice any imperfections in your music. They won’t flatter your music by adding any extra bass or sparkle. That’s your job with the mixing and mastering process, and a fun one at that!
Studio monitors are much more than just speakers. They are an essential monitoring tool for critical listening that allow you to listen to your music truthfully, how it sounds as it is; giving you the opportunity to mix it the way you want it to sound.
Passive Speakers Vs Active Speakers
Normal consumer speakers are usually passive. This means they receive power from a dedicated standalone amplifier, which you plug into a wall socket. Studio monitors tend to be active, which means they have in-built power amplifiers. So, you can plug a studio monitor directly into a wall socket.
This is ideal, as you don’t have to buy any other equipment apart from an audio interface. If you don’t know what that is, be sure to read my article ‘What is an Audio Interface?’. An audio interface will allow you connect your studio monitors and computer together, so they work in harmony.
Most active studio monitors are bi-amplified, meaning they have one amp to power the woofer, and one to power tweeter. A woofer helps to amplify lower/mid frequencies, and a tweeter amplifies high frequencies. Bi-amplified studio monitors help to reduce clipping issues as each speaker is independent of each other. For example, if the woofer begins to distort, it won’t affect the tweeter and vice versa.
This design also allows for clipping and intermodulation distortion to be less audible, the overall power is greater than normal speakers, transient response is more efficient, and the potential for inductive and capacitive overloading is significantly reduced. Basically, bi-amplification is a very intuitive and clever design to make studio monitors more efficient and effective at their job.
Professional recording studios use very large powerful studio monitors that are capable of producing low frequencies exceptionally well. But of course, these types of speakers cost a fortune, require acoustically treated rooms, they’re heavy, and complicated to install. That’s where near-field monitors come in. Simply put near-field means close to the listener. How close? Around 3–5 feet away in a triangle formation. These are the typical and most common monitors you see, featuring a tweeter and woofer.As near-field monitors are close to the listener, the rooms’ acoustics do not have too much of a negative impact. However, some studio monitors have adjustable knobs for treble and bass to compensate for a bad sounding room.
Near-field monitors create an accurate listening experience. They can’t produce low frequencies as well as large speakers, but are more than adequate for most mixing purposes. If you do really need more bass though, you can always buy a subwoofer. Just be mindful of your neighbours…
Monitor Speaker Size
An important factor to consider when buying studio monitors is the speaker size. The speaker sizes usually vary between 5–8 inches. Now you might be thinking, the bigger the better, right? Technically yes, that’s true. Bigger speakers can produce frequencies more accurately. But you must think about your room size. That is the most important aspect to consider when choosing a speaker size.
If you have a home studio in a bedroom or spare room, then 5 or 6 inches is perfectly suited. Trust me, even at that size they can get loud. However, if you have bigger room, perhaps a basement, or you might want to set up a semi-professional recording studio, then 7 or 8 inches might suit your needs better.
I have the Yamaha HS7 studio monitors which are 7 inches, but I am fortunate to have a very large room that I use as a recording studio. In fact, it used to be an old animal barn back in the day, but we converted into a useable studio space. One of the perks of old houses in the Scottish countryside.
Remember that studio monitors do have different types of connections. Depending on the brand or model that you purchase, they could use XLR inputs, ¼” inputs, or RCA cables. Be sure to check your audio interface to make sure they are compatible. If they’re not, it may also be possible to buy converter cables.
Studio monitors have a massive price range. Professional recording studios will spend tens of thousands on the absolutely best studio monitors, and they have a massive acoustically treated room to place them in. But of course, you or I don’t have these luxuries. Luckily, you don’t have to spend a lot to buy an excellent pair of studio monitors. Check out my article ‘The Best Budget Studio Monitors’ for a range of options to choose from. Generically speaking you can buy a good pair of studio monitors for $250+.
Studio Monitors Are an Essential Tool
I hope that this article helped to answer the question ‘What is a Studio Monitor?’. It’s fortunate that today an excellent, professional sounding pair of studio monitors is affordable for the average musician, producer, or studio owner. Studio monitors are the essential tool that help you to mix and master your music, the way you want to. They will be your best friends in your audio production journey, and no doubt you will upgrade them over the years as your budget increases. Remember that they are much more than just speakers, their design has been perfected for the sole purpose of critical listening.
I hope you enjoyed this article, if you have any questions then please comment down below.
6 thoughts on “What is a Studio Monitor?”
This field has really changed since I was a girl and it looks like the equipment is becoming smaller and better focused for the job. As a musician, I am very aware of the amplification equipment I use onstage and my stereo at home. Your explanation of the difference between passive and active speakers really hit home. I wasn’t aware that my stereo speakers often add bass and treble to make it better for listening, whereas active speakers don’t change anything, they just give you a true representation of what has been recorded. I’m amazed that the cost has become so reasonable for studio speakers, at around $250+ you can set up a studio recording place in your home.
No worries Lilly, I’m glad you found it helpful 🙂
This is a very informative post and I learnt many new things about studio monitors and speakers. I didn’t know there was a difference between them or even that your have passive and active speakers.
The technology and field of studio monitors and recording have changed so much since I was a teenager. The equipment is not small and compact and also more affordable for anybody who want to set up a home recording studio.
Thank you for this comprehensive explanation of studio monitors and how they are used. I would not have thought that the device used to listen when mixing music would be different from the device we used in our homes to enjoy the music! Your explanation was thorough and easy to understand. Thank you for posting.
No problem, thanks Cynthia.