Unlike home stereo speakers, which are designed to make music sound as good as possible, studio monitors are designed to make recordings sound as honest as possible, revealing flaws in your music so you can fix them. The studio monitors you choose are dependent on your budget, your room and your ears, but what's even more important is how you use them.
1Monitor Types: Most home studios use inexpensive near-field monitors that stand on the mixing desk, nearer to the listener than larger monitors. Many popular near-field monitors are "active" or "bi-amplified," meaning they're powered with built-in amplifiers, although some are "passive" and require outboard amplification. Near-field monitors also minimize the effect of the room on the sound. Mid-field and far-field monitors are larger, often require outboard amplification, and are made for professional studios with significant acoustic treatment to ensure proper audio response. While larger speakers generally offer lower bass response, today's technology enables smaller near-field monitors to reproduce a surprisingly wide frequency range, and many professionals record and mix using near-field monitors.
2Price: Monitor speakers range in price from under $200 to thousands of dollars per speaker. While more expensive speakers generally include technology for cleaner sound, as well as larger speaker cones for lower bass, your budget should determine your choice. High-end speakers may be a waste of money if they're combined with a budget mixer or cheap digital-to-analog converter, while inexpensive monitors will yield great results if used properly. Listen to a range of monitors, including models out of your price range, to get a complete picture of what an ideal monitor should sound like. When looking at price, keep in mind that most monitors are not sold in stereo pairs, so the published price is likely to be per monitor.
3Listening: If you can rent a few different pairs of monitors before you buy, listen to them in your studio before making a buying decision. If not, bring several well-recorded pieces similar to the type of music you make, in an uncompressed high-fidelity format. Ask to have them played in mono over one speaker -- mono sound will reveal a speaker's flaws better than stereo playback. After you narrow down the possibilities, listen again in stereo. Spend time testing each model, standing at the same distance you'll place it in your home studio, and at the level you prefer for your sessions. Listen for characteristics that may bother you when listening for hours at a time, such as shrill high end or poorly defined bass. If you'll be spending big money on monitors, you might consider bringing a pink noise recording and an SPL meter to ensure you're listening at the same level on each speaker.
- Position your speakers so they each point directly at you with the tweeters at ear level, creating a triangle where the distance between the speakers is the same as the distance between the speakers and your ears. For the best results, make sure your monitoring room is as acoustically neutral as possible. Placing your speakers against a wall or in a corner may add bass or other color to the sound. Acoustic treatments for hard, flat walls and "bass traps" for corners can help make your room more acoustically accurate. If both your speakers and the interface box or monitor you're connecting them to feature balanced TRS or XLR connections, use them instead of unbalanced RCA connections, especially if your cables are more than a few feet long. Many studios also use a pair of cheap home speakers to offer a "second opinion" on how mixes will sound -- a popular choice is the now-discontinued Realistic Minimus 7, often available at garage sales. A variety of inexpensive bookshelf speakers will do the trick, however. No matter how much your monitors cost, the better you know them, the better you'll mix with them, so spend time listening to all types of material with them.