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Monitoring sound in the studio Ask the experts I Why do I need monitors? And why can’t I just use my HiFi speakers? t may sound like the most obvious thing in the world, and it is, but along with your headphones your monitoring system is the only thing in your mix room that actually makes sound. All the decisions you make in relation to mixing, mic placement, balancing and more are coloured by how much truth your speakers give you. Quality studio monitors, properly set up, can lift the veil of muddy uncertainty from your mix decisions and have the potential to make more of a difference to your mixes than perhaps all the plugins money can buy. with Alex Theakston It’s risky territory to monitor on speakers that flatter the source material. If we’re sitting on the sofa watching a film, or listening to a few CDs, then speakers that make things sound ‘good’, by which we mean ‘a little lifted bass and treble’ is probably a desirable thing. But we’re fallible beasts. A few tiny increases in dB between two sources will almost certainly see us favour the one that’s slightly louder. In studio monitoring, to make productions that work on a variety of systems we have to make the most boring decision in the world, and get speakers that don’t colour our work, that don’t lull us into a false sense of security. Monitoring on HIFI speakers is like painting a picture whilst wearing sunglasses. The best bit though, is that accurate monitoring actually lets us work quicker. We can hear problems in the mix clearly, and when it’s fixed, we can tell, and move on. What does a good studio monitor do? Number One, a good studio monitor represents as much of the frequency spectrum as we can afford it to. In an ideal world, it would literally be able to reproduce any frequency in human hearing, which goes from around 20Hz up to 20kHz. But if you’re anything over 18 years old, it’s likely that you can’t hear quite that high anymore. So perhaps number two is a bit more important: Number Two, a good studio monitor represents the frequency spectrum in as flat a manner as possible. As in, it is not accentuating certain frequencies like HIFI speakers may. This would be a problem due to the simple fact - if your speaker is accentuating bass frequencies artificially, you will likely deliver mixes that play bass-light on systems which do not also accentuate these same frequencies! Number Three, it gives you an accurate representation of the soundstage. You can hear the snappy transients of drums clearly and actually hear the differing texture and characteristic of details like reverb tails. You should also be able to discern the location of instruments placed on the soundstage accurately - you can hear that the vocal is dead centre and those hi-hats are placed ever so slightly off to the right. So I just spend a load of money on speakers, stick them in my room and I’m Abbey Road, right? This is Number Four. We don’t listen to music in anechoic chamber - a speaker and the room it’s in is a marriage. We have to put our monitors in the right place, we will have to be aware of what our rooms is doing to our sound, and a good monitor should be able to be adjusted to counteract the kinds of problems you will find in real spaces. But the room will need some kind of acoustic treatment. In bright sounding rooms, high frequencies can be tamed with relatively light and inexpensive acoustic foam placed where sound initially reflects off the walls around the listening position. You can locate these spots by sitting in the mix position and having a friend run a mirror along the wall - when you see the speakers in the reflection, that is where sound is bouncing off the wall. But to be honest, high frequencies aren’t your main concern - the worst acoustic offender is bass response. Move around your room and hear how perceived bass response changes. What’s worst still is that problem bass frequencies are an expensive issue to treat, as only dense acoustic material can actually absorb the problem frequencies here. Good monitors, however, should be able to adapt to help alleviate a degree of these concerns, and on Genelec 8000 monitors there are switches around the back to help tame the worst of it. But you must still 40 | TV-BAY MAGAZINE TV-BAY071NOV12.indd 40 06/11/2012 18:09