I'd like to buy some reasonably priced, accurate studio monitor speakers.
October 3, 2005 10:31 AM   Subscribe

I'd like to buy some reasonably priced, accurate studio monitor speakers.

Last year I finished an entire album of ambient electronica using only a pair of Sony 7506 cans for monitoring. The result, when played through a home stereo, is not sonically ideal. This year I want to buy some monitor speakers so I can get away from the headphones. However, I'm suffering from cognitive overload: paralysis from too much info. There are so many products and so many opinions, I don't know what to buy. If there are any audiophiles or home musicians lurking, maybe you could offer some advice? I'm not a professional, so I don't need top-of-the-line stuff. I'd like to spend just a few hundred dollars and get some reasonably accurate-sounding desktop speakers that will represent the average listener. The music type is ambient to dance, which will probably make a difference to the best choice. Any suggestions?
posted by BorgLove to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm not sound nerd/gear expert but I bought a pair of Behringer B2031A's and they certainly do the trick (I'm making dance music at home). Or would do the trick if my neighbours didn't live so damn close.
posted by dydecker at 11:02 AM on October 3, 2005

Actually more that, you know. They make even the shittiest track sound like a gift from heaven.

Please bear in mind I haven't ever used good audio gear so in the official sense I know not what I talk about.
posted by dydecker at 12:02 PM on October 3, 2005

My recommendation is to pick a company you trust and go through their website. Then comb through their product listing eliminating speakers that don't suit your needs or don't fit the characteristics you prefer. For instance, as price is an issue, create a price range and immediately eliminate everything that doesn't fit into it. Don't even look at the other stuff. Do you need portability from your monitors? If yes, then eliminate everything that isn't easily portable. If no, you get the idea. Once you've got it down to a few things, eliminate anything that you're only considering just because the price is low. If you have an option that's ideal but more expensive than a less ideal (but still within your price range) option, choose the more expensive option (so long as it's within your price range). Dont sacrifice for money once you've already narrowed yourself down to a reasonable price range.

Then, once you've picked one or two good options from that company, do the same thing for another company. Whittle it down to either 2 choices from one of them or just one from each. If the choice between the 2 remaining isn't obvious, then flip a coin. If, after it's landed, you wish that it had landed the other way, then pick the other way. You know now which you prefer. If you're fine with the way it landed, then get that one. You won't miss the other.

So which companies/products should you look at?

As a general rule, I recommend going back to whatever review sites you trust to look NOT for products, but certain statements. If a reviewer says something like "the always excellent Peavey brand does it again" or "normally I hate this company, but these speakers ..." then you can focus on the former and eliminate the latter.

Here's a specific recommendation to get you started, however:

I'm not an audio engineer, but I do assistant editing (mostly sound work) for broadcast, and the company I've worked for longest uses Roland MA-12 monitors. They've lasted years without wear, and they give us a decent expectation for what joe average will hear at home. I've actually gotten in trouble for using headphones to do audio levels (and we use several hundred dollar sennheisers) because of the difference. I don't know if Roland still manufactures or sells that model, but I would trust whatever they're currently selling. They don't sound like the kind of speakers I'd want to listen to music at home with, by any stretch of the imagination, but that's not what you want with studio monitors anyway.

good luck.
posted by shmegegge at 12:03 PM on October 3, 2005

Seconding the Behringer recommendation.
posted by Jairus at 12:19 PM on October 3, 2005

Tannoy Reveals are, by far, the best bang for the buck I've seen in studio monitors.

They get my official Taco Of Approval for dance and ambient applications.
posted by I Love Tacos at 12:21 PM on October 3, 2005

I've heard decent things about the Behringers. I have Event 20/20bas monitors and they're great, but they're about a grand a pair.
posted by frenetic at 12:24 PM on October 3, 2005

The BBC Standard is the way to go.

Harbeth Monitor 20
posted by caddis at 12:47 PM on October 3, 2005

I have the Event 20/20bas as well and love them, but I wanted to point out that:
"reasonably accurate-sounding desktop speakers" and will "represent the average listener" are concepts that are directly at odds with one another. This is why so many people love Yamaha NS10s. Accurate/clear enough to mix on, but if you get your mix to sound good on those, it'll generally sound ok on any boombox or car stereo. If I was you, I'd try to get some used NS10s (they don't make them any more IIRC). It's really easy, particularly with electronic music, to make a mix that sounds awesome on killer monitors but horrible on a normal stereo.
posted by jeb at 1:02 PM on October 3, 2005

I monitor thru a pair of Alesis M1s -- self-powered, so there's one less box to hook up. Got them on clearance for $200 as I remember.

With any of these near field monitor speakers, positioning is very important for accurate mix results. This is the basic rule of thumb.
posted by omnidrew at 1:55 PM on October 3, 2005

I recently got a pair of Event Tuned Reference 8XLs, and they're great, especially if you don't already have an amp.
Give Sweetwater a call - they have a knowledgeable sales staff (you can talk to "your" salesperson every time), competitive prices and a range of stuff from intermediate to professional. I swear I don't work for them.
posted by hellbient at 2:18 PM on October 3, 2005

Thirding the B2031A's. I've had mine for 5 years now doing glitchy/dancey stuff. So I guess Ambient might fit in there somehow. I picked them up for $600 new in 2001. I've talked with studio engineers that agree that everything from Behringer is low priced crap. But the Truth's are that companies one saving grace.
posted by mnology at 2:40 PM on October 3, 2005

2001 being the relevant number, not 5 years. I live in a time warp.
posted by mnology at 2:43 PM on October 3, 2005

Fourth vote for the Behringer Truths... I've had mine for about three years now, and they sound great and are quite solid, especially for the price..
posted by dty1 at 3:57 PM on October 3, 2005

You probably won't find anything really 'accurate' on that sort of budget, but it's not a big deal. Plenty of commonly used monitor speakers are anything but accurate (see the Yamaha NS10s mentioned above; they sound quite shockingly bad but their inaccuracies make them a useful working tool for some styles of music production).

Personally, in that price range, I'd probably go for hifi/audiophile speakers rather than those aimed at the home studio market. Tannoy, Paradigm, KEF, JM Labs/Focal, NHT and Dynaudio all have models in that price range but there are plenty of others. Any good audiophile-type shop should have a good range to audition.

Don't buy any speakers without listening to them, preferably for a good while. Listen to mixes you like and mixes you don't. Listen for things like note differentiation in basslines- some speakers will have boomy one-note bass but on others you'll hear every note's pitch properly. Also listen for things like the balance of electric guitars and lead vocals, and for reverb levels. These things will all vary markedly, even on decent speakers.

Bear in mind that your mixes will end up as a mirror-image of your monitoring system. If your speakers overemphasise bass, your mixes will end up with no low end. If your speakers have the 'disco smile' your mixes will end up with a lot of mid-range stuff. This is hard to avoid on any system; a lot of what mastering engineers do is correcting for mix imbalances caused by monitoring. If you work to familiarise yourself with your monitoring system and cross-check your mixes on other systems (car stereos can be really handy for this) you should be able to get your mixes to sound decent everywhere.

They make even the shittiest track sound like a gift from heaven.

This is not usually considered a good thing in studio monitors. Monitors should make shitty things sound shitty.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 4:59 PM on October 3, 2005

While I think the BBC Standard would make better monitors, if you really need to stay in the few hundred dollar range the duck is probably right, good consumer audio speakers can be had in that price range. For monitoring you want something that attempts to be neutral across the audible frequency spectrum. You will not get low bass in this price range, but you can get a good speaker which will neutrally reproduce music in the 50 hz to 20,000 hz range. I particularly like the Mission M71s, although now I think they sell a slightly improved model. Also, I wholeheartedly agree with what the duck said in his/her last paragraph.
posted by caddis at 6:15 AM on October 4, 2005

Tagging onto this question: active vs. passive monitors? Is it ok to buy passive monitors, even if you're just using a (reasonably decent) consumer hi-fi amp?
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 9:18 AM on October 7, 2005

goodnews: I reckon so. One disadvantage of active setups is the inability to upgrade amplifiers. Personally I'd go for a Rotel integrated amp but there's probably other stuff out there that won't break the bank.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 4:41 PM on October 7, 2005

Thanks, duck. And just a regular hi-fi amp going into my passive monitors? Will that, you know, hurt?
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 6:34 PM on October 7, 2005

It should be fine as long as the amp isn't underpowered.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 7:37 PM on October 7, 2005

Alright, thanks duck.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 12:34 PM on October 9, 2005

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