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Monitoring speakers

Comparison and Test

Discover all the tests of the different monitoring speakers, there are different models such as active (amplified) passive (non-amplified) proximity speakers, mid-distance speakers and finally main monitoring speakers. Each has its own characteristics and sounds vary depending on the brand. The most prestigious brands are KRK, Neumann, Genelec, Adam, Focal, Presonus, etc...

Please note: Monitoring speakers are used for active listening to voices and acoustic instruments during the mastering phase of your studio recordings. Their placement and sound quality will allow you to get the best results you can expect.

How to choose the right monitoring speaker? 🧐

Monitoring is a term used in music production to refer to listening and analyzing different aspects of a sound. It is common to use speakers for implementing monitoring in a studio due to the precision they can bring to the process. This is at least the case if the equipment chosen combines the qualities of a good monitoring speaker.

Why use monitoring speakers for music production? 🎵

It is a priori possible to produce music with a speaker, a Bluetooth soundbar or a TV tower speaker. However, such solutions do not seem very durable for a musician and an audio recording professional. A monitoring speaker is a better investment in the long term.

A good monitoring speaker is one that can provide the greatest neutrality in the reproduction of different sound sources. It is also important that the speaker does not tire the ears during long listening sessions over several hours of recordings.

The best monitoring speakers must also offer sufficient headroom to meet varying volume and frequency response requirements. This means they handle extreme level peaks, pop noises, and raw audio material well.

The design of active speakers is very different from that of passive speakers. Hi-fi speakers are presented as compact speakers with a very elegant design. This seems legitimate insofar as they are intended to be displayed in a common room. A listening monitor is less careful in its design, because it is used in the context of a studio.

Hi-fi speakers are designed as passive speakers and require additional amplification. Most monitoring speakers are active speakers. An active speaker is not necessarily more advantageous than a passive speaker or vice versa. This will depend on the user's expectations when purchasing a speaker.

A hi-fi speaker is designed for music lovers as it can deliver them the best music listening experience. The subjective assessment of a music lover is more important here than the precision provided when reading the music. The speakers should subjectively improve the sound. Bass and treble are boosted to create a bright tone that swallows up the mids.

Producers and musicians need precise reproduction of their music. This is where a monitoring speaker comes in. These are designed to have as flat a frequency response as possible, without emphasizing bass or treble. The sound of a monitoring speaker can therefore seem boring or even unpleasant to a music lover.

A monitoring speaker also benefits from magnetic shielding to operate alongside computer screens. Their construction is also more robust, which helps them better withstand peaks in sound levels compared to hi-fi speakers.

How does the sound from the speaker propagate into its surroundings? 🤔

A monitor speaker comes with a narrower radiation angle, which results in a narrower 'sweet spot'. The sweet spot is the listening position where one can hear the stereo recording in its entirety, as arranged on a mixing board.  

The position of the sweet spot varies depending on the type of speaker. However, it most often corresponds to the central axis between the speakers, at a specific distance from the membrane. This distance is determined by the type and character of radiation from the monitoring speakers. Hi-fi speakers have a wider 'sweet spot' because they are meant to work in a large room.

The sound of the monitoring speaker is likely to change when it moves out of the optimal listening position. Voices are less understandable and the stereo environment can no longer be reproduced accurately. A lack of brilliance can also be revealed in the treble.

Speakers should be placed at the same distance from the listener when installed. This is the only way to guarantee that the distances traveled by sound are equal. This also allows the sound to reach the listener simultaneously in the 'sweet spot'.

The sound quality of a speaker is already greatly affected by the positioning of the chassis within the enclosure a few centimeters away. It is therefore easy to imagine how the sound can lose authenticity with poor positioning of 20 cm or more.

Sound waves are variations in atmospheric pressure and tend to be slower than light. Those coming from the speakers only reach the ears after a short time. Let's say the second speaker is one meter away from the listener. The sound generated by this speaker will then arrive 2.92 milliseconds after the first speaker. The delay creates a comb filter effect and phase shift cutoff which harms the generated sound.

What is the best design for speaker enclosure? 👍

It is possible to find a monitoring speaker with a closed subwoofer or with bass reflex openings at the front and rear. The closed case limits the quantity of air in the monitoring speaker. The air is either compressed or expanded when the speaker cone begins to vibrate.

This concept tends to generate limitations in bass reproduction on the powered speaker. This is where the design with bass-reflex openings comes into its own. The latter are favorable to the exchange of a greater quantity of air between the powered speakers and their environment.

The closed active subwoofer design is adopted by manufacturers when they want to reduce the manufacturing cost of their speakers. The openings provide better sound reproduction performance to the loudspeaker, but are more expensive to integrate into its design.

Steaming the openings is also more tedious to undertake than the cutting itself. The insulating material cannot simply be dumped as in the case of a closed enclosure. It must be carefully applied to the interior sides of the opening, which requires more work.

The bass reflex opening can deliver an increase of +3 dB in the environment close to the resonant frequency of a monitoring speaker. The resonant frequency of a speaker is the frequency that sounds disproportionately louder than neighboring frequencies.

A more significant increase is possible on a closed box monitoring speaker. This will, however, come at the expense of the rest of the frequency response. The sound reproduction is then less precise. A monitoring speaker with a bass reflex port is more advantageous in comparison, because it requires less power to be perceived louder.

A bass reflex speaker can a priori reproduce low frequencies in a more linear manner. However, the bandwidth tends to drop suddenly by 24 dB/octave as soon as the level begins to drop in the bass. A closed box monitoring speaker can weaken a little earlier, but in the gentle transition of 12 dB/octave.

The fidelity of pulses is proportional to the ability of a membrane to vibrate rapidly. This means that the transients and attack of music are reproduced with greater clarity and detail. Closed design speakers have a significant advantage in this area. The air trapped in the box creates a damping effect and the membrane reacts more quickly. This advantage is confirmed around the resonance frequency of the monitoring speaker.

A speaker with an open design is a priori the right choice if the speaker needs to resonate louder and generate more bass. It should be noted, however, that opening can produce unwanted background noise, especially when increasing the volume. A monitoring speaker with a closed box is a better choice for those who aim for clarity in sound reproduction.

Size is also a determining factor in the case of woofers. However, it is not relevant for the sound performance of a tweeter. Woofers are often available in diameters of 5 to 8 inches. The larger a woofer is, the more bass it can go down. Bass accuracy is also proportional to the width of the membrane.

There are monitor speakers with a woofer of 4 inches or less. These speakers compensate for their small size with a smart design to ensure sufficient bass depth. An example of this is the Yamaha MSP3A's 'Twisted Flare Port' feature. Small woofers are a good choice for monitoring rap and vocals or video editing.  

How does the number of channels affect speaker performance? 🎚

The number of channels in a monitoring speaker determines the number of frequency ranges that are distributed by the frequency filter. The latter divides an audio signal into several frequency ranges. It can be active or passive. Passive filters are connected between the amplifier and the speaker. An active filter divides the signal using a final stage per frequency band.

The rounded elements at the front of a monitoring speaker are called drivers. These are electroacoustic transducers that convert the electrical signal into a given sound. Drivers are powered from amplifiers. The amplifier boosts the low-power electronic signal to a level high enough to power a given receiver such as headphones.

Drivers only produce a portion of the audible frequency range. It is then common to have several speakers in the same enclosure for a wider frequency response.

Monitoring speakers tend to use two or three amplifiers to increase various ranges of audio frequencies. The audio signal injected into a speaker is divided into several frequency ranges using a component called a crossover. The signals, once divided, are subsequently transmitted to the corresponding speakers.

Two-amplifier or two-way speakers often contain a woofer for the lower range and a tweeter for the upper range. A three-amp or three-way speaker may include a woofer, a midrange driver and a tweeter. It is also possible to add a separate subwoofer to the monitoring speaker system.

The wideband audio signal that is received by the speaker is divided by the active or passive filter into several frequency ranges. An active crossover speaker comes with a power source to amplify the level of a signal after it passes through the speaker's filters. An external power source is required in the case of a passive crossover speaker.

It is common to have between two and three channels in studio speakers, but there are also four-way models. The ideal number of channels for optimal sound reproduction in the studio depends on several factors, starting with the price of the installation. 2-way speakers are often more affordable than 3-way systems, but this varies depending on the design of the device.

The ideal is to have a separate speaker or channel for each range in frequency reproduction. The difference in path between the chassis and the ear, however, creates a delay between the signals, which can negatively affect the sound.

It is therefore more advantageous to have a point sound source. All frequencies must be transmitted from the same point and always arrive at the same time. A two-way monitoring speaker system can therefore have better sound than three-way systems. The distance between the speakers in a two-way installation is indeed shorter.

The distance problem has been solved by manufacturers like Pioneer through a two-way coaxial monitoring speaker design. The woofers and tweeters are placed on the same axis. The area usually allocated to the dome is used in this case for the tweeter.

How does listening distance affect speakers? 🔛

Many monitoring speaker models are designed as near-field monitors. The near field is the immediate area of ​​the speaker. A distinction must be made on this point between a near-field and an intermediate-field monitoring speaker.

The idea behind purchasing a monitoring speaker is to reproduce sound as pure as possible. However, the listening environment should not be neglected. Sound may encounter several obstacles after leaving the speaker, including walls, ceilings and furniture.

The sound components are either absorbed or reflected depending on the nature of the obstacles. Two sound events can then result, namely direct sound and reflections. Direct sound is the sound that the near-field speaker sends to your ear. Reflections are sounds returned from obstacles in the room.

Ambient noise creates comb filter effects and cancellations in the frequency response, which tends to distort the sound. The closer the speaker is, the more the direct sound can stand out over the ambient sound. The further away the speaker is, the more reflections are felt.  

A distance of 1 to 2 meters from the ear is the optimal value in the case of a near-field or proximity monitoring speaker. This helps minimize the influence of room or ambient sound on the sound experience. This type of monitoring speaker is highly recommended for recordings in a small home studio.

This type of construction also tends to restrict the 'sweet spot', which leaves little freedom of movement. The nearfield speakers are also not very large. They are then easier to set up in a small room or on a desk. This also makes it the right concept for those who want to create a portable sound system. However, proximity speakers are not suitable for listening to a very loud mix in a narrow room.

The influence of the room on the sound experience is more perceptible with a monitoring speaker designed to operate in an intermediate field. The 'sweet spot' is much larger, creating a living room-like listening situation.

However, this means that an unoptimized room can be more harmful to the sound than large speakers with lots of volume. An intermediate field monitoring speaker should therefore be used in large rooms with optimized sound acoustics.

Nearfield speakers are best suited to a home studio because they sound good at short distances. This type of speaker is also useful for a control room that has not been acoustically optimized. The sound can also be adapted to the space if the speaker is equipped with an equalizer.

The user may be a songwriter and performer who wants to record vocals and guitar. A small proximity monitoring speaker is sufficient in this context. Small proximity speakers are also more suitable for the production of rock or several instruments. The speaker may also be intended for electronic music or hip-hop production. A larger nearfield speaker or even a subwoofer is the right choice for this purpose.

Is it necessary to use software with a monitoring speaker? 💾

A multitude of software intended to improve sound quality when listening to music has appeared on the market in recent years. They help the user find the perfect position for speakers in a room. These software can also be used for compressing mp3 and other audio files or manipulating the frequency response with an equalizer.

However, current monitoring speaker models mostly come with spatial correction options via an integrated DSP. Optional kits with microphone and software for adjusting the assembly are offered for this purpose. The frequency response, after modification or optimization, is then calculated by the integrated DSP and played directly by the speaker.

In the ideal scenario of a point sound source, sound is emitted omnidirectionally. It is different with a loudspeaker. Only frequencies whose wavelength is large compared to the size of the membrane are emitted omnidirectionally. Higher frequencies, which have shorter wavelengths, are emitted in a concentrated manner.

No room is perfect when it comes to acoustics, however, and that includes professional recording studios. Correction software can counter physical problems. This includes room modes or standing wave rumbles. However, correction software is not a miracle cure. They do not eliminate the problems caused by standing waves, but only attenuate them.

Spatial correction itself is a fairly simple process. A measuring microphone is placed in the 'sweet spot' for monitoring of the current situation. The software plays a sine wave that continuously increases in pitch and at the same time records what the microphone hears. Capturing can be done in any position.

The software then uses the differences between the original wave and the recording to identify acoustic problems in the room. It then generates filtering optimized for the listening position, which can be established through the speaker's DSP or downstream with software.

How to interpret the speaker data sheet? 📈

The specification sheet for a monitoring speaker summarizes all its technical characteristics. They are almost always formulated by the manufacturer and thus tend to align with marketing. This means that the values ​​shown may be more embellished than they appear. They nevertheless constitute a good starting point for comparing one monitoring speaker to another.

The elements indicated by the specification sheet vary from one monitoring speaker to another. They nevertheless tend to include some common indications. This includes peak power, rated load capacity and maximum load. Added to this are the transmission range, cut-off frequencies, impedance, sound pressure level and efficiency.

Peak power or watts RMS indicates the maximum power a speaker can handle without deteriorating. It is measured in watts. The rated load capacity describes the output power of a speaker in continuous operation. The measurement of this value is precisely set according to the DIN standard at 300 hours. The rated load is much lower than the maximum load. The latter defines what the speaker can withstand in two seconds without suffering damage.

Transmission range describes the bass depth and treble height of a speaker. It is often incorrectly defined as frequency response. It is important to know under what conditions this value was set when comparing different speakers.  

The cutoff frequencies shown may have been measured with a level drop of -3 or -6 dB. These measurement methods must be identical for comparison to be possible. However, these values ​​are not indicated by most manufacturers.

The impedance of a speaker is the resistance encountered by the audio signal at the speaker's input. It affects the loading of a speaker on an amplifier. Impedance is an important measurement for matching a speaker with a preamplifier.

Sound pressure level or SPL describes the sound level generated by the speakers. It is measured in decibels at a distance of one meter for an input power of one watt. It should be noted that the decibel is a logarithmic unit. A signal 6 dB louder corresponds to double the sound pressure and is therefore twice as loud.

Efficiency describes the ratio between the electrical power supplied and the acoustic power emitted by a loudspeaker. Part of the amplifier's power is converted into heat. The amount of power dissipated as heat can be more or less important depending on the design of the amplifiers. This is why the maximum level may vary from one model to another for the same power value offered. A higher yield is better in this context.

Total harmonic distortion or THD is another key factor in evaluating a PA speaker. However, it may not be indicated in the device specifications. Harmonic distortion is an acoustic output from the monitoring speaker that is not present in the input signal. However, it is harmonically linked to this signal.

The proportion of total harmonic distortion is shown as a percentage relative to the distorted output of the loudspeaker output. The THDs of 10%, 3%, 1%, 0.3% and 0.1% correspond respectively to attenuations of -20 dB, -30 dB, -40 dB, -50 dB and -60 dB of the overall signal.

How will the monitoring speaker be connected? ❓

There are essentially three types of connectors for connecting a monitoring speaker. These are the XLR, RCA, TS and TRS connectors. TS and TRS are much better options than RCA when it comes to wired connections. They are at least on all points except size.

An XLR connection nevertheless proves more robust than a TRS in the context of an audio installation. It is also very common to find a monitoring speaker with a USB port or jack connection. However, an audio interface may be required to use the speaker with a computer. An adapter can also be useful for connecting the speaker to a smartphone.

What accessories should you consider for monitoring speakers? 🎧

Adding accessories can add great convenience to using a monitoring speaker. There are a few accessories in particular to consider with this in mind. This starts with support for setting up the monitoring speaker.

Speaker stands are towers or receptacles on which speakers are installed. The advantage of these supports is to isolate the base of the speakers from the ground surface. Vibrations coming from the ground can indeed affect the quality of the sound generated by the speaker.

The other accessory to consider when purchasing a monitoring speaker is a dedicated remote control for this device. The remote control allows you to manage several aspects of the speaker's operation. This includes frequency response or volume control.

It is recommended on this point to look for a remote control that can reduce the volume without stopping the playback of the audio file. It would also be beneficial if the remote could display the speaker output with a graphical output meter.

Our selection of Monitoring speakers ❤️

If you want to buy a good pair of monitoring speakers at the best value for money, here is our unofficial selection of the best speakers on the market: