How to select studio monitors for a home studio?

January 03, 2015

With the proliferation of high-quality home-studio equipment in the market, every musician in India is setting up a home studio because that makes so much sense. You can create pro quality recordings from the comfort of your room, instead of recording in a strange third-party studio environment, which rarely brings out the best in a musician.

This is my second post in a series of articles about how to choose your home studio equipment, the smart way. By the time you read this, you should be able to know exactly what you need. I've explained things in a non-technical way, because if you're technically sound, you don't need to read this article :)

Active or Passive?

Active monitors are self-powered, while passive monitors need an external amplifier to drive them. Passive monitors have a certain technical advantages, but they are significantly more expensive, due to the cost of the power amplifier that drives them. Several reputed professional studios worldwide use active monitors today. So, for an Indian home studio, the choice is simple: buy a pair of active studio monitors.

What size/power of monitors do I buy?

Forget about the power. Lets look only at the size. There's a simple rule of thumb.

1. For recording basic rock/pop music or doing dubbing, buy monitors with a 5' woofer (atleast).

2. For recording electronica, dubstep, or arranging soundtracks and serious production work, buy monitors with a 7'/8' woofer.

3. The size of your room does play a role in choosing a pair of monitors, but since 99% of home studios in India use only near field monitors, you do not need to consider this.

What is the most flat-sounding monitor in the market today?

There is no such thing. Monitors are not flat. Your ears are not flat. Your room is not flat. Every company that makes a monitor tries to establish a flat response, and to be honest, this should not concern you. Some people choose monitors because they sound "nice" to their ears. Well, that defeats their purpose - what's important is your ears getting used to the monitors over a period of time, so that you can create good mixes consistently. What's important technically is the type of power amplifier within the monitors, which is discussed next.

How do I compare monitors technically?

Suppose you've narrowed down your choice to three monitors. They all fit in your price budget, but you can't figure out which one is best. Here are some tips to help you choose:

1. Check the power amplifier type: Active Bi-amplified monitors are always better because they have two power amplifiers within each monitor, one to drive the low-frequency woofer (LF), and the other for the high-frequency tweeter (HF). Passive bi-amplified monitors have one power amplifier and rely on a passive crossover to split the power between the LF and the HF. This is less effective, but saves cost for the manufacturer, so its a great way to choose between monitors.

2. Check the weight of the monitors in the tech specs: Cabinets play a huge role in the sound of a speaker. A rule of thumb is, the more rigid and dense the cabinet material, the better the sound. So a heaviermonitor may actually sound better.

3. Check the low frequency (LF) response - Unless you're buying a subwoofer, you should buy monitors that can reproduce frequencies as low as 55Hz. The smaller 4" and 5" monitors achieve this by using bass ports. How they do it doesn't really matter, as long as they are able to bring out the lows!

4. Check the Total Harmonic Distortion (THD) - This value should be as low as possible. Useful for comparing monitors.

Most popular monitors in India today?

We've sold thousands of monitors, and you will find over a 100 models to choose from, and several more with other stores, but these are my top pics:

Super Low Budget (Rs 10000 - Rs 15000)

Roland MA-15D
M-Audio AV-40

Low Budget: (Rs 15000 - Rs 25000)

M-Audio BX5A
M-Audio BX8A

Intermediate: (Rs 25000 - Rs 40000)

KRK Rokit 5
KRK Rokit 6
Adam Audio F5

Professional:(Rs 40000 - Rs 75000)

Adam Audio A5X
Adam Audio A7X
Focal CMS5

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