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Monitors: let's talk about technologies and personal goals

Discussion in 'Monitoring & Headphones' started by Energizer, Aug 30, 2004.

  1. Energizer

    Energizer Guest

    [Warning this is the babling of an amateur, may be to set up my mind on the question, so i should have erased but it can help some people, who knows ?]

    Hi, they are numberous threads questionning which are the best monitors, and some of them have very informative answers. But i think that the most important help would be to understand how monitors are build, marketed and for which types of uses they suit the most.

    Monitors are appreciated for various reasons and it is good to keep in mind what we really need.

    First and foremost the active/passive issue:
    To my mind, powered monitors are more a pratical advantage than a sonic improvement unless you can buy the high end models wich have decent integrated amps. One point is obvious, identical active monitors will always sound the same and for someone working at several studios it is nice to rely on the same models. Your are sure there is not an external amplifier wich will change the properties of the sound.
    For low-end active monitors, marketing reasons are more understandable. Choosing a studio amplifier is another difficult choice for the newbies (and not only) to get good results, whereas a pair of active monitors make the buying decision easier. Another pratical aspect, it takes less room. Can even be transportable.

    So to be honest, the cheap active monitors aren't that great. I find that the sound is sometimes a little more agressive and artificial. There is no doubt that good amplifiers need a lot of engeneering and the integrated amplifiers choosed to fit in the small cavity of already small monitors aren't the best. Some distortion may occurs due to compromises and will lead to ear fatigue.

    Passive monitors on the other hand, adequatly powered, may allow you to achieve a better result. They are some impressive passive monitors like the Earthworks or PMC. Don't necessarly believe the marketing technical arguements about active monitors. Let your ear judges.
    Obviously, if you look at high end monitors, it is true that onboard electronic will probably be significantly better to make the arguments of the bi-amplification and carefull matching more valid. In my opinion 1000UKP for a pair of active monitors is probably the threshold where things start to change. And we should count substancially more (X2 X5) for something really serious.

    BUT as again, the goals are to be taken in account. It can be fully understandable that some people enjoy the little cheap actives monitors offered by many companies . All depend for what its used. Comparing theses crudes littles monitors against the more expensive offerings reveals a lack of both extremes. Not many basses, not many highs (or horrid), and a global impression of cheapness. On the other hand, and it is may be a paradoxal benefit of theses little speakers, they generally make the mids clearer. If you are at a broadcast radio, working on voices, making jingles and so on, the mids are a meaningfull range of frequencies, and therefore inducing the ability to work closely on them.

    As sometimes said, headphones are like a magnify tool whereas monitors would be the opposite, letting you to understand things as a whole. Sometimes you need to focus on details, for instance to set well reverb time or for dosing various effects, priviledging monitors with an overall brighter sound . Because it helps focus on theses details. I have been told that the NS10 are good for that.

    On the contrary, bright monitors, although it helps to work on voices or hear cracks and pops (crucial for premastering), will be probably tiring in the long run. And it can be misleading too in a buying situation, specially when comparing against other monitors that you find less appealing at first. Don't be fooled. What striked me the most the first time i heard a pair of great monitors is that some materials sounded just crap on them. It is plainly normal, if the materials in quesion are of course suboptimal.

    On the technical side of things, metal dome tweeters are usually more favorable to transients, and sound more bright and accurate but more agressive too. Soft dome tweeters are may be softer and consequently produce less ear fatigue.

    Another key element is pleasure and impression of enjoyment. If you are more a composer than a sound designer, it is important to choose monitors that serve your idea of how things should sound as a whole. It is difficult to vibrate with the music with some little boxy monitors, handy but with a deficient bass response and being harsh when you turn up the volume. Someone very clever and experienced will still make great works with theses monitors, specially after a perdiod of adaptation. But at one point you will want to listen to music like an audiophile do. You will want to hear instruments without artificial artefact, and with an ideal bass extension. The pleasure is important.
    Some musical styles ask for basses (dub/reaggae,electronica, and son on).
    Problem is that low frequencies require big speakers. The audiophiles can use speakers with at least 3 ways. But i don't think there is a lot of choice for similar speakers in the market of studio monitors, unless you choose huge (and costy) main monitors. So, one possibility is to use a "sub" speaker. Most of the time subs are mono and shared by the left and right channels. As with a 3 ways speaker, there is another cross-over filter, wich in turn alters the signal.
    Positioning the sub cabinet is probably another difficulty to take in account, but may worth it. A side benefit of using a sub is that the usual L/R monitors receive the resulting filtered signals (so that they don't play anymore the bass frequencies) and once discharged of this role, may reveal more details in the upper frequencies.

    To open up this round-up, and according to the topic, it would have been interesting to deal with monitors based on a technical singularity and stress better than i did on the benefits it brings in regard of the working situations.
    For instance, Tannoy makes some dual concentric speakers with the tweeter inside the boomer to make the imaging better. This is typically the kind of singularities that would be nice to talk about. Unfortunatly my knowledge lacks here. Someone to talk about the orignality of the Earthworks ?
    The PMC monitors have another interesting singularity. Instead of being based on the classic bass-reflex design, they provide an acoustic transmition line. Basicly it is a long channel inside the cabinet that accousticly reshapes the opposite sound wave produced by the main speaker. The resulting wave is then sent in the front, reenforcing the lower frequency ranges. It is great because you don't need to push them loud to work on your sound, the sound is fuller (my personnal impression).

    Well i should stop here now, but since i talked above about tweeters, there is a new kind of ribbon tweeter, I would be pleased to hear about, how it helps the sound to be better...

    This the end of this attempt to sum up my understanding about monitors as an "amateur". I realize the question is way above my current knowledge. Take it as it is, an attempt.

    As far as i am concerned, I have renounced to buy a mid range pair of monitors for a second-hand pair of passive Tannoy Reveal, well to wait for a more significant budget. Yep, after all this babling, i must confess i use a pretty cheap (and as always, questionnable) solution. I prefered theses against bad active monitors, and i made this choice after listening to a good bunch a monitors.

    But Ok i shut up now :roll:
  2. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    Jul 2, 2002
    77 Sunset Lane.
    Do yourself a favor and take a listen to powered Yamaha MSP5's ... at about $500 a pair!

    I did a comparison of them against my NS10m and my much larger and more expensive Tannoy System 12II DMT's (those expensive concentric types) and a pair of Hafler P3000 amps (300 watts rms a side) and I thought the Yamaha MSP5's fared very well ...
  3. Energizer

    Energizer Guest

    Hello Kurt,

    2 years ago, i listened to a good bunch of monitors, and the MSP5 were amongst them. The comparaisons you made are probably interesting but as far as i understand NS10 are appreciated for their mids, not as an ideal monitor. I don't know the Tannoy model you have, i only listened once to their system600/800; but i understand your are saying the MSP5 are not that bad given their price.

    Well I don't say it's true or not in the absolute. There are aspects to take in account, like the fact you can put them in a bag. Very handy.

    For sure, the MSP5 won't be my personal choice or advice sound-wise speaking because i find they sound cheap. The HP are cheap. No extreme basses, no extreme highs. I think the amps will quickly show their limits when you push them. And as far as i am concerned i play bass guitar, i am afraid it won't be ideal. :)

    Anyway there are probably, nowadays, better offerings than the MSP5 for the same price or so.

    Thanks for your answer.
  4. djui5

    djui5 Guest

    Yeah..these little things rock.....a great second monitor pair or even a first pair for home studios....

    I was suprised at the bass coming out of those things...

    Don't knock em.....they rock..especially for the price.

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