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Discussion in 'Monitoring & Headphones' started by Michael Fossenkemper, Apr 3, 2006.

  1. Michael Fossenkemper

    Michael Fossenkemper Distinguished past mastering moderator Distinguished Member

    Sep 12, 2002
    NYC New York
    Home Page:
    Ok all you tweakers and peekers. this will be the beginning of the sticking for monitors. I will take the jewels and edit out the rest and make a sticky out of it.

    Picking monitors for mastering: first you have to really think about what you are trying to achieve. Basically you want to hear what is there, you want to hear when you change something.

    Listening to a potential set of monitors is a very difficult and time consuming process. Preconceived Ideas about how you think or remember something to sound like is really really hard to get away from. If you've listened to say Michael Jackson's Bad on your mackies for 2 years and you take that CD into a place and play it on another set of monitors, What are you hearing? Are you hearing what is there? are you hearing what is different? are you hearing what you like? Are you remembering what you thought it sounded like? there are so many things that play into listening to a set of monitors that the first 10 times you listen, I feel it's not real unless you are really used to listening on different systems. It's a mental game you have to play for a bit before you can really hear what's going on. If you are shopping for your real first set of monitors, don't take anything at face value. At first you may listen and discount a pair because it doesn't have the snap or punch that you think it should have. But compared to what? Compared to what you are used to? to what you thought it should sound like? I've owned several different kinds of monitoring systems. Some I thought I liked to only find out that they were lying to me. Some I thought I should liked because x amount of people liked them. It really took me several years to reduce (because you can't eliminate) the mental aspect of picking a pair of monitors. Once you begin to notice a certain style of what you like to hear in a monitor, can you then begin to evaluate them based on what you get back from them. And this will change as you progress, so it's a never ending endevor, but it does slow down a bit.

    How does the low end hit me? how do they handle the low mids? is the midrange forward and resessed? Is the top end silky or brutal? Do I hear the cabinet or are they invisible? Is the soundstage huge or small? How will what i'm hearing change the way I approach something. These are all things you have to take into account. and again, don't trust your first impressions unless you've been doing this for awhile. Not only do your ears have to acclimate but so does your mind. Choice of music, amps, room, so many things come into play that at first it's overwhelming. It literally took me years to pick something that I was comfortable with. I'm not at all saying that what I picked is perfect, but what I picked made me react a certain way. gave me enough information to choose options relatively quickly. and last but not least, gave my clients something they could relate to. This is a key point if you have people attending your sessions. They also have to hear it in a way that they can say yes or no to.

    So as you can see, there are many factors involved in choosing monitors. What you should know is good doesn't come cheap. By good I mean all of the above factors. You also have to be aware of why a pair of monitors are the way they are. Is it for looks? is it for price? is it for volume? is it for soundstage? is it for durability? Then you have to weigh the benifits and the cons do this. When picking a pair of monitors for mastering, price should be low on the list. I know everyone has a budget, but forget about money for now. Listen without this weight on you. Your monitors are your window to the audio world. This is what you are going to be looking through and as a result, your end product. If you start thinking that the end user is listening to this on a pair of ipod earbuds, that shouldn't I use the same lowest common denominator kind of approach, then you are missing the point of mastering. You are looking to achieve the highest level with the information that will let you know how it will translate to the lowest level.

    Ok, chime in.
  2. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Mar 8, 2004
    Fredericksburg, VA
    Nice post Michael!

    I thought I'd chime in with an experience of mine which helps further describe your "mental" game issue you were talking about.

    I went to a high-end hi-fi shop in Vienna, VA several years ago. When I walked into the acoustically treated shop, I was immediately bowled over by the most beautiful sounding recording of a piano that I had ever heard. The recording itself was quite good, but the sound eminating from the speakers was simply stunning.

    Sitting in the middle of the floor was a MacIntosh amplifier and I do not recall the CD transport. Flanking it were 4 pair of speakers:
    1 - B&W 801s
    2 - Snell Type A's (I think this is what they were - they were Snells, but I can't recall if Type A is correct - big floor stand-ers)
    3 - NHT Super Zeros
    4 - PSB (I don't recall the model number, but it was their top of the line at close to $5K per pair)

    This ensemble ranged in price from $250 for the pair up to well over $10K per pair and the reason the sales guy was doing this was to impress a customer who thought he knew more than he did.

    I simply stood behind the gentleman in the real sweet spot and listened with my eyes closed.

    Given that I was VERY familiar with B&Ws, I felt certain that the beautiful, warm, accurate and deep sound was eminating from these German bohemoths.

    I was in fact, quite wrong. The sound was actually coming from the $250 per pair NHT Super Zeros. I was shocked and astonished. Everything I though I knew about speakers was instantly thrown out the window.

    True, they could not possibly recreate pipe organ pedal tones, but they did such an accurate, beautiful job with the full range of the piano, it truly moved me. Thus began my love affair with the NHT line of speakers.

    Since then, I have given up the idea of preconceived notions regarding speakers based on their price points or size or whatever and simply started listening.

    I have been amazed by some speakers lately that I would not have normally given the time of day in the past. Vienna Acoustics Mozarts, Sonus Faber, hell, even the Dynaudio BM15s which I now use as my reference mid-field. (I was always under the impression that a 2-way design with a woofer bigger than 6 or 7 inches would have significant crossover distortion and non-linearity due to the amount of pressure it would have to create at higher frequencies. Boy was I wrong!!)

    My criteria for choosing my mastering loudspeaker combination (currently NHT 2.5i main pair with a REL Storm III subwoofer and Rotel amplification) was simply:

    Comfortable sound (this means, to me, that there was nothing radical about it that I'd have to "get used to" over time. I felt this represented a good, accurate speaker overall, while even though not perfect, certainly usable by me to get a good, translatable mix)

    Full range. Of course, given the addition of a subwoofer, most any speaker can become a full range system, but I don't find that to be entirely true - more about this on the next point. In the case of the NHT's, I really only need the sub for the absolute lowest octave - that's it.

    Low distortion/compression - Well, duh?! This is less obvious than it may seem. Most speakers perform adequately at regular to even moderatly loud listening volumes. However, a good speaker will maintain its linearity even at extremely high pressure levels. A speaker which is now all too common are the small, bookshelf type speakers which are under-engineered - secure in the knowledge that the end user will be pairing it with a crappy, overly boomy subwoofer. In any case, push 105-110 dB through these, and you'll quickly hear distortion and the drivers literally compressing the music. A good speaker will allow dynamics to be present even when they are going at full steam. This takes solid construction and engineering, but will be obvious when it's present. Don't believe me? Take the Telarc recording of 1812 Overture to your local hi-fi shop and ask them to play it through a great amplifier and through a pair of B&W 801s or similar. Then ask them to turn it up to levels of insanity. The funny thing is, the canons actually DO get louder than the program material! Now, try that on these crappy, Best Buy bookshelves - keep your vacuum cleaner handy, you'll be cleaning woofer paper out of your carpet...

    Okay, I've rattled on enough now.

  3. jcnoernberg

    jcnoernberg Guest

    moral of the story... sound is subjective.
  4. Michael Fossenkemper

    Michael Fossenkemper Distinguished past mastering moderator Distinguished Member

    Sep 12, 2002
    NYC New York
    Home Page:
    But only to a point. If you are at a certain level of performance then you can argue that.
  5. Zilla

    Zilla Active Member

    Mar 29, 2005
    WY / CA
    Home Page:
    One reason for the existence of mastering facilities is that they correct flaws resulting from misaligned monitor environments in recording and mixing studios. These corrections can be made because the mastering facility is suppose to have a calibrated monitoring system.

    Calibration generally requires some objective tests to insure even frequency response, low distortion, tamed decay times, etc. Therefore, monitor systems set-up is not purely a subjective issue in a reputable mastering facility.

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