How To Pick The Right Studio Speakers

With so many good (and bad) monitors on the market, sometimes it’s hard to know if you’re making the right decision. How do you know if you’re buying the best speaker in your price range? How do you know if they’ll sound good when you get them set up at home?

There really is no right or wrong answer, but it helps to have a few ideas in your head when you start shopping.

First, it’s a good idea to bring two of your favorite recordings to the store. For the first one, bring something that you think sounds great, and has sounded great to you on a variety of speaker systems in a variety of settings.

The recording you bring should also be clean and open—something with very striking stereo imaging. And it should be something you can recognize.

The other recording you bring is something that has a bass issue. Either something that is lacking in bass or something that is too boomy. This recording is one that you already know is a little “off”, and is familiar enough that you can identify the presence or absence of that bass issue when you get to the store.

If the speakers let you clearly hear the issue: “Ah, yes there is that tubby-ness I’ve heard a hundred times before,”  then they pass the test. If they hide any of the known defects, shut them off and move on to another set.

You want a speaker that has the tendency to slightly exaggerate the defects.  But only slightly.

Another word of advice: don’t listen to long samples. Your brain immediately tries to get used to the sound and everything will start to sound the same. Even worse, you will start to notice fatigue somewhere around the time you listen to your third set of speakers.

Your best bet is to walk into the store with audio files cued up to the small segment you want to hear, like the drum solo on Money For Nothing and the first verse vocal. Don’t start from the top of the song, that’s too much fluff. Tap into your “blink” response. Then play the same short sample on the other speakers.

It’s hard to find a speaker that tells you the truth over the whole range.  So, some people rely on two sets of speakers, or maybe one set of speakers and a set of high performance closed ear headphone. This will help you to double check the bottom and imaging.

Either way, before you mix, be sure to listen to other people’s music on your speakers for an hour or so (NOT LOUD) to train your ears to what that speakers sound like, and go back to that reference after each break. This will help you to hear when your brain is filling in some of the missing sounds in your own mix. It happens to the best of us.

Once you get used to mixing on your new speakers, you will soon find that you don’t need the grounding—you then have speaker memory.  Once you have that, you can effectively mix on a telephone if you want to (though it’s not as much fun).