Up Close and Personal With Reference Monitors

Jun 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By Kevin Becka

NEW STUDIO NEAR-FIELDS

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In what seems like the distant past, most recording studios were considered the “cathedrals of audio” and built with top-level acoustic treatment and great attention to design and isolation from the noisy secular world outside. Due to the changes in gear, budgets and production styles, many of these rooms have closed or are now out of reach for everyday use. We've adjusted by moving at least some of our work to home spaces, offices or other nonpurpose-built environments.

Audio pioneer Ed Long debuted the concept of the near-field monitor more than three decades ago, offering a compact transducer that could accurately portray the tracks, processing and mix decisions we've made — even in poor acoustical settings. Such speakers are ideal for audio pros working in a variety of spaces; they provide a consistent reference for the traveling engineer who must quickly adapt to various rooms. For these reasons, solidly constructed, two- and three-way systems with woofers between six and 10 inches have become the weapon of choice for the discerning engineer.

New Ideas, New Approaches

Manufacturers have responded with products that address this new reality. This can be as simple as innovative baffling inside the speaker to increase low-end response, newly designed wave guides that increase the sweet spot, onboard amplification and more. And many of the products listed in our buyer's guide feature some type of room correction in the form of high/mid/low-frequency shelving controls, sweepable EQ or boundary controls. These can be helpful when your monitors are placed on a desktop or atop a meter bridge, free-field or in close proximity to rear/side walls or other boundaries.

While rotary trim controls and DIP switches with fixed boost/cut amounts provide some control over our listening environments on a trial-and-error basis, DSP can take the process up a notch by adding computer analysis and control over acoustics. As one example, Equator Audio offers correction software to control its Q8 and Q10 models. The user can let the software make up for any issues by entering the room's dimensions from which the system will correct for three standing waves (front to back wall, left to right wall, and floor to ceiling). And by entering the speaker's placement in the room, the software can compensate for ϖ space and boundary/placement anomalies.

Options and Add-Ons

If your near-fields don't go low enough for your needs, you may consider a subwoofer. However, simply adding a sub to a stereo or larger system can introduce a range of problems, including intermodulation distortion, resulting in a confused bottom end. This is especially true in smaller spaces. In this case, a matched sub with bass management is preferable and a few of the systems in our roundup offer this option. Bass management works by capturing frequencies below a user-defined cut-off from your main monitors, routing this signal directly to the subwoofer. The resulting control of low frequencies can improve full-range monitoring in a tight space.

On the simpler side, some of these products increase placement options by offering users the ability to rotate the tweeter, making it easy to orient the speakers horizontally or vertically. Features such as rock-solid cabinet construction to minimize resonance and the ability to mount the units in a number of different ways have carried through most new lines, as well. This ensures the listener will be hearing an accurate representation of the audio without any distracting rattles, hums or vibrations.

Networking options and compatibility with other products can be helpful when the user is trying to mix and match front, back and center speakers and a sub in a multichannel setup. Dynaudio, a manufacturer that is familiar with networked systems, offers the AIR 12, featuring solo, mute and calibrated levels, and compatibility with other AIR products to allow for the use of smaller and diffused surrounds with larger front speakers — another space-saver.

Getting Started

The chart on the following page details recent product releases (during the past 18 months) with woofers ranging from six to 10 inches. We should emphasize that the chart represents a slice in time. Therefore, it doesn't include existing models that fall outside the one-and-a-half-year window, from either the companies listed or other near-field manufacturers, such as ADAM Audio, Edirol, Hosa, iKey, PMC, ProAc, Quested, SLS, Westlake, Wharfedale Pro and Yamaha — to name a few. Also, if you're considering models outside the six to 10-inch range, check out our report on mini-monitors in the March 2009 issue, or for that really big sound look up the article highlighting large main systems in the November 2007 Mix.

So whether you need a system you can grow, change or EQ, or one that offers DSP or other digital options, hopefully you'll find it in our buyer's guide. This should get you started on your search for products that are compatible with your own workspace. Happy hunting.


Kevin Becka is Mix's technical editor.






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