Do Studio Monitors Even Matter?

2013 Sep 30, 2013

The other day I received an email from TRR reader, Sam. He asked if mixing on studio monitors was pointless, seeing as how most people aren’t ever going to listen to your mixes on nice studio monitors, but rather consumer headphones, laptop speakers, care stereos, and mobile phones. Shouldn’t we just mix for the worst case or lowest common denominator? In essence, here’s what I replied back and said.

Crappy Speakers Are Important

I think what Sam was getting at in his email was that just because you mix something on “nice” studio monitors in your studio doesn’t mean it will sound good on consumer grade speakers. And he’d be correct in saying that. We have to remember that we aren’t mixing for our studio, we’re mixing for translatability. We want our tracks to play nice out in the real world. And this is why having some crappy speakers in your studio is so critical.
That fat bass line and monster drum sound needs to come through to some degree on tiny little speakers, otherwise your mix loses impact. I get that. If you don’t already have some kind of crappy speaker or iPod earbud test in your mixing workflow, start today! But the real truth is that you can’t mix solely on crappy speakers. And here’s why.

Crappy Speakers Hide Things From You

The problem with relying purely on consumer grade speakers for your mixing medium is that you don’t get the whole picture. Sure you can make your mix sound good on those speakers, but what if someone listens to your mix on a set of better speakers or a high end stereo? Or what if your song gets on a local TV station or commercial and people hear it on their nice home theater systems in surround? Can you be sure that it will translate well there?

You need your studio monitors to give you a more accurate picture of what is going on in your mix. There are generally problem frequencies that are eating up headroom in your mix that, even though you don’t “hear” them on crappy speakers, they are overloading your mix buss. You don’t want to mix blind if you can avoid it. And the great news is that it doesn’t take much money or effort to hear things accurately in your studio.

The Truth About Monitoring

Good monitoring is critical. But what is good? Personally, I don’t buy into the whole super expensive monitors mindset. I catch a lot of flack for that, but the truth is I think we’re talking about minuscule change and improvement on the high end level. Currently I still mix on a pair of $300 speakers (for the pair!), in a home studio with simple acoustic treatment in some strategic places. Match that with something like the ARC room correction plugin and you’re good to go.

Anybody with an affordable pair of studio monitors in a fairly non-reflective room already is at a massive advantage to the person mixing solely on consumer grade speakers and earbuds. It’ll get you 95% of the way there, and that my friends is called going for the big wins.

Some More Reading

If you want some more thoughts on this subject, my buddy Ian Shepherd (professional mastering engineer in the UK) has a couple of great posts on the topic. Be sure to digest them when you have a minute!

If You Can’t Hear It, It Doesn’t Matter Right? Wrong!

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