Why studio monitors are important for every musician
Most people may experience music today by listening to compressed MP3s through headphones, but when it comes to those making music – a set of studio monitors are essential to get the best out of your mix.
Most hi-fi speakers and headphones do their best to make compressed digital music files sound as good as they can, and many people fall into the trap of believing that more bass means better sound (hello Beats), but while this may be true for some types of music, it is not universal. For example, listening to classical music through these setups is often quite poor, as MP3 and AAC compression cut out a selection of the sounds, and the bass boost just sounds odd.
Trying to get a stereo mix down through headphones raises a whole other set of issues, with each can only giving you a single channel in isolation, with no bleed between them. This may mean you can design a mix to be heard perfectly through headphones, but as soon as you play it through speakers where both your ears can hear both channels simultaneously, then you start to notice the problems.
Studio monitors on the other hand are designed to create an accurate representation of the music you play through them. There is no “flattery” added to the music played through monitors, add to that the fact that the music you pump through them is utterly uncompressed, and you get a real feel for how all of a song sounds.
Now, while each set of studio monitors will aim to give an accurate representation of your music, they do all have their own unique sound profile, and like everything else you get what you pay for. The price and size of monitors have come down in recent years, with a set of Tascam VL-S3s costing less than £100 or a pair of M-Audio BX5 Carbon costing less than £200, a pair of top studio monitors like the JBL LSR305s will set you back a good £400-500.
The digital revolution may have made making and recording music cheaper and easier than ever, with software sequencers, synthesizers, and samplers, replacing their more expensive hardware equivalents, but there is no software alternative to good monitors. To make your music sound the best it can, it is as important as ever to invest in decent monitors and get that final mix perfect. In the end you will end up compressing the music as MP3 or AAC for people to hear through their headphones, but starting with a good mix that sound as you want on monitors will mean better sounding music for everyone.
Photograph by WJG