Headphones or Studio Monitors — Part 2

[In Part 1 of this series I discussed headphones. I also mentioned that headphones and studio monitors each provide a unique perspective of the sound of your voice—Headphones give a very “clinical” impression of what’s recorded. By that I mean you are getting a direct feed of the record sound into both ears without the added acoustics of your listening room. Studio monitors give a more “natural” impression because they mix the acoustics of the listening room, as well as change the way your ears receive the sound waves. No longer does the left ear hear only the left “channel” of sound, but a combination of left and right.  Now let's take a look at studio monitors:]Yamaha HS50M

The benefits of speaker monitoring—Studio speakers, called in the recording industry simply “monitors”, are designed to be as accurate as possible. They aren’t designed to make music more exciting to listen to, as are most consumer speakers. The trend in the last 10 years has gone toward self powered studio monitors, which makes setting them up a snap. The amplifiers are inside either one or both of the speaker cabinets, so no need to by an amplifier or speaker wire. They consist of a “tweeter”, a small speaker element to reproduce high sounds, and a “woofer” which handles midrange and low frequency sounds. The better quality units have an amplifier dedicated to each speaker element, AKA “bi-amplified.” This allows them to be more efficient and play louder with less power.

Monitors give a very different impression of the recording because they are located at a distance from your ears—In a home studio environment the most common type of monitor setup is called “near field”, in that they are located close to the listener. Ideally they should be placed equidistant from each-other and your head, creating an equilateral triangle. The tweeters should be close in height to your ears, since their high frequency sound travels rather directly. This helps eliminate the sound’s interaction with the room around you before reaching your ears, but not entirely.

The pitfalls of relying on only one type of monitoring—So, if speakers require all that work to sound accurate, why not just use headphones all the time, right? The biggest benefit of headphones can also be the most detrimental. Listening to your voice, hour after hour through headphones can be fatiguing. It’s easy to monitor too loudly and begin suffering hearing loss over the course of a few hours, changing your impression of the sound. When editing, while they do let you hear the minute details or flaws in your voice, it really slow you down. You tend to become hypercritical of your recordings, far more than most clients ever will. This means you’ll spend more time editing out every little mouth click and breath, or second guess the quality of your recordings.

In the same way you need to treat your studio space around the microphone to eliminate reflections that color the sound, similar care should be used with studio monitors. The biggest issue for most is usually in the bass range, since bass is not directional. It radiates in all directions and resonates in your room, often making your voice sound “boomier” or “muddy.” In this case, if you think what you hear is really what you’ve recorded, you might make an incorrect EQ adjustment to compensate. This is why control rooms in professional studios have such elaborate designs, and are perfectly symmetrical from left to right. They employ complex bass trapping systems and “live end, dead end” designs to create as accurate a listening environment possible for the engineer.

George Whittam

About George Whittam

George Whittam, owner of ElDorado Recording Services, frequently tackles a new tech topic or FAQ relevant to voiceover recording for the VoiceOver Insider. He also co-hosts the East-West Audio Body Shop with cohort Dan Lenard each Sunday evening. You can reach George through ElDorado Recording Services, or email him at his address below.

Comments

  1. Thanks George, wonderfully and precisely described the benefits of Studio monitors. These are the most splendid and vibrant additions to our studios. Though the headphones are easy to handle, but not convenient for long term uses and not healthy for our ears too.

  2. Thanks George, wonderfully and precisely described the benefits of Studio monitors. These are the most splendid and vibrant additions to our studios. Though the headphones are easy to handle, but not convenient for long term uses and not healthy for our ears too

  3. After reading this, I may have to get some studio monitors. I have a sneaking suspicion my Bose amplifiers may be giving me a false sense of security. Ha! Any consumer priced studio monitor recommendations?

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