Tech \ Technique \ Gear Tips

Studio monitors

Which ones should you buy?

2016 Sep 25     
2 Bit Thugs

Choosing the right monitors is a big step towards getting your tracks sounding the way you want them to. Chris Lyth picks out six of the best

If you're struggling to get your own productions sounding as good as the tracks you buy, the problem could well be your monitors. After all, if you can't actually hear what's really going in a track sonically, how can you ever hope to get it right?

Buying studio monitors is an entirely different process from buying a pair of hi-fi speakers. When buying the latter, you want speakers that will make music sound good - so if you listen to a lot of bass-heavy music, for instance, you'll want a pair of speakers that serve up lashings of bass. When buying monitors, though, it's almost the opposite situation: if you're making bass-heavy music you don't want a pair of speakers that'll flatter an insipid bassline and convince you a mediocre track sounds fantastic, you want an unforgivingly transparent pair that'll expose its weaknesses mercilessly. So that you can fix it, serve up a humongous club smash and go on to become the world's new No 1 superstar D&B don, obviously.

A slight disclaimer here: we can't 100% guarantee that the latter will happen (particularly if you insist on making nu-disco records - come on, work with us here!). But what we can do is ask experienced studio hound Chris Lyth to look back at all the monitors he's worked on and pick out half a dozen that he thinks will serve the aspiring producer well.

Take it away Chris…

Adam A7X

"A very popular monitor among producers of electronic music and beyond. Rohacell/carbon fibre woofers and Accelerating Ribbon Technology (ART) tweeters allow you to see right into the mix, picking up on the smallest of details. Their precise and clear sound is also very easy on the ear and not at all fatiguing, even on marathon mixing sessions. I've used these monitors a lot and my only niggle is that they get a touch spitty in the top end when pushed hard, but at more reasonable levels this isn't an issue. The bottom end is very true - I've referenced material on club systems after mixing and not had any real surprises. Add a subwoofer and you have a very respectable full-range monitoring setup for a not indecent amount of cash."

Genelec 8030

"Genelec speakers have been used in so many studios worldwide it would take about three hours just to read through their user list! The reason for this is the exceptional level of detail they reveal in the music. Mixing music on Genelecs is a real joy and it’s easy to see why they are held in such high esteem by professional engineers. Deep powerful bass, clear transparent mid range and a wonderfully detailed top end are attributes that define the Genelec range. I've found 8030s work really well on all electronic styles when coupled with a sub. The way a mix translates from a studio situation to a PA system is the aim of the game for electronic producers and there are few systems better. Their audio presentation is forward and bright - more so than most. This is not a bad thing as such, just an observation that they may suit one producer more than another. They also reproduce fast, percussive transients at the high volumes that are prevalent in electronic music better than most brands I've come across without spending a small fortune."

Yamaha HS7

"Your Excellency, with these distinctive white cones you are spoiling us! Yamaha monitors are without doubt the most recognisable speakers in the world: the legendary NS10s have been a staple in professional studios for 25 years and the love affair seems set to continue, with Yamaha’s updated model the HS series becoming natural successors. It’s clear that they have been tweaked for the modern ear and, to my ears, they sound much better for it. The mid range is still incredibly detailed, but the bass is now much more evident. I do feel that the lower midrange is slightly recessed, but it's not to an extent that will cause real issues. If you do find that you need more bass then simply hook up the sub, which will give you a full-range set up. The old NS10 cliché applies equally to the HS series - if it sounds good on these, it’ll sound good on anything."

Dynaudio BM6A

"Dynaudio have been making high quality professional monitors for a long time now. The BM6As are superbly balanced, with a non-fatiguing sound that delivers punchy, controlled bass and a midrange that is perfect for analytically examining recordings. The separation is also excellent, everything coming through clean and clear without a trace of muddiness. They are very much a modern monitor with a contemporary sound in that they have a slightly forward voicing but without being flattering. A very safe bet and well worth adding to your audition list."

Event Opal

"Whether the Opals are the best two-way monitor on the market is a matter for discussion, but they are certainly one of them. Deep, controlled, accurate bass that won't flatter a poor mix, but will reproduce fast transient sub-bass in a clear and transparent manor, makes these a great choice for bass-heavy music. This detail and clarity is evident in the midrange and high frequencies, making important mix decisions that bit easier. I'm not entirely sure what Faustian pact with the devil Event has made, but the crossover design here is approaching the realms of the supernatural as the two drivers coalesce perfectly, exposing every last shard of detail in your work. They're the most expensive monitors in this short round-up, but if you're indifferent to that spare kidney of yours, then you know what to do!"

KRK Rokit 8 G3

"If price and performance are close to your heart and your wallet you could do a lot worse than check out what KRK have to offer with the Rokit 8 G3s. Good detail and image depth are all to be found here. If you want to monitor bass-heavy music on a budget then you're in luck: with their eight-inch driver, they deliver deep bass that is pretty tight and not overbearing, so you’ll have no trouble hearing what’s happening in those bottom octaves. They are a little bit hyped in the lows and the highs, but that makes them vibey and enjoyable to use, as long as you don't expect Genelec-esque precision."

The final word...
"At the end of the day, talking about monitors is (to paraphrase the famous quote) “like dancing about architecture”. What you really need to do is listen to them. It's probably the most subjective area in music production, and nothing compares to sitting down in front of a pair (or more) in a well-treated environment and listening to familiar music through them. You’ll very quickly work out what features matter to you most."

Words: Chris Lyth

Note: All quoted prices are current average street prices per speaker (not per pair)