Studio monitors are speakers specially designed to have the best possible perception of the sounds you are listening to. This is because they are made to offer a much flatter sound response than regular speakers, allowing you to hear all the details within a mix that you wouldn’t otherwise.
On the other hand, regular speakers, such as those in a sound system, are usually made to offer more volume and greater range, and their size is generally larger. They are sometimes accompanied by a woofer box that enhances the bass frequencies.
In addition, regular speakers often have an altered high-frequency range in order to sound brighter. If a studio monitor speaker looks for quality, a regular speaker looks for quantity.
The main difference between them lies in the function they were created for and the environment in which each is developed. While studio monitors need specific dimensions and acoustic characteristics to achieve optimal performance, regular speakers are made so that the sound expands in all possible directions and can be heard by everyone in the same environment.
Can You Use Studio Monitors as Regular Speakers?
You can definitely use studio monitors like regular speakers, as many have the size and power to do so. On the other hand, this is not recommended because they have not been created for that purpose, and used at a high volume, they can become damaged and lose definition.
Another big difference between these two types of speakers is the audience for which the sound is intended. Although there are different types, studio monitors, as a general rule, act in such a way that the person listening to them is located right in the middle of the two. In this way, the listener can appreciate the sound in detail, which is why it is specifically designed for one or a few listeners.
On the other hand, regular speakers, depending on their power and the dimensions of the place they occupy, have the purpose that the entire audience can perceive the sound loudly and clearly, even outdoors.
For these reasons, although it may be a valid option to use studio monitors as regular speakers, you must take certain precautions, such as not exceeding the volume since they are more sensitive and tend to be proportionally more expensive.
Can Anyone Tell The Difference Between a Studio Monitor And a Regular Speaker?
Not everyone can distinguish between a studio monitor and a regular speaker. Most people will hear the sound of both speakers almost without noticing a difference, especially if they are not related to the world of music or if they are casual listeners.
On the other hand, if we try to do the same test with a musician or with someone that is familiar with music production, the result will be totally different. First, you will notice that the low frequencies are much more accentuated in a regular speaker. On the other hand, the studio monitor will reveal details that in the regular speaker are less evident.
This is because when one frequency is far above another in terms of its dynamic levels, it tends to cancel out or diminish the other. While this may be obvious to some people, the difference is less evident to the average human ear. We are talking about the same song with the same sounds and frequencies but with different levels of dynamics.
Some people are naturally more sensitive to perceiving these differences than others, but there is a determining factor: the assimilation of sounds. Through practice, you can train your ears and your brain so that they can identify these differences more easily. This is a slow process since you will notice the progress progressively. Still, with patience and perseverance, you can begin to identify differences that previously went unnoticed by your ears.
Any music producer professionally dedicated to mixing or mastering has his ears prepared to perceive what is missing or left over from a piece of music. This is because he spent hours, days, weeks, and years trying to interpret the dynamics of sounds to the point that his ears do it naturally. So for an average person may sound the same on a studio monitor as on a regular speaker, for a producer, the differences are evident.
Can You Use Regular Speakers as Studio Monitors?
It is possible to use regular speakers as studio monitors. However, the difficulty will be much bigger if you do so since you may not be able to hear all the details, and some frequencies will sound above their real level. This can result in an unbalanced mix.
The flat response that studio monitors have is key to understanding how they perform. This type of speakers place greater emphasis on the orientation of the sound in one direction, unlike regular speakers that seek to expand the sound in all possible directions.
Another important difference is that studio monitors are often made with higher quality components and can be active, indicating that the gain they need to sound is built into the speaker’s construction. This results in better interaction between the monitor components, further improving the outgoing sound quality.
For these reasons, although it is possible to use regular speakers as studio monitors, you will have to deal with different factors that will make the job very difficult and can negatively influence the final result. Even when you feel like you’re getting a balanced mix, listening to the same sounds on another device will still sound different since regular speakers often have frequencies boosted to meet the brand’s “coloring” requirements.
Can You Use Headphones as Studio Monitors?
You can use headphones as studio monitors. Though they’re a useful option if you don’t have studio monitors, they will need more accuracy and clarity to get the job done as effectively. By having regular speakers, its response will not be as flat as that offered by studio monitors.
Headphones have the particular characteristic of focusing all the sound in the area of your ears, avoiding the echoes or reverberation that a speaker generates in a closed environment. Thanks to this, they have a high level of clarity and are widely used in recording studios. Being focused, they do not need the environment to be tuned or prepared for the sound to go in a desired direction, which gives them a lot of versatility. Beyond this, their specific task is different from that of studio monitors.
On the other hand, if you intend to use headphones as studio monitors during a recording, this will be a good option as they will provide a clear reference and block out external sounds allowing you to focus on the track you are recording. For this kind of task, you don’t necessarily need high-quality speakers.
But if you need to do a mix, headphones won’t be accurate enough since they don’t have a flat frequency response like studio monitors. You could always try, but the results will be very random. Because of this, studio monitors are irreplaceable for home studio or music production jobs.
Active Monitors vs Passive Monitors. What Is The Difference?
The main difference you’ll find between these two types of monitors is that one has a built-in amplifier while the other requires external amplification. This makes active monitors the most required since they have greater autonomy and, at the same time, are more configurable.
Each has different pros and cons depending on the user’s needs. In this table, I will briefly review some of its characteristics so that you can draw your conclusions.
They need external power. Some models are Bluetooth, so they do not need cables to receive the signal from a player.
They do not require external power. The signal travels pre-amplified through cables. They do not include models with Bluetooth.
They include parameters to adjust frequencies and volume. All parameters work thanks to its built-in amplification.
They are not settable. Only the external signal received from the amplifier can be set.
They have a defined sound, which can be slightly modified with the setting knobs, but without being able to make radical changes. An active monitor will maintain the same characteristics throughout its useful life.
Its sound depends on its amplification source. The higher the quality of the signal, the better response these speakers will have. By changing the amplifier, we achieve different results, expanding the possibilities.
Part of its box is occupied by its amplifier and circuitry, which makes it more limited in terms of resonance and volume.
Its box has more free space inside than the active ones, making its acoustic qualities stand out more in this type of monitor.
These types of monitors are ideal for closed spaces with controlled acoustic qualities. In this type of environment, they offer their best version. They usually include technical specifications for their best performance, depending on the size.
They can perform well indoors and outdoors, thanks to the fact that their amplification source can be modified. This makes them more versatile in terms of playback.
Its average price can be around $300/$1000 dollars.
Its average price can be around $200/$700 dollars.
It’s important to note that each one adapts better or worse to different environments and conditions. Hence, it is a good idea to analyze the environment where the monitors will be used before deciding on one option.
Why Use Studio Monitors?
Studio monitors fulfill the specific function of giving you as much detail as possible of a song, mix, or project you are working on. As a general rule, the higher the quality of the monitors, the flatter the sound they offer, and the easier it will be to work on the different elements of a musical project.
You can detect an unbalanced sound quickly since the human ear tends to compare frequencies. If low or high frequencies are too much above the rest, you will perceive an extremely fat or bright sound, sometimes sounding annoying. If, on the other hand, the middle frequencies are the ones that are exceeded, you will notice a mushy and poorly defined sound.
The right mix has all its frequencies perfectly balanced, giving rise to a pleasant sound that your ear perceives since you can appreciate each song element as part of a whole without frequencies that stand out too much above others. This will be much easier to correct on studio monitors than on any other music player.
Sometimes, the difference between a perfectly balanced mix and one that is not, is difficult to perceive on first listening. But these kinds of details are what distinguish a professional mix from an amateur mix. You won’t notice as much difference when you play that song on low-resolution speakers, such as mobile devices. But instead, when you listen to the same song in a high-definition sound system, the difference will be much more evident.
Sound engineers use the monitors, the processing tools, and especially their good judgment to make the necessary adjustments in order to optimize the audio. The human ear can distinguish sounds and frequencies, and the more it gets used to working with them, the more you develop this ability.
Tips For Acquiring Your First Studio Monitors
Before getting your first studio monitors, you must take a few things into consideration to choose the ones that best suit your needs. There are an almost unlimited number of options on the market with different price ranges and facilities, so it will be necessary to collect information before choosing them.
Determining the price range is the first step in analyzing your choice. You can find monitors for 80 or 90 dollars and up to thousands of dollars if you are looking for more professional options.
As a general rule, the higher the quality of monitors, the higher the price, so you should find an option that, as far as possible, correctly covers your needs and, at the same time, does not exceed your budget.
- Size And Reach
Although this will also be linked to the cost, since the bigger the size and power, the more expensive the monitors will be, you must first consider what will be the space where the monitors will be located.
If you try to fit large monitors into a small room, you’ll be limiting them, and you won’t be able to get the best performance out of them. On the other hand, small monitors in a large room will not be the best option either.
- Room Acoustics
The shape of the room will also influence the way the sound behaves. Each wall will produce a bouncing sound, which must be controlled through the room’s acoustics. Locating the monitors in the place with the least incidence of these factors would be ideal.
Where possible, it is good that the monitors have enough power so that the sound is well appreciated in the room, especially in the position where you will be sitting listening to them. You should avoid excessive volume since these can generate echoes or unwanted reverb that interfere with listening clarity.
If you choose to get a pair of monitors of the active type, some models include wireless connection through Bluetooth technology. In this way, you can avoid making connections through wires that can hinder the comfort of your setup.In the event that they are passive monitors, you will inevitably need to make the connections through wires.
You’ll have to ensure that your computer or audio interface has the necessary inputs and that the cables are long enough.
How Do You Train Your Ears For Frequencies?
The best way to train your ears is through practice with digital equalizers. An equalizer is a tool that gives you a clear picture of the frequency spectrum. Through the equalizer, you can increase, decrease and even cancel frequencies individually, as if you had a sound map in your hands.
A good way to start identifying sounds is to try to individualize the instruments in your head. Each instrument occupies a certain range in the dynamics of a song, some closer to the low frequencies and others to the high ones. Using a graphic equalizer and seeing how each instrument behaves within the sound spectrum will give you a clear idea of the place that each one occupies.
Assigning a name and a value to each frequency is the first step to being able to identify them. Mainly they will be divided into low, medium, and high. In general, lines from 0 to 250 Hz are the low frequencies, from 250 Hz to 4,000 Hz are the medium frequencies, and from 4,000 Hz onwards, the high frequencies. The human ear can pick up frequencies between 20 and 20,000 Hz, which is a fairly wide range.
If you keep this in mind, it will be easier to know what frequencies we are working with. By listening to frequencies individually, you will develop the necessary memory to identify them within a wider range. High and low frequencies will be the ones you will notice the fastest because they generate a lot of contrast. On the other hand, the medium frequencies usually need more attention to be detected. A good example of medium frequencies is the sound emitted by a small portable radio speaker.
It is good to clarify that the studio monitors will be the most appropriate option for identifying the different frequencies of a song. As a second option, if you do not have monitors, it is advisable to do so with headphones. As you become more familiar with frequencies and sounds, it will be more and more natural for your ears to identify the parameters in which frequencies need to be raised or lowered to achieve a more balanced sound.
Studio monitors are a key tool for any producer who is developing professionally, for any musician interested in expanding his possibilities, or for anyone who wants to start in music production. Although they can fulfill the function of a regular speaker, you will find some limitations when using them in this way, and at the same time, you will run the risk of damaging them, especially if it is used at high volume.
Because of this, using them as regular speakers is not recommended since they have been created for a different purpose and are generally more expensive and fragile than regular speakers. Other devices cannot match the precision and clarity that this type of speaker can offer.
It will always be advisable to get devices made for each particular function. In this way, you will optimize their performance, get more out of the money you invest in them, and avoid some headaches. I hope this article has been useful to you. Thanks for your time!
Other Studio Monitor Topics:
I am a composer, session musician and producer based in Argentina, with more than 20 years of experience in music. I play guitar, bass, keyboards and sax, I was part of different projects and I am familiar with musical genres like rock, pop, soul, reggae, funk, r&b, cumbia and others. Read more..