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Monitoring Speakers Comparative and Test

Discover all the reviews of the different monitoring speakers, there are different models like the active (amplified) passive (unamplified) proximity speakers, the medium distance speakers and finally the master monitors. Each one has its characteristics and the sounds vary according to the marks. The most prestigious brands are KRK, Neumann, Genelec, Adam, Focal, Presonus, etc...

Good to know: Monitoring speakers are used in active listening of voices and acoustic instruments during the mastering phase of your studio recordings. Their placement and sound quality will allow you to get the best rendition you can expect.

How to choose the right monitoring speaker? 🧐

Monitoring is a term used in music production to refer to listening to and analyzing different aspects of a sound. It is common to use loudspeakers for monitoring in a studio because of the precision they can bring to the process. This is at least the case if the equipment chosen has the qualities of a good monitoring speaker.

Why use monitors for music production? 🎵

It’s possible to make music production with a speaker, a Bluetooth soundbar or a TV column speaker. However, such solutions do not seem to be very sustainable for a musician and audio recording professional. A monitor speaker is a better long-term investment.

A good monitor is a speaker that can provide the most neutral reproduction of different sound sources. It is also important that the speaker does not tire the ears during long listening sessions over several hours of recording.

The best monitor speakers should also offer enough headroom to meet varying volume and frequency response requirements. This means they must handle extreme level peaks, pop noise and raw audio well.

The design of active speakers is very different from that of passive speakers. Hi-Fi speakers are presented as compact speakers with a very elegant design. This seems legitimate as they are intended to be displayed in a common room. A monitor is less carefully designed because it is used in a studio environment.

Hi-Fi speakers are designed as passive speakers and require additional amplification. Most monitor speakers are active speakers. An active loudspeaker is not necessarily more advantageous than a passive loudspeaker or inversely. This will depend on the user’s expectations when buying a speaker.

A hi-fi speaker is designed for music lovers, as it can deliver the best music listening experience. The subjective appreciation of a music lover is more important here than the accuracy provided in playing the music. The speakers must subjectively enhance the sound. The bass and treble are accentuated to create a bright sound and swallow up the midrange.

Producers and musicians, on the other hand, need an accurate reproduction of their music. That’s where a monitor comes in. They are designed to have as flat a frequency response as possible, without emphasizing the bass or treble. This can make a monitor sound dull or even unpleasant to a music lover.

A monitor speaker is also magnetically shielded to work next to computer monitors. Their construction is also more robust, which helps them to withstand sound level peaks better than hi-fi speakers.

How does the sound from the speaker propagate through its environment? 🤔

A monitor speaker comes with a narrower radiation angle, which translates into a narrower ‘sweet spot’. The sweet spot is the listening position where the stereo recording can be heard in its entirety, as arranged on a mixing desk. 

The position of the sweet spot varies according to the type of speaker. However, it is most often the center line between the drivers, at a specific distance from the diaphragm. This distance is determined by the type and radiation character of the monitor speakers. Hi-Fi speakers have a wider ‘sweet spot’ because they are intended to operate in a large room.

The sound of the monitor speaker is likely to change when it leaves the optimal listening position. Voices are less understandable and the stereo environment can no longer be accurately reproduced. A lack of brilliance can also occur in the treble.

The loudspeakers should be placed at the same distance from the listener when installed. This is the only way to ensure that the distances covered by the sound are equal. It also allows the sound to reach the listener simultaneously in the ‘sweet spot’.

The sound quality of a loudspeaker is already greatly affected by the positioning of the chassis in the enclosure a few centimeters away. It is therefore easy to imagine how much the sound can lose authenticity with a bad positioning of 20 cm or more.

Sound waves are variations of atmospheric pressure and tend to be slower than light. Those coming from the speakers only reach the ears after a short time. Let’s say the second speaker is one meter away from the listener. The sound generated by this speaker will then arrive 2.92 milliseconds after the first speaker. The delay creates a comb filter effect and a phase shift cutoff that affects the sound generated.

What is the best design for the speaker cabinet? 👍

It’s possible to find a monitor with a closed subwoofer or with bass-reflex openings in the front and back. The closed cabinet limits the amount of air in the monitor. The air is either compressed or expanded when the speaker cone starts to vibrate.

This concept tends to create limitations in the bass reproduction of the powered speaker. This is where the design with bass reflex openings comes in handy. These are conducive to the exchange of more air between the powered speakers and their environment.

The closed design of active subwoofers is adopted by manufacturers when they want to reduce the manufacturing cost of their speakers. Openings provide better sound reproduction performance from the speaker, but are more expensive to incorporate into the design.

Baking the apertures is also more time-consuming to undertake than the actual cutting. The insulating material cannot simply be poured in as in the case of a closed cabinet. It must be carefully applied to the inside of the opening, which requires more work.

The bass reflex opening can deliver a +3 dB increase in the environment near the resonant frequency of a monitor cabinet. The resonance frequency of a loudspeaker is the frequency that sounds disproportionately louder than the surrounding frequencies.

A more substantial increase is possible in a closed cabinet monitor. However, this will be at the expense of the rest of the frequency response. The sound reproduction is then less precise. A monitor speaker with a bass reflex port is more advantageous in comparison, because it requires less power to be perceived louder.

A bass reflex speaker can a priori reproduce the low frequencies in a more linear way. However, the bandwidth tends to drop sharply by 24 dB/octave as soon as the level starts to drop in the bass. A closed-box monitor speaker, on the other hand, may fade a little earlier, but in the gentle transition of 12 dB/octave.

Pulse fidelity is proportional to the ability of a diaphragm to vibrate quickly. This means that transients and the attack of music are reproduced with greater clarity and detail. Closed design speakers have a significant advantage in this area. The air enclosed in the cabinet creates a damping effect and the diaphragm reacts more quickly. This advantage is confirmed around the resonance frequency of the monitor.

A loudspeaker with an open design is a good choice if the speaker is to resonate louder and generate more bass. It should be noted, however, that the open design can produce unwanted background noise, especially with increased volume. A monitor speaker with a closed cabinet is a better choice for those who aim for sharpness in sound reproduction.

Size is also a determining factor in the case of woofers. However, it is not relevant for the sound performance of a tweeter. Woofers are often available in diameters of 5 to 8 inches. The larger a woofer is, the more bass it can deliver. Bass accuracy is also proportional to the width of the diaphragm.

There are monitor speakers with a woofer of 4 inches or less. These speakers compensate for their small size with an intelligent design to ensure sufficient bass depth. The ‘Twisted Flare Port’ feature of the Yamaha MSP3A is an example. Smaller woofers are a good choice for monitoring rap and vocals or video editing. 

How does the number of channels affect the performance of the speaker? 🎚

The number of channels in a monitor speaker determines the number of frequency ranges that are divided by the frequency filter. The frequency filter divides an audio signal into several frequency ranges. It can be active or passive. Passive crossovers are connected between the amplifier and the speaker. An active crossover divides the signal with a final stage per frequency band.

The rounded elements at the front of a monitor speaker are called drivers. They are electroacoustic transducers that convert the electrical signal into a given sound. The drivers are powered by amplifiers. The amplifier boosts the low-powered electronic signal to a level high enough to drive a given receiver such as headphones.

Drivers produce only a portion of the audible frequency range. It is therefore common to have multiple drivers in a single enclosure for a wider frequency response.

Monitor speakers tend to use two or three amplifiers to increase the range of audio frequencies. The audio signal fed into a loudspeaker is split into several frequency ranges using a component called a crossover. Once the signals are split, they are then transmitted to the corresponding loudspeakers.

Two-amplifier or two-way speakers often contain a woofer for the lower range and a tweeter for the upper range. A three-amp or three-way speaker may include a woofer, midrange and tweeter. It is also possible to add a separate subwoofer to the monitor speaker system.

The broadband audio signal that is received by the speaker is split by the active or passive crossover into several frequency ranges. An active crossover speaker comes with a power source to boost the level of a signal after it passes through the speaker’s filters. An external power source is required for a passive crossover speaker.

It is common to have between two and three channels in studio loudspeakers, but there are also models with four channels. The ideal number of channels for optimal sound reproduction in the studio depends on several factors, starting with the price of the installation. Two-way speakers are often more economical than three-way systems, but this varies depending on the design of the unit.

Ideally, you want a separate speaker or channel for each range in frequency reproduction. However, the difference in path between the chassis and the ear creates a mismatch between the signals, which can affect the sound negatively.

It is therefore more advantageous to have a point source of sound. All frequencies should be emitted from the same point and always arrive at the same time. A two-way monitoring speaker system can sound better than a three-way system. This is because the distance between the speakers in a two-way system is smaller.

The distance problem has been solved by manufacturers like Pioneer through a two-way coaxial monitor design. The woofers and tweeters are placed on the same axis. The area usually allocated to the dome is used in this case for the tweeter.

How does listening distance affect the speakers? 🔛

Many monitor models are designed as near-field monitors. The near field is the immediate area of the speaker. A distinction must be made here between a near-field and an intermediate-field monitor.

The idea behind buying a monitor is to reproduce as pure a sound as possible. However, the listening environment should not be neglected. Sound can encounter many obstacles after it leaves the speaker, including walls, ceiling and furniture.

The sound components are either absorbed or reflected depending on the nature of the obstacles. Two sound events can then result, namely direct sound and reflections. Direct sound is the sound that the near-field speaker sends to your ear. Reflections are sounds reflected from obstacles in the room.

Ambient noise creates comb filter effects and cancellations in the frequency response, which tend to distort the sound. The closer the speaker is to the room, the more direct sound can dominate over ambient sound. The further away the speaker is, the more reflections are felt. 

A distance of 1 to 2 meters from the ear is optimal for a near field or close monitoring loudspeaker. This minimizes the influence of the room or ambient sound on the sound experience. This type of monitor is highly recommended for recording in a small home studio.

This type of construction also tends to restrict the ‘sweet spot’, leaving little freedom of movement. Nearfield speakers are also not very large. This makes them easier to place in a small room or on a desk. This also makes them the right concept for those who want to create a portable sound system. Proximity speakers, however, are not suitable for listening to a very loud mix in a narrow room.

The influence of the room on the sound experience is more noticeable with a monitor speaker designed to operate in an intermediate field. The ‘sweet spot’ is much larger, creating a listening situation similar to that of a living room.

This means, however, that an unoptimized room can be more damaging to the sound than large speakers with a lot of volume. An intermediate field monitor should therefore be used in large rooms with optimized sound acoustics.

Nearfield speakers are best suited for a home studio, as they sound good at close distances. This type of speaker is also useful for a control room that has not been acoustically optimized. The sound can also be adapted to the space if the speaker is equipped with an equalizer.

The user may be a singer/songwriter who wants to record vocals and guitar. A small, close-monitoring speaker is sufficient in this context. Small close-monitoring speakers are also more suitable for rock or multi-instrument production. It may also be that the speaker is intended for electronic music or hip-hop production. A larger nearfield speaker or even a subwoofer is the right choice for this purpose.

Is it necessary to use software with a monitoring speaker? 💾

A multitude of software programs designed to improve sound quality in music listening have appeared on the market in recent years. They help the user to find the perfect position for the speakers in a room. These programs can also be used to compress mp3 and other audio files or manipulate the frequency response with an equalizer.

Most of today’s loudspeaker monitoring models come with options for spatial correction via an integrated DSP. Optional kits with microphones and software for adjusting the system are available for this purpose. The frequency response, after modification or optimization, is then calculated by the integrated DSP and played directly by the loudspeaker.

In the ideal scenario of a point source, the sound is emitted in an omnidirectional way. This is not the case with a loudspeaker. Only frequencies with a long wavelength relative to the size of the diaphragm are emitted omnidirectionally. Higher frequencies with smaller wavelengths are emitted in a concentrated way.

However, no room is perfect acoustically, including professional recording studios. Correction software can counteract the physical problems. This includes room modes or rumble caused by standing waves. Correction software is not a miracle cure, however. It does not eliminate the problems caused by standing waves, but merely attenuates them.

Spatial correction is in itself a fairly simple process. A measuring microphone is placed in the ‘sweet spot’ for monitoring the current situation. The software plays a continuously increasing sine wave and at the same time records what the microphone hears. The capture can be done in any position.

The software then uses the differences between the original wave and the recording to identify acoustic problems in the room. It then generates optimized filtering for the listening position, which can be set up through the loudspeaker DSP or downstream with the software.

How do you read the data sheet for the speakers? 📈

The specification sheet of a monitoring speaker summarizes all its technical characteristics. They are almost always formulated by the manufacturer and thus tend to be aligned with marketing. This means that the values given may be more embellished than they appear. Nevertheless, they are a good starting point for comparing one monitor to another.

The items listed on the specification sheet vary from monitor speaker to monitor speaker. However, they tend to include some common indications. These include peak power, rated load capacity and maximum load. Added to this are the transmission range, crossover frequencies, impedance, sound pressure level and efficiency.

Peak power or RMS watts indicates the maximum power a speaker can handle without deteriorating. It is measured in watts. The rated load capacity describes the output power of a loudspeaker in continuous operation. The measurement of this value is precisely fixed according to the DIN standard at 300 hours. The rated load is much lower than the maximum load. The latter defines what the speaker can withstand in two seconds without suffering damage.

The transmission range describes the bass depth and treble height of a loudspeaker. It is often mistakenly defined as the frequency response. It is important to know under what conditions this value was defined when comparing different loudspeakers. 

The indicated crossover frequencies may have been measured with a level drop of -3 or -6 dB. These measurement methods must be identical for the comparison to be possible. However, these values are not indicated by most manufacturers.

The impedance of a loudspeaker is the resistance encountered by the audio signal at the input of the speaker. It affects the load of a speaker on an amplifier. Impedance is an important measure for matching a loudspeaker to a preamplifier.

Sound pressure level or SPL describes the sound level generated by loudspeakers. It is measured in decibels at a distance of one meter for an input power of one watt. It should be noted that the decibel is a logarithmic unit. A signal that is 6 dB louder is twice the sound pressure and is therefore twice as loud.

Efficiency describes the ratio between the electrical power supplied and the acoustic power emitted by a loudspeaker. Part of the power of the amplifier is converted into heat. The amount of power dissipated into heat can be more or less depending on the design of the amplifiers. This is why the maximum level can vary from one model to another for the same proposed power value. A higher efficiency is preferable in this context.

Total harmonic distortion, or THD, is another key factor in evaluating a loudspeaker. However, it may not be listed in the device specifications. Harmonic distortion is an acoustic output from the monitor speaker that is not present in the input signal. However, it is harmonically related to the input signal.

The proportion of total harmonic distortion is given as a percentage of the distorted output of the speaker. The THD of 10%, 3%, 1%, 0.3% and 0.1% correspond to attenuations of -20 dB, -30 dB, -40 dB, -50 dB and -60 dB respectively of the overall signal.

How will the monitor speaker be plugged in? ❓

There are basically three types of connectors for connecting a monitor speaker. These are XLR, RCA, TS and TRS. TS and TRS are much better options than RCA for wired connections. At least in all respects except for size.

However, an XLR connection is more robust than a TRS in an audio installation. It is also very common to find a monitor speaker with a USB or jack connection. However, an audio interface may be required to use the speaker with a computer. An adapter may also be useful for connecting the speaker to a smartphone.

What are the accessories you should consider for monitor speakers? 🎧

Adding accessories can add a great deal of convenience to the use of a monitor speaker. There are a few accessories in particular to consider with this in mind. It starts with a stand for placing the monitor speaker.

Speaker stands are towers or receptacles on which speakers are mounted. The purpose of these stands is to isolate the base of the speakers from the ground surface. Vibrations from the ground can affect the quality of the sound generated by the speaker.

The other accessory to consider when purchasing a monitoring speaker is a dedicated remote control for this device. The remote control allows you to manage several aspects of the speaker’s operation. This includes frequency response or volume control.

In this regard, it is recommended that you look for a remote that can reduce the volume without stopping the audio file from playing. It would also be beneficial if the remote control could display the speaker output with a graphic output meter.

Our selection of Monitoring speakers ❤️

If you want to buy a good pair of monitoring speakers at the best price/quality ratio, here is our unofficial selection of the best speakers on the market:

  • KRK Rokit RP5 G4 : A good active proximity speaker at an affordable price for beginners!
  • Neumann KH 120 A : A mid-range speaker of prestigious brand.
  • Adam S3V : The infallible ally of almost every recording studio.
  • Focal Shape 65 : For an open sound with the Focal knowledge and finish!
  • Dynaudio LYD-48 : A high quality and incredibly versatile speaker.