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Friday, April 25, 2008

What Speakers Should I Get?

This is Part 5 of the Makeshift Musician's Comprehensive Guide to Building Your Own Studio

Some folks, upon hearing that I had a studio, would immediately ask about what speakers I had. This aspect seemed to be the most important part to them. Audiophiles and engineers are a special breed. They love their speakers, to a degree that is frankly a little beyond me. This kind of thing used to intimidate me. You may be experiencing this if you have an audiophilic friend. You may feel the pressure to get some really expensive speakers as part of your rig/studio. Is this something you should be worrying about?

Before I give my opinion, let me get some things out of the way first. The point of high quality studio monitors (which is what audio folks call speakers) is to give a producer a flat frequency response. That means that all frequencies, from the deepest bass to most nasally voice to the highest note on a piccolo are given the same amount of power. The speaker will not favor any particular frequency range, so to speak. This helps the producer make a clean, well-balanced mix. If his speakers have a tendency for a heavy amount of bass (like most of the speakers you'll find at Best Buy), then the producer's music will probably end up with a weak bass sound, if he's not careful.

So should you be spending hundreds of dollars to get yourself a nice pair of real studio monitors, so you can have an authentic, flat sound? Only if you want to. I'd say when you're starting out, don't bother. Get something halfway decent and be happy. When you are working on your music, you should be more concerned with listening to your mix on a variety of speakers. When your song is nearly finished, burn it to a CD and listen to it in the car, on your home theater if you have it, boom box, laptop, weird ipod accessory, whatever you have. You will learn a lot from this sonic variety and you'll be able to make a great mix.

What do I have? For my studio, I do, in fact, use studio monitors. They're fairly cheap ones though: a pair of Behringer B2031P's. You need an amp for them, but they're still relatively inexpensive for a makeshift musician like me. On my Windows computer, the one I use for mastering and playing games, I have the Logitech Z-2300 set. It sounds great and I love it. If these sound good enough for me to do mastering, they should be good for anything.

Some things to consider when buying speakers:

Size DOES matter:
No matter what some manufacturers might tell you, tiny speakers are physically incapable of giving you a rich, full sound. Sound waves are literally shaped like the object they come from. Sound waves from a guitar are actually guitar-shaped. Because of the large resonating chamber that the guitar has, it's lower frequencies are massive. A small, 4 inch high speaker absolutely cannot accurately recreate the sound of a guitar's resonating chamber simply because of its size. My audio engineering teacher said once that the ideal speaker would match the exact size and shape of whatever it was recreating. Keep that in mind when buying speakers. If you want a nice, full sound, get something bigger; at least somewhat bigger than your fist. My Logitech's are relatively small, but they have a nice big subwoofer that helps makes up for it.

Speaker technology hasn't really changed or improved in
Well-built speakers from, say, the 1970's will sound just as good as well-built modern speakers, provided they haven't deteriorated yet. Making speakers into weird pod shapes does not actually make them better. Any talk of this or some sort of new technology is just a gimmick. Don't be fooled! Look for simple claims of high quality instead.

Search online for reviews of speakers to see what is best for your price range. By reading a several reviews of the same product, you can generally triangulate its quality yourself. And when your audiophile friend gives you a hard time for not buying 500-dollar (each!) speakers, just let him (it's always a him) know that he was probably ripped off!

Go to part 4: Audio Software

>>> Go to part 6: Microphones, Cables and Everything Else

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