Studio Monitor Speakers – Do You Need Them?

speakersA big question in home recording is whether you need studio monitor speakers, or if you can get by with just headphones.  As with so many things, the answer is "it depends."  I know, I know; you want to know what it depends on.  Well, I'd say it depends mainly on whether or not you record music or mainly voice overs.  Here's why.

When recording music, you will typically have several tracks of music with different kinds of sounds such as voices, pianos, guitars, drums, bass, and so on.  The sound-stage starts to get a bit crowded and the individual sounds start stepping all over each other's frequencies.  I don't know about you, but I hate it when my frequencies get stomped on.  Seriously though, this frequency competition is a big issue in recording and mixing audio.  In a perfect world, all you would have to do is turn the volume controls up or down for each track of music in order to hear as much of each instrument as you want to hear.  Many people think this is all there is to mixing, hence the name right?  WRONG!  Silly mortals.  In this imperfect world of ours, we are forced to use our stupid lying ears (see the article: Your Ears Are Lying to You – Why Your Song Sounds Great in Your Room, But Not in Your Car for an explanation) in rooms that randomly seem to turn up certain frequencies and turn down others just by their mere size and dimension (see: Getting a Good Mix With Cheap Monitor Speakers).  Add to that the fact that monitor speakers themselves can cause some more inaccuracies in the audio.  At the end of the day, the more elements (tracks, instruments, etc.) in a mix, the more things can go wrong.

So what is the answer to the original question?  Wait, what WAS the question?  Oh yeah, should we use monitor speakers in our home studios?  I'm going to say "yes" for music recording purposes.  When recording music, it seems that listening to music "through the air" (as opposed to in headphones) helps us hear things much more accurately than listening in headphones.  Many is the time that I have thought something sounded AWESOME in the headphones, only to want to run and hide when played on loudspeakers.  Try it for yourself.  In my particular case I can recommend Event Tuned Reference 8s, since those are what I use.

On the other hand, if you are going to stick to voice recording, possibly with the odd bit of pre-recorded program music thrown in, I don't think monitor speakers are nearly as necessary.  In fact, if you lack the space or budget, you can probably do just as well without them.  Get yourself some headphones, such as the Sennheiser HD-280s and you should be able to record and produce professional audio with no trouble at all.

So in a nutshell, my advice is to definitely use studio monitor speakers if you plan to record music.  But if you plan to limit your recording to voice over productions, you can likely do without speakers as long as you have a pair of decent headphones.

Happy Recording!

Ken

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