Active/powered vs. passive/unpowered -- which should I get?
All the monitor speakers featured in this guide are active/powered speakers
, which means they have built-in power amplifiers, and that you can connect a line-level signal from your audio interface directly to the monitors. Passive speakers
need to be fed a more powerful speaker-level signal -- a signal provided by a separate standalone power amplifier. If you happen to already have a 2-channel power amplifier, then a pair of passive studio monitor speakers
can be an economical choice. Follow your speaker manufacturer's suggestions for how much power to feed your monitors. A good rule of thumb is to double amplifier power to a speaker's rating: for example, an amplifier that can put out 200 watts per channel is likely to be a good match for a pair of 100-watt speakers.
4-inch, 5-inch, 6-inch, 8-inch -- does woofer size matter?
Generally speaking, larger woofers can reproduce lower frequencies more accurately than smaller ones. And larger studio monitors can typically play louder before distorting, with greater dynamic range, and a greater maximum listening distance. Of course, larger speakers also require more materials and more powerful amplifiers, which is why the 8" monitors are generally more expensive than 4", 5," or 6" versions. But if you've got the money to spend, and the room in your studio for the larger footprint that big monitor speakers require, 8" monitors are a solid choice.
However, if you're mixing in a very small space, or you don't have any acoustic treatment up to mitigate bass buildup, smaller monitors may be the best fit for your room. In general, larger speakers are meant to be listened to from a greater distance. In the home studio, you want nearfield
monitors, or possibly mid-field
monitors if you're lucky enough to be working in a larger room. Beyond the scope of this buying guide, far-field
monitors -- we're talking huge 12" and 15" woofers -- are what big studios use for playbacks when they're trying to impress the industry folk sitting in the back of the room.
What's that hole in my speaker? Is it better to have a front port, rear port, or no port?
Many monitor speakers have a hole or slot somewhere in the cabinet. This opening is called a port
, and it's not just a hole -- it's carefully tuned to work with the air resonating inside the cabinet to increase the speaker's bass output beyond what the woofer speaker on its own can accomplish. A port can make your speakers louder. That said, there are two schools of thought on this. Some insist that sealed or enclosed speakers are more accurate. The one thing we can say for sure is that if your speakers have rear ports, it's especially important not to place them right next to a wall -- those ports need room to breathe.
How do I place my studio monitors? What's the "Sweet Spot"?
For starters, you'll want to place your monitors as far as you can from the walls or corners. Placing acoustic treatment foam on the walls -- both behind the speakers, and behind the listener -- can help reduce room reflections and make your listening environment more accurate. Most importantly, you'll want to position your pair of stereo monitors in an equilateral triangle with your head. Your speakers should be the same distance from you as they are from each other, putting your head right in the so-called sweet spot
. You'll also want the speakers' tweeters to be vertically lined up with your ears. A pair of studio monitor stands
can help place your speakers at exactly the right height.
Do I need a studio monitor subwoofer?
There's a reason live music venues use dedicated speakers only for low frequencies. Sure, your main studio monitors may be able to reproduce frequencies down to 20 Hz (or lower) but remember, reproducing low frequencies requires much more power than reproducing mids and highs. It's more efficient to dedicate a subwoofer to the sub-bass lows (100 Hz or lower), freeing up your main stereo monitors to reproduce the marrow of your mix.
A studio subwoofer's extended frequency range will help you monitor accurately, taking over where your main stereo monitors leave off. Remember, unless you're using a high-pass filter on every microphone and instrument, you're always recording and mixing sub-bass frequencies -- whether you can hear them or not. A dedicated sub will help you hear exactly what you're capturing, so you're not flying blind when it comes time to mix. If you're monitoring without a sub, you may be unpleasantly surprised to hear muddy, boomy lows coming through the first time you hear your mix played back on a big PA system, or on a home 2.1 or 5.1 system with a dedicated subwoofer.
If you're planning on mixing sound for film, TV and games, the studio monitor subwoofer
is essential, since you're mixing audio that will be played back on systems that have a sub. If your finished product will be delivered in 5.1 surround format, then the subwoofer is a must.
Consider adding one of these subwoofers to your monitoring setup: