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Old October 4th, 2011, 05:46 PM   #1
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Best desktop audio monitoring solution?

Hi All: I'm in the process of improving our production house's audio for video. A huge problem we've had is a complete lack of any attention to monitoring. (Our producers have a total mish-mash of random speakers and headphones...and I want to unify everyone with a single model of speakers and headphones so we at least have some uniformity and are all hearing the same things.)

We have a mix of dedicated edit rooms and workstations in typical office cubes. Obviously, near-field monitoring in a dedicated, acoustically-balanced room is ideal...but we can't always achieve that.

So I'm curious to get opinions on three tough questions (which might each have many answers):

1. Which do you prefer: monitoring with a good pair of headphones (like the Sony MDR's) or with a good pair of near-field monitors? (Related Q: can you get great mixes via headphones, even if your viewers will be listening on every kind of speaker imaginable?)

2. What are the best desktop monitor speakers you've found? (Not pro studio-grade near-fields, but smaller, less expensive desktop speakers---like what you'd use in an office cube setup.)

3. What's your current favorite pro studio near-field monitor?

-----
I know audio is a TOUGH nut to crack, because there is so much variability in playback systems (everything from iPods to crappy built-in laptop speakers to small desktop computer speakers to flat-panel HDTV speakers and more).

I also know that if you really want your mixes to sound great everywhere, you need a veritable battery of speakers to check mixes (everything from small and cheap to audiophile pro quality). But of course few of us have that luxury...so we have to pick a happy medium, mix for that, and hope for the best!

Thanks,
Scott

PS - I plan to do some searching for other posts on this subject...but I still wanted to solicit some current (as of today) thoughts...
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Old October 4th, 2011, 05:53 PM   #2
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Re: Best desktop audio monitoring solution?

You can edit on headphones but mixes really have to be done on properly calibrated monitors.

My own choice for monitors is the JBL Pro LSR4326P or LSR4328P if you have enough space on the desk.

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Old October 5th, 2011, 12:36 AM   #3
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Re: Best desktop audio monitoring solution?

I want it right
I don't want to spend very much money

please pick ONE

headphones will never give you the right mix

as for speakers, the best low cost ones I've found after a LOT of A/B/ C comparison is the M audio BX5A's for under $250 for a pair. before you complain thats too expensive, these are really dirt cheap in comparison to the next favorites for $1k per pair - dynaudio which are freaking amazing

to expect better or even equal for less isn't realistic. you get what you pay for. whats the price of all the problems you are having ? this will pay for itself quick enough and the cost will be long forgotten once done.

sorry but sometimes what it costs is what it costs, and there is no other way around it.
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Old October 5th, 2011, 02:36 AM   #4
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Re: Best desktop audio monitoring solution?

The m-audios are probably the best deal out there. If you can swing a bit more, Alesis makes some decent powered monitors, Mackie or KRK next, etc. Tons to choose from, in all price ranges. Best idea is to hit your local music store (Guitar Center or similar) and listen to a few as they will have a room for studio gear. They will also sell room treatment kits which as mentioned is very important to achieving a decent mix.
Headphones are good as a backup or reference check. If you dont treat the room you're mixing in, they will be a much more accurate sound as they aren't affected by the environment.

My personal setup is a pair of Dynaudio BM6a on isolation stands supplemented by a KRK 10" powered sub. Sony MD-7506 are my headphones. My room is treated with custom made acoustic panels (made by me) including bass traps, 2" and 4" panels and ceiling treatment. Acoustic measurements were done with IK's ARC kit which is a measurement mic and software which custom tailors an eq profile to correct for room characteristics. To me, room treatment and measurement are more important than the speakers. If the rooms not right, the best speakers in the world will give you false information. Cheaper speakers in a good room will work great. This may be a bit of overkill for most video mixing gigs but I also do broadcast audio, audio post and music production so it needs to be right for proper mixing. My studio is based upon concepts borrowed from my 23 years of working in pro audio studios and was much more affordable than many of the pre-packaged room treatment kits. About $10 per 2'x4'x2" panel. Pictures are on my website.
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Old October 6th, 2011, 09:09 PM   #5
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Re: Best desktop audio monitoring solution?

Thanks for the replies. Steve, I get your point---to a point. While it's true that you get what you pay for (and money is no object for me), I'm not completely convinced that having a high-end set of professional studio monitors is worth the cost.

Everyone rolls their eyes at cheap monitors...yet consider this: videos intended for the average audience are more often than not going to be viewed on devices with crappy audio (e.g. $20 Walmart computer speakers, tinny built-in laptop speakers, crappy built-in speakers on flat-panel TVs, the built-in speaker on an iPhone or Android smartphone, etc.

Given this fundamental fact, who is to say that a $150 pair of speakers may not offer the best and most accurate rendition of how your audio will sound on a viewer's crappy speaker system?

On the flip side, it is not true in my experience that professionally-mixed and monitored audio sounds fantastic on crappy speakers. I regularly find that pro-engineered audio often sounds worse precisely because the engineer or editor mixed the audio on the assumption that viewers will listen to their video on a high end sound system. Bass parts will (for example) be nearly inaudible because crappy speaker systems are generally all mids and highs.

Now maybe if you're a Hollywood audio post guy...or if you're producing video destined for 3-D, immersive experience rides at Disney World, or you know for certain that your audience will be listening to your audio on high-end systems...then sure, you need high-end monitors.

In our case, the vast majority of what we produce (we know this for fact) is heard on the wide variety of crappy speakers I mentioned above. So I'm just not convinced it's worth shelling out for monitors.

To me, what's more important is that everyone in our facility hears exactly the same thing (everyone has the identical headphones and monitors)...so there is actually a common reference point for comparing audio. Between that and following fundamental best practices (like maximizing levels, learning how to use compression effectively, learning good techniques for adjusting music levels relative to voice, etc.) will result in a big leap forward in the quality of our soundtracks.

I'm not anti-high-end monitors (I have a pair of Auratones and Yamaha NS-10s as well as a high-end pair of Tannoys)...I just think when many of our producers don't even know what compression is, there are better ways to improve our audio than fancy speakers.

Scott
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Old October 7th, 2011, 04:28 AM   #6
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Re: Best desktop audio monitoring solution?

Thing is, if you try to do your final mix on inaccurate speakers you'll never know if your crappy sound is due to problems with the mix or is an artifact of the speakers you're listening on. If you mix on a set of proper monitors it will sound good to those who have good systems and okay to those with compromised systems. If you mix on any old speaker, it'll still just sound okay to those with similar systems but there's a good chance it will sound like crap to everybody else. For instance, adding a heavy bass boost to your mix because that's what you have to do to hear any bass at all on those tinny little 3-inch 'multimedia' speakers that you''re using for monitors means it's going to be unlistenable for anybody else, Why assume the lowest common denominator and let it set your standards?
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Old October 7th, 2011, 06:12 AM   #7
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Re: Best desktop audio monitoring solution?

Cheaper monitors will sound significantly different from each other, while better ones will sound more like each other. By standardizing on cheap you may standardize on a sound that doesn't correspond to anyone else except people with that funny-sounding monitor. Just something to think about.

As to monitors I was blown away by the ADAM ribbon monitors that were used in the very well equipped Stanford CARMA music research lab. I looked them up after hearing them and they only cost a few hundred IIRC.

I'm taking a multitrack recording class at a public school, and the main monitors for for a $60k mixing board are cheap KRK brand monitors that only cost about $500 IIRC, and they sound great; I would have guessed a few thousand dollars.
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Old October 7th, 2011, 07:55 AM   #8
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Re: Best desktop audio monitoring solution?

Good points. And I do agree that it's important to hear what's actually there. But Steve you said something...
Quote:
If you mix on a set of proper monitors it will sound good to those who have good systems and okay to those with compromised systems.
This is what I keep thinking about, and it's the way everyone does it. But what if you want your mix to sound as good as possible on crappy systems? I'm not sure the best way to accomplish this is to mix for high-end systems and hope the "trickle-down effect" works to your favor.

I think mixing for today's most common systems means making fundamental choices, like using music in which the bass is an unimportant element harmonically/melodically. Or focusing on clarity within the narrow frequency range of crappy speakers...in other words, always thinking about how it will sound on $20 Walmart speakers and mixing for those...and not your beautiful $2000 studio monitors.

My point is, in the past decade we've seen (in my opinion) an undeniable downward slide in the quality of how most people listen to audio. Back in the days when a home hi-fi stereo system was the only option, I think the overall bar was actually higher. But today, (again in my opinion) the bar is low---most people are perfectly content to listent to audio on crappy computer speakers or other compromised systems.

So it seems to me that those of us in the industry should focus a bit less on aiming our mixes at high-end systems (and really not caring much about how they sound on a pair of laptop speakers)...and start focusing on getting our mixes to sound great on built-in laptop speakers.

I know it sounds heretical, LOL...and like most others here, the idea of "dumbing down" our audio kills me. But I really think this is the world of audio we're facing when you look at the vast majority of ways people hear audio now.

I admit my points are somewhat rhetorical, so I won't beat this horse anymore. :) But I do think this is something worth thinking about. The same applies to video...I think many producers still haven't quite come to terms with the fact that their work is more likely to be viewed on YouTube now than a high-quality 1080p flat-panel display.

Scott
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Old October 7th, 2011, 09:36 AM   #9
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Re: Best desktop audio monitoring solution?

Lots of studios have a set of "cheapo" speakers to mix to, but that's more of a mastering than mixing issue. Mix on good speakers, then master to a variety of bad speakers seems to be the approach.

Yes mp3 has caused a deterioration in people's audio standards, but the tide is turning and now that we have enough bandwidth the pendulum is swinging back towards quality. Even though most speakers may be bad compared with floorstanders today, lots of people have heard absolutely stunning sound through $50 or $100 headphones, so people know what good sound is like today.

Many laptop speaker systems (as well as ipod docks) have DSPs that attempt to smooth out the nonlinearities in their bass, which actually work quite well for those little speakers. And home systems are more and more incorporating DSP room correction that attempts to make them all sound "reference".

My point is that more and more technology is going into making our different speakers sound the same (within their physical constraints), and so if you start trying to mix to particular deficiencies of particular speakers, you are more likely to end up with overcompressed mud than the crystal clarity that is becoming more and more acheivable with consumer speaker systems.
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Old October 7th, 2011, 10:37 AM   #10
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Re: Best desktop audio monitoring solution?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Scott Wilkinson View Post
...
So it seems to me that those of us in the industry should focus a bit less on aiming our mixes at high-end systems (and really not caring much about how they sound on a pair of laptop speakers)...and start focusing on getting our mixes to sound great on built-in laptop speakers.
...The same applies to video...I think many producers still haven't quite come to terms with the fact that their work is more likely to be viewed on YouTube now than a high-quality 1080p flat-panel display.

Scott
Whether audio or video, I think the craft is better served by mixing and mastering to the standards of those who care enough to actually have decent playback equipment and have it sound okay for those who don't really care versus casting pearls before swine by catering to those who really don't give a damn while ignoring the people who actually do care. Making it sound great on $20 Walmart specials will likely make it sound awful on anything better.
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Old October 7th, 2011, 11:33 AM   #11
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Re: Best desktop audio monitoring solution?

My M.O. I generally compile mix on a set of (soon to be replaced) Genelec near-fields... then check the mix on large full-range monitors, small Auratone near-fields, a 3:1 desktop system, a laptop and small and larger TVs. If sounds good on all, it's good to go. Some minor compromises are usually needed.
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Old October 8th, 2011, 03:48 AM   #12
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Re: Best desktop audio monitoring solution?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Scott Wilkinson View Post
I'm not anti-high-end monitors (I have a pair of Auratones and Yamaha NS-10s as well as a high-end pair of Tannoys)...I just think when many of our producers don't even know what compression is, there are better ways to improve our audio than fancy speakers.

Scott
For years Auratones were used to judge what audio mixed on a good monitor would sound like when played on a really horrible speaker, the Auratone. NS-10s served the purpose of pointing out many audio flaws because they're so harsh, overly detailed and completely inaccurate.

So I hope you realize neither of these are high-end monitors.

Yes you find them in studios, but as a tool to judge flaws, not an accurate monitor.
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Old October 8th, 2011, 09:51 AM   #13
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Re: Best desktop audio monitoring solution?

Yep---I knew the Auratones and NS-10s aren't high-end...I was just referring to my Tannoys.

I just think there's a ton of variability out there even in professionally-produced audio. How much of it is caused by the speakers people mixed with, I don't know...but listen to the soundtracks of 10 different TV shows and you'll hear 10 different "approaches" to mixing.

Obviously speakers are just one part of a complex equation. You could have the finest monitors on earth and still produce a crappy mix/master.

Conversely, I think there are some brilliant engineers who *could* mix entirely on a set of $20 Walmart speakers and the resulting mix would sound better than most on a good pair of speakers. (I'm certainly not one of those engineers...so I guess I need great monitors, LOL)

It's kinda like bicycling---everyone wants the slickest, lightest, carbon-fiber high-end bike they can get...but Lance Armstrong can still kick your butt on a Huffy from Walmart. :-)

Scott
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Old October 8th, 2011, 10:34 AM   #14
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Re: Best desktop audio monitoring solution?

Kirk, As much as I hate the NS10's they are far from inaccurate. There's a huge library of info out there as to why so many engineers use them and while the words "harsh" and "uncompromising" are in every article you will find, "inaccurate" will not be found.
Truth is since the late '70's when they were introduced, they were meant to be used as home speakers. A few engineers bought them because they were portable, widely available and relatively inexpensive AND at that point were among the most technically advanced speakers. Because big name engineers started using them, they caught on. There's a lot more to the story but the point that seems to be missing from this thread intersects the ns10 story here...
They are a reference. And they are portable.
Regardless of how they sounded, they are a speaker that is easy to learn. That's the name of the game with mixing. The mixer must have a consistent pair of speakers that they know inside and out. It is something that is personal to each person and whatever the speaker, once learned, that's the reference. The fact that the ns10 hasn't changed since it's introduction means it's a constant that can be trusted. Just like the Tannoy, Genelecs, Dynaudio, etc. If you learn what those speakers are telling you, you can get consistent results from your mixes. The biggest problem with the ns10 is how they get power. It's probably the most overlooked reason for the ns10 myth that they sound terrible. I have a very nice pair of B&W's that sound ok powered by my home receiver...when I brought them to the studio and powered them with a Perreaux studio grade amp...holy $h!7 did they wake up. Same thing happens with the ns10, feed them crappy power and they are horrible, feed them properly and they are great. Thats what's led to the popularity of powered speakers. Now you can get the same amp/speaker combo at any studio you mix at.
Once again I will bring up a very important thing that seems to be missing from this thread...the mix environment. Regardless of the speaker chosen to mix on, the environment must be treated acoustically to get consistent results.

So to recap, there are plenty of inexpensive speakers which will provide decent results but everyone in the OP's company must spend time learning those speakers. And, the mix environment must be treated or the speakers will relay false information.
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Old October 8th, 2011, 12:19 PM   #15
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Re: Best desktop audio monitoring solution?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve House View Post
Thing is, if you try to do your final mix on inaccurate speakers you'll never know if your crappy sound is due to problems with the mix or is an artifact of the speakers you're listening on. If you mix on a set of proper monitors it will sound good to those who have good systems and okay to those with compromised systems. If you mix on any old speaker, it'll still just sound okay to those with similar systems but there's a good chance it will sound like crap to everybody else. For instance, adding a heavy bass boost to your mix because that's what you have to do to hear any bass at all on those tinny little 3-inch 'multimedia' speakers that you''re using for monitors means it's going to be unlistenable for anybody else, Why assume the lowest common denominator and let it set your standards?
As somebody that has to mix for a living, I cannot emphasize what Steve has written here enough. It is sort of an extension of the crap in, crap out philosophy. If you cannot tell what you are listening to, you will never have a chance of a good mix on any system. You can never compensate for the ills of all bad listening systems- whether it is computer speakers, a TV or anything else. Mono compatability is very important, and making sure the mix isn't too heavy in any particular frequency is important. Even on a small, bad quality speaker, a muddy mix will sound muddy.

As for speakers, the little M Audio speakers are pretty good bang for the buck, although they've done something to them to compensate for the lack of bass in a small speaker that makes the low end rather boomy and muddy. The 8" versions are even worse. That being said, they are good enough that I recommended them for school that I occasionally teach for their studios.

If you can scare up the extra cash, I'd recommend either the little Genelec speakers or the newish Neumann Klein and Humel KH120 speaker. The better you can monitor, the better your final product will be.

--Ben
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