Are Studio Monitors Necessary?

If you are setting up your home recording studio you may be wondering, “Are Studio Monitors Necessary?” This is a very common question and today we are going to take a look at some of the advantages of studio monitors.

Are studio Monitors Necessary?

If you are serious about creating professional radio or film ready mixes, then YES. Studio monitors are necessary to create professional quality mixes. If you just want some speakers for playback to listen to your own music and are not interested in creating professional level mixes, then NO. Studio monitors are not necessary.

What Is A Studio Monitor

A studio monitor is a purposely designed speaker and cabinet built to give you a flat frequency response during playback with minimum distortion and maximum frequency range.

History Of Studio Monitors

Studio Monitors were born out of necessity.

  • 1920’s – 1930’s: Studio monitors were primarily used to check for technical problems and unwanted noise. There really wasn’t big mixing consoles and individual tracks involved in creating an album or single. Full bands and singers were recorded live and had to be spot on. There were no re-do’s or individual tracks to edit and mix.
  • 1940’s – 1950’s: The first high-quality loudspeaker developed expressly as a studio monitor was the Altec Lansing Duplex 604 in 1944. Recording became more multi-tracking and overdubbing and less live recordings.
  • 1960’s – 1970’s: The BBC developed the LS3/5, a small speaker for near-field monitoring with a frequency response of 400Hz – 20kHz. These were the first nearfield monitors and later became the LS3/5A’s. JBL invented the 4320 and the 4310 near-field monitors that could sit on the monitoring console.
  • 1980’s – 1990’s: By the mid 1980’s near-field monitors had become a permanent fixture in recording studios. In the 1990’s soft dome monitors were developed to replace the harsher sounding horn-loaded drivers.
  • 2000’s: Universal acceptance of powered or active studio monitors with built in amplifiers and crossovers become the norm in recording studios. A trend toward mixing for translation to consumer stereo systems starts to grow.
  • 2010 – Present Day: High quality, powered, near-field monitors readily available to the public at affordable prices.
History Of Studio Monitors Chart

As you can see, studio monitors have come a long way since the 1920’s. We have come from recording full bands and singers live, to full blown multi track recording studios with high end studio monitors.

Are Studio Monitors Necessary? I think they are if you want to create a professional and high-quality mix that will translate well to all sound systems.

Are You Considering Studio Monitors For Personal Playback Or For Mixing?

If you are a musician and just want to hear your instrument played back through your computer, you may be considering studio monitors.

It could be that you are a guitar player, and your tube amp is too loud for your home setup, or you want to experiment with different effects and amp modelers available in a DAW software.

Maybe you’re a keyboard player and want to start working with midi, VST’s and plug-ins in your DAW software.

Either way, you need to be able to hear yourself through a pair of speakers.

Studio Monitors For A Home Recording Studio Setup

You may be asking yourself, “Do I Want To Spend The Extra Money For Studio Monitors?” It’s really not much more. Studio monitors are very affordable these days.

The money you spend on a pair of studio monitors is an investment. It’s an investment into the quality of your mix and the functionality of your home recording studio.

You already have a computer and are considering getting a set of speakers so you can hear yourself play right?

Your best move is going to be: Get an audio interface and a set of active studio monitors.

The natural progression for musicians recording music and playing music through their DAW is a home studio setup.

Why waste money on a pair of speakers that are not designed for mixing and will not translate well?

You know at some point you are going to want to create bass and drum tracks to go with your practice sessions. Then you’re going to need some good vocal tracks and some piano or keyboard.

My friend, you will be creating mixes.

Next thing, you will be trying to get your mix to sound good. Pretty soon you will want to try and play your mix on someone else’s system.

If you are mixing through studio monitors, you have a better chance that your mix will sound good wherever you play it because this is what good studio monitors are designed to do.

Good studio monitors are just part of the equation. It also takes a little skill and practice to create a good mix. Start yourself off in the right direction.

Hi-Fi Speakers VS Studio Monitors

You may be wondering, “What is the difference between Hi-Fi Speakers and Studio Monitors?” Let’s take a look.

Hi-Fi Speakers

A Hi-Fi speaker is designed to give the listener a High-Fidelity listening experience. These speakers are great for listening to your favorite albums and surround sound entertainment.

Hi Fi Stereo System

Hi-Fi Speakers are designed to give you extra bass punch, clear mid-range, and sizzling high end frequencies for an optimum listening experience.

Hi-Fi speakers are built with electronics that MODIFY the audio signal coming into them. The electronics are built into the speakers design to give you extra bass, scooped mids, and extra high-end frequencies.

Hi-Fi speakers are great for home theaters, dance clubs, car stereos, and most headphones. Yes, most headphones have Hi-Fi speakers.

Did you know that the music you listen to on a pair of Hi-Fi speakers was created on a pair of studio monitors? It’s True.

Studio Monitors

Studio Monitors are designed to give the mix engineer a flat frequency response.

A flat frequency response simply means the speaker is designed to play back exactly what is being put into it.

There is not supposed to be extra bass, scooped mids, and extra sizzle on the high end, built into the studio monitor electronics.

Studio Monitors are designed to give a true representation of what your mix really sounds like. You can’t make good mixing decisions if your speakers are lying to you.

A sound engineer can listen to their mix through a good pair of studio monitors and know that the bass needs more punch, the mids are honky, and the high end sounds dead.

Now they can find the problems in their mix and make adjustments because they can hear what is really happening in their mix.

The final result will be an amazing sounding mix that will sound Awesome on a pair of studio monitors and Hi-Fi speakers.

Video Credit: Marc Daniel Nelson

What Are Active Studio Monitors?

Active studio monitors are studio monitors with a built-in amplifier to boost the audio signal.

The unamplified audio signal comes into the active studio monitor and gets amplified by the studio monitor.

Amplification of the audio signal is necessary so it can be easily heard by the human ear and also allows for volume adjustment.

What Are Passive Studio Monitors?

Passive studio monitors are studio monitors without a built-in amplifier.

Passive studio monitors require a separate amplifier to power the studio monitors.

The audio signal gets routed to the separate amplifier and then the amplified signal gets sent to the left and right passive studio monitors.

Audio signal requires amplification so that it can be easily heard by the human ear and also allows for volume adjustment.

Studio Monitors Offer Optimal Listening Experience For Quality Mixing

Studio monitors are designed to give you optimal flat frequency response, prevent distortion, and a good overall dynamic range.

Active studio monitors can be two way or three-way speaker systems with built in crossovers.

Let’s look at some of the factors that make studio monitors great for monitoring your mixes.

Prevent Distortion

Studio monitors are built to withstand loud volume listening without distortion.

Yamaha HS8 Studio Monitors White

No need to listen too loud, you will damage your hearing.

Distortion is prevented in several ways. A good studio monitor housing should be built to resist rattling and excessive vibration noise.

Distortion is also prevented by using good quality speaker cones and tweeters.

Another thing that helps prevent distortion in active studio monitors are the built-in crossovers. The woofer cone and tweeter are only receiving frequencies that are optimal for the woofer cone or tweeter.

The woofer cone and tweeter are not fighting to try and reproduce frequencies they should not be working with.

Because the woofer cone and tweeter are optimized via the cross-over, you get a cleaner sound.

Provide Flat Frequency Response

Studio monitors are designed to give you play back with a flat frequency response.

This means there are no built-in electronics that are boosting the low end, mid-range, or the high end.

A Flat Frequency Response is important because you need to hear what your mix really sounds like in order to make good mixing decisions.

Frequency Range

Frequency range refers to the frequency range a studio monitor is able to reproduce.

Humans can hear or perceive frequencies from 20Hz – 20kHz. 20Hz is the bass or low-end of the frequency spectrum and 20kHz is the high end or treble.

If you are listening to studio monitors that can reproduce a full dynamic range of frequencies, the studio monitors will sound better and more natural.

Cross-Overs

Crossovers are designed to split or separate the incoming audio signal by frequency range and send the proper range of frequencies to either the woofer cone or the tweeter.

Crossovers ensure the woofer cone is only working with low end frequencies and the tweeter is only working with the upper frequencies. This also helps prevent distortion from the speakers.

In a three-way studio monitor the frequencies are sent to the woofer cone, mid-range cone, and the tweeter.

Studio Monitors VS Headphones

Today a lot of music is listened to on headphones and earbuds so why not just mix on headphones?

This is a pretty good question, and the answer is: You can mix on headphones.

Headphones are a great and inexpensive way to get started with mixing or just listening to your playback in your practice sessions.

Mixing With Headphones - Home Studio Setup

Headphone Advantages

  1. Headphones are not as expensive as studio monitors.
  2. Headphones are very portable.
  3. Headphones always sound the same.
  4. Headphones are not affected by room acoustics.
  5. Headphones are good to find small details happening in a mix.

Headphone Disadvantages

  1. Headphones can be hot and uncomfortable.
  2. Headphones do not provide a good flat frequency response.
  3. Headphones do not have an accurate stereo separation field.
  4. Headphones do not allow for natural room ambience.
  5. Headphones can cause listening fatigue.

These are some of the advantages and disadvantages of using headphones.

If you want to learn more about headphones vs. studio monitors, I have a complete article you can check out here.

You Want Your Mix To Translate Well On All Systems

You will eventually want to start listening to your mixes on other sound systems.

Sure, your mix sounds good in your studio room and on the speakers, you created your mix with.

How does your mix sound on other sound systems like your car stereo, earbuds, or a friend’s stereo system?

You will need a good set of studio monitors with a flat frequency response to be able to dial in a good mix that will translate well to other sound systems.

A good set of studio monitors is a great start for creating pro level mixes that translate well to other sound systems.

Good studio monitors combined with mixing experience is always a win.

The Size Of The Woofer Cone Gives You Different Frequency Response.

The size of the woofer cone on your studio monitors will give you different frequency playback capabilities.

One of the most popular size studio monitors for a home recording studio is the 5-inch studio monitor. This size monitor is popular because it’s not very big and easily fits on your desktop.

The size of the woofer cone is what determines the size of the studio monitor. So, if you have a 5-inch studio monitor this means your woofer cone has a 5-inch diameter.

Most 2-way studio monitors come in 5-inch, 6-inch, 7-inch, and 8-inch sizes. Of course, there are other sizes available.

A five-inch studio monitor can typically produce frequencies from around 50Hz – 25kHz.

An eight-inch studio monitor can typically produce frequencies from around 30Hz – 25kHz.

Studio monitors frequency response will vary by different manufactures.

What Is Frequency Response?

Frequency response is the speaker cone’s ability to reproduce the incoming audio signals frequencies for playback.

A 5-inch woofer cone can playback low frequencies in the range of 50Hz and up.

An 8-inch woofer cone can playback low frequencies in the range of 30Hz and up.

The cross-over built into the studio monitor will separate the low frequencies from the high frequencies and send the higher frequencies to the tweeter cone for playback.

Room Acoustics

Room acoustics refers to the way a room sounds or reacts to sound frequencies.

Let’s say you are on your cell phone having a conversation and walk into your bathroom. Notice how your voice sounds tinnier and has more echo.

Now let’s say you walk into your living room or bedroom while you are still having a conversation and notice how your voice sounds warmer and not as much echo.

These changes are caused by the way the sound frequencies are moving and reflecting in the room you are in.

A bathroom has tile floors, lots of reflective surfaces, and is a smaller room so the sound frequencies are very active and bouncing all over the place.

A living room or bedroom may have carpeted floors, more furniture, and larger space so the frequencies get absorbed more and have more room to move around in the room.

The way a room sounds and reacts to frequencies is known as room acoustics.

Studio Monitors and Room Acoustics

The room you place your studio monitors in will react to the sound coming out of your studio monitors.

Ideally, you want to control the amount of reflection and bounce that is happening in your studio room.

The frequencies that are bouncing off the walls, floor, and ceiling are all hitting your ears at different times and effect the way you hear and perceive sound.

Some of the large bass frequencies will build up in corners and create a rumbling sound. This is not what the bass frequencies sound like coming out of your studio monitors.

This is the sound your room is creating, and your ears and mind think the bass is mixed wrong.

Bass may be the biggest offender but, this can happen with all frequencies. It just depends on how the frequencies are reacting in the room you are mixing or listening in.

How To Control Room Acoustics

The best way to tame the frequencies bouncing and reflecting in your home studio is with acoustic panels.

Acoustic Panels

Acoustic panels are 2″ inch – 10″-inch-thick panels that you can hang on your walls and ceiling to absorb the frequencies bouncing around in your room.

Acoustic panels are not foam but are filled with rock wool or insulation and covered with a nice fabric.

The thicker the acoustic panel the better for absorbing a wider range of frequencies.

You will be amazed at how much more clarity you can hear in your mix when working in a treated room.

We will talk more about Acoustic Panels in another article. I just wanted to make you aware of the importance of acoustically treating your studio room. It makes a HUGE difference.

What Studio Monitors Should I Buy?

Choosing studio monitors for your home recording studio is an important decision.

Here are some things you should consider when choosing a pair of studio monitors for your home recording studio.

Size Of The Room:

When choosing your studio monitors think about the size of the room you will be using your studio monitors in.

You want to make sure you have a large enough monitor to cover your room but not be overpowering in your studio room.

If you are in a small size bedroom you may want to go with 5-inch studio monitors. If you are in a bigger room, you may want to go with 8-inch studio monitors.

Yamaha HS5 Studio Monitor Setup

There really is no hard and fast rule that determines what size studio monitor you should get. Just be aware that if you are working in a non-acoustically treated room, the frequencies are going to start reflecting in your room.

Some say smaller studio monitors are best for a small room and some say it really doesn’t matter. I think if you are working in an acoustically treated room, you can get away with using a bigger studio monitor.

Remember, the larger the woofer cone, the more bass frequency response your studio monitor can produce. Bass frequencies are notorious for building up in a small room and causing problems with your mix.

If you are new to mixing and you are in a small room, smaller studio monitors like 5-inch monitors may serve you better until you develop your ears more.

Others will say, start out on the studio monitor size that you want and learn to mix on them.

I believe you can start with larger studio monitors if you have some good acoustic treatment in your studio room. Acoustic treatment really is worth every penny if you are serious about creating solid mixes.

Budget:

Decide how much money you want to spend on a pair of studio monitors.

I do not recommend that you go with an ultra-cheap set of studio monitors. You will get what you pay for in most cases.

A good pair of 8-inch studio monitors will cost you somewhere in the neighborhood of $800 dollars. This is still considered an inexpensive pair of studio monitors.

Some studio monitors can cost $1,000.00 dollars each and easily more.

If you have the money for expensive studio monitors, they are a good investment. If you are new to creating mixes, spending thousands of dollars on studio monitors will not guarantee your mixes will sound better.

Good studio monitors and mixing experience will always be a winner.

Decide how much money you are willing to spend on a good pair of studio monitors, do a little research about the monitors you are considering and go with your decision.

Flat Frequency Response:

When choosing a pair of studio monitors it is important to choose studio monitors with a flat frequency response.

The flatter the frequency response the better when choosing studio monitors. Most manufactures will provide a graph showing the frequency response of their studio monitor.

A flat frequency response is important because you want to be able to hear your mix as it truly is.

You do not want extra bass, mids, or high-end boost built into your studio monitors. This will trick your ears and cause you to make poor mixing decisions.

Frequency Range:

Frequency range refers to the speaker’s ability to reproduce frequencies from 20Hz – 20kHz.

Look for a studio monitor that will reproduce the best frequency range and still has a flat frequency response.

A 5-inch monitor may only go down as low as 50-60Hz and an 8-inch monitor may go down to around 30Hz.

Both monitor sizes will have a tweeter and can produce around 25-35kHz on the high end.

Relevant Article: If you want to learn more about studio monitors and see some good choices for getting started, check out my article: The Best Budget Studio Monitors For Home Studios.

What Others Are Saying

Direct QuoteSource
“A studio monitor is a loudspeaker specifically designed for professional audio production applications. The main difference between a studio monitor and a basic speaker is the attention to precision. Studio monitors are built to produce a very flat frequency so that sound engineers can hear tiny details in a mix.”https://medium.com/@casciomusic/studio-monitors-101-2da3fa9bc4e9
“It’s possible to produce no matter how cheap the equipment, but the cheaper the equipment the more exponentially difficult it is. I produced on (nice) headphones for 3 years until I got a label offer. Shortly after I invested in speakers and it made the entire process notably more comfortable for me. If you have the money, I’d very strongly recommend investing in speakers.”https://www.reddit.com/r/audioengineering/comments/5lb8mc/are_studio_monitors_100_necessary_beginner/
“I guess that the important part is reference tracks. What I mean by that is: on whatever speaker you have, play a song that you know souds good or at least how you want your track to sound and compare it to your tracks on the same speakers and proceed to make your track closer to the reference track.”https://www.quora.com/How-important-are-studio-monitors-to-production
“Studio monitors are important in audio recording, mixing, and mastering. They produce clear, precise, and dynamic sound mixes, enabling you to identify any flaws in audio quality and correct them. Unlike standard speakers, they’re consistent, making them the best option in quality sound production.”https://homestudioexpert.com/9-reasons-why-studio-monitors-are-important/
“The short answer is yes. If you really want to take mixing seriously, then you’re going to need a set of studio monitors so that your mixes sound as good as they can possibly be.”https://homestudiorecordings.com/do-i-need-studio-monitors/
“Anybody with an affordable pair of studio monitors in a fairly non-reflective room already is at a massive advantage to the person mixing solely on consumer grade speakers and earbuds. It’ll get you 95% of the way there, and that my friends is called going for the big wins.”https://www.recordingrevolution.com/do-studio-monitors-even-matter/
“how are you expecting to gauge the quality of the sound if you are not playing it trough speakers that can play high quality audio? seems counter-intuitive to hamstrung the potential quality of a recording because you don’t want to pay a couple hundred dollars for some studio speakers. There is just a certain amount of capital that is required when recording.”https://music.stackexchange.com/questions/99328/are-studio-monitors-necessary-for-producing-tracks
“Sure, they’re important. If you can’t hear it, you can’t mix it. But if your mixes are good then don’t change based on someone telling you that you should.”https://gearspace.com/board/so-much-gear-so-little-time/428893-studio-monitors-important.html
“When mixing music for public consumption, degrees of success can vary wildly depending on the environment in which it takes place. This is the reason why professional mix and mastering engineers prefer to work in acoustically treated rooms with as flat a frequency response as possible, in order to produce the mix engineer’s ‘holy grail’ – an end result that sounds fantastic no matter where it’s played.”https://www.musicradar.com/news/headphones-vs-studio-monitors
“Beginner producers quite frequently make the mistake of using standard desktop speakers and disregarding the importance of studio monitors.”https://prostudiogear.com/why-are-studio-monitors-important/

Final Thoughts

Today we learned all about studio monitors. Are Studio Monitors Necessary? Yes, studio monitors are necessary if you want to produce pro level mixes.

Can I mix without studio monitors? Yes, you can mix on a pair of headphones or the speakers you have.

Your mixes will translate better once you start using a good pair of studio monitors. This does not mean you have to go out and spend a fortune on a pair of studio monitors.

Be sure and check out my article I mentioned above: The best budget studio monitors for home studios. This article will give you some good ideas to get you started.

If you enjoy writing, recording, and producing music, you are in the right place. I enjoy writing articles and sharing good information with you to help get you started.

Be sure and take some time to check out my website. There are a lot of great articles to help you out.

Please leave your questions and comments below.

Mitch@HomeRecordingStudioSetup.com

6 thoughts on “Are Studio Monitors Necessary?”

  1. Was not expecting such as thorough review on studio monitors. It’s obvious after reading your article, the importance of good quality sound monitors in the music production process. The way you explained the importance of good studios monitors in the studio, and how it translates to producing pro level mixes, convinced me to switch from headphones to studio monitors. Thanks for the heads-up on the best prices for home studio monitors. Reading your article has saved me a lot of time and money. Thanks

    Reply
    • Hi, Terry.  Studio monitors are one of the most important parts of our studios.  I’m glad you found the article helpful.

      You can mix with your headphones and studio monitors.  I have another article you may find helpful.  The Best Audio Interface For A Home Studio. It’s about good budget audio interfaces to go with your studio monitors.  Be sure and check it out.

      Reply
  2. I appreciate the thorough and technical explanation of why studio monitors are necessary to ensure that you are getting the professional-sounding results that you want. As musicians, when my sweetie and I first moved in together, we had a lot of extra gear and we were figuring out what could be consolidated, sold, upgraded, etc. I had some extra speakers available that I thought would physically fit into the space, and suggested we use those regular speakers for his studio recording setup (instead of his studio monitors). That’s when I learned about the very distinct purpose that studio monitors serve… and we found a way to keep the studio monitors where they belong. 

    Reply
  3. Hi Mitch … I first wanted to set up my own home studio back in the mid-70s and eventually set up a 4 track cassettes based system in about 1980 with hi-fi speakers for monitors. The speakers were the first part of the system I changed! Over the years my system became digital (through various phases) to a full-blown PreSonus system based around a Studiolive mixer and Studio One software. I loved that set-up because it was relatively easy to transport for location recording and later mixing in my home studio. This is a great introduction to the need for the right kind of speakers, and why. For me, it’s a trip down memory lane. 

    Reply
    • Hi Richard,  You have seen how much the recording process has changed over the years.  I think it is amazing at how much more affordable recording gear is today.

      PreSonus has some really great gear including studio monitors.  I personally use Studio One Pro DAW Software and think it’s one of the best DAWs.  I have a review article about Studio One Daw software that you might enjoy: PreSonus Studio One Review.  Be sure and check it out.

      Reply

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