March 27, 2023 at 2:33 pm #5590
To me, there are four categories of monitors: Mastering, mixing, reference and tracking.
Mastering needs to be full range with very flat response and no dips.
Mixing needs to be full range with no midrange dips.
Reference is to check balance compatibility because really flat monitors can sound ok with many barely acceptable balance choices. The thing is you really don’t want to equalize based on what you are hearing on a reference monitor.
Tracking requires the same capability as mixing with the additional ability to survive high playback levels and accidents such as a dropped microphone.
March 28, 2023 at 10:45 am #5593
OK. Bob O., you define frequency response and frequency range as helping to distinguish categories. I would add headroom and peak SPL capability to help distinguish. In other words, a “mastering” loudspeaker/amplifier system should have significant headroom so that it doesn’t squash the peaks. One time I did a mix at a studio bringing a pair of decent “audiophile quality” speakers and amp to the studio. But when I got back to the mastering studio I discovered the material needed a bit of compression — the speakers I used for monitoring during the mixing session were self-compressing.
Which brings me to the question of overlap in your definitions: Can a mastering loudspeaker be used for mixing? You bring up the concept of a “reference” loudspeaker. In your concept, is that a loudspeaker to be used to check balance to ensure that instruments which are at acceptable level when mixing on high quality loudspeakers are at acceptable level/balance when checking on the “reference” loudspeaker? Just to check, but not to mix to the reference speaker, as you point out.
Personally I’ve not run into that situation: if I want an instrument to be subtle in a mix that means by definition it will be even more subtle and maybe even disappear if listening on inferior systems. My client of course will listen and if they have issues with something being too soft or subtle they’ll tell me.
March 28, 2023 at 6:26 pm #5598santiago_estradaParticipant
Hey there Bob Katz and Bob Olhsson,
This is a very interesting topic to me, thank you for sharing your knowledge.
I completely agree with Bob Katz about headroom and peak SPL capability. I’ll add good impulse response to the characteristics of a mastering loudspeaker/amplifier system as well.
Something that’s not very common to say but very important is consistency, consistent in their sound quality over time.
I’m very curious about Bob Olhsson answer about “Reference monitors” this would be like a mix cube? Is it possible for you to give examples of “Reference monitors”
For me it is weird the idea of “Mixing Speakers” “Tracking Speakers” since to me everyone working professionally in audio should be using a mastering grade loudspeaker/amplifier system in a well treated room.
What I understand about this different type speakers is that for example in tracking you want to feel in the chest the kick drum and things like that? But isn’t that counterproductive if the system is not accurate?
Now for mixing, I don’t have any idea why you wouldn’t like to have the most accurate system.
To me a completely perfect, most accurate audio loudspeaker/amplifier system would be like a perfect white canvas where you can take all the decisions properly instead of having a poor treated canvas with tone imperfections. A bit weird the example but hope you get it guys.
Really happy about this forum, looking forward to learn a lot.
To give a little bit of background about me, I’m 25 years old from Guatemala and have been doing mastering as my full time job for 3 years now. I work in the box and my mastering mastering headphone/amplifier system is a Chord Mojo and the Audeze LCD X with a silver cable and something that helps a lot in mi opinion I use this headphones without the grills, they’re completely open. I’ve been using them for 5 years now and can work perfectly with hem.
April 1, 2023 at 12:06 pm #5656
Dear Santiago: I’m glad you’ve been successful with headphones. Are you using any kind of crossfeed correction? Otherwise you’ll be hearing a much-too-wide image in your phones. When my mastering speakers went down for about 4 days I had my incredible Audeze CRBN’s take over with a Weiss crossfeed circuit. I have developed an EQ for the CRBNs that emulates the tonality and performance of the speakers, and I nailed the few masters that I had to produce with the CRBNs and the Weiss crossfeed compensation. I still wouldn’t advise headphones for mastering, but the experience taught me that in an emergency I could adapt and get dependable results.
March 28, 2023 at 6:57 pm #5599
I think headroom is essential for all monitor applications and not just mastering.
Traditional “reference” monitors are Auratones and Yamaha NS-10s. Some people just use computer speakers. The goal is for the mix to work musically on both the full range and the reference monitors. Typically, the vocal balance and riding the vocal level do better using reference monitors. You need to check at a variety of monitoring levels. The classic method for vocals is to slowly turn the monitors up until the first thing you hear is the vocal.
April 1, 2023 at 12:14 pm #5657
Heya Bob O! Let’s talk some about headroom in respect to distinguishing “categories” of loudspeakers. I personally believe you can get away with loudspeakers with less than superior headroom for mixing. If I recall, for a time, Eric S. was using Genelec 8040A fairly close and not too loudly for mixing. So he did not exercise the known headroom limitations of that small active loudspeaker. Of course, Eric could get a great mix with two tin cans and a piece of string 🙂
But my point is that I personally agree that GOOD headroom is important for mixing speakers. But I also say that SUPERIOR, the best headroom is critical for mastering speakers. In my opinion, mastering engineers should seek to use loudspeaker/amplifiers that do not self-compress at performance monitor levels. Short term Peak SPL capability of, say, over 110 dB at less than 1% THD from 100 Hz up, and less than, say 5% from 50 Hz down. Which is very rare in the mixing world, but I think should be de rigeur in the mastering world. I think for many genres, short term peak SPL of, say, 100-105 dB at less than 1% THD from 100 Hz on up is acceptable headroom for a mixing speaker. Less than 5% from 100 Hz on down in that case. Anything better is desirable but not essential for most mixing genres, in my opinion.
March 28, 2023 at 11:41 pm #5600Diego PolancoParticipant
Hi there, thanks for this discussion space, this is my first participation, but I have been reading some post and is definitely a better place to talk (or write) than social networks.
This post is spatially interesting to me, because I’m looking for buying my first “Mastering Monitors” but I’ve found this task very hard considering that I live in Panama, here are not any possibilities to try pro audio gear, so my research until now is based on specs and sadly on reviews, and I mean sadly because of this:
I have done some amateur mastering, I’m not an actual “Mastering Engineer” but i hope someday to work professionally. In the meantime, I am electronics engineer and I’ve been working the last 15 years in the telecommunications industry. In telecoms we choose equipment based on specs, and that is because almost every aspect in this industry is standardized so when you read the data sheet of an equipment you can be sure that these data were obtained under the same circumstances than the data form other manufacturers. This makes possible to take decisions based purely on objective parameters.
What I’ve found in the audio industry is that subjective component is what seems to govern. Each manufacturer gives their own specs measured as they liked or in the most of cases as they make look better their products.
In other cases, the manufacturers give almost no data about the specs of their products, just marketing blabla… This is the case of a renowned speakers maker, that seems to be the tendency in mastering these days, ATC… To me is frustrating to can’t see actual specs and testing data of a speaker that costs around 11k each one!
This decision making is harder when you see the “Top Engineers Charts” (like jaxsta) and you do some investigation about some of the mainstream mastering engineers and find that some of them use “cheap” monitors like Focal’s 6Be.
Probably I’ll have to spend a couple of thousands traveling just to try speakers in an acoustic unknown environment, due to the lack of standardization that could make possible objective analysis.
Best regards and thanks again.
PD. Sorry if my redaction is not the best, I’m not english native speaker.
April 1, 2023 at 12:22 pm #5659
Diego, I sympathize with your situation. Glad that you’ve found a “safe home” here away from social media.
Specs for loudspeakers can be very helpful, but won’t tell you everything you need to know about how they sound.
In your case, I recommend, as much as possible, try to go to some place where you can audition the speakers that you are considering, in a good environment. Also, I think we have another thread here about brands and models where you could ask specific model-based questions.
April 12, 2023 at 9:51 am #5764Phil KoenigParticipant
I have found this site useful in comparing speaker specifications based on measurements. Give it time to load; it is a bit slow.
The forum is generally focused on objective measurement over subjective opinion, so the signal-to-noise ratio of the discussions are better than most forums. Bit there is a fair bit of noise since a large number of audiophiles are present.
I prefer mixing and mastering on system with speaker+room response as flat as possible and minimal group delay. But the whole speaker and room thing is a huge topic on its own.
April 24, 2023 at 10:18 pm #5793Diego PolancoParticipant
Hi Phil! Thank you, this page is very useful, at least the objective analysis (the subjective analysis seems a little inconsistent to me) but in general terms is great for to have a performance reference. Would be great if they could test more than just one unit of each monitor model, to get average values that represent more the model itself and less one specific monitor but I understand that they aren’t an official institution or company.
March 30, 2023 at 3:22 pm #5623Jim HomanParticipant
How do you feel about adding a subwoofer to NS10s or similar reference monitors?
March 30, 2023 at 3:57 pm #5624
I can understand why someone used to NS-10s sitting on a large console would want to add a subwoofer when they no longer have them on the console, but they are no substitute for full range monitors.
As for mastering engineers, I’m unaware of anybody using only inexpensive monitors. Some have reference monitors so they can hear what the mixer had in mind.
March 30, 2023 at 6:51 pm #5628Gregory PasticParticipant
Interesting topic. In addition to the characteristics already stated, what about dispersion? I describe my mastering monitors (Genelec 8361A) as ‘selfish’ because there is just one sweet spot! And the sound stage depth and width imaging is very precise from that sweet spot. Most of the mix monitors I have heard have a bit more dispersion, and home audio speakers generally have a lot of dispersion to accomodate multiple listeners sitting dispersed around the room. I have used a binocular analogy to describe it to non-technical friends: I can ‘see’ the hairs on a fly with my perfectly focused binocs, and you can still see it’s a fly, but lacking precise details, with your slightly ‘out of focus’ binocs. Sure, I have a few crazy audiophile friends (the kind that spend $5 k on interconnects…) who have point source speakers focused on a single listening position, but that’s not the norm in home audio.
April 1, 2023 at 12:32 pm #5660
I think the more common term you are talking about is “horizontal polar pattern with respect to frequency”. I’m quite surprised to learn that you find the 8361A makes a narrow sweet spot. Are you using them vertically? I think vertical will help. But after all, the main driver is coaxial, which has among the best neutral polar patterns compared to most current multidriver designs.
Ironically, my incredible Dynaudio M5P mastering speakers are also “one person speakers”. Their polar response with respect to frequency looks like a Christmas tree as my friend Thomas Lund likes to say. And I have to agree. Despite the incredible vertical layout of the drivers. Must be something to do with diffraction or not optimum baffle width? It’s something I have to live with. I can put one other listener behind me and looking over my shoulder and they will hear more or less a good stereo image. But anyone sitting beside me gets one side dominant, and yes, the speakers are toed in.
But to repeat, honestly, I think the Genelec 8361A should have a much wider sweet spot than you are describing, if you are using them vertically.
March 30, 2023 at 7:25 pm #5630
I like that way of describing dispersion. My Duntechs certainly have a tiny sweet spot with incredible focus. For tracking, I’d want it pretty wide and the same for mixing if I have clients attending my sessions.
April 11, 2023 at 8:05 pm #5763Gregory PasticParticipant
Thanks for the correct terminology Bob. I’ll use “horizontal polar pattern with respect to frequency” to be more precise. I’ve heard many speaker designers refer to the “dispersion characteristics” in conversations with laypersons. I guess that’s easier to grasp…LOL. Yes, my 8361A are vertical. Tweeters are ear level, when I’m seated, and they are 63.5 inches apart, center to center, and 56-57 inches to my ears, slightly toed in so they cross about a foot behind my head at about 63.5 inches from the tweeters. And I experience the same thing as you described with your Dynaudio: One person can stand behind me and still get a decent stereo image, but as soon as you go an inch or two off centre it’s not so good. :-))
April 1, 2023 at 7:16 am #5652JediJokerParticipant
I believe our host has stated in the past that one of the major differences between a mixing and a mastering monitor would be intended placement and listening position. Mix rooms (and recording control rooms) are often constrained in space such that the engineer will almost always be working in the near field, or at most mid field, whereas mastering is best done in the mid or far field. Additionally, mixing often requires use of more equipment—and therefore more furniture—than mastering, so having greater in-built boundary compensation features may be desirable.
As for everything else, I would posit that flat anechoic magnitude response, phase coherence, low distortion, minimized resonances, constant directivity, good headroom, and high peak SPL should be desired for all monitors—and, by extension, all indoor loudspeaker systems. Dispersion may be down to individual engineer preference, but I would imagine no one wants a laser beam and no one wants an omnidirectional speaker.
I can understand the appeal of a “reference” monitor for mastering, but as magnitude response (i.e. tonality) is the most salient aspect of a near field monitor, one should be able to satisfactorily approximate one monitor on another using EQ—especially if the latter meets most of the criteria specified above. You can even use room impulses and convolution to hear as close an approximation to what the mix engineer heard as possible, plus emulate any number of other playback systems and locations. Only one loudspeaker monitoring system should be necessary, but I would add a headphone system, the listening experience of which can’t be emulated on loudspeakers.
April 1, 2023 at 9:40 am #5654
“Reference” and near field are not the same thing. A “Reference” is mid-range with minimal low-end. It’s used to perfect the midrange balance.
April 13, 2023 at 10:56 am #5770
Another way I’ve made a “reference” at times without needing a dedicated reference speaker is to stand just outside the studio door and listened to the master (or mix). Also, playing things softly can be very revealing: What sort of details do you miss? What details remain salient?
I will turn down a questionable soft passage in the monitor, to see if the vocal still comes through and you can understand the lyrics.
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