Musical Instrument Speakers and Monitors Buying Guide - Best Buy Canada

January 06, 2013

Musical Instrument Speakers and Monitors Buying Guide

Whether you’re strumming a love song on your guitar or performing your rendition of Beethoven’s 5th symphony, you’ll want your music to shine through when you play and record it. With the right speakers and monitors, you can deliver amazing sound quality that is true to the natural tones of the music, perfect for mixing your next DJ set or recording your first album.

There are various types of speakers for different purposes. For watching an action flick on your HDTV, hi-fi speakers that immerse a room in surround sound are ideal. For listening to music on your laptop, the built-in speakers may be fine for the job. If you’re producing or recording music, however, you’ll want speakers that let you listen to your music accurately and closely. This type of speaker is called a monitor.

Monitors, also known as monitor speakers or studio monitors, are a type of speaker designed for audio production and recording purposes. They provide an accurate reproduction of sounds and tones, so you hear exactly what’s going on in your recording. With no distortion of sound, you’ll hear every little nuance of the song you just sang or the track you just mixed. Monitors are ideal for studio use because they can make it more obvious when your music needs tweaking and when it sounds its best.

Monitors vs. Hi-Fi Speakers

Monitors are ideal when you want a clear, unbiased picture of what your music really sounds like, rather than enhancing it. Hi-fi speakers, on the other hand, reproduce your music so it sounds at its best, sometimes by artificially boosting parts of it. They aren’t the best choice for the studio because you may not hear a true representation of your music, which makes it hard to tell where it needs adjusting. Monitors are also much more durable than hi-fi speakers and can withstand extremely loud sounds and physical impacts that may occur in the studio.

Monitor Basics

Frequency Response

Frequency response measures the range of frequencies or tones that a monitor can reproduce. The human ear can hear tones ranging from very low bass tones (20Hz) to the highest treble tones (20kHz), so choosing a monitor with this range is ideal. Monitors with a frequency range of 20Hz to 20kHz or similar will be able to play back the quietest whispers to the loudest bass-pumping tunes.

Drivers

Drivers create sound waves. Monitors contain a combination of drivers to be able to reproduce sounds at a wide frequency range. The various frequencies of sound are produced by different types of drivers:

  • Woofers: Like a dog’s bark, a woofer produces low-frequency sounds, usually ranging from about 40Hz to 1kHz. Subwoofers handle very low frequencies and mid-woofers handle mid-range frequencies, sometimes up to 5kHz. A woofer will emit low sounds like the heavy bass from your favourite techno song or the tuba playing in an orchestral number.
  • Tweeters: Like a bird’s chirp, a tweeter produces high-frequency sounds, usually ranging from about 2kHz to 20kHz. A tweeter will emit high treble sounds like a young female soprano singing an operetta or your son playing the recorder.

Cabinets

Cabinets enclose the drivers and are often made of durable, non-resonant materials such as medium-density fibreboard or plywood. This ensures sound reproduction is undistorted and makes monitors robust for studio use. Cabinets may also include rear- or front-firing ports, which optimize the low-frequency response and help maintain accurate bass reproduction. Curved edges will minimize sound diffraction and make it easier to find your monitor’s sweet spot, or optimal listening point

Types of Monitors

Active

Active or powered monitors have amplification built in and are a popular choice because you don’t need to buy an extra amplifier. They split audio signals into their appropriate frequency ranges and then send them to the integrated amps and drivers. You need to connect them to a power source to work.

Perfect for: Small spaces and portability, since there’s no need for an extra amplifier.

Passive

Passive or unpowered monitors don’t have integrated amps so they need to be connected to an external one. The audio signal is first amplified by the external amp before being sent to the monitor and its drivers. Passive monitors give you the flexibility of choosing an amp that suits your audio system but also add the bulk and hassle of an extra device.

Perfect for: Musicians, DJs and studio masters who already have their own amplifier.

Near-Field

Near-field monitors are meant to be placed close to you, about three to five feet away. The sound from the monitors will go directly to your ears rather than bounce off the walls or other objects in the room. This is good because you’ll experience true-to-the-source sounds rather than echoes or distorted audio that may occur when sound waves are reflected and absorbed by obstacles in the room.

Perfect for: Home studios and small spaces because of their compact size.

Bi-Amplified

Bi-amplified monitors are a type of active monitor that use one amp to channel the low-frequency sounds from the woofer and another to channel the high-frequency sounds from the tweeter. Having separate amps puts less stress on the system and results in clear, accurate sounds.

Perfect for: Intensive mixing and recording, as each amp can focus on its own frequency range and won’t use up the other’s resources.

The Sweet Spot

The placement of your monitors will contribute greatly to the quality of sound you receive from them. The point between your monitors where you hear the best tonal balance, detail and sound quality is called the sweet spot. To find the sweet spot for a two-monitor setup, a good rule of thumb is to place the monitors in a position so that you and the monitors form an equilateral triangle. If your monitors are five feet apart near the back wall, position yourself in the middle of these monitors, five feet away from each one. Place the monitors at head height and turn them inward slightly so they’re directed at your ears. Make sure the area between you and the monitors are free of objects that may reflect and absorb sound waves, as this will negatively affect sound quality. Because all monitor models are different, it’s best to experiment with their placement to hear the variations in sound from different positions. Some monitors will have wider sweet spots that are easier to find, whereas others will require more experimentation.

 

 

Accessories

Headphones

Whether you’re a DJ spinning a set at the club or a singer recording your first album, you’ll want to hear your music clearly without the interruption of outside noise. A good pair of headphones will maintain the clarity of your music and let you hear its natural tones:

Closed-back: These headphones enclose the ears and have ear cups with closed backs. The closed back blocks outside noise and let you focus on the sounds you want to hear, whether it’s your own voice singing or the drum and bass tune you’re mixing.

Over-ear: Also known as circumaural, over-ear headphones have ear pads that encircle your ears. This ensures a good seal and sound isolation, resulting in clear, noise-free sound. Closed-back circumaural headphones are ideal for professional mixing and monitoring.

On-ear: On-ear headphones, also referred to as supra-aural, press against the ears, rather than enclose them. They don’t completely block outside noise so they’re better for your everyday listening needs.

For more information about choosing the perfect headphones, check out our Buying Guide.

Speaker Stand

 

Speaker stands are useful when you simply need a place to put your gear. Using a professional stand will make it easier for you to place your speakers exactly where you want them and at the right height for your needs.

Speaker Stand Adapter

A speaker stand adapter plate attaches to your speaker and connects to a speaker stand. If you have a stand that doesn’t include a mount, get an adapter plate to put your speaker onto.

Best Buy

Take the Next Step

Whether you want to set up a home recording studio or take your DJ career to the next level, you can count on Best Buy to have what you’re looking for. With speakers, monitors and accessories from popular manufacturers like KRK, M-Audio, Samson and Yamaha, Best Buy offers a great selection to suit your needs.

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