Music Industry Advice: Professional Sound on a Moderate Budget

The other school of thought approaches their speaker selection in the opposite fashion. Professionals on this contradictory, almost “dark-side” of the speaker selection debate prefer their monitors to be enhanced in the mid-rage, but also limited in the upper and lower frequencies of the band. This may seem counterintuitive…why would I intentionally buy speakers that will smear my mix? The answer is in translation.

Many passive speakers require much more work to achieve a balanced, dynamic mix. The circuitous frequency response of the driver forces the engineer and producer to finesse the mix until it finally crosses the professional threshold.  In short, it takes much more work to make a mix sound good on curvy, passive speakers. The extra effort dedicated to mixing with these types of speakers does not go unrewarded.

FeatureArt3A jargon phrase in the mixing community is to say that mixes always “translate up,” meaning that if the mix sounds good on small, curvy speakers it will most certainly sound good on anything from a laptop to a dance club. This is one reason why certain music professionals subscribe to this particular methodology. For me personally, I prefer the passive speaker method, but decide which is best for you as you approach your new recording space.

After so much laboring over speaker selection, it’s important to understand what happens in the room after the signal leaves the speakers. If there is a dark art of audio, studio acoustics would hold the title.

The number one enemy of a small recording studio (under 30 feet long) is the standing wave. Standing waves occur when long, low frequency waves don’t have enough space to fully develop and dissipate inside of a room. These waves bounce off of hard boundaries such as floors and walls, then reflect back upon themselves causing frequency builds and cancellations at the listening position. As a result, an acoustically untreated studio creates a totally false bass picture, hindering the mix engineer’s ability to decide the balance of important instrumentation such as a kick or bass guitar.

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Build or purchase acoustic panels stuffed with material that possesses a high absorption coefficient in the low and low-mid frequency range (LA Sound Panels makes great products). Set the listening position 33-38% into the control room (not in a corner or against a wall) and place the acoustic panels on both side walls near the speakers. These two panels will absorb and control first reflections. Next, place two additional panels on the same horizontal plane as both speakers against the far wall. These panels will absorb low frequency waveforms and prevent them from standing on top of themselves at the listening position. Finally add the classic studio couch between the two far panels. This will not only act as a place for clients and musicians to rest, but will also absorb even more of those pesky low frequency waves.

Project studios with live-end-dead-end or traditional isolation construction (vocal booth or live room) have to consider one more element of output: a monitor station. Devices like the Presonus Monitor Station v2 ($300) can host multiple sets of sources, route those sources to different speakers, accept auxiliary inputs, route cues and even provide a talkback solution. A monitor station is an inexpensive way of increasing the professionalism and functionality of your project studio.

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