Keith Everette Smith

Producer, Songwriter, Multi-Instrumentalist, Music Director

Monitors and listening environment

Hey gang. I’ve been asked recently about my preference in monitors. GOOD QUESTION!

Your monitoring environment is extremely important. It’s how you hear the music you create. You are taking a huge gamble when you produce/mix without good monitoring. Without good monitoring how will you know that what you are recording is accurate? How will you know if the bottom end of your mixes are punchy? Will your mixes translate? YOU WON’T KNOW.

OK, so I’m playing up the scenario a little bit for effect. The above is true, yes, but obviously what is MOST important is that you know your gear and how it sounds. Crummy speakers can be used to mix if you know how they respond. I’m sure you’ve heard someone tell you that your car is very important to your mixes (or your ipod in this modern day). The reason is that your car is most likely where you listen to the most music. Your ears recognize a good sounding mix in that environment. I heard of a mixer who actually owned a radio transmitter with a radio-type compressor set to the input. This engineer would play a song and transmit it to his car stereo… he felt that the best way to understand the way a mix would translate on the radio was to hear it on the radio! ha! Pretty crazy, huh?

Here’s a little help for purchasing monitors…

1) go to a music store or local studio and try out some monitors!!! Use YOUR ears to find monitors that suite your personality. I don’t like the same monitors that everyone else necessarily likes. Bring a few CDs that you know intimately. This will help you hear the differences in each monitors as it relates to music you know well.

2) get recommendations from other engineers… though using your own ear is most important, the experience of others can help you along the way. Russ Fowler recommended KRK V4 monitors to me a few years ago. He and Mike Clark (recently passed away… he was the owner of the famed “Southern Tracks Studio” in Atlanta) went to guitar center and both loved these. I eventually tried them and then purchased a pair and added a small 10" sub to add a touch of low end.

3) consider your style… R&B music can call for a different type of monitor than rock music. Rock music is rugged and midrang-y. R&B has lots of highs and extreme lows. If you are purchasing a monitor for R&B or electronic music you’ll need monitors with a good low end and highs that don’t fatigue. If you’re buying for rock, something like NS-10’s may be perfect for coming up with a raw edgy mix.

4) monitors should sound the same at all volume levels. Some monitors have a volume “sweet spot” where the drivers are activating the cones correctly on at certain volumes. The best monitors are ones that sound good at all volume levels.

5) good monitors should also have a decent sized stereo image “sweet spot.” This will happen when the monitors are positioned correctly and if the monitors are built properly. You want to be able to move around your desk without having the sound change a ton.

6) good low end - I personally believe that mixing is best accomplished with a sub. It’s only with a sub woofer that I can understand what is really going on down in the extreme low end of the mix. Mixes are done without subs, sure, but I believe the mixes with the best low end are done with monitors with good low end.

7) accurate mids - “hyped” monitors are not good monitors. Small speaker component surround-sound systems have taught us to hear music with highs and lows only. This is not a good thing for music mixing. The mid-range in your monitors should be present and accurate.

8) smooth high end - You’ll likely spend hours upon hours in your studio. The worst thing you could do is fatigue your ears before you’re tired of working. Make sure the high end of your monitors is smooth and even.

9) passive or active - It seems that most monitors these days are “active” meaning they have amplifiers built into the monitor. This is great! It insures that the amp is perfectly matched to give the right amount of power to each speaker. If you’re looking for a passive speaker (like NS-10’s) you’ll need to purchase an amp too. An amp should have plenty of power to handle the speaker. Too little power and you can actually blow the speaker.


MY MONITOR SETUP….

Mackie 824 Monitors attached to JBL 4300 sub
KRK V4 Monitors with Tapco 10" sub
Sharp Desktop Stereo (from John Carl.. thanks John)

not setup right now..

JBL 4300 Monitors with matching sub

OTHER GREAT MONITOR COMPANIES…

Adams
DynAudio
Blue Sky
Yamaha NS10 with Bryston 4B amp
Barefoot (if you got too much money to spend)



TIP: do most of your instrument rides (especially vocals) on small monitors at lower volumes. It is easiest to hear balance issues at low volumes.

TIP: double check your low end (kick and bass in relation to the mix) on small speakers (this will let you know if you’re gonna blow someone elses speakers with your mix).

TIP: put your mix up on the big speakers to WOW the client.


Have fun SHOPPING!