How to audition the best studio monitors
With over twenty years of experience providing clients with monitor demonstrations, we have put together this handy guide with a few tips worth keeping in mind when auditioning new studio monitors.
There are many differing opinions online about the ‘best studio monitors’ which can lead to confusion, in reality, your buying choice is going to depend on what is most suitable for you and your circumstances, so don’t be afraid to trust your judgement. Firstly, you will want to contact a reputable dealer, who will have various models available to audition and excellent facilities, like a dedicated room. There is a list of U.K retailers with great facilities and knowledgeable staff, located on our dealer page (www.os-acoustics.co.uk/wheretobuy)
Even if you have done some research, or taken advice from friends and colleagues it is still a good idea to speak to the sales representative and let them know how you will be using the monitors, give them info like the size of your room, style of music you are working with and a rough idea of your budget. Remember, a good sales representative is there to help you make the right choice and may have some suggestions that you hadn’t considered.
We have seen a lot of retailers move towards high-quality streaming services like Tidal, but it is best to check what playback equipment is available and make plans accordingly. Have an idea of some music you would like to use. We always recommend a few tracks covering various genres, some music you know exceptionally well, a few tracks that are well produced and of course, some of your music if you wish. A busy film score will highlight different aspects of loudspeaker performance than a minimal house track. An orchestral score will help to highlight differences in tone, while a dance music track might reveal more about a speakers transient response and punch.
One of the most important things to check before spending time switching between monitors is that the levels are properly calibrated. The frequency response of the ear is not linear across different listening levels. Hopefully, you already know about Fletcher Munson Curves or Equal Loudness Contours, if not there are plenty of resources online to check out. Therefore, for a fair test, the loudspeakers should be level matched adequately enough so that you are hearing the difference between the loudspeakers and not the non-linear frequency response of the ear. There are some free apps for your phone that are good enough to match levels if the shop hasn’t already done so for you.
Try auditioning the same passage of a song across the various models you are evaluating. Believe it or not, we have seen people use a completely different song for each set of monitors they are auditioning, which is not going to be helpful.
Once you have narrowed down your choice to a couple of different models that you like, it is worth considering where they are in the room compared to each other. The effect of room acoustics is more influential than most people realise. If you can, try switching the position of the monitors, you might be surprised at the amount of difference this makes, especially if one set is in a corner where the low frequencies will be reinforced and the other set is further away from reinforcing boundaries. Comb filtering effects and the way a speaker drives the room modes will differ when located in different physical locations.
Lastly, see if the store will let you try your favourite two monitors in your studio space, where the room acoustics will make them behave differently. You will get a very good idea of how a monitor sounds in a demonstration room compared to the other models, but different rooms can make a big difference to the overall tonal balance. It is always a good idea to try them in your mixing or listening environment as a final check.
What works in a large professional room, is going to be different to what works in a smaller home set-up, so have confidence in what you are hearing rather than thinking I have to use ‘X’ product because my favourite producer or studio uses them.
Whatever your budget, you absolutely must include acoustic room treatment. There are some useful, inexpensive software calibration systems on the market. Try to think of these as the icing on the cake. Ideally, we want the room to be as accurate as possible first.
Written by Tom Osborne – Founder of O.S Acoustics