Over the decades, the way people have consumed music has changed drastically. With new technologies being implemented continuously, the sound of music is constantly changing. The job of mixing engineers has always been to provide a link between musicians' minds and listeners' ears, and while the technology used to carry out the techniques is constantly changing, the major principles behind having multiple speakers have stayed the same.
Why do mixing engineers use multiple pairs of studio monitors? Many mixing engineers work with multiple sets of monitors of different types and sizes to simulate the breadth of speakers, earphones and headphones used by the listener to consume the music. This helps the engineer create a mix that will translate well to the many systems used by listeners.
In this article, we will discuss the ideas behind using different sizes of monitors and the idea behind using non-traditional monitors such as car stereos and Bluetooth earphones and how this changes the perception of the mix. We will also explore the positioning of monitors and why multiple monitors are used in different positions around the studio space.
The Benefits Of Using Multiple Pairs Of Monitors
In using different types of monitors, an engineer can change their perception of the track and get inside the mind and the ears of the average listener. The challenge of balancing a mix between multiple monitor systems improves core mixing skills such as equalization, compression, and level matching. The different monitors will respond differently to these changes within the mix and inform decisions made throughout the process.
As well as practical core skills using different speakers can also help improve creative mixing skills. The use of reverb and delay in various pairs of monitors will react in different ways, with some monitors exaggerating the effects greater than others. This is particularly true when the various pairs are spaced differently (wider spacing leads to greater perceived width and a bit less centre).
We can A/B test our mix by switching between our sets of monitors to get a different perspective of the mix. This helps with mix translatability, which is the greatest benefit of using multiple pairs of monitors to create a mix that sounds great on any system it may be played on.
To learn more about A/B testing and mix translatability, check out the following My New Microphone articles:
• A/B Testing & Its Importance In Mixing (With 5 Best Tests)
• Top 10 Tips To Improve Your Mix Translatability
Background On Different Sizes And Types Of Speakers
When considering different sizes of studio monitors, it's important to remember that different size cones in the tweeter and woofer of the monitors (if they are 3-way speakers, a mid-frequency cone may also be implemented) will affect the sound in different ways.
Each cone must oscillate at the desired frequency, with the woofer covering the low-end frequencies and the tweeter covering the high-end frequencies.
A larger cone can replicate lower frequencies as it can cover the distance needed. Smaller, lighter cones can replicate higher frequencies as they can vibrate at the frequency needed in the higher end of the spectrum.
The size of the cones will affect the frequency response, as will the crossover, which is the circuit implemented to split the incoming signal into driver-specific frequency bands effectively. These factors all play into the overall frequency response of a given pair of monitors. A different frequency response, combined with different placements, will give the engineer an alternative reproduction of the audio being mixed.
To learn more about crossovers and drivers, check out the following My New Microphone articles:
• What Is A Speaker Crossover Network? (Active & Passive)
• What Are Speaker Drivers? (How All Driver Types Work)
• Differences Between Mid-Range Speakers, Tweeters & Woofers
As for the different types of studio monitors, both traditional and non-traditional, the ideal for reference monitors is to have completely flat frequency reproduction to allow the engineer to have an impartial signal.
However, casual listeners will not be listening to the mix on studio-grade reference monitors. Rather, most will be listening to the music on the speakers in their car, their TV, or even out the speaker on their phone. Each of these examples will not treat the sound the same way.
In fact, every speaker will affect a sound differently since no two speakers have exactly the same frequency reproduction. It's imperative for mixing engineers to take this into account and listen to and analyze the mix on what an audiophile would call “bad speakers.”
Speakers follow a set of acoustic parameters used to measure the audible features of the speaker. The difference between just one of these parameters can result in a completely different sound from one speaker to the next. Let's move on to these parameters in the following section.
Total harmonic distortion (THD) is a measurement, in percentage points, of how much the frequency content of a signal distorts in a speaker. 0% total harmonic distortion means the sine wave signal input will be exactly equal to the one output.
Lower quality speakers will have a higher percentage of total harmonic distortion, leading to some of the harmonics of the signal being falsely coloured.
Frequency response refers to the frequency-dependent sensitivity of the speaker/monitor. Anything other than a perfectly flat response (practically impossible) will colour the signal. The frequency range of a speaker also has to be taken into account, with 20Hz-20kHz being most desirable.
Sensitivity is how loud the speaker will be when given a certain amount of amplifier power. Ideally, the multiple pairs of monitors should be set up so that the volume discrepancy isn't too great between the pairs. This will give the engineer a clearer sonic picture (louder often sounds better, subjectively speaking).
To learn more about speaker sensitivity, check out my article The Full Guide To Loudspeaker Sensitivity & Efficiency Ratings.
Using Multiple Pairs Of Different Sizes And Types
Like any hardware equipment in a studio setting, different monitors produce different sonic flavours to the mix.
Using monitors of different sizes is key to perceiving the mix in different ways, especially when it comes to the low-end.
Using a monitor with an 8″ woofer like the Yamaha HS8 (link to check the price on Amazon) will give a much more clear and concise low-end reproduction when compared to a monitor with a 5″ woofer monitor like the Yamaha HS5 (link to check the price on Amazon). This is confirmed in the specification of both speakers, with the HS8 reaching 38Hz and the HS5 reaching only 54Hz.
Many engineers use speakers that aren't traditional studio monitors. Outside of studio headphones like the Audio Technica m50x (link to check the price on Amazon), many engineers will use consumer equipment such as car speaker systems and Bluetooth earphones to test a mix and delve into the perception of the listener.
The most common and affordable implementation of this method used by studio engineers is to use a pair of “mini-monitors,” which are cheap desktop computer speakers, to see how a non-audiophile would perceive the mix.
Related article: How Do Computer Speakers Work? (Built-In & External)
Setting up the monitor section of a studio with speakers of different sizes allows the engineer to perceive the music in different ways and ensure a more translatable and universal mix. Divulging from your usual monitors will allow for a more complete way of mixing, being somewhat able to bypass the shortcomings of widely available consumer speakers.
Positioning Different Pairs Of Monitors
Another, arguably less important, reason is the positioning of multiple pairs of monitors in a studio configuration. What's meant by that is the placement of speakers is specially designed to push the sound of the 2 monitors directly to the head of the engineer using the “equilateral triangle” technique, whereby the monitors are equidistant from each other as they are from the mixing engineer.
As pairs of monitors are placed further apart (no two sets of monitors can occupy the same space at the same time), the triangle becomes more and more isosceles. So long as each monitor is the same distance to the engineer, the panning balance won't be thrown off. However, the centre may sound different, as will the sound wave interactions with the room.
Determining the perfect pair of studio monitors for your studio can make for a difficult choice. For this reason, I've created My New Microphone's Comprehensive Studio Monitor Buyer's Guide. Check it out for help choosing the best studio monitors for your setup.