Nearfield Monitors – What to listen for
With more people than ever producing music from home (or away from purpose designed acoustic spaces), demand for high quality nearfield monitors has never been greater. Positioned up close to the listener and at relatively low volume, the impact of imperfect room acoustics is reduced and a more accurate representation of the recorded sound should be presented.
However, from a design perspective that presents a considerable set of challenges. At low levels and up close, the listener still needs to be able to accurately discern detail and low end without straining their ears, (imagine you’re working at home late into the night on a club mix and the neighbours are in – the more you’re straining to hear the detail the more tired you’re getting and the less objective your mixing becomes – end result on playback the next day; disappointment).
And not all nearfields are created equally so, what should you be looking for in a high quality nearfield? Budget aside, here’s some suggestions:
Consistency at low and high volume
Don’t just demo them cranked up, demo at the lowest working level you’re likely to use to see if the sound remains consistent. Can you still hear the detail without straining, is the low end discernible or has it vanished completely? Some speakers need to be pushed harder than others to hit their sweet spot and if that level is above your comfortable working level then they may not be the right choice for the way you need to work. At the other end of the scale, if you have a treated room and you like to crank things to feel the music – do they still sound as good or do they start to feel pushed/strained?
Workable low end extension in a small footprint
The laws of physics may be bent but not broken when it comes to low end in small speakers. You might not expect thunderous sub bass from a 6”woofer but, some nearfield designs are capable of putting out significantly punchy bass in a small footprint. Speaker size, amplifier power, cabinet construction, porting or transmission line designs all have varying impacts on the amount of bass you can squeeze out of a diminutive package but, ensure it is the speaker you’re hearing and not bass reinforcement being caused by poor room acoustics, the proximity of walls or vibration through the surface the nearfield is placed on.
Let’s face it – you’re likely to spend far too many hours in your life sat in front of these things so can you work with them for any extended period of time without feeling fatigued? What fatigues one person may not fatigue another but, one universal irritant is harsh high end transients (think the guy sat next to you on the train needling your nerves with syncopated hi hat patterns). So, when you demo a pair of nearfields, as well as listening to your favourite tracks try some program material that is rich in high end transients and take regular silence breaks. If you feel “relieved” at each break you probably won’t find them comfortable to work on for hours at a time unless you plan on avoiding such music at all costs. Conversely, if the music you produce contains significant high end transients are they clear and is the nearfield presenting them crisply without any sense of dragging?
Good translation to other systems (the studio mains, club pa, the car, buds etc etc) is critical, particularly if you’re mixing on nearfields. The reality is there will always be a degree of difference when playing back on different speakers/in different spaces – it is how much of a difference and what your objective is that is important. Some nearfields designs can flatter or hype a sound (useful if you’re writing music and want a creative vibe going but less useful if you’re mixing and looking to make accurate decisions that translate in the outside world), others can deaden it causing a mix engineer to overcompensate in certain frequency areas. How hard do you have to work to adjust levels/panning/eq to cater for the known weaknesses of your nearfields so they translate well? If it’s second nature to you and your mixes translate well (NS10 aficionados step forward), then all is well and good. But if it’s not then a more accurate nearfield may be a better option.
Here at Funky Junk we have the finest selection of Nearfield monitors for you to compare and work out what you really need to hear in your speakers. With ATC loudspeakers, APS, Neumann, PMC, Proacs and Quested monitors on permanent display and plenty more avaialable on request there is no better place to compare monitors than at our Hornsey road demo facility.
Book a nearfield monitor demo/shootout here.
Klasik 2-way active nearfields, affordable and pack a might punch for the bucks.
Monitors from space, on earth.
The excellent compact nearfield monitors from Neumann, great little reference or space saver monitors.
PMC’s popular active monitor, the Result6 provide clarity and definition for a whole range of recording situations.
Extremely compact 2-way active nearfields, great for smaller rooms, and can pack a bigger punch by adding a Quested sub.
To view our full range of monitors click here.