Having sold dozens of pairs during my time at a distribution company and visiting approximatly 300+ studios in Switzerland and south-Germany, I have some experience with people (more important then the speaker itself) and acoustical environements.
Monitoring is fun. At least if you look at the various ambitious marketing-strategies from different manufactureres. You go into the store (the digital or the real one), ask for monitor xy which you decided for because of online reviews and test-articles on SOS or other sources and buy a pair. If you are advanced, you listen to them in the store (that requires a real store, they are somehow disapearing, maybe because real people work there and the audio professionals are more into click and buy and selfeducation these days + the cheapest price.. I don’t know.. ). The professional requests 2 or more pairs to listen to them at home/in his perfectly treated studio under critical conditions (erm.. ok.. we know how most studios look like these days including mine.. ).
Assuming you are the click and buy type of guy, you paid money for the new monitors, you get them, you place them where the old ones where and you start listening to your favourite tracks (mostly in mp3 of course). You find the music kikin ass more on the new speakers then on the old ones (or maybe you just started with your studio-experience, so you have no comparison at all). You open your favourite internet browser and start spaming all the forums with your wisdom on how great they sound and they MUST sound great, because everyone else told you they sound great and you paid real money for them.
If you are the advanced guy, you trust the store, the critical listening you’ve done in the studio-enviornement which you haven’t been before and mostly it’s inside a small cabin treated with Auralex or a smiliar fantastic product (yes, they want to sell that to you too) and you will mostly buy the pair, that has A: the biggst margin on the product (means the store earns the most), B: the B-stock, C: the brand, that the store has to push, as they get more discount on their next order if they sell more.
The professional listens to the speakers for 2 weeks and starts mixing/mastering/recording on them. He also moves the speakers around in his studio to find the best position for them. He then checks, which mix translates better outside of his studio. Decision-making: are the speakers translating well in my room, do the speakers reveal what I want them to reveal, do they translate good to the outside of my studio (reality check), are my mixes done faster, are they tiring? One important aspect is, that a lot of those people buy 2 pairs for future replacement, or check if they can replace the tweeter/woofer in some years. If it’s a known brand, the replacement parts will be available in several years from now, if it’s esoteric, they probably buy 2 pairs. Then the pro starts working again and doesn’t look back. He will probably be too busy to post in online forums or has a different agenda.
They tell you that this speaker xy is the most accurate speaker ever, that they have the most revealing midrange and the best topend humanity has heard so far.
At the end of the speaker tunnel, you have to know the following things:
- it’s a closed, open or bass-reflex/passiv radiator/bipol design
- it uses different tweeters (soft dome, berillium, aluminium…)
- if it’s a 3 way design, you get a separate midrange speaker and 2 crossovers
- it uses different woofers (paper, paper with adhesive component, GFK/CFK style membranes and therefor different kind of magnets which interact with the movement of the membrane
- it uses different amps (class A, AB, D, G)
- it uses different crossovers (analog, digital, filter steepness.. another universe of proaudio opens here)
- it uses different compensation mechanisms (DSP: FIR, Analog controlled => check PSIaudio AOI, or simple digital EQs)
… and of course, the guy who plans and execute the build of the speakers.
These days it’s more common to build a speaker up to a pricepoint then to build the best there is. Assuming you buy an Axxx speaker (German brand), the chassis is coming from Chinese factory (which is not a bad thing but safes cost), the amps the same and I am not sure where exactly the speakers are made. So if you buy a pair of S3xx which retails for about 3360 euro pair, the store gets about 35%, the distributor gets 20% and the manufacturer gets 20%. Someone needs to build the speakers, so at the end of the chain, the speakers are worth 400 to 500 euro a pair just in parts.
Again, this is not a problem. Someone had to develop those speakers. That’s a lot of time and the guys need to be paid accordingly.
If you look at brands like ATC, PSI (they built speakers for Studer and other manufactureres in the 70 and 80s) the chain-discount is less. The chassis are not made in China, the construction is made in the UK (ATC) or CH (PSI). Again, this is not an indication if you like the speakers better or not, or if they are better in terms of “quality”, it’s just a different attitude.
Following the path of eternal speaker-fun
I like high quality materials, so do I like to know the people behind a product. If you look at the differences between the manufactureres you will discover the different design criterias.
- Closed design (usually better attack and decay of the bass-area => tighter bass but less bass, clearer midrange => because you have less bass distorting the midrange)
- Passive radiator (you have a passive membrane, that makes the speaker bigger in terms of virtual acoustic size, that means, they go lower with the disadvantage that you need to tune the passive membrane/radiator to a certain frequency. Everything around that frequency is getting/acting wired to the outgoing sound. Assuming you tune it to 40 Hz, you have dips or bumps in the bass-sound around the 40Hz. As a single note always introduces harmonics, you will have “problems” in the lower midrange as well).
- Open design (Front or back-ported bass reflex openings. Usually increases the virtual speaker size, so the speakers go lower. The disadvantage is, that this extension usually makes the bass-area more muddy and slow, that means the bass is not as tight as with a closed design, also the ports introduce noise from the ventilation of the ingoing and outgoing air which is quite massive as louder as you turn them up)
- Bipol design (the speaker radiates the waves to the front and the back. I am not a bipol specialist but having listend to some of those speakers, they are acting pretty wired in most acoustical environements, the transient response is kinda weak and the topend sounds mostly muffled. I have no explanation for this)
This is something which is easy to understand if you just look at the membrane/speakercone itself, but it’s very difficult to understand if you look at the interaction between speaker-enclosure, how you mount them to the enclosure and the membrane/cone itself.
Right now, I don’t have much love for Berillium-Tweeters as they sound very harsh to my ears and usually miss some of the lower upper midrange information.
- FIR/IIR corrections: one is fast and sounds bad, the other one is slow and sounds good. That is pretty easy to understand if you look at the CPU cycles you need, to process an incoming signal.
Every DSP corrected system introduces a delay, which is a problem for me. It’s always a compromise between slow/better soundquality (phase distortion and stuff like that) or fast/less soundquality.
AOI (adaptive output impedance system by PSIaudio.com):
They do it the analog way. The correction algorithm is built in an analog curcuit (so it’s among the fastest things electronically possible) and compensates the lowend according to the impulse of the audiomaterial. I am going to check the A-25M and report back if it’s worth the hazzle or just a new approach to marketing.
that’s a topic I don’t want to go into. What matters to me is, that the engineers who design a speaker know what they are doing. If they are doing it right, the speaker will sound good (according to the first introduction-part of this speaker novel), if not, it’s a bad design.
A speaker can be a tool to make you work faster. A speaker can be a toy (HiFi) to make your music more enjoyable. A speaker can be both if it’s a good design and people want to adjust to it. A speaker is as good as the room it’s in (acoustics). Don’t trust the marketing-department and you are fine. Build yourself an opinion and listen to as much opinions as you can get (preferably friends, not online forums). I like quality speakers, with quality parts where the manufacturer invested more money into building/designing the speakers then into promoting the brand.
NS-10m are good speakers because they do one thing right: they reveal the midrange, which is in my opinion the most important thing in any mix. To find the balance between instruments, to make things cut trough the mix, to eq the right way, to listen to compression and delays/reverbs…
If your mixes sound shitty it’s you, not the speakers/room. Good engineers (I don’t count me into this category) can adopt to about everything you give them.
The DA-part of your signal chain is important as well as the DA-converter interacts directly with your speakers. If I had to put it into %, the speaker/room is 90%, the DA-converter 10%.
If you decided to work with a certain pair of speakers, stick with it and don’t pay attention to the various forms of aggressive hypes, insisting that you don’t want to upgrade in terms of quality and size. There is a difference between a KRK rokit for 200 euro and an ATC 150 for 20’000 euro.
Buy different sizes of speakers to reveal different stuff in your soundstage. Smaller speakers for checking the boombox effect/to balance a mix, bigger speakers to make the paning, depth and overall image of your sound.
This article was written after I checked out PSI-audio monitors at a friends place. Soon I will get a demo pair of PSI M25a and report back.