What's the Deal with Reference Monitors?
When you’re setting up your own recording space, whether it’s just a spare bedroom or closet in your house, or a full-fledged recording studio, choosing a good monitor system is imperative for accurate playback of your creations. Gibson Brands offer monitors from several high quality manufacturers, like KRK Systems, Cerwin-Vega!, and of course the new Les Paul Reference Monitors. So let’s take a look at what to consider when choosing your monitors, and what the professionals have to say on the subject!
There are both passive and active monitors. Passive monitors work in the same way as regular speakers, and require an amplifier to drive them. Active monitors have a built-in amplifier. When I refer to monitors in this feature, I’ll be talking about active monitors exclusively, since this is the most commonly used type of monitor, and the one I happen to have experience with myself.
The first thing to consider when choosing your new monitors is the size of the room they’ll be used in. Chances are you’re engineering room won’t be a cavernous space, but rather a bedroom-sized area. In this case there is really no reason to go with huge monitors. You’d probably be more than satisfied with something in the 5-inch range, like for example the KRK ROKIT 5 G3, or maybe the Les Paul 6 Reference Monitors.
If you’re just recording rock music, you’ll most likely be fine with a pair of stereo monitors, which should be placed so they form a triangle with your head. If at all possible, you’d be better off to have the monitors on stands, rather than placing them on shelves or straight on your desk, to avoid coloration of the sound. Remember, the purpose of the monitors is to deliver an accurate un-altered representation of what your recording sounds like in real life, not to enhance it in any way. This way you as the engineer will be able to create a final mix that will sound good on as many stereo systems as possible.
If you’re creating music that you foresee being played on surround sound systems, like for example film scores, or if you’re mixing club music, you may want to add a subwoofer to your monitoring system in order to accurately monitor how the deepest bass tones are behaving. If you were to go with the previously mentioned ROKIT 5’s, you could add a KRK 10s subwoofer. Of course, if you have a bigger room you would be better off opting for larger monitors, like ROKIT 8 or VXT 8, combined with a KRK 12s subwoofer. Producer and drummer Ken Mary uses a similar setup at his SonicPhish recording studio, which he talked about during an interview with Gibson.com: “I’m using KRK V8 Series 2 monitors, and I’m also using the KRK V12 S Series 2 sub. I have a full surround sound system with five of the V8’s and the sub.“ Ken also emphasized the KRK monitors’ ability to reproduce an un-colored mix of your work: “That’s what I love about KRK, you can still have the client come in, they can still tell that it sounds really good, and at the same time the speakers are not over-hyped. They give you an accurate representation of what’s going on without coloring the sound too much. You can be sure that when it sounds good on your KRK’s, it’s going to sound good everywhere else.”
But how about if recording is just something you’re doing on the side, do you need to have a separate setup for monitors, and speakers? No, not really. Users looking for monitors that are also capable of delivering great sound for general music playback, movie watching, and gaming may want to check out Cerwin-Vega!’s XD Series of monitors. The XD series is available in 3, 4, and 5-inch versions, and there is an optional subwoofer, the XD8s, that can be added for a deeper bass response. When you’re using the monitors just for listening to music, or watching a movie, you can activate the Vega Bass feature, and have your system rumble away just like any classic Cerwin-Vega! speaker setup. When you’re recording, simply turn this feature off for pure playback of your tracks. If you’re a Les Paul fanatic, why not go with the Les Paul 4 Reference Monitor - the perfect size for your bedroom mixing needs!
So there you have it - a few tips to get you started in choosing the perfect monitor system for your particular situation. The next step would be to head over to the nearest music- or home-audio store, and actually try out some monitors for yourself. Don’t hesitate to ask the staff questions - it’s better you get it right on the first try, than buying a pair of monitors only to discover they weren’t really what you what you were looking for. Happy monitor shopping, and please let us know what kind of setups you’re using in the comments section below.