Monitors and Headphones
So now you have your sound recorded, you will now want to hear what you have! To do this you will need some speakers or ‘monitors’ as they’re known in the studio world.
The objective for studio monitors is that they are as flat as possible in their reproduction of the sound. This is so you can hear everything as it supposed to be as opposed to be told you have a really great bass sound, only to find out that your monitors emphasised the low-end and told you lies! Lies that when you got in the car to play to your friend your latest masterpiece, made it sound weak and lacking in the bass region and as a consequence quite harsh in the middle range.
Prices for monitors vary and so does quality! You can actually ‘learn’ a set of monitors though despite their shortcomings, a great example of this are the famous NS10’s , not famed for being flat, more for being quite harsh but this led to engineers preferring them as a way of controlling the middle frequencies. However, if you’d never used them before, the chances are your low-end may suffer the same fate as that in the example above.
When starting out, I would definitely recommend getting a good flat pair with a decent low-end reproduction. I would even have a second pair if possible (as I do, in fact I have 3 pairs!). The reason for this is that different speakers do interpret your recording differently and you can get some nice and unfortunately nasty surprises when you hear your recordings back in certain environments. They don’t have to be as flat or even expensive, they could be an old pair of Hifi speaker, it just gives you some more real world opinion on your sound. Another great means of monitoring are headphones.
For me headphones are critical in most home studios, they’re important for recording and also for listening back at the mixing stage. A lot of people almost exclusively listen to music on headphones and ear buds, this means that its crucial to hear your music they way it’s being consumed by your audience. Stereo information presented by headphones/ear buds can sound much more exaggerated due to the point source nature of having an individual speakers on each ear. When you listen to music on speakers in a room, you are hearing two point sources but you are also hearing a mix of both channels as the waveforms from the speakers combine and smear as a result of reflections within the room.
This brings me on to another reason for using headphones in home studios. A good pair of headphones coupled with some room emulation software could really be a life saver if you have a poor sounding room or you need to listen to something at night and can’t make any noise. An example of room emulation software is the VRM technology from Focusrite which lets you choose typical scenarios and speakers you are likely to find in them like a a television in a living room through to Yamaha NS10’s in a big control room.