What makes a monitor a monitor?

Or does good speaker = good monitor?

How do the design goals for studio monitors differ from the design goals for “audiophile” speakers? You can’t properly mix what you can’t hear, so obviously, flat frequency response across the full range of the audio spectrum is essential, as is low distortion. Clearly a wide angle of dispersion by the high frequency driver is important to increase the sweet spot in near field listening. But these are exactly the goal for any high quality speaker system. So back to my original question. What are the the differences between the desigh goals for any “audiophile quality” speaker and a good monitor?

I recently picked up two vintage Cerwin-Vega AT-10 speakers at a local thrift store (beautiful design - near pristine condition with exception of foam surrounds, which I replaced). These are pretty competent speakers. Frequency response is supposed to be 33Hz to 22Khz, and they have a very smooth balanced sound. Frequency response seems very flat across this range, and the high freq and mid-range drivers both are adjustable to compensate for room accoustics. So, I began to wonder whether I would really be any better off buying the low to medium priced monitors that I could afford?
Opinions appreciated.

I’m sure many have had the good pleasure of using the infamous Realistic Minimus 7 as a monitor reference. Many use them as a second reference; I am flat broke, so they are my primary reference monitors. For $30-$60 per pair off ebay, these little speakers (originally designed for simple listening pleasure) are excellent!! It’s hard to beat these guys even when you spend into the $500 or maybe $1000 range … no joke. The reason is exactly as you suspect: they were designed very well for their intended job and happen to also work superbly for reference monitoring.

About 6 months ago, I picked up a pair of Minimus 7 speakers (in pristine condition) at a thrift store (Value Village) for $7.00 Canadian and love them as reference monitors. They are to be had if you just keep looking.


In racing there is an old saying that you can’t beat cubic inches, except with cubic dollars. Meaning that it is a little cheaper to make a fine speaker with large elements than to make a small one. No matter what, air must be moved! Your Cerwin-Vegas are probably excellent speakers, but they are likely also a bit larger than the medium-dollar ‘monitor’ systems you see in all the magazines, and I think if you have the space to set them up properly, they should work superbly as your monitors. Just be certain you listen to a lot of music on them, so you know what they soud like! :)

'til next time;
mixing with the last model of the minimus that radio shack sold (and a Yamaha sub), mastering on ancient Advent 1s…
tony w

Don’t neglect placement and room treatment. Anyone read G. Massenburg’s comments in the latest taeop? Once again, from yet another true expert, the great importance of honest monitoring is emphasized. And I always thought I should jsut get a new mic. Wall treatment is just not interesting… :)

Thanks for the thoughts guys. TomS, where do I find “G. Massenburg’s comments in the latest taeop”.

And after reading some of the other web postings discussing reference monitors, it is clear to me that the room and the monitors have to thought of as a single unit, and monitor placement and room treatment are nearly as important as the quality of the speakers.

So I guess the question is “how good is good enough for both speakers and room?”. Suppose I hook up a an audio-frequency generator and sweep the audio spectrum from top to bottom to identify resonance/interference peaks etc. at the my listening position, and adjust monitor placement and room treatment to eliminate the peaks. What more would be needed (assuming that the amplifier and speakers introduce only acceptable levels of harmonic distortion)?

Tom is right; placement is crucial. I cringe when I see pics of people’s home studios and the “near field monitors” are sitting on a desk against a wall! Bzzzt! Wrong picture.

"Is a good speaker a good monitor?"

Good question. The answer is that there are lots of speakers that make music sound good but aren’t particularly good monitor speakers, because they tend to mold the music to make it pleasing. A good example of this is some Bose speakers.

IMHO, good monitors make excellent stereo speakers, but some folks can reasonably disagree. They tend to emphasize problems in some mixes, and don’t have the bass boost that so many speaker systems have (ugh, but people BUY that).

I guess the idea is that sometimes, what you can’t hear won’t annoy you, so there are speakers that sound fine as stereo speakers but leave out stuff you could hear on a studio monitor.

Finally, frequency response is only one of the critical properties of a good monitor. More important is time-domain response: do they respond immediately to peaks? While one would think that this is implicit in high frequency flatness, evidently it’s not. Are they phase-coherent between woofer and tweeter? That’s very important, and usually leads to non-flatness in stereo speakers, but then there are ways to offset that by inverse coloring, and two wrongs don’t make enough of a right for good monitors. Finally, is there woofer “port chuff” when pumping out the bottom end? It’s a sound you generally don’t notice much in a normal listening at normal distances, but near-field monitoring is up-close and in-your-face, so the system has to be cleaner & quieter all around.

I speak as someone who’s currently doing without good monitors, and I do have a very good idea what I’m missing. Practical considerations get in the way of me using them at present. I’ve been mixing long enough that I figured I could do an adequate job flying blind and using general principles – which only goes so far. It was “good enough” for my CD, which is just something I use to annoy friends and relatives anyway.

After having lived without decent monitors, and given it quite a bit of thought, I now feel that good monitors are a top priority item for studio expenses, below instruments but above soundcard. That is, even with a cheap soundcard, mikes, preamps, and software, you can get excellent results, but not if you can’t hear what you’re doing. The only thing higher on the priority list would be instruments, or perhaps lessons ( :;): ).

I’m not saying that folks without decent monitors can’t possibly accomplish anything worthwhile. When you’re at your limit, you do your best with what you have, and thank goodness for all the very inexpensive but decent gear we have today! Just that, other than better instruments and more engineering wisdom, better monitors are the best bet to improve your results.


Subscribe to the magazine. It is free, and the coolest recording magazine ever in the history of the world.

I think the experts on here have said it all, but because I find it hard to keep my mouth shut… :D

Remember, there’s a big difference between mixing and mastering.

For mixing, you’re comparing one track to another, and for that you want “honesty” in your monitors; a smooth frequency response plus the other factors mentioned. It doesn’t matter if it sounds “nice” or not, as long as it’s detailed, revealing and honest.

Mastering is different. But in that arena, I know just enough to know to keep my big mouth shut. So I highly recomend you read Bob Katz about the requirements of the mastering environment and your mastering monitors.

Good point Giz. I’m thinking of the “mixing monitor”. And Jeff, I know that you are right (great info, by the way).

Still, when you read reviews comparing different mixing monitors, the descriptions that reviewers use are the same descriptors that you would use for any speaker (muddy bass, smooth highs, etc., mids excessive). And some speakers that are sold to be used as mixing monitors don’t fare so well in the reviews that I have read. Besides, some of the monitors use the same drivers that are used for home audio systems. I sure wish that I could just do an A-B comparison of my speakers with some high end monitors with someone like LearJeff sitting at my side to point out subtleties, just to see if I could really hear the difference.

Quote (TomS @ July 29 2006,20:11)

Subscribe to the magazine. It is free, and the coolest recording magazine ever in the history of the world.

USA only! Darn!!

You should still think about subscribing, vanclan.

Thanks Tom. I just might.

I agree – one of the best magazines ever, free or otherwise!

Thanks for the link to more good (and free) info!
I’m curious if it’s my computer or the webpage: Anybody else have to guess at what the incredibly small font size subscription questions were at www.tapeop.com?

I had the same problem with that page. The webpage creator must have had a sadistic bent that day…

Well worth the effort from what I see on the site. I thought maybe the extra small font size was incentive to go to the “not for free” subscription page. :;):

Quote (tspringer @ July 30 2006,08:58)
... I sure wish that I could just do an A-B comparison of my speakers with some high end monitors with someone like LearJeff sitting at my side to point out subtleties, just to see if I could really hear the difference.

I bet you're assuming I still have ears. The years sure have taken their toll, and I can no longer hear anything over about 12KHz, and notable reduction starting as low as 6KHz. Ah, well ... I turn 49 in a couple of days, so I suppose I'm ready for the dustbin anyway! :cool:

One comment about Minimus7 speakers as monitors. I have 6 pairs that I use in various places and obviously like them but if you use them as monitors you have to find some other solution for evaluating the low-bass portion of your mix. Little speakers work fine from the mid-bass up but cannot reproduce anything below about 80 Hz. or perhaps a little higher. This can lead to mixes with excessive low-bass. If you can’t afford speakers with flat low frequency response, try to set up your mixes to be a little “lean” in the low bass and do not EQ the low end of the bass so you can hear it. If you do get the low bass to sound right on these little speakers a person with real bass output will have far too much bass.