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studio monitors and quality of home speakers
Bartholomew MacG...
post Apr 27 2012, 16:52
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Has there ever been a documented case of a recording sounding worse on quality home speakers because the studio monitors used to make the recording where of lower quality?
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mixminus1
post Apr 27 2012, 17:49
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Define "worse".

For years, one of the studio standards for mixdown monitors were Yamaha NS-10Ms. They weren't/aren't within a stone's throw of any definition of "neutral" or "uncolored", and finding consumer-oriented speakers that are objectively superior is a fairly simple task, especially these days, but nonetheless, I'd guess the majority (vast majority?) of hit records from the 80s and 90s were mixed through them.

A good mix engineer "learns" their speakers, whatever they may be, and how mixes done on those speakers will translate to the enormous variety of playback systems that their recording will be heard through...and that's the key: translation. All speakers (and headphones, of course) sound different, so getting a well-balanced mix on a pair you know well is the best you can do, and then hopefully it holds together through other speakers, even if those speakers have very different frequency responses (and are in very different acoustic environments) than yours.

Note that this is really the key role that a good mastering engineer plays (or did, or should...): being able to hear if your mixes will translate well, and applying the necessary final adjustments to give them the best chance of doing so.


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Ethan Winer
post Apr 27 2012, 18:23
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QUOTE (Bartholomew MacGruber @ Apr 27 2012, 11:52) *
Has there ever been a documented case of a recording sounding worse on quality home speakers because the studio monitors used to make the recording where of lower quality?

In recent years I've become disturbed by the trend to market "pleasing sounding" speakers to pro mix engineers. These speakers have an intentional dip in the harshness range around 2 to 4 KHz - often 4 dB or even more - which makes music sound smoother and less fatiguing. So some engineers hear and buy these speakers, wrongly thinking they're "better" because they sound pleasing. This is a terrible trend IMO, because mixes made on such speakers will be overly harsh when played on better speakers. So in this sense the answer to your question is Yes.

--Ethan


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RonaldDumsfeld
post Apr 27 2012, 21:16
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QUOTE
the trend to market "pleasing sounding" speakers to pro mix engineers.


not to start a row or anything mate but I don't recognise that as a trend myself.

Do you have any examples?
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Ethan Winer
post Apr 28 2012, 17:02
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Yes, plenty of examples. Some years back, a fellow named David French measured the response of ten popular monitor speakers. I've tried to reach him for permission to post his graphs on my own site because they are so incredibly telling. Without his permission I can't post the actual graphs, but I can tell you what they show. There's also Appendix 2 in the book Recording Studio Design by Philip Newell that shows the response of many popular studio speakers. But those graphs are so small it's difficult to see the detail.

Anyway, David measured ten speakers using a technique that's even better than an anechoic chamber. The problem with anechoic chambers is they are anechoic only down to 100 Hz, or maybe 80 Hz if it's a really good one. What David did was fly all ten speakers high up over the stage in a huge auditorium. By keeping the speakers 40 feet from all boundaries, a technique known as gating can be used to avoid the effects of all reflections down to a very low frequency. I've seen a photo of the test setup and it was valid. The graphs were made using the ETF software.

The speakers tested were Tannoy 800A, Genelec 1031A, Event Studio Precision 8, Dynaudio BM15A, Mackie HR824, Alesis M1 Active MkII, M&K S-150PK THX Ultra, Yamaha NS10, ADAM S2A, and Event TR8. In order:
    The Tannoy was reasonably flat from 60 Hz to 14 KHz, with a broad 3dB dip centered around 4 KHz.

    The Genelec was reasonably flat from 60 Hz to 20 KHz with a broad 4 dB dip centered around 4 KHz.

    The Event was a little bumpier between 60 Hz and 20 KHz with a narrow 4 dB dip at 400 Hz and a broad 4 dB dip between 4 and 6 KHz.

    The Dynaudio was pretty terrible having a narrow 9 dB dip at 3.5 KHz and a sharp rolloff above 8 KHz.

    The Mackie was by far the smoothest of the lot being flat within 3 dB (total span, not +/-) from 60 Hz to 20 KHz, with a broad 2 dB dip between 1.6 and 4 KHz.

    The Alesis response went out to 18 KHz but had a narrow 5 dB peak centered at 60 Hz.

    The M&K fell off sharply below 100 Hz, with narrow dips of 3 and 4 dB at 3 KHz and 6 KHz respectively, and a narrow boost at 12 KHz.

    The NS10 was as expected with very little bass below 120 Hz, a narrow 4 dB boost at 1.6 KHz, another narrow peak at 12 KHz, and a sharp fall-off above 12 KHz.

    The Adam was pretty lumpy with a steep LF roll-off starting at 80 Hz, a broad 3 dB boost at 1 KHz, a broad 6 dB scoop centered at 4 KHz, and then was flat to 20 KHz.

    The Event was similarly lumpy, but with a 9 dB narrow dip at 4 KHz, a narrow peak at 13 KHz, and a sharp roll-off above that.

--Ethan


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honestguv
post Apr 28 2012, 20:15
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QUOTE (Ethan Winer @ Apr 28 2012, 18:02) *
...SNIP...

Are you aware of data from other sources that support or contradict these measurements of a dip?

This post has been edited by honestguv: Apr 28 2012, 20:16
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Arnold B. Kruege...
post Apr 29 2012, 17:51
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QUOTE (honestguv @ Apr 28 2012, 15:15) *
QUOTE (Ethan Winer @ Apr 28 2012, 18:02) *
...SNIP...

Are you aware of data from other sources that support or contradict these measurements of a dip?


URL?
Cite?
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tomtomthomson
post Apr 30 2012, 03:22
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QUOTE (Bartholomew MacGruber @ Apr 27 2012, 16:52) *
Has there ever been a documented case of a recording sounding worse on quality home speakers because the studio monitors used to make the recording where of lower quality?

Hi, What might be relevant is an example to do with the famous smasheroo hit Smells Like Teen Spirit. I found that it 'translated' very well, and tended to sound terrific on/in the radio, tv, car, rock club, juke box, pa etc. but rather harsh and unengaging on a high quality monitoring system, and I do mean high quality - flat fequency response, plenty of dynamic headroom, and even equalised to the room. That being a purpose-built control room of a high caliber, in the example I'm thinking of. I couldn't decide if this would have been the production team's intention or just luck.
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Bartholomew MacG...
post Apr 30 2012, 06:18
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QUOTE (mixminus1 @ Apr 27 2012, 17:49) *
Define "worse".

For years, one of the studio standards for mixdown monitors were Yamaha NS-10Ms. They weren't/aren't within a stone's throw of any definition of "neutral" or "uncolored", and finding consumer-oriented speakers that are objectively superior is a fairly simple task, especially these days, but nonetheless, I'd guess the majority (vast majority?) of hit records from the 80s and 90s were mixed through them.

A good mix engineer "learns" their speakers, whatever they may be, and how mixes done on those speakers will translate to the enormous variety of playback systems that their recording will be heard through...and that's the key: translation. All speakers (and headphones, of course) sound different, so getting a well-balanced mix on a pair you know well is the best you can do, and then hopefully it holds together through other speakers, even if those speakers have very different frequency responses (and are in very different acoustic environments) than yours.

Note that this is really the key role that a good mastering engineer plays (or did, or should...): being able to hear if your mixes will translate well, and applying the necessary final adjustments to give them the best chance of doing so.



Well, that's the strange thing because audiophile speakers are often advertised as being accurate and "true to the sound that the artist intended" but if the studio monitors weren't accurate isn't this so-called "accuracy" really a form of distortion and inaccuracy? And some of these speakers are quite expensive and even have new materiasl in them. For example, supposedly the company Wilson-Benesch used a type of carbon fiber that was new for their drivers, so it seems quite ironic that all this time and effort is just making things sound worse in an objective sense because it's not the sound that the recording engineers heard.

And to make make matters worse, their might not be the one true sound that the people who made the recording actually wanted because the decisions were made by multiple people maybe - the artists, the recording engineer, the mastering engineer, the producers, maybe other people who worked for the record company. I'm a drummer and one time we were recording some stuff and the engineer told me to change snare drums and I think what he wanted sounded worse but I didn't want to waste time arguing with him so I just went along with it.

It seems the best situation would be to listen at home on the monitors that were used during the mastering phase of the recording because that was when the final decision was made. So if someone used Yamaha NS-10Ms in the studio, they would be the best choice for listening at home. And I think they started out as a home speaker but were later changed for studio use.
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Bartholomew MacG...
post Apr 30 2012, 06:22
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QUOTE (Ethan Winer @ Apr 27 2012, 18:23) *
QUOTE (Bartholomew MacGruber @ Apr 27 2012, 11:52) *
Has there ever been a documented case of a recording sounding worse on quality home speakers because the studio monitors used to make the recording where of lower quality?

In recent years I've become disturbed by the trend to market "pleasing sounding" speakers to pro mix engineers. These speakers have an intentional dip in the harshness range around 2 to 4 KHz - often 4 dB or even more - which makes music sound smoother and less fatiguing. So some engineers hear and buy these speakers, wrongly thinking they're "better" because they sound pleasing. This is a terrible trend IMO, because mixes made on such speakers will be overly harsh when played on better speakers. So in this sense the answer to your question is Yes.

--Ethan


I think the opposite has also happened. Some recording engineers have used "bad" sounding monitors because they thought if the recording sounded good on bad monitors it would sound good on anything.
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Typhoon859
post Apr 30 2012, 08:18
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QUOTE (Bartholomew MacGruber @ Apr 30 2012, 01:22) *
I think the opposite has also happened. Some recording engineers have used "bad" sounding monitors because they thought if the recording sounded good on bad monitors it would sound good on anything.


That makes absolutely no sense XD. There have been some foolish trends in the past but I really doubt there was ever thought like that!...

This post has been edited by Typhoon859: Apr 30 2012, 08:21
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Bartholomew MacG...
post Apr 30 2012, 08:44
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OK, I can't remember all the places that I read that, so maybe there's not much to it. Here's something from this page:

QUOTE
"The old cliché is that if it sounds good on NS10s then it'll sound good on anything. I think it's precisely because they sound so bad that they are used so widely."


http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/sep08/arti.../yamahans10.htm

I also seem to remember stuff about recording engineers listening in their car because they figured if it sounded good in their car it would sound good anywhere.

This post has been edited by db1989: Apr 30 2012, 19:33
Reason for edit: removing unnecessary full quote of above post
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Arnold B. Kruege...
post Apr 30 2012, 14:25
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QUOTE (Typhoon859 @ Apr 30 2012, 03:18) *
QUOTE (Bartholomew MacGruber @ Apr 30 2012, 01:22) *
I think the opposite has also happened. Some recording engineers have used "bad" sounding monitors because they thought if the recording sounded good on bad monitors it would sound good on anything.


That makes absolutely no sense XD. There have been some foolish trends in the past but I really doubt there was ever thought like that!...


Whether you think it makes sense or not, its real. Recording, mixing and mastering engineers have been intentionally reviewing their work on substandard equipment for decades.

What you may not realize is that really good systems often sound great even with badly-mixed and badly-mastered recordings.

Play the same recordings on a POS playback system, and often not so good.

The goal for a mainstream recording is to satisfy the most possible customers, not make a few pointy-headed audiophiles happy.

In practice, one can generally get recordings to sound as good as possible in a large variety of contexts. Often a little tweaking will help playback on cheap systems a lot, and not hurt the good systems at all or very much.

One thing that helps is that even the cheap stuff today sounds pretty good and can handle reasonable dynamic range and bandwidth that was unheard of 40 years ago. Most of the limitations that are put in are not for equipment, but for specific listening environments like background music in a noisy office or to get a stand out sound on a top-40 station when played over $20 computer speakers or the speakers on a laptop.
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Arnold B. Kruege...
post Apr 30 2012, 14:29
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QUOTE (Bartholomew MacGruber @ Apr 30 2012, 03:44) *
OK, I can't remember all the places that I read that, so maybe there's not much to it. Here's something from this page:

QUOTE
"The old cliché is that if it sounds good on NS10s then it'll sound good on anything. I think it's precisely because they sound so bad that they are used so widely."


http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/sep08/arti.../yamahans10.htm

All very true and not exceptional. NS10s are lengendary for the purpose.

QUOTE
I also seem to remember stuff about recording engineers listening in their car because they figured if it sounded good in their car it would sound good anywhere.

You have to be careful about using car systems for this purpose, as some of them are measurably and subjectively on a plane with some good studio monitors, and far better than many home systems. Especially true if the car isn't moving at freeway speeds. IOW, they are too good to be examples of a limited system.

I would say that the worst sound I commonly hear is on laptop computer speakers. Portable digital players with mid-priced earphones are way too good for this purpose.

This post has been edited by db1989: Apr 30 2012, 19:34
Reason for edit: to match post #12
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markanini
post Apr 30 2012, 15:01
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QUOTE (Ethan Winer @ Apr 28 2012, 17:02) *
Without his permission I can't post the actual graphs, but I can tell you what they show.

Found some of the graphs on archive.org: http://web.archive.org/web/20060317203254/...hoic/index.html

FWIW I own the Alesis M1 Active Mk2 and the 5db peak measured in the low-bass range more closely reflects what I hear compared to other graphs I've seen of the same model.

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DVDdoug
post Apr 30 2012, 18:52
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QUOTE (Bartholomew MacGruber @ Apr 29 2012, 22:18) *
...And to make matters worse, their might not be the one true sound that the people who made the recording actually wanted because the decisions were made by multiple people maybe - the artists, the recording engineer, the mastering engineer, the producers, maybe other people who worked for the record company...
With big-label releases, the mixing engineer & mastering engineer will have different set-ups and the song will have been listened-to by many different people on many different systems. In the end, I would assume management gets the sound they want, or at least a sound that is acceptable to them.

QUOTE
Has there ever been a documented case of a recording sounding worse on quality home speakers because the studio monitors used to make the recording where of lower quality?
It seems to be a common problem with amateurs. You don't have to read many Recording Magazine Reader's Tapes Reviews before monitors (or lack of monitors) are cited as a potential contributor to less-than-perfect mix.
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AudioKitten
post May 1 2012, 16:25
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Maybe this is mostly a problem with amateur masters? All of the mastering studios that I've seen have at least two sets of monitors.
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Bartholomew MacG...
post May 2 2012, 04:52
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I don't know if it's ever been done before, but it would be interesting to see if they've ever tried to use perfectly accurate studio monitors and then just have various applications that can mimic the performance of cheaper speakers to try to get the best overall performance as possible on a variety of speakers. I imagine a lot of that could be done with just EQ, I don't know about all the different forms of distortion and other inaccuracies.

They have digital room correction for home systems, so it would be interesting to see if they could create something similar for studios to simulate "bad" rooms and make the recording less vulnerable to sounding bad in certain rooms.

This post has been edited by db1989: May 2 2012, 06:04
Reason for edit: merging double-post
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_if
post May 2 2012, 07:12
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If you took a set of any of the good monitors (read: not the Yamahas tongue.gif ) Ethan mentioned and used EQ to compensate for their bumps or dips and make a flat response, do you think they'd all sound roughly identical then? Could I just buy a decent set of monitors, measure the response, and EQ myself the rest of the way to the big bucks sound?
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stephan_g
post May 2 2012, 09:36
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QUOTE (_if @ May 2 2012, 07:12) *
If you took a set of any of the good monitors (read: not the Yamahas tongue.gif ) Ethan mentioned and used EQ to compensate for their bumps or dips and make a flat response, do you think they'd all sound roughly identical then?

In a well-damped room and for exactly one listening position, it should be doable. (An EQ has too few degrees of freedom to control aff-axis response.) Even then, you may still run into level handling issues at higher volumes, which is another factor that tends to separate the men from the boys, so to speak.

This post has been edited by stephan_g: May 2 2012, 09:38
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Bartholomew MacG...
post May 2 2012, 09:37
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QUOTE (_if @ May 2 2012, 07:12) *
If you took a set of any of the good monitors (read: not the Yamahas tongue.gif ) Ethan mentioned and used EQ to compensate for their bumps or dips and make a flat response, do you think they'd all sound roughly identical then? Could I just buy a decent set of monitors, measure the response, and EQ myself the rest of the way to the big bucks sound?



I think you can do a lot with EQ like that, but I don't know how much.
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icstm
post May 2 2012, 13:19
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is that type of EQ adjustment was audacity type systems try to do for you?
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RonaldDumsfeld
post May 2 2012, 15:24
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Thanks to Ethan for going to the trouble to post the stats for popular monitors. very interesting.

So it seems that studio monitors in general have a tendency to have a small dip at just those frequencies that the human ear is most sensitive too. A bit like the old 'loudness control' we used to have on hi-fi amplifiers. I'm surprised to learn this. It is contrary to my own (untutored) expectations. Hi Fi buffs tend to dismiss genuine monitors for home listening because they sound 'fatiguing' and sharp. Also lacking bass.

So it would be interesting to have similar stats for popular brands of hi-fi speakers. The view here seems to be that they would have a flatter response curve but I'm not at all sure they would. I'd expect (with no real evidence I must admit) hi fi brands to have an even deeper mid/high dip and a slight boost at either end.

To turn the OP's question on it's head I have plenty of examples of monitors sounding worse than hi-fi. Going from 8Ts speakers Mourdant Short Pageant 2, lumpy bass, smooth mids, 9Ts speakers TDL RTL 3, shrill tops, smooth lows) to 0Ts monitors, ADAM AX. I initially found the change challenging. Many old recordings I had previously found perfectly acceptable (e.g. old less than pristine vinyl, live tape recordings etc) became painful to listen too, thin and fuzzy.

p.s. I'm aware I've expressed some opinions here not supported by facts as per HA TOS. I'm hoping the nature of the discussion allows this but if not then please feel free to delete this post and accept an apolgy.
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honestguv
post May 2 2012, 16:33
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QUOTE (RonaldDumsfeld @ May 2 2012, 15:24) *
So it seems that studio monitors in general have a tendency to have a small dip at just those frequencies that the human ear is most sensitive too. A bit like the old 'loudness control' we used to have on hi-fi amplifiers. I'm surprised to learn this. It is contrary to my own (untutored) expectations.

Yes it is interesting but I would suggest a bit of caution about drawing general conclusions from a particular set of measurements without their supporting discussion. It is straightforward for the major monitor manufacturers to make speakers with reasonably flat on axis responses and most of them both claim that they do and produce on axis measurements in support of the claim.
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RonaldDumsfeld
post May 2 2012, 18:16
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To be fair Ethan did quote the test methodology. Speakers 'flown' in a huge auditorium.

That is neither representative of actual use in a studio space, a domestic setting or traditional test chamber. I still find it interesting although it would be better to test vs traditional hi-fi grade equipment in a similar environment.
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