Pump it up; Using speakers for monitoring

In my last Podcast I talked a bit about headphones and monitoring. I did want to mention one follow-up item. Another downside to using headphones exclusively for monitoring beside the dangers to your hearing is that headphone can cause your ears to produce more ear wax, can lead to ear canal blockage which essentially makes you deaf until you get you ears cleaned. There was a period in my career where I would have to go to the doctor twice a year for this. Now I try to avoid headphones and I regularly clean my ears before the wax builds up.
Okay on to loud speakers. Typically professional speakers are called monitors, and manufacturers design these speakers to be accurate rather than hyping certain frequencies to sound louder or more pleasing as some “hi-fi” and computer speakers do. Professional monitors are divided into Studio monitors, which are usually large speakers with woofers in the, 12″ to 18″ range that are soffited into the control room walls and near-field monitors, which are usually smaller, with woofers in the 4.5″ to 8″, range and are freestanding. Near-fields are what most of us use in the home studio environment. Both these types of monitors come in passive and powered versions. Passive monitors need to be driven by an external amplifier, whereas powered monitors have an amp mounted within the speaker enclosure and have line level inputs. One of the pros of a passive monitor is that you can choose an amplifier that suits you budget and taste. The downside is that passive monitors generally have passive crossovers and matching the amp’s characteristics to the monitors can be problematic. Active monitors often use a separate built-in amp fro each driver as well as using more sophisticated active crossovers between drivers. Some may argue that the built in amps are inferior to a separate external amp but personally I think this is academic. The other argument against active monitors is that; “they eat while you sleep” in other words there are always consuming power. Again, remember that you just need to remember to turn them off just as you would an external amp.
The preferred method for choosing monitors is to take a CD that you know well and is representative to the music that you record and listen to the CD through several brands of monitors at a store. Monitors are in my opinion the most important piece of gear in a small or home studio. You need to listen before you buy.
That said, I’m going to mention a few low budget pro-level monitors that you may want to consider. Here’s a list of active monitors that run from about $400-$500 a pair with 5 to 6″ Low frequency drivers:
Alesis MI active 620
Event tuned reference 6
And M-Audio BX5s
I’m sure I’ve missed some other good monitors in this range, but these four should give you a good place to start for comparison listening.
I could literally write a rather thick book on speakers and studio monitoring, The most important thing to remember is that you want to by speakers that are as accurate as possible and sound good with your type of music within your budget. And remember that speakers are about the most important investment that you can make in your home studio set-up.