Monitoring On A Budget – How Good Are Affordable Monitors?


The fact that most homes in the developed world have computers has completely changed the landscape when it comes to both audio and video industry. On top of that most modern computers are more than good enough to run a variety of specialized software. The overall result of this phenomenon is a larger number of people wanting to get into music production. Unfortunately, not everyone can go out and get an expensive set of studio monitors. Because of that, we are going to take a look at the affordable segment of the studio monitor market and talk a bit about what you can expect from these speakers.

If There’s One Thing You Should Take Away

Take Away

It is that any, literally any kind of studio monitors are better than using standard speakers. This cannot be emphasized enough. The cheapest set of proper studio monitors you can find, excluding those which are falsely marketed as such, is better than using an expensive set of standard bookshelf speakers. Having a tight budget doesn’t mean you can’t find good enough tools for the job. Some of the best monitor speakers on the market are actually pretty affordable. If you would like to learn more and find out which models those are, check out our comprehensive guide on that subject.

The reason why having studio monitors is essential can be easily explained. Working with any kind of biased speakers, which almost every non-monitoring speaker is, will give you false perception. That would be like trying to machine a component for a spacecraft using nothing but your hands. You would probably get it done after a long time, but the results would be nowhere near acceptable for the intended use.

Cheap Monitors Are Getting Better

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Increasing demand for affordable monitoring has prompted most major brands to start pushing the envelope in terms of performance. Long gone are days where a cheap monitor speaker was a monitor only by name. These days we can get some proper transparency without having to spend a whole lot of money. Sure, you won’t get all the cool features found on expensive sets, but those are only a convenience, not a necessity. If the core hardware is decent and the speaker is built properly, you are pretty much good to go.

Beginner’s Perception Of Sound

While there are definitely gifted people out there, it is a simple statistical fact that most beginner producers need to hone their skills. Actually, maybe forge is a better choice of words. Among those skills, we find one’s ability to recognize various imperfections in the mix. An average beginner often has no problem noticing major discrepancies in their project, but those subtle issues are hard to spot. That stands even if you have an elite tier set of monitors. They will absolutely show you the faults in your mix, but you might not be on a level yet where you can notice them.

The reason we have mentioned this isn’t to intimidate you. Rather, it is to point out that spending lots of money on monitors won’t necessarily boost your own performance. In other words, it is perfectly fine to start with a cheaper set. Once you start to feel that you have outgrown those, you will be in a position where you will know exactly what type of qualities your next set has to have.

Learning The Ropes

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One of the best reasons to go with affordable monitor speakers is to learn the ropes of using this type of equipment in the first place. While it’s not rocket science, there is a certain learning curve. A cheaper set of monitor speakers will most likely come with smaller low-frequency drivers and rudimentary acoustic controls. This translates to two things.

First, you won’t have to deal with the negative effects associated with low frequencies because your woofers won’t be digging that low. Secondly, you will have to master monitor speaker positioning in order to get the best performance out of your set. Depending on how serious you are about this whole business, mastering certain skills early on can be extremely beneficial.

If It’s Too Good To Be True, It Probably Is

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That is an adage that applies well to monitor speakers as well. You will run into a number of models on the market which will are tempting. On paper, they are loaded with all the right stuff. However, in reality, things are very, very different. The general rule of thumb is to stick with proven brands that have been in the business for a long enough time. Not only are they obligated by reputation to deliver good performance, but they usually have a large user base. It’s hard to sell something that doesn’t work if there are thousands of not-so-happy users are leaving reviews all over the place.

Another reason why it is smart to stick with popular brands is due to the hardware they use. It is not that strange to see a manufacturer using some hardware or design solutions from their flagship models, on their affordable lineup. In practice, this can mean specific drivers or waveguides. Depending on which brand you go with, you can really get an incredible value for your money.

Account For Accessories

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Even though affordable monitors are almost always active and pretty self-reliant, there are still some accessories that can help you optimize their performance. The first thing that comes to mind is a set of proper speaker stands. Having your monitors at the same level with your head is important. You want those drivers to be pointed straight towards your ears. Stands will allow you to do so. On the other hand, if your desktop is large enough to support proper monitor speaker positioning, you will definitely want to get a set of dampening pads. These serve the purpose of eliminating vibrations from transferring from your speakers to the table and vice versa.

Conclusion

Affordable monitor speakers are getting a lot of bad rep in the community, mostly from the conservative side of the isle. Purists have a set of standards of their own and generally refuse to accept anything that falls short of those standards. However, the truth is that affordable monitoring has a very real purpose. They might not be as flat as professional models, but they will get you the basic performance necessary to get the job done. When you are on a tight budget, that’s is a pretty good deal.


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