Nearfield listening is the process of using a pair of nearfield monitors, which are small studio speakers with a wide frequency range, and placing them about 4 feet apart and about 4 feet in front of you, to critically listen to your audio mixes. It is called “nearfield listening” as you are very close to the speakers. Here is what a typical nearfield setup looks like:
Why should I use nearfield listening?
Nearfield listening is incredibly popular and many home content creators will automatically be using nearfield listening without even realising that it is “a thing”, or in other words, a specific listening technique when producing audio.
The phrase and technique was developed by audio consultant, Ed Long and the principle is pretty straightforward and here it is – because the speakers are so close to your ears, you will be hearing mostly, what is coming from the speakers and less of your surrounding environment or room acoustics.
What are the advantages of using nearfield listening?
Using nearfield listening has some nice advantages:
1 – Less need for acoustic treatment.
The first main advantage from nearfield monitoring is that it reduces the need for, or at least takes the pressure off, having to acoustically treat your listening room or studio.
Because you are sitting so close to the speakers, you should be mostly hearing what is coming front the speakers and less room reflections.
Hearing what is truly coming out of your speakers and not your room acoustics is essential, particaulty when you are mixing compex audio such as music
2 – Nearfield monitors typically produce a clear sound.
Nearfield monitors are typically designed to produce very clear and sharp audio. Of course the result will change depending on what nearfield speaker you use, but in principle, that is the intent.
Mixing audio, be it a music track, Podcast or any content, having the ability to listen in detail to clear speech and vocals in particular is really important.
The clear and sharp sound of nearfield monitors make them a great choice when working on dialogue or vocals.
3 – Nearfield monitors produce a good representation of your typical speaker sound.
As a content creator, it might be tempting to stick to using headphones when producing your audio, but your audience will be listening on a range of devices – not just headphones.
Therefore it is important to listen to your content “out loud”.
Nearfield speakers will sound more similar to standard commercial speakers so you will get a very good indication of how your audience will hear your audio.
What are the disadvantages of nearfield listening?
The main downside of nearfield listening is the lack of bass coming from the speakers.
Nearfield speakers are small and although great for mid to high frequencies, they do not output any significant amount of bass.
Therefore, you will often see nearfield studio speakers sitting alongside larger speakers which will supplement the bass.
For music production, the ability to monitor and listen to bass is essential however, for most content creators who are producing speech only content, then the need to monitor bass is not essential.
If you can’t afford larger bass speakers or don’t need to monitor bass in your content, a great work around is to have a good pair of headphones that can produce deep bass.
By checking your audio quality occasionally with headphones you can ensure the full sound spectrum (from the bass up to treble) sounds good.
What are some good nearfield studio speakers?
In my own studio, I use a pair of Yamaha NS-10ms, from the 1970s which have become the standard in nearfield monitoring in the industry.
These speakers are no longer made, so to get an exact replica from the 1970s, the only option is second hand.
There are some other great alternatives out there, however.
The cost of nearfield monitors varies dramatically!
Typically, the higher-priced nearfield speakers will have:
1 – A wider frequency range i.e. more bass.
2 – Better definition i.e. you will hear more detail.
3 – Be unbiased and sonically accurate i.e. not add colouration and accurately reproduce the original recorded audio.
Here are some of my other favourites which are less than £500. These links will take you to Gear4Music, where you can look at them in more detail.
What should I look out for when buying nearfield studio speakers?
1 – You will need to buy two speakers
Nearfield listening requires two speakers for stereo imaging.
When browsing online products, some nearfield monitors will come as a pair (two included in the price) and some will be sold as a single unit.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking a speaker is really cheap when really you are buying just one speaker and not two!
2 – Check if the speaker is “passive” or “active”
Active speakers are plug and play as they have an inbuilt amplifier. You just plug them into the mains (typically using a standard kettle plug) and you are good to go.
Passive speakers need an amplifier to work, so you will need to include an amplifier in your costs.
It should state on the product is passive or active so watch out for this.
3 – Consider stands or isolation pads
Most content creators will be putting their nearfield monitors directly onto their desk.
This can be problematic as your desk will vibrate and you will get unwanted resonances.
A good solution is to place your monitors on stands or on isolation pads.
Personally, I prefer stands as I can raise the speaker up to be in line with my ear.
I like having my ear at the same level as the speakers so I am listening “on-axis”. This allows me to focus in on the direct sound in front the speakers and mostly ignore the reflected room sound.
If you can’t afford or use stands, ensure you place some foam or isolation pads underneath your speakers and not directly on your desk to avoid vibrations.
Nearfield monitors are a great option for content creators and home studio producers.
Used by professionals for years, it is a great listening technique to monitor and mix your audio well.
With a good setup, you will have the tools to produce excellent quality audio mixes and ensure your audio will sound good for all your audience, no matter what device they are listening on.
By using nearfield monitors, you can work on the assumption that you are hearing a good representation of your audio, with reduced impact from your room acoustics.
There are many nearfield studio monitors on the market which range in price from less than £100 to many thousands. Typically the more expensive monitors will have a wider frequency range, better sonic quality and audio definition.
If you want a professional studio speaker setup in your content creator studio, nearfield studio monitors are an excellent choice.