Studio speakers (also known as studio monitors) are a tool which helps the production of good quality audio mixes. Studio speakers are intended to be acoustically unbiased and reproduce sound accurately. Hi-Fi speakers are intended for general listening and to make music sound as good and as pleasing as possible to the end user.
“Loudspeaker” is an umbrella term under which all speakers sit. There are a variety of loudspeaker applications, but two of the most popular applications of loudspeakers are:
Why are studio speakers called “studio monitors”?
When we talk about “monitors” in the professional loudspeaker world, we are referring to a speaker that is designed to “monitor” audio.
Studio monitors are speakers designed for studio use or audio production with the intention of reproducing sound accurately without adding “colouration’s” . This means that these speakers are designed to be as unbiased as possible and reproduce sound as closely as possible to the original recording.
This allows audio mix and mastering engineers to make good decisions when mixing audio.
For example, if you own a studio monitor which adds a lot of bass to a recording as a result of the design, you may try to reduce the bass on your audio mix at the production stage.
Then when this recording is distributed and played on other sound systems, it may lack bass as you cut it out in the production stage.
Studio monitors are designed to be as “flat” as possible, without adding any enhanced sound qualities to recordings so audio engineers can really analyse a recording and ensure that it will play well on all speaker systems outside of the studio.
So really, monitors are intended as a tool for critically listening to audio and making sound design decisions.
What are Hi-Fi speakers?
Hi-Fi speakers on the other hand are designed to enhance the listener experience and produce high quality precision audio.
Hi-fi speakers are mostly found in home theatre music systems and come in a variety of forms such as floor standing speakers, bookshelf speakers and desktop speakers.
Good hi-fi speakers will create an excellent listening experience for the average person.
On a great hi-fi speaker system you will hear audio detail and music like never before. It is all about having a good listening experience overall.
With top quality hi-fi systems, you can appreciate your favourite music and hear musical details that you may never appreciate on a standard pair of desktop PC speakers.
If Hi-Fi speakers make audio sound great for the listener, why aren’t they used in sound production?
Logically you may think “if hi-fi is the end product that the consumer will be listening on, why don’t producers mix their audio on hi-fi speaker systems?”
Music producers and audio engineers need to hear their audio recordings in a way that is unbiased and as accurate to the original recording as possible. This is important to ensure that the end result will sound good across a variety of devices.
Using hi-fi speakers in an audio production setting will only add coloration’s or “enhancements” that may not truly be there in the actual recording.
Can I use my home hi-fi speakers as studio monitors?
Studio monitors are typically more expensive than hi-fi speakers so many content creators will want to know if they can use their home hi-fi system instead.
Whether you can use your home hi-fi speakers successfully as studio monitors depends on factors such as your speaker specifications and what type of audio you are working with. Unfortunately there is no clear cut answer to this question.
Of course you can use any old pair of speakers, be it hi-fi or studio monitors to produce audio content, but the end result will vary.
If you are the type of content creator that is mainly producing speech based content with background music, it is much easier to use any speaker system as you are more interested in setting overall volume levels.
However, if you are mixing complex audio such as music with many instruments, then a flat response, unbiased studio monitoring system is critical to success in order for your music to sound good across a variety of devices.
To throw another curve ball into the debate, speaker specifications are different across all speakers – from studio monitors to hi-fi speakers.
Therefore you could have a designed studio monitor which is not very good for audio monitoring as the manufacturer’s design actually adds colouration’s and enhancements, potentially making you hear stuff that isn’t really there.
On the other hand, you could have a hi-fi speaker which is “flatter”, actually making it more suitable for studio monitoring as it does not enhance the audio too much!
How can I use any speaker system for my audio content production?
Studio monitors are always the best speaker system for audio content production however, they are expensive.
If you are in a position where you use a home hi-fi system for your content production, try the method below which uses reference audio and many listening devices to check your audio production.
This is what I used to do before I could afford quality studio monitors and was forced to work basic hi-fi speakers.
#1. Pick a reference audio track
To make your audio sound good it helps to have a benchmark. Therefore if you are a music producer and want your music to sound like your favourite songs, pick a few of your favourite tracks to use as a reference track.
Similarly, if you are a content creator producing podcasts or audio books, pick the professional content that you want to sound like for your reference audio.
This will be your reference audio. This is your “audio target”.
#2. Critically listen to the reference audio track and compare it to your own.
Critical listening is an essential skill in producing good quality audio.
Critical listening means focusing on specific aspects of the audio and really considering how it sounds.
Think about how the bass sounds in your reference audio? Is the vocal crisp and clear? What level is the background music?
You need to listen to the elements of the reference track and not the overall sound.
Now listen to your audio and how does it compare? Have you too much bass? Are your vocals clear?
This might seem weird if you are new to this as it takes some time to tune into different elements of a track. This may need some practice.
From personal experience, I think when you first start critical listening and comparing yourself to a professional audio recording, don’t get discouraged – you are not trying to replicate their audio, just trying to identify where you can improve.
#3. Listen to your audio on as many devices as possible.
The whole point of studio monitor speakers is to listen to an unbiased, true recording so you can mix and produce the audio in a way that will sound good across a variety of devices – or anywhere.
Take your audio and listen to it on as many speakers as possible – anything you can find from hi-fi, to PC speakers to headphones and even car speakers.
Without access to studio monitors this is essential to do as you are moving your audio to different locations and truly hearing how it sounds across a variety of speaker systems.
It is important to listen to your reference audio also, so you can critically compare your audio to your favourite professional mix on all these speaker systems.
Even the most seasoned professional audio engineers with access to the best studio monitors will do this, as the end goal when mixing audio content is to ensure that it sounds good across all devices and speaker systems.
Studio monitors are a tool intended to help audio engineers listen to their audio recordings in an unbiased way, which are as close as possible to the original recordings.
Hi-fi speakers on the other hand are designed for the end consumer and will try to make music sound great, adding enhancements to make you love the sound.
When recording and producing audio content, it is really important to hear a true reproduction of what you have recorded, therefore studio monitors are the best choice.
However, often studio monitors are expensive, therefore many content creators use their home hi-fi system in the production of audio to help save on studio costs.
In theory, you can produce audio on any speaker system, but be aware of any “enhancements” that hi-fi systems may add to your audio content.
Hi-fi speakers are intended to make audio sound good so may have a natural bass and treble boost built in that is not there in reality.
If your only option are hi-fi speakers for producing your audio content, ensure you listen to your audio across a variety of devices from phones, to laptops to PC speakers etc, to ensure your audio sounds good across a lot of devices before releasing your content.