Audio Monitors Buyer's Guide

If you are listening to your edited masterpiece on the speakers that came with your computer, you are in need of an upgrade.

You may have heard the horror stories of a finished video that played to an audience for the first time which sounded so bad and was definitely not what was heard during the editing process. The speakers installed in a video monitor or small television just won’t cut it. The same goes for those tiny speakers that came with your computer. Neither solution will give you a large enough range of frequencies to work properly. Great video with terrible audio is unwatchable. So stop relying on those speakers attached to your computer and upgrade. With this guide, getting a new pair of audio monitors will not be a hassle.

Deciding Factors

How much you have to spend will be the single most important factor in this category. Balancing features you need with the price you can afford can be tricky and rather time-consuming. The best place to start is with a simple question: are you designing a new editing suite? If the answer is yes, you should consider the audio monitors as part of the budget. Far too often, many editing suites will leave out the audio monitors as a later option after the money is spent. This will seriously limit the quality and type of audio monitor you can buy. If you are designing a new editing suite, you can account for the space and money needed to purchase the audio monitors.

When designing or upgrading, you should think about the placement of the audio monitors. Placement may not seem important, but you want to be able to adjust them later if needed, and you want to keep the audio monitors level with your ear. Thinking about your seating position is important when deciding where you are going to place the monitors. Sure, you could hang the audio monitors from the ceiling, but you will probably not be satisfied with the sound you get. If the audio monitors are too far away or too close to your ears, the volume will become an issue. Personal preference will win out, so trying different placements and setups is crucial.

Those of you who already have an editing suite and have decided to add audio monitors to it are in a different boat altogether. In your case, you may not be able to make new space available just for new audio monitors. When space is an issue, you need to consider the size of the speakers first. Once you have chosen the size, you can shop around for the pair that sounds the best. I should mention that a simple portable boombox can also work. If the boombox has a jack in the back for hooking up audio, you can use the boombox to play back the audio. This approach can be a space-saving solution to your problem. If space is an issue and you plan to place the new speakers close to a computer monitor or TV, those speakers need to be magnetically shielded. The magnets inside the speaker cases can cause problems with the TV or computer monitor.

What Do You Do?

If you do a lot of work that requires true sound reproduction, you will want to make sure that the audio monitors you purchase are as good as you can afford. Accurate sound reproduction is crucial, so you do not miss out on sounds you may have recorded without your knowledge. Adequate sound reproduction will get the job done and save you money. Knowing the type of projects you edit will help you decide which audio monitor is best suited for your needs.

Many of you reading this will argue that you can simply use a pair of good headphones that take up no space at all. While headphones do have many advantages, they also have some disadvantages. Exposure to loud noises inches from your ear can be damaging to your ear, as well as becoming rather tiring to listen to. Headphones close off your ears from air and any other sound. Headphones do not mimic a natural sound environment; therefore, what may sound low or too high to you when you’re wearing headphones will not come out right when you hear it through speakers. Audio monitors allow you to better judge what sounds may and may not work in an open-air natural listening environment.

Knowing the type of work you do most will make balancing the quality and the price a lot easier.

What to Look For

In addition to the sound, cost and size of the audio monitors, there are still some things you want to look for that can help narrow the choices.

One of the best features to look for on any audio monitor is the power switch, in some form or another, on the monitor itself. While this feature can be overlooked, it is pretty important, as you want control over when the speakers are turned on or off.

A headphone jack is a nice feature as well. I briefly touched on headphones earlier, and being able to just hook in your headphones to the audio monitor makes it easy to use both instead of one exclusively. Try to seek out a power switch and headphone jack that are on the top or the front of the speaker, as it’s not very convenient to have them on the back.

Some speakers will come with an amplifier. Those without an amplifier need to have an external amp of some sort. Depending on your use, a simple amplified speaker can be the best of both worlds.

Speaking of the volume, you need to think about how loud is loud. Some people have a tendency to listen to everything a little louder than others. The higher the volume, the more power that is needed to drive the sound. When the volume goes up, the chance of distortion also increases.

Frequency is an important feature in audio monitors. The frequency range will allow you to see how high a frequency the speaker can accurately reproduce and also how low. There are two types of monitors available. Full-frequency response monitors will be able to properly reproduce a wide range of sounds, from the highest high to the lowest low. These are usually large floor-standing monitors and, while they reproduce a broad frequency of sounds, they can be very expensive. Full-frequency monitors can reproduce sound in the 20 to 20,000Hz range. Depending upon how important sound is to your final edit, you may need to spend the money for a set of full-frequency speakers. On the other hand, there are restricted-frequency response monitors. These monitors will usually be able to reproduce frequencies in the 45 to 20,000Hz range. Keep in mind that, while frequencies are important, the sound of an audio monitor is vastly more important. A good monitor should be able to make the human voice sound right.

The best way to choose the right audio monitor is to try out several before you buy. Go to the store and listen. Pick the one that sounds the best to you. Keep in mind that most stores will have a 30-day return policy.


How Much?

The range of prices for audio monitors is vast: from a simple set of computer speakers all the way to a full-fledged surround-sound audio setup. If you can’t spend a lot of money to buy a great pair of audio monitors, a good pair of bookshelf speakers will do the trick. Usually, you can get a decent pair that will sound good and do the job for around $100 to $300. If you need stronger and deeper bass, you will be spending a little more. These speakers will reproduce deeper bass while still maintaining a good sound. In this range, you are looking at spending anywhere from $300 to $600. Spend above the $600 level, and you can get a great-sounding and usually rather large set of audio monitors that will reproduce a full range of frequencies accurately. Spending more will not always be the right decision. It’s more important to match the right speakers with the right projects.

Following these simple steps will make adding audio monitors to your editing suite a breeze, no matter how simple or elaborate that suite is.

John Devcic is a freelance writer and videographer.

To download PDF of Manufacturer’s list, CLICK HERE.

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