Audio has the potential to make or break any video project. This can be the determining factor between your audience losing interest or continuously being intrigued with what they are viewing.
Differences between PC Speakers and Audio Monitors
The average computer user is not conscious of what quality audio sounds like. Standard PC speakers seem to function properly and meet everyday needs. They play all varieties of music, streaming video from the web and even personal video messaging. When the quality of audio on a video seems unsatisfactory, the average user will simply close the window and chalk it up to poor video quality.
Standardized computer speakers are notorious for hiding various types of audio elements. Multiple unsatisfactory traits include a slight hiss to the sound, frequency range less responsive, inconsistency with delivery, various hums and noise interferences from insufficient ground. Improperly-shielded cables also cause noise interference.
Audio monitors will help reveal hidden elements. They are a helpful tool in understanding and deciphering what the project will sound like during the final delivery. With audio being a major part of the video world, details are imperative. Creative professionals have a responsibility to ensure that all audiences enjoy each element of the final product.
Features to Consider
The most common type of audio monitors for editing bays is nearfield. Two important yet very different monitor types are active and passive. Active refers to a monitor that has the amplification built inside. Some benefits to active monitors are that the amplification is engineered for that specific speaker, there is built-in damage prevention, they are compact and there are fewer cables to manage. A prominent downside to active monitors versus passive monitors is upfront pricing for convenience. Passive monitors have no amplifier, which is more cost-efficient initially. The negatives to passive monitors are that you have to buy amplifiers, which can become costly; there are more cables to manage; and there is less damage prevention.
The key to quality sound is making sure the monitor has the basics: a tweeter, a woofer and possibly a bass port. Tweeters generate higher audio frequency sounds. Woofers produce the low and mid-range frequencies. The bass port allows air pressure to escape and adds additional bass frequencies. Keep in mind that it is imperative to find audio monitors that will best suit the most popular delivery destination. Also, the specific dynamics of nearfield audio monitors are best utilized when a creative professional is mixing in a non-treated room, with the parallel walls and low ceiling of an editing suite.
Some editing bays do not have an ideal audio listening environment. For instance, an edit station should never be in the corner of a room. For optimal sound; position two monitors three to five feet away from the listener, creating a triangular space. Monitors should be about four to six feet apart, at ear height, with a clear path to the listener. Try to keep edit stations in the middle of the right and left walls. This will maintain the space needed around the monitors to create optimal sound. It is important to maintain open space behind the listener for natural audio reflections. When establishing your listening environment, place monitors so that the tweeter is on top when stood upright or on the outside when on its side. This will dramatically improve sound performance. Be aware that monitors tend to use the desk as an extra base box, which adds unwanted low- and mid-range frequencies that are not elements of the final product. Eliminate this problem by placing foam under the speakers. A more affordable solution is to use mouse pads.
Use responsible audio levels at all times. Respect the ear and hearing throughout the editing session, or the interpretation of audio will be inconsistent. If the volume is excessively loud, it is too demanding on the ear, and it cannot process the information, causing ear fatigue. If the volume is too low, it is a means for misinterpretation and error of frequencies. For these reasons, allow the ear to rest after an extended period of editing audio for optimal final results.
How to Purchase an Audio Monitor with an Eye to the Future
Plan accordingly. Consider these questions before making a purchase.
Will the audio monitors always be attached to the computer, and the computer only? Some editing bays have audio monitors running out of a sound mixer. The mixer helps bring all types of different inputs and outputs to and from the computer or audio monitors. The mixer can take audio from the computer, video decks, CD players, special video editing hardware and sound booths. Some of these inputs and outputs may be quarter-inch, eighth-inch, XLR and composite. This gives the listener options by simply pressing buttons or pushing sliders.
Another important question: Are these monitors going to be mobile and traveling? If so, transporting the amplifiers to each project is not only an inconvenience but also might result in damage. Self-contained active monitors are a convenient solution for on-location shoots.
Finally, make sure the connections to your computer will work with those of the new monitor. Exposed stereo speaker wires won’t work!
With all the options and technical lingo , purchasing audio monitors can be difficult. Remember the importance of the audio, what to look for, placement and how to plan the purchase are creative professionals’ tools to ensure that all audiences enjoy each element of the final product.
Chris Ducas is a multimedia producer and editor and a professor of Motion Graphics & Media Arts.
Click here to download a PDF Manufacturer’s list of Videomaker‘s Audio Monitors for Video.
Side Bar: What Are You Listening To?
There’s a simple reply to the question of who needs audio monitors: anyone who needs to hear the audio to make creative and sound-editing changes. The rule of thumb when picking audio monitors is to find a set that will match the final product’s sound destination.
For headphones, choose from three types. Closed-back headphones do not allow penetrating sound or allow listening sound to escape. Open-back headphones do the opposite, allowing sounds in and out. Semi-open headphones are a mixture between closed-back and open-back. Closed headphones are recommended.
Audio meters are not essential for a video professional. The volume of the monitor might have nothing to do with the product itself. It is imperative to check the deck or computer, rather than the monitor.
Important note: Keep all power cables away from audio cables. It will cause a distracting hum and will produce poor sound quality.