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7 Concerns When Switching Between Multiple Monitors

Brandon Drury —  May 22, 2010

In an attempt to find issues that maybe aren’t quite so obvious on one set of monitors, I’m often asked if it’s a good idea to purchase multiple monitors/speakers/stereos and then use a switch gadget to switch between them. These “switch gadgets” range from A/V switches using RCA cables you can find at Walmart to much more expensive items like the Presonus Central Station or the Dangerous Audio Monitor ST-SR. Ultimately, the aim is to identify problems immediately, fix them, and save time by finding flaws before a person bothers rendering a mix, burning a cd, and moving to physically different locations to listen.

I want to make it clear that I’m coming from the attitude of a person who trusts his studio monitors. If I had to bet money on a mix translating, I would do it. This is a luxury I’ve only had with my Focal monitors which I purchased last October. If you aren’t in this position, my views may be slightly skewed. However, just keep in mind that if you aren’t willing to bet money on your mixes translating, you are missing out on the single most important requirement for maxing out your recordings. PERIOD.

I have a few random thoughts on this and I’m just going to list them here:

  1. This is not a bad idea, but I’ve found having one set of monitors I REALLY trust is exponentially more beneficial than listening on multiple stereos which I do not trust. This is kind of the difference between having one honest wife or 4 lying girlfriends.
  2. It actually takes discipline to pull this off. What happens when a guitar sound is great in one set of speakers and not-so-great in another set? If a sound is absolutely perfect in one set of speakers, do you go ahead and tear it up and “compromise” so that it only sounds really good in both speakers?
  3. I’ve been in this position and ended up getting lazy, and decided not to ruin my “great” sound. It was the wrong decision as the not-so-great sound is the one that I heard pretty much everywhere else.
    To pull this off properly, just using two, three, or ten different audio systems isn’t an automatic life saver. These stereos must be able to expose specific flaws. For example, the only flaw in my current Focal monitoring system is sibilance is tamed a hair more than I’d like. When I switch to my Audio Technica ATH-M50s studio monitor headphones, I hear this sibilance loud and clear….assuming I didn’t catch it on the Focal monitors. If another set of monitors didn’t expose this sibilance, I’m not sure what benefit they would be.
  4. Just randomly listening on different stereos has a certain benefit, but only if you really, really, know these stereos inside and out. To listen in some random car is 100% useless in my opinion as we’ve all been in cars where it was obvious the guy driving was both deaf and blind.
  5. If you’ve never moved your monitors to a totally different room, you are probably dramatically underestimating the power the room has on the monitors. Moving a stereo from your bedroom to your recording room may turn your lion into a turtle or your snot rag into a tiger. Be prepared for a transformation.
  6. There needs to be a boss and a subordinate in terms of your monitoring systems. If you have two “leaders” butting heads, you’ll run into the discipline problem mentioned above. I think it’s best to have one set trusted set of monitors you listen to 99% of the time. You test it on another system just to find flaws, but immediately after addressing it you’ve got to go back to the main monitors again.
  7. There’s a point when the flaws of democracy kick in. In other words, maybe one monitor tells you one thing, another monitor tells you another, and another monitor tells you another. While you want to keep all three happy enough not to revolt, I don’t think you are ever going to make all three monitors 100% happy. This is the other side to the mix translation thing. You want to spend your time making a bad ass, exciting mix. You definitely do not want to spend all your time playing the “Make All Your Monitors” happy game. There are times when trying to make three monitors happy actually makes the final mix worse. Not always, but sometimes.
Brandon Drury

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Brandon Drury quit counting at 1,200 recorded songs in his busy home recording studio. He is the creator of RecordingReview.com and is the author of the Killer Home Recording series.
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3 responses to 7 Concerns When Switching Between Multiple Monitors

  1. Although being able to switch monitors throughout the mixing process sounds like a good idea initially, I think this setup may ultimately create more headaches than necessary. Because then, for every action you take, you will have to decide which set of monitors is being more accurate when, say, you cut frequency x on the rhythm guitar track, or boost the level of the bass guitar, etc.; making decisions is hard enough when dealing with only one set of monitors.

    My approach to checking a mix’s compatibility on different playback systems is:

    1) occasionally switch over to headphones and check the mix there;

    2) get the mix sounding as good as possible on the monitors, mix down to audio file, burn to CD, take a break and then carry the CD to different playback devices (decent hi-fi system, cheap boom box, car stereo, etc.) and take notes on what could be done differently to make the mix sound even better. Then go back to the original mix and try out those ideas.

    The last thing I need during mixing is constant indecisiveness and doubts. Or at least any more than already is!

  2. I agree. As the article pointed out, eventually you get to where you are having a “speaker contest” instead of simply doing your thing. This is why I also believe that one set of monitors should definitely be your primary method of listening.

    Brandon

  3. Operating two pairs of monitor speakers can make sense with one pair in the direct field, far closer to the listener than the critical distance, and another pair in the diffuse field far beyond the critical distance. This requires an appropriate listening room with no distinguishable early reflections and a very short reverberation time, ideally below 30 ms. All speakers should be built as closed boxes. An even diffuse field amplitude frequency response over a wide dynamic range is obligatory for both pairs. The direct field monitor’s driver directivities must provide amplitude and phase frequency responses as linear as possible for the listener’s position.

    Naturally this doesn’t mean an even response to the direct field signal for the listener as this is definitely impossible on principal for direct sound! As well as everyone’s external ear will react the same in the diffuse field, it will individually extremely different in the direct field. Therefore any use of direct field monitors forcibly demands of the listener a very good knowing of his outer ear since the pressure buildup will affect the personal frequency range in the direct field very significantly. You must never make decisions to compensate your own hearing as this will be perceived individually rather different. (Note: In the direct field, the author’s most distinctive peak is + 3.5 dB at 3560 Hz, and the author’s most distinctive notch is -3.0 dB at 4490 Hz, i. e. 6.5 dB difference in level perception only four halftones apart, with a Q factor of about five!)

    Using appropriate closed boxes chances are that subwoofers are not required at all. Otherwise, for every pair that requires subwoofers there should be used a pair of them in unvented enclosures with a very precise positioning. Of course, any subwoofer is sensible only in a room with sufficient size. To bring it together with an RT60 below 30 ms is a real challenge but the ultimate solution for real stereo.

    For all of us including myself who don’t have such an ideal environment, one pair should do and will do. It even can do for both mixing and mastering when selected thoroughly, and it won’t have to cost you an arm and a leg, too.