Studio monitors

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Monitor speakers & headphones are your 'eyes' to the audio you are creating & mixing and therefore you want your monitor speakers to deliver the most accurate tonal balance & stereo image of your music that you can achieve...
But here's the weird thing... the most popular nearfield monitor used to mix pretty much every hit record and album you ever listened to - from the late 80s, through the 90s and on into the early 2000's (and to some extent still to this day) - was the Yamaha NS10, which was actually a hi-fi speaker with a NOT very good tonal balance at all, yet it was the speaker of choice for producers. Every studio had a pair of NS10's (or the producer would bring their own pair with them) and you'd also find NS10's in every record company & publishing company office... literally everyone in the music biz had a pair of NS10's so that everyone could hear what the mix sounded like when it was mixed in the control room using the same NS10 model of speakers.

So what does this tell us? What it tells us is that a perfectly balanxced speaker is not really required to turn out quality mixes & on top of that, truthfully there is actually no such thing as a perfectly 'flat' monitor speaker which does NOT in some way colour the sound with it's own tonal balance & character. Therefore despite the promotional material from every speaker company telling you how flat and perfectly balanced and 'un-coloured' their monitor is, every speaker exhibits it's own subtle character & further to that, the room you work & mix in also imparts it's character onto the sound which also influences decisions you make when mixing.

So the bottom line is, within reason you can actually work with and mix with any speakers at all, as long as they do NOT hype any particular frequency area of the music badly. Whichever monitor speakers you buy, you need to 'learn' them & how the room & speaker combination works in your setup. To do this you perform lots of practice mixes and play them on other peoples' studio speakers, hi-fi systems & even in cars etc. Gradually you start to find that if on all systems you listen to your mixes on the treble is over-cooked or undercooked, or the bass is too loud or not loud enough or whatever, then you learn that your combination of speakers & room causes you to add too much or not enough bass, or too much or not enough treble etc... You then compensate for that in your mixes, gradually adjusting how you mix to suit your room & speaker combination.

So given all that - what is a studio nearfield monitor? Well it's simply a small monitor speaker, which can handle continual fairly loud signal levels for extended periods of time & which generally does NOT hype the audio frequencies in any given part of the usual 20Hz to 20kHz frequency range we work with.


Classic studio monitors

Nowadays there are more studio monitors available than you can shake a stick at, from huge main monitors to small nearfields, but it wasn't always that way.

Altec Lansing developed the worlds first studio monitor with the 604 duplex driver, and this ruled supreme in the United States and elsewhere with Tannoy releasing their dual-concentric speaker design to much acclaim on the other side of the pond.

The Altecs ruled supreme in the USA, the Tannoys in the UK with some crossover. James B Lansing left Altec Lansing & started his own company JBL which quickly became the industry standard, dominating studios worldwide through the 1970's & 80's with both large format & nearfield designs until the Yamaha NS10 arrived and became the nearfield monitor of choice.

As you can see from the assortment of early classic 'Far-field' main monitors, the design thinking persued initially by Putnam at Urei when modifying the Altec 604 and then by James B Lansing at his newly formed JBL company (which Urei became a subsidiery of), and again by Tom Hindley at Westlake & Roger Quested in London, was to use 2 x 15 bass woofers combined with a mid/treble horn driver & super-tweeter design, almost like a miniature PA system. On the smaller nearfield side of things we can see how the sealed box infinate-baffle approach initially came to dominate nearfield designs adopted by producers the world over starting with the AR18 & also in the slightly later NS10m. Nowadays almost all popular nearfields use a ported design to achieve extended bass response at a lower price point.

Anyways, here's a selection of some classic studio monitors from over the earlier years of studio design.

Classic studio monitors

Altec Lansing 604 duplex

The 604 speaker design was fitted in various cabinets & has seen various updates over the years, but essentially this dual concentric speaker designed by James B. Lansing (who went on to form JBL) became the first studio monitor speaker standard in the USA from it's creation in 1944 until JBL started to take over in the 70's. The 604 was also chosen by EMI in the UK for all it's facilities although Tannoy, with it's own dual-concentric design tended to dominate on the european side of the pond. The 604 features a 15" bass driver with a 1.75" treble cone. The 604 was used in the original Urei 813's. A bit of history therefore.

Urei 813

Designed by Bill Putnam, Dean Austin & Dennis Fink at Urei, the 813 monitor started life as a modifed Altec Lansing 604 with an added 15" sub-woofer and employing Ed Long's Time-Alignment™ crossover technology. The 813 went through various revisions from it's intial release in 1977. The 813A was released in 1979 and the 813B in 1983. Later that year Putnam sold Urei to Harmon & the company became a subsidiary of JBL Professional, with the 813C being released in 1984 using all JBL drivers. The Urei 813 is probably the most successful main studio monitor ever made & established the dual 15" format for large sized 'Far-field' monitors which followed from a variety of designers & companies.

JBL 4310

Released in 1968, the JBL 4310 was the worlds first purpose designed nearfield studio monitor & the worlds first 3-way monitor. It quickly became one of JBL's biggest sellers & by the 1970's it (and the subsequent 4311 upgrade) reigned supreme across studios as a smaller sized bookshelf style nearfield until the 1980's when the Yamaha NS10 became the nearfield of choice for mix engineers. The drivers used in the originals were the 123A woofer, LE5-2 midrange and LE20 tweeter. The 4310's feature the two smaller drivers mounted on a raised oval or 'racetrack' wooden panel, the idea being this would bring the drivers forward of the cabinet surround & therefore reduce high frequency reflections from the cabinet edges. However this idea was found to not produce the results JBL's designers supposed & it was dropped for the later 4311 update.

JBL 4311

Legendary 1970's studio monitors from the other side of the pond. Featuring a 12" long-throw bass driver which was coated with a 'special' damping compund which tightened them up, a 5" driver pushes the 4" mid-range cone & a 1.4" treble unit is surrounded by a foam ring which dampens unwanted radiation/reflections. 4311's feature a Prescence & Brilliance control which respectively adjust the level at the crossover points from 1500Hz to 6kHz for the presence & above 6Khz for brilliance.

Acoustic Research AR18

Utilising Acoustic Research's patented 'Acoustic Suspension' sealed-box design first brought to market with the AR-1 in the early 1950's, the AR-18's were released around 1977 & featured an 8" bass driver & 32mm treble driver. AR18's & the other models in the ADD range redefined the bass end you could get from a smaller speaker & in many ways helped usher in smaller high-quality hi-fi speakers with the public. This mid 1970's ADD range also introduced AR's liquid cooled dome tweeter. AR18's were found in studios all over the world from the late 70's & on into the 80's and beyond. You can think of it as the American forerunner of the Yamaha NS10 which is also a sealed-box design, but with a much better sound. Fantastic detail in the mid-range & a warm & tight bass which goes nice and deep. Listen to something like Bob Marley's Survival album on these and the bass is super-deep & very very tight, with a smooth midrange & upper detail revealing subtle use of percussion instruments which you previously had not noticed.

Yamaha NS10m

Designed by Akira Nakamura and launched in 1978, the NS10m was a not particularly good hi-fi monitor which received lacklustre reviews from the hi-fi world but soon became THE standard nearfield monitor found in studios all over the world. The NS10m features an unusual folded & glued 7" (180mm) bass driver with 35mm tweeter & is a sealed-box design. The original NS10m can be identified by it's model lettering being aligned for vertical positioning, with the later NS10m Studio version having the graphics turned 90 degrees as the speakers were almost always laid on their side horizontally in studios. The NS10m Studio released around 1987 also had a redesigned tweeter & crossover which made the top end less harsh than the original hi-fi version. Engineers used to stick a Rizla or other tissue paper over the tweeter on the original NS10m to reduce it's somewhat over-enthusiastic performance & beleive it or not there's a whole discussion on which is the right sort of tissue paper to use (seriously!). The NS10m soldiered on turning out for mix duty on almost every hit record of the 80's & 90's until it was discontinued in 2001. Probably the most famous nearfield monitor of all time, but it really doesn't have a very good sound.

Westlake Audio Monitor

Designed & built in 1970 by studio legend Tom Hindley for the Record Plant. The 15" bass drivers were originally Gauss with the two treble drivers being JBL. Hindley went on to form the Westlake company in 1971 to market his monitors. He left for Europe in 1975 and setup Eastlake, therefore these monitors are variously known as the Westlake, Sierra or Eastlake. What do they sound like? Well the best way to describe them is it's like listening to a high quality live PA or night-club speaker system in a control room, with really deep, in-your-guts, bone-crushing bass-end punch with serious dynamics & a not too amazing top-end that has enough detail for what you use main monitors for.

Auratone 5c Super Sound Cube

Auratone were founded in 1958 by Jack Wilson in California & these classic 6" wood cubes housing a 5" full-range driver have become a studio legend used to mix an endless list of hit records from Micheal Jackson's Thriller to The Bee Gees Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. The speakers have a quoted frequency range for 75Hz - 15kHz but the top end starts to shelf off at around 12k. The Auratones garnered the nickname 'Horrortones' and are often labelled as poor quality 'grot boxes', yet they are surprisingly accurate within their frequency range and offer a revealing midrange picture so important to mix engineers. The Auratone 5C is now reissued by the Wilson family & was inducted into the TEC Hall of Fame in 2016 along with other classics like the Shure SM58 & Roland RE-201 Space Echo. You can still buy these today made by the same family owned business in re-released form from any good music tech retailer.

JBL 4350

Weighing in at 110k these huge 1970's JBL main monitors are something of a studio legend. The 4350 requires two amps as it has seperate inputs for bass & upper frequencies & it features dual 15" bass reflex (2231a driver), 12" mid/bass reflex (2202a driver), acoustic lens horn (2308+2311+2440 driver components) & 2405 tweeter. Fully refurbished these will cost you about £10-12 grand today (based on a recent sale by MJQ)

JBL Control One

JBL's 1987 answer to the Yamaha NS10m and the newly fast emerging home studio & small quality nearfield monitor market. Having a +/- 3dB range of 120Hz to 20kHz, the Control One cabinet is moulded from polypropylene structural foam & the units are magnetically sheilded. The speakers feature a 5.25" bass/midrange driver & a 3/4" Polycarbonate dome tweeter. With big volume handling for their tiny size and a classic JBL 'present' & detailed punchy sound, these babies have to be added for posterity. Wall & stand mounting via built-in recessed bolt connectors, they were usually found sitting on mixer meter bridges and many studios still use them today. You can buy the Control One's today as the updated Control 1 Pro for £111 GBP.

Quested Q215

Roger Quested worked in various named studios and after designing & building a speaker system for Dick James's (DJM) studio, people heard this forerunner of the Q215 in action and requested he make a pair for them. Eventually he left studio work to form Quested Monitoring Systems in 1985, releasing the Q215. Quested quickly gained a reputation for producing large format monitors with unrivalled accuracy and minimal listener fatigue. Pioneering the use of soft dome drivers and bucking the trend of compression drivers at the time. Early adopters included Abbey Road, Trevor Horn’s SARM West, Ridge Farm & Trident. Quested monitors have been a hugely respected brand ever since, used by the likes of Hans Zimmer and many more.

ATC SCM200 / SCM300

1984 & ATC release their big main monitors the SCM 200a & SCM300a featuring their EC23 3-way stereo electronic crossover with phase correction. Pictured here are the current models the 200ASL & 300ASL. ATC large format, main 'far-field' monitors can be found in the highest quality studios around the world & have an unequalled reputation at a very high price point. These 2 babies started it all for ATC's big boxes. The 200a uses 2 x 12" bass woofers & the 300a uses 2 x 15" with both models utilising ATC's 1976 developed 75mm “Super Dome” mid driver & 34mm soft dome tweeter. No list of large-format main monitors would be complete without ATC which are something of a studio legend.

Spirit Absolute Zero

1996 these rear ported Absolute Zero passive monitors were designed by Trevor Stride who also designed Soundcraft's big selling Absolute 2 monitors, received good reviews and sold well, costing around £200 GBP on release. 170mm bass driver (replacements are available. AUDAX HT170ST2) & a 25mm Audax soft dome tweeter (replacements also available) fitted inside a large Waveguide horn which was designed to focus dispersion to a 90 degree angle and reduce cabinet edge diffraction. They are nicely flat across the frequency range with the bass end starting to roll off starting at around 100Hz down to a bottom end of around 55Hz, but you get a nice bass end. The Absolute Zero's are rated at 95 Watt with a quoted 55Hz to 18kHz range & can be positioned vertically or horizontally & have gold plated connection posts which accept bare wire, fork connectors or 4mm Banana plugs.

Spirit Absolute 2

1996 these rear ported Absolute Zero passive monitors were designed by Trevor Stride who also designed Soundcraft's big selling Absolute 2 monitors, received good reviews and sold well, costing around £200 GBP on release. 170mm bass driver (replacements are available. AUDAX HT170ST2) & a 25mm Audax soft dome tweeter (replacements also available) fitted inside a large Waveguide horn which was designed to focus dispersion to a 90 degree angle and reduce cabinet edge diffraction. They are nicely flat across the frequency range with the bass end starting to roll off starting at around 100Hz down to a bottom end of around 55Hz, but you get a nice bass end. The Absolute Zero's are rated at 95 Watt with a quoted 55Hz to 18kHz range & can be positioned vertically or horizontally & have gold plated connection posts which accept bare wire, fork connectors or 4mm Banana plugs.


From 1983, the AKG LSM50 is a compact monitor jointly designed with BBC for use within the broadcaster's studio networks. The original Mk1 versions were therefore fitted with the preferred BBC specification of a reversed Male XLR rear signal connector socket which also helped maintain an airtight connection critical for this speaker's sealed infinite baffle design. The LSM50 utilises a full-range 5 ½" driver which means there's no crossover in these boxes. The LSM50's are rated at 50 Watts & are usually referred to as the 'British' Auratone, retailing at around £60 GBP on release.

Tannoy DTM-8

Released in 1985 for a retail price of around £360 GBP, the DTM-8 was a Tannoy monitor marketed squarely at the studio near-field & rapidly expanding home-studio main monitor sectors, rather than as a quality hi-fi speaker which could be used for studio duties, & it sold very well indeed. The speakers employ a dual concentric 200mm  (7.87") Tannoy 2008S driver array utilising a main polyolefin cone, mounted in a front ported design cabinet which was made of Medite, a denser form of MDF board. These units incorporated a time-aligned tweeter. The plastic panel surrounding the front ports could be detached and repositioned at 90 degree to maintain horizontal lettering if the units were used laying on their side as was often the case.

Did we miss a classic studio monitor from the past? Do you own any of these & want to give your own experience? Please leave your comments at the bottom of the page... No need to register, just tell us what you think.

British hi-fi speakers

'British' speakers was a term coined back in the old days which not only meant the speakers were British made, but more importantly it refered to a pair of monitor speakers which delivered a 'flat', accurate & detailed output... meaning they didn't hype the sound at all like typical hi-fi speakers from Japanese companies.

If you go back only 20 years ago or so your choices for nearfield studio monitors for the home studio sector were not that big & a good pair of 'British' speakers combined with a decent amp was a sure way to get the job done.

Just like with British outboard, pre-amps and all the rest, quite a bit of British speaker design leads back to British designers working for the BBC or companies contracting to build BBC designs.

Here's a selection of old classics all of which require an amp to power them.

Classic 'British' speakers

The LS3/5a monitor

Designed by the BBC for use in their mobile recording units, LS3/5a speakers didn't feature some amazing new driver design, but rather the quality of the sound was in the BBC designed crossover. The BBC outsourced production to various manufacturers, including Rogers (now being produced again), Spendor, KEF, Goodmans & Chartwell (as seen in the image here). A classic monitor!

Tannoy Dual Concentrics

Golds, Little Golds, Reds etc. Tannoy's classic dual-concentric speakers mount the tweeter in the centre of the bass speaker. They say if you want to hear what a classic 60's or 70's track from a band like the Stones sounded like in the control room then you need to hear it on some old Tannoys. Used to record & mix thousands of classic albums including the likes of Pink Floyd to classic 90's dance acts, you have to really hear a pair of Tannoy Duals to understand how great they sound.

Mordaunt-Short MS20

Released in 1984 the Mordaunt-Short MS20 found it's way into many recording studios as a nearfield monitor. The original design was a sealed box 'infinite baffle' design, whereas later versions added porting. Sporting a Mordaunt-Short designed DSB208 8" bass/mid driver and an Audax TW74 tweeter, the earlier sealed box ones can be thought of as something like the British NS10 monitor. Phil Ward designed a 'Pro' version of the speaker with a different tweeter but it never came to market.

Mordaunt-Short MS3.10

The MS3.10 is a rear-ported 'bookshelf' speaker, which means they perform best when positioned close to a rear wall in 'Firing-squad' position (which is good for small bedroom studios). These little 4.5" driver monitors are excellent value & deliver a really good balanced nearfield image of your mix for little money on Ebay.

Warfdale Diamond MK1

A game-changer when released in 1982, these little bookshelf speakers reaped awards for their sound. Like the Mordaunt-Short MS3.10 these speakers prefer a 'Firing-squad' position (back against the wall) which is ideal for little bedroom set-ups. A just over 5 litre rear-ported box is fitted with a 120mm long-throw polypropylene bass/mid driver & a bought-in Audax 10mm dome tweeter. A great, small, nearfield monitor.

Acoustic Energy AE1

Released in 1987 as a semi-professional reference monitor, these metal driver equipped monitors set a new standard for a speaker of a smaller size. Very expensive to buy secondhand now as they are considered a classic monitor with a superb sound for their size. Featuring a 110mm bass/mid driver and a 25mm magnesium alloy dome tweeter.

Richard Allen Pavane

Hailing from Batley in Yorkshire these are real vintage classics. The huge cabinets measure 25" high x 15" wide x 12" deep & house vintage Richard Allen paper drivers with a 12" bass, 8" midrange and a 4" tweeter. You need to get these a good 3 to 4 feet from any rear wall, mounted on stands (a stack of breeze blocks works best), but they have a massive sound with a monster bass-end loud enough to literally shake the structure of a house. They have a quite pronounced mid-range, but particularly for dance music and especially hip-hop you tend to turn out really well balanced mixes on them.

Heybrook HB1

This sealed box design from 1983 won awards a-plenty. Powered by an 8" Vifa bass/mid driver these speakers featured a very good crossover and went down as far as 30Hz at the bass-end. You can buy them nowadays in kit form with an upgraded but similar tweeter from Wilmslow audio. Not designed as a studio monigtor but a great speaker for any studio.

Richard Allen RA8

The RA8 was a high quality, accurate nearfield speaker which the BBC purchased in very high quantities. Any of the RA8 series are good, including the later RA8 Series II & the RA8m. Rated at 50 Watts (but can handle 100 Watt peaks) these speaker generally have a quoted freq' response of 60Hz to 20kHz. A "detailed sound with a smooth bass" was how Paul White summed up the MkII's in his 1991 review in Home & Studio Recording mag. I actually owned and used a pair of these for several years, and mixes done on them were always accepted as final master by various record labels. A sealed box 'infinite baffle' design you can think of them as a British NS10m and they behave quite similarly but with a flatter sound & lower bass to my ears.

Did we miss a classic British speaker from the past? Do you own any of these & want to give your own experience? Please leave your comments at the bottom of the page... No need to register, just tell us what you think.

Monitor setup

So you've got your monitor speakers and the room you work in, but speakers need to be setup in the correct position to get the best listening for accuracy. You don't have to go over the top with speakers & listening position, but here's the general rules you should try and stick to:

Room shape: Most of us have our music studio setup in a room in a house or in a converted garage or workroom premises & that means it will usually be a rectangle shape. Unless the room is very big, it is always best to setup your speakers & listening position along the length of the room like in the picture below.

Speakers v rear wall: Ideally your speakers should not be placed right up against the rear wall, unless specifically you are using speakers which state that they should be setup in 'Firing Squad' position (backs against the wall). With most speakers you should leave a minimum 12" gap between the rear of the speaker & the wall to avoid over-hyped bass.

Speakers v side walls: Do not have your speakers right up close to the side walls. Ideally want to leave a gap of around 24" inches.

Seating position: Ideally you should not sit 50% or more down the length of the room from the speakers position. This is because rooms tend to reduce bass in the middle. The best position is around 38% of the room length from the speakers as shown.
Check the picture above & working to the general rules I just explained setup your speaker position like this:

Step-1. Start by positioning the speakers approx 12" from the rear wall & approx 24" from the side walls. If your room is very narrow you might only be able to get the speakers around 12" from the side walls or they will be too close together, that is ok, but the further you can get the speakers from the side-walls the better.

Step-2. Now position the speakers facing inwards at an angle as shown and position your chair at the point of an equilateral triangle between the speakers. An eqilateral triangle has equal degrees in each corner: 60 degrees x 60 degrees x 60 degrees.

Step 3. (Optional) Add bass corner traps which should be tall enough to extend above & below the speakers' position.

Step 4. (Optional) Add acoustic absorber/diffuser panels on the left/right walls positioned about 50% distance between speakers and listening position.

That's it. You are all done. Now you just need to learn how your speakers and room sound together.

General tips

Tip-1: If your speakers are placed on a wooden desktop, sit each speaker on a bag of sand!

Professional speaker stands are usually filled with sand to make them dead & we can very cheaply copy this technique. You can buy small 5 - 10 kgm bags of builders sand from any DIY hardware chain. Buy 2 bags of sand. The size of the bag should be such that when it is placed flat on a desktop it is big enough for your speaker to sit on it with room to spare round the edges. Sitting your speakers on sand-bags will kill any resonances from travelling into the desk they are sitting on. if the bags don't look nice wrap them in a decorative or plain fabric secured with gaffa tape underneath.

Tip-2: You can make super efficient corner bass traps by using cheap cotton-filled futon mattresses!

Corner bass traps are actually quite expensive to buy, but you can make really efficient ones with no actual construction work.

IMPORTANT: a real futon mattress is not made of foam, it is made of packed cotton wadding. For this to work, the futon mattresses you use must be filled with cotton wadding.

Get two single or double futon mattresses from somewhere like Ikea or from ebay & roll each one up tightly into a sausage-roll shape. Now secure the rolled-up mattresses with some bungy straps or strong twine.

Now your two futons are rolled up into a sausage-roll shape, stand each one vertically in either corner of the room behind the speakers (secure vertically to the corner if required with straps secured by hooks).

Trust me, if you use real futon mattresses filled with cotton wadding they will be better than most cheaper corner bass traps you can buy. Obviously a double mattress will make a fatter/thicker bass trap roll than a single mattress.

Tip-3: You can made your own panel absorbers/diffusers for the side walls

You can DIY your own absorber/diffusion panels, just search google & you will find endless plans to build them yourself, but is it cost effective any more? Woodworking materials actually cost a lot of money nowadays and it is often no longer cost efficient to build your own. There are many ready made panels to choose from on the market from various companies which you can buy from studio equipment stores & they don't cost too much money.

Tip-4: Use bookshelfs instead of acoustic panels for side walls

The acoustic panels for either side wall are to reduce & break up sound waves bouncing off the side walls between you and the speakers & reflecting back to your listening position from the sides. But these sort of acoustic panels do not only absorb frequencies, they also break them up. If you place wall mounted bookshelves in the position where the panels would go and those shelves are filled with lots of different sized books and other objects, this will break up the sound waves from bouncing directly off each side-wall to your listening position. In essense a bookshelf full of different sized books & objects behaves a bit like a BBC diffuser panel in that it presents an NON-uniform surface to soundwaves which means they get broken up.

Active v Passive monitors

Passive monitors are simply speaker boxes which have no built-in amplification. You must power Passive monitors with an amplifier & the speakers must obviously be attached to the amp with speaker cables.

If you go for a pair of classic older speakers they will always be Passive & require an amplifier. That's not a problem, decent amps are not expensive, but remember the golden rule when using a good hi-fi amp to power your Passive speakers:

One: Never adjust the Bass / Treble controls - Always leave the amp set 'Flat' with Bass & Treble controls set to zero.

Two: Never ever work with the amplifier 'Loudness' control switched IN... This will hype the sound and lead to completely un-balanced mixes.

Three: Use good quality copper cable to connect your speakers to your amp. One of the best & cheapest cables to use is standard mains electricity lighting Flex available from any DIY store. Lighting Flex is 2 core, braided copper & works just as well or better than basic shop-bought 'Speaker Cable'. Shop bought 'Speaker Cable' is exactly the same thing as mains lighting electricity cable: 2 cores of braided copper cable, but it usually costs more because it's sold as 'Speaker Cable'.

Four: Always wire your speakers In-Phase .... In-Phase simply means for each speaker you wire the Amp + (positive) terminal to the Speaker + (positive) terminal & the Amp - (negative) terminal to the Speaker - (negative) terminal. If you don't do it like that you loose all the bass-end from your mixes and kick drums etc have no thump & power.

If both speakers are wired properly In-Phase then when a kick drum or other sound happens, both the Left & Right speaker cones push forward at the same time. If one speaker is wired Out Of Phase, when a sound like a kick drum happens, one speaker pushes forward & the other pushes backwards.

Passive speakers can be 100% fine, but nowadays almost all nearfield monitors sold are Active.

Active monitors have built in amplifiers & crossovers which are designed to match the speakers they are driving & the tuning of the speaker cabinets & will therefore be efficient. Active speakers are a lot simpler to setup & use because you simply feed the Left / Right signal from your Audio interface or mixer to the speakers direct. This means less cables running everywhere.

Whichever type you choose - Passive or Active it makes no difference to how good the speakers will be & how well you can mix. Both types of speaker if well designed will allow you to turn out accurate mixes.

Classic Active monitors


Billy Woodman's first ATC active monitor. released at the same time as the ATC SCM100, both speakers came in passive & active models (SCM = Studio Control Monitor). Utilising Woodman's revolutionary SM 75-150s soft-dome midrange driver, a 1986 contract with Danish Radio for an active portable monitor provided the opportunity to integrate the new SCM50 and SCM100 speakers with a Tri-amp pack and electronic crossover to create the industry standard SCM50A and SCM100A in 1987, the first reliable and accurate active systems. Woodman started out as a loudpeaker development engineer for Rola/Australia, came on holiday to the UK in 1970 & was offered a job at Goodmans where he stayed for 4 years after which he setup the Acoustic Transducer Company (ATC) which at first focused on making his newly designed 75mm midrange drivers.

Event 20/20 BAS

Who remembers these? It's 1996 & Event released the passive 20/20 & these active 20/20 BAS (Bi-Amplified System) speakers. They go on to become a huge hit & could be seen in studios all over the world. The 20/20 BAS monitors feature an 8" mineral filled polypropylene cone with 1.5" diameter high temperature voice coil and damped rubber surround. The HF Driver is a 25mm ferrofluid cooled natural silk dome. Frequency Response is a quoted 45Hz - 20kHz. The LF Amplifier is 130 watts while the HF Amplifier is 70 watts. The cabinets are of an MDF construction and weight in at a quite hefty 30lbs each.

HHB Circle 5

Made by Harbeth (who previously made BBC monitors) the Circle 5 was basically the Harbeth Xpression DPM1 with an updated tweeter. The DPM1 was Harbeth's first nearfield monitor clearly aimed at the studio market released in 1997. The Circle 5 OEM collaboration working with Alan Shaw of Harbeth came a year later in 1998 & features an 8" (200mm) injection moulded Polymer bass/mid driver with aluminium voice coil & a custom designed ferrofluid cooled 28mm soft-dome tweeter. The Circle 5 is driven by a 120 watt amp for the bass/mid & 75 watt amp for the tweeter, with external cooling heat sink fins on the rear panel & delivers the exact same 48Hz - 20kHz (±3dB) response as the DPM1 it's based on. Both the Circle 5 & the DPM1 it's based on were highly respected and much praised nearfields.


Released in 2001 these soon become very highly rated active nearfields. The Series 1 V4's had KRK Systems Huntington Beach CA emblazoned over the back, the following Series 2 have a small 'Made in China' text. Featuring a 1" soft-dome tweeter & 4" woven Kevlar bass/mid driver the V4's were apparently flat down to a very low 65Hz for such a small speaker and below that the bass rolls off but still has enough information to make mix decisions. The V4's could be paired with the matched KRK S8 sub-woofer. According to Hugh Robjohns in his 2002 review: "A miniature nearfield monitor with major-league performance. Broad, expansive sound stages and wide bandwidth with remarkable bass, but spectrally flat and neutral in presentation. A true reference monitor".

Genelec 1031a / 1030a

Genlec's first big selling small 2 driver near field active monitors, being descended from the earlier 1979 1019a. The larger 1031a was in production from 1991 - 2005  & featured a 210 mm (8”) bass driver in a 15 liter vented cabinet. The -3 dB point lies at 47 Hz and the frequency response extends down to 43 Hz (-6 dB). The high frequency driver is a 19 mm (3/4”) metal dome. Uniform dispersion control is achieved with the innovative DCW Technology pioneered by Genelec, which also provides perfect phase and delay uni- formity at the crossover frequency. Both drivers are magnetically shielded. The smaller 1030a was in production from 1994 - 2005 & features a 170mm (6.5”) bass driver in a 6.5 liter vented cabinet. The -3 dB point lies at 52 Hz and the frequency response extends down to 47 Hz (-6 dB). The high frequency driver is a 19 mm (3/4”) metal dome. Uniform dispersion control is achieved with the innovative DCW Technology pioneered by Genelec, which also provides perfect phase and delay uni- formity at the crossover frequency. Both drivers are magnetically shielded.

Mackie HR824

Released in 1997 this was Mackie's first product that wasn't a mixer. Some people really don't like them, but these sold by the truckload all over the world across various revisions and for a while became THE monitor to have in your home studio if you wanted something a bit bigger and didn't have bottomless pockets. The HR824 uses a passive radiator 'drone cone' design to achieve extended bass response & features an 8.75" woofer with a die-cast magnesium frame and mineral-filled polypropylene cone, mated with  a 1" ferrofluid cooled aluminium domed tweeter mounted in a shallow horn or waveguide to maintain dispersion at high frequencies. Power is delivered by a 150 watt amp for the bass/mid driver & a 100 watt amp for the tweeter, both derived from Mackie's FR power amp design used in their rackmount PA power amps of the time. These speakers features several switchable response configurations on the back to best suit 3 different speaker positions relative to rear & side walls & 3 diffeent bass response switches to tailor how much bottom end you got. One of the most popular active speakers of the modern era.

Did we miss a classic Active monitor from the past? Do you own any of these & want to give your own experience? Please leave your comments at the bottom of the page... No need to register, just tell us what you think.

Software samplers

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Top selling Monitors

Here's the top selling Drum Boxes at Thomann's store based on previous months sales figures. This will give you an idea about what products are currently popular at Europe's largest retailer.



SDR-1000+ Reverb has to be one of the most subjective tools in audio. Undoubtedly the SDR has some interesting heritage (Sony) in additon to some useful features that make it more flexible than other comparable units from that era (true stereo, basic routing of L & R processors, midi patch selection). But compared to other verbs around the same price point ($100-200 range), Im not feeling any baseline "magic" from its sound. More like a workhorse, again within the scope of the time period these were being made, which isnt necessarily a bad thing.

Perhaps if you're hunting down a specific production chain or setup (some well known artists apparently used these), otherwise much better uses of rack space available out there for the same money imho.


an underated usb interface, Tascam has continued to update drivers and improve performance for this product. I own two of them, and like the size, sound quality and mulitude of connection and paths available.

I use the 64 bit windows 7 driver without problems. These are available used quite cheaply and are handy for vocal and guitar recording.The only drawback is the low profile knobs, which were designed not to snag when carried in a backpack or bag. it takes a while to get used to using two fingers to turn the knobs, instead of 1 finger and your thumb, but it becomes intutive like scratching a record. I colored the knobs on mine with different color sharpies to make it easier to quickly see which knob I wanted to adjust.


awesome sound. capable of mybloodyvalentine type swirling sounds, as well as verve-y sonic paradise sounds. it is a permanent addition to my setup.


i bought this delay a couple of months ago to use in my synth/drumachine setup. I was expeting kind of lofi style but was suprised with this "meaty" analog sound.. very musical and at once became a favourite.. it sounds like a instrument! love it..

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