Studio vs. home

April 23, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

I remain flummoxed as to how the industry wound up separating studio monitors from home audio.

Both have the same task of reproducing music as accurately as possible.

Yet the way they are marketed is so very different.

Pro monitors, as they are referred to (because professionals wouldn’t want to think about amateur home speakers for their studios) take an interesting approach. Here’s a bit of their info as to the importance of materials and driver technology:

“You’ll find all manner of speaker construction materials out there, from paper to Kevlar to aluminum alloys and beyond. Manufacturers are constantly innovating, and if you’re interested there are plenty of resources available about the properties of different materials. But step back for a moment – do you really care what it’s made of at the end of the day?

Materials play a big part in the sound of a speaker, but would you really buy studio monitors based on one specific material used in its construction? While we fully acknowledge the huge impact speaker driver materials have on its sound, you can quickly get confused if you focus on materials instead of application-specific benefits.”

Ahhh, love it. We wouldn’t want anyone to get confused over those pesky materials or driver types. No, better in the pro world to go with reputation. What are the other pros doing?

Seems in the recording world most aspiring engineers are in awe of their heroes who have gotten various accolades or had their work sell millions.

All this is very interesting to me. In this world, home audio speakers are often scoffed at. A few companies—B and W in particular—have worked hard at getting their top of the line home products into studios and accepted by pros. This is then turned around in the marketing to great affect.

“Now, you too can have at home what the pros acknowledge is the best.”

Tomorrow, pros versus the amatuers.

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25 comments on “Studio vs. home”

  1. What we read all the years was, that studio monitoring has completely different demands than home listening (and therefore studio monitors have). Reasons went from different room situations in typical studio monitoring rooms and different sound dispersion demands to the need of an extremely neutral and analytic perspective, the speakers have to fulfill to be able to maximize the differences to be heard vs. a less analytical approach for home speakers.

    Where exactly in this whole argumentation did anything change (except maybe that today many accept the analytical character of e.g. B&W speakers also at home, while they further disappoint others there)?

    Marketing the one speaker for the other purpose (or each for both purposes) so far never was a good idea for those reasons in my perception (except for B&W admittedly, whatever one might think about them as home speakers).

  2. It’s all about ‘marketing’ which (cynically) we all know is just a euphemism for BS.
    Who the hell makes up the rules?
    What I find amusing is that many loudspeaker manufactures have gone ‘around
    the world’ as far as driver cone materials are concerned, only to come back to
    paper/wood fibre, as it sounds the most ‘natural’.

    Rather than ‘Studio v Home’, I’d rather segregate ‘Analytical v Laid Back’…both
    can be accurate, clear & detailed, creating acceptable to amazing soundstages.

    Speaking of soundstages, 3D holographic to be exact, I wonder how many studio
    monitors are set-up in a recording studio to actually produce a 3D holographic
    soundstage for the recording/sound engineer & his/her assistants to monitor…
    maybe that’s the difference?

    My departed 1976 Celestion – ‘Ditton 66’ Studio Monitors (that is their full title)
    were not what I would’ve considered as ‘Studio Monitors’
    …again who makes these rules?

    Personally I believe that using the Aspen FR30’s in the ‘Octave Records’ recording
    studio to monitor it’s recordings is a no-brainer…as long as they are set-up properly 😉

  3. In the case of ATC the difference between the studio model and the home model is
    active versus passive and a simple black finish wood veneer.

    The ATC SCM19 that I use in my video system sound wonderful. Very nice speakers.

  4. All the reasons are summed up already…
    To top the list. …. Marketing….
    Take todays picture – how many people want a set up in their home where they are sitting 2-3 feet away from their speakers?

    How many studios care about the special veneers or looks? How many mixing/ mastering studios have a dedicated room the size of either PSA MR’s to let their large speakers ‘breath’?

    So flummoxed is a convenient description today. It wasn’t that long ago PSA was evaluating all their equipment on commercially available off the shelf CD recordings and that was sufficient.
    Now the preference is their own recordings in a specific format mastered to sound what is determined to be best in MR2.

    Maybe instead of marketing to just the consumer, PSA should be marketing to the ‘pro’ market.
    After all PSA is owned and run by pro’s, and the majority of consumers are just rank amateurs.

    Maybe there’s another business opportunity somewhere. For a fee evaluate any studios mix in MR2 equivalents. Then the world can be assured that any given mixed recording has passed muster on what has been determined to be a pro world class reference system.

  5. My observation is that Pro Monitors are about near-field listening in small spaces. There seems to be little room or interest in larger cabinets required for bass reproduction. It seems pro listening is about the musical detail in mids and highs.
    As a recoding engineer, Dave Wilson’s first speakers were small studio monitors he called the “Watt”. When he found commercial interest in his speakers he added the bass module… a separate additional cabinet. The “Puppy”. Hence the first Watt Puppy. That speaker in all it editions, was and still may be the the largest selling mid priced HiFi speaker and put Wilson Audio in the consumer audio business.

    1. The WATT was like the LS3/5a, an on site monitor and therefore portable. But it wasn’t Wilson’s first commercial speaker. That was designed a few years earlier and it was the first WAMM(like David’s final opus), a huge 4 box, 5way, speaker with 18 subs and his first serious application of adjustable time alignment. The WATT time alignment was a compromise as it was obviously not adjustable.

  6. Then again, more hit records were mixed on Yamaha NS10s than any other speaker. Many great sounding records were mixed on them. They represent an average home speaker, so if you can make it sound good on those, it’ll sound good on the average system.

  7. Something I never understood Paul about “studio monitor” speakers. Many times I’ve read they are designed to be as revealing as possible to aid in the mastering process. At the same time I’ve read where many studios use Yamaha NS-10 speakers since “they represent what the average music consumer will hear at home or in their car”.

    This seems like two extreme situations, with audio hobbyist speakers generally being somewhere in the middle. Does this make sense?

    1. Exactly my point. On the one hand they want to make their recordings sound good on average speakers – please no one but acceptable to everyone – kind of like fast food.

      On the other hand, they want to hear minute details to suss everything out.

      When you are trying to please everyone you wind up not exciting anyone.

      Better to choose your audience and then tickle their fancy.

      1. Oh yes, that’s comprehensible, why not master the recordings on speakers which are as colored as the ones we listen to at home.

        I guess the counter-argument would be:
        They are „as colored“ but not „colored in the same way“. You could risk to end up making recordings that are perfect for FR30 owners, but maybe less perfect for all others than if they were mastered with an extremely neutral studio monitor?

      2. If they tried to make recordings sound good on crap speaker’s before the introduction of Hi Fi they did a poor job of it. Once Stereo equipment reached high power, low distortion, flat frequency response they had no other choice than to accommodate it with Hi Fi recordings. I think most recordings from 1969 and higher were pretty good. Recordings like speaker’s are an art as well as a science. Listening to old recordings by Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Black Sabbath, etc they did a good job. There’s better recording equipment these days but a lack of good recording engineer’s as if it doesn’t matter anymore. Sad for the future of Hi End audio.

  8. Ah, reminds me of the “legendary” Yamaha NS-10 speaker that was widely used in the recording industry. (Read the Wikipedia entry). Started as a home speaker. I, as an audio retailer would not actively sell it because it had a very squawky midrange (5 db peak at 2k). It was not well-received among retailers I knew. Early on a well-known recording engineer was seen in a photo with the speaker in the background and soon some journalist said “recommended by so-and-so’ recording engineer” and it then slowly became ubiquitous in recording studios. Years later that particular well-known recording engineer was asked about recommending the speaker he said he never recommended it. It just happened to be in the studio.
    The notion that if your recording sounds good on a “bad” sounding speaker that it would be good on most speakers is lunacy. No wonder we got/get so many unlistenable recordings of the years.

  9. Speaker materials do matter! I want a speaker to last, ones that don’t need foam surround replacement, ones that can be handed down to future generations. One’s that don’t need tube replacements, or cap replacements, or driver replacements (unless abused, and then you deserve to pay through the nose). Paul, can you do this for me? I thank you in advance!

    1. sharaf, You are asking for the impossible. Mechanical and electrical things wear out when they are used. Having said that, I have always thought that foam surrounds are a very bad idea. Foam wears out just sitting there. It dries out and loses flexibility and literally falls apart.

  10. Recording and mixing monitors need to be accurate balance-wise while not uncovering minutia that can easily be fixed but would distract from the creative process. Mastering monitors must reveal problems so they can be fixed.

    The former is more like hi fi. A huge proportion of new recordings don’t sound particularly good on my Duntech Sovereigns that I use for mastering while things that do sound good on them sound good elsewhere. They are a great tool but not the best for relaxing.

  11. Last time I went to RMAF, they bused folks (if you signed up) to Boulder. We toured the recording studio, and had a studio engineer (maybe Gus) talk to us.

    At the time, they had the upscale Pioneer home floor standing speakers, not monitors.

  12. Sorry to be so late in commenting on today’s post. It’s late evening here at Axpona.
    I’ve been in some video recording studios and I’m here to tell you I’ve never seen one
    with a chair that’s anywhere near as comfortable as my leather recliner. 😎

  13. Way back in my college days I remember learning that the BBC studios for television and radio used KEF speakers as their monitor standard for broadcasting. It was in 1960s when KEF, still a very young company, signed an agreement to manufacture the BBC designed LS5/1A monitor under license to the corporation. I am sure that connection helped their general sales even though KEF didn’t design it.
    But today other companies claim that prestigious and profitable position.

  14. While I was waiting to drive to outside San Diego to pickup the Cornwall IV’s, my friend a Recording Engineer of over 50 years, lent me his PMC TB2’s and it was 3 dimensional bliss, a glorious midrange with a focused center. Not much Bass, but the CW4’s are here now so I have everything that the PMC’s had plus Bass down to 25Hz (with in room gain using test tones).

    Studio Monitors make fine “Audiophool” Speakers if you set them up correctly. Same friend used a pair of KEF R3’s as Studio Monitors which he lent me last year and part of this year.

    I have to agree. Marketing on both side is Dumb.

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