Much of the detailed work on a mix or master takes place on near field monitors. Far field monitors are an additional reference, and they’re also great for impressing clients and keeping a packed room engaged. For the majority of us, we’re going to be working on near fields, while far fields are typically reserved for only the biggest rooms and professional studios.
What Is Speaker “Field” and How Does That Affect Placement?
Speaker field goes hand-in-hand with the “sweet spot”; that’s a common phrase you’ll hear all the time when referring to speaker placement and set-up. The sweet spot is where our speakers are going to sound and perform their best. We want to get a nice, flat response out of them for critical listening, and we want to make sure that the stereo image isn’t too wide or too narrow.
Picture the three corners of an equilateral triangle. Now imagine each speaker as a point, and picture yourself sat at your desk with your head as the tip, or the final point of the triangle. That’s the sweet spot. It doesn’t have to be perfectly measured, especially in a home studio, but at least try to eyeball your speaker placement. And of course, sit back, listen, and try different placements until everything sounds ideal to you.
Depending on the studio furniture you have, you can facilitate speaker placement using stands.
What Are Near Field Monitors?
Near field monitors tend to have smaller drivers, commonly between 5″ and 8″. They’re positioned usually no more than a few feet away from the listener, so you get more of the direct sound leaving the speakers versus the reflected sound that’s bouncing around the room. This is what makes them ideal for critical mixing and mastering purposes, as well as editing to catch minor problems.
Because of their smaller drivers, near fields don’t have sub bass extension; the frequency response is a bit tighter. You still get plenty of low-end, but the overall sound is going to be relatively flat, and ultimately a better representation of how a consumer will listen to the mix.
Where Do Near Field Monitors Sound Best?
Near field monitors sound best anywhere between 2 and 4 feet away from the listening position. You can place them on a monitor stand or directly on your desk. If placed on top of a hard, reflective surface, it’s a good idea to decouple them using monitor isolation pads. Try to get the speaker’s tweeter as close to ear level as possible for ideal placement.
What Are Far Field Monitors?
Far field monitors are those massive installments you see in major studios. They have big drivers, sometimes more than one, and they’re mounted on the wall or directly in it, usually near the corners of the room. Because of their size, they’re often placed up to 10 feet or more away from the listening position.
Bigger drivers produce more low-end frequencies, and the longer wavelengths have more time to develop since the speakers are farther away from the listening position. Room acoustics are going to play a much bigger role in how far fields sound, since you’re getting more reflected sound based on the distance from the speaker.
Far fields are great for checking how a mix sounds as a whole, and of course, many clients love to bump far fields for fun.
Finding the “Sweet Spot” with Far Field Monitors Requires Some Space
Which is why the average home studio isn’t going to have far field monitors. Not to mention their cost and installation, far fields benefit from a ton of room — and an acoustically treated one at that.
Near Field Monitors vs Far Field: Which Would Be Best for My Studio?
Almost certainly near field monitors are going be best for your studio. Unless you’re building out a commercial facility, near fields are more than enough to get the job done, and realistically they’re what make the most sense practically, logistically, and financially. If you do a lot of work in your home studio, consider investing in a couple pairs of near field monitors so you have reference options.