How to choose the right monitor

Over the past 6 months I had a good chance to test and evaluate many monitors that were designed for mastering applications. These monitors were from different manufacturers and their price range from $4000-$50000.

During the evaluation period of 6 months I was able to test these monitors under extreme processing conditions at various BIT depths and sampling rates and under critical listening sessions. To my surprise many of the so-called "reference" monitors they were everything else but this. Also to my surprise this happened to monitors at the high price range too.

I am not a millionaire and therefore I had to choose very carefully the monitors that will fit within my budget and that will enable me to do my job with precision.

When mastering the engineer must be able to:

Evaluate the master with precision.

Make the right decisions when processing.

If the monitoring setup is not accurate these decisions are impossible to make, as you can understand.

If the monitors are not telling you the truth while evaluating a project then you are going to end up making the wrong decisions and touching the wrong buttons in your processing equipment.

If you end up with a master that has been processed incorrectly then it will give you different results when played back in different systems.

Can you afford to take such risk and have an inferior monitoring setup at the mastering stage?

Well, most of the reference monitors that I tested were lacking in accuracy at one stage or another. Some had very good frequency response but their soundstage was not detailed, some had good soundstage but many dips in various frequency ranges.

Choosing carefully a mastering monitor is not an easy task. There are far too many things that the monitor has to be tested with and this takes time and knowledge and most of all well trained ears.

So, after all these tests and time spend choosing the right one for you how do you know that you have ended up with the right monitor? Which is the best out of all?

The best monitor is the one that will help you make all your decisions

This monitor will be with you because you are comfortable evaluating, processing and mastering with it. This monitor will give you the confidence that you need at the critical mastering stage that your masters are going to translate equally well when played back through different monitoring systems.

Can your mastering monitors do all these? Is it hard to find such monitors?

Well, read on as the following one was the ultimate for me and is my right hand when mastering.

The Contact

I came across the Note Perfect homepage about 8 weeks ago accidentally and since I was in the market for new monitors I checked out all their models that I thought were suitable for my application.

Dropping a simple e-mail request for information to Mike Kontor made the first steps towards me testing through hell his products.

The Guy

Mike Kontor, is a very down to earth and knowledgeable guy. He stands beside his products and he's there to help you choose the right one. He is not the salesman that you'll find in your Pro-audio store insisting that this is the right monitor for you because the rest of the recording or mastering studios have all got it as their reference monitor.

Mike, was kind enough to let me test 3 of his monitors and I am grateful for this kindness.

The Alpha

This is a great nearfield monitor very well priced and suitable for any tracking and mixing applications. I was amazed by it's performance and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to anyone who's looking for a monitor suitable to these applications.

The "Virtuoso"

Now, this is a great midfield monitor suitable for mastering applications. It's bass is fast and accurate with detailed soundstage and killer mids and highs. Very well priced and it's design will help you install it in a room where space is an issue. It's exactly the same as the model below but without the same bass extension. I love it and I challenge anyone who's in the market for mastering monitors to find anything in this price range. Even monitors double its price won't give you the performance of the Virtuoso.

The "Maestro"

WOW. I don't know where to start and where to end with this one. I can easily write a book full of compliments about it. Whatever values you are looking in a mastering monitor you are going to find them in this one. If you think that your monitors are accurate enough having a listen to the Maestros will make them sound colored. This is the ultimate in reference monitoring with fast and accurate bass response, killer mids and highs, like the Virtuoso model, and unbeatable soundstage. There's this monitor and then the rest. It stands on a league of it's own and helps me make my decisions fast. I COULD NOT IMAGINE MYSELF MASTERING WITHOUT IT.

The Bottom Line

Mastering is the art where the mastering engineer has to face the challenge of bridging the gap between the performer and the listener. This is not an easy task and therefore in order to let our ears make all the right decisions, here at Digisound Mastering we choose to use the NotePerfect, Maestro.

Sakis Anastopoulos

Digisound Mastering

This was written in July 1999. I am not trying to promote the NotePerfect range of products but rather describe my experience with them. Monitoring is a very personal thing and I would highly recommend to anyone interesting in purchasing monitors to evaluate them in their own enviroment, in their own time , with high qulaity reference recordings and of course with their own ears.