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Two factors regarding playback performance that are critical:
- Good Speakers and 2) Good Room or Listening Space
Both are about equal in importance, but cost is not! Rebuilding a room is usually a bit more costly!!!
Firstly, if you’re looking to upgrade your speakers, you have to decide if you want to pay more for self-powered speakers, or combine a new or existing stereo power amplifier to drive the new loudspeakers. Your computer audio output is really designed to drive headphones and power amplifiers, it’s not designed to provide the wattages necessary to drive loudspeakers.
Now that we’ve settled that, the next question is budget?
Good monitors are designed to provide a clean sound, and relatively flat frequency response for critical mixing, if properly installed. They can start around a hundred USD each, and for top notch models gather into thousands of dollars… each! Don’t despair, there are some really good monitor pairs out there for a couple of hundred bucks. Probably the easiest choice, is to look into self-powered speakers with built-in amplifiers. They’re more expensive due to the incorporated amps, but the built-in amps are generally tailored to the speakers, so it’s usually a good marraige between speakers and amp(s). This holds true for most of the price ranges across these speaker-amp combinations.
Some brands to consider: Behringers, Mackies, plus I’m sure there are others out there, that other members of these forums can recomend.
How to choose what will provide what you want in your studio setup?
First, see if you can work with your vendor or store, to see if you can try them in your mixing space. That’ll help you focus on the speakers that work best in your specific mix space.
Second, bring some CD’s or mp3 music sources that you are very familiar with to the vendor’s shop to listen to various speakers at their location. Once you find some speakers you think sound pretty close to what you are familiar with, then, if you can affort them, see if you can bring 'em home and try them out in your space for a day or two. This is where the “rubber meets the road” because this is where you’ll really be using these speakers and need the best representation of what your mixes will sound like. You may have to do this several times until you find speakers that provide a representative sound at your mixing area that gives you the sound your striving for (and be advised, you will probably NEVER find speakers at any price that will do this 100%!). Placement of these speakers is also important, so expect to be busy for those several days, repositioning equipment to try different speaker placement locations.
As I said do this over several days, as you will find you’re much more objective about what you’re listening to as time passes, rather than trying to compress all the listening into one day.
Finally, if you have the luxury of tinkering with the space, there are a number of books that can help you fix some problems that exist in almost every listening space.
For starters, get a hold of Bob Katz’s book, “Mastering Audio”. It’s one of the better books around to help explain some of the ins 'n outs of audio and audio mastering. It’s available from Bob’s Digital Domain website, http://www.digido.com (which is also a treasure trove of additional audio and mastering information), or any other number of booksellers for less that $50 USD. If you are really lucky, your local library might even have a copy to check out before you buy it. It’ll give you some good foundations in basic audio. Next, although not 100%, some of the late F.Alton Everest’s books have a good deal of information within their covers on Studio Design.
You’ve asked an interesting question that everyone who’s really into serious music listening and recording have struggled with for decades. But there’s a lot more information around now, than the “historic days of yesteryear”! So, dig in, and come on back here as you continue your journey to ask questions, get forum help, and gain knowledge. Keep us posted on your progress!
Hope this helps!