What’s the Difference between Studio Monitors and Bookshelf Speakers

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What’s the Difference between Studio Monitors and Bookshelf Speakers

Pioneer DJ DM-40BT Studio Monitor

Pioneer DJ DM-40BT Studio Monitor

Studio monitors also known as monitor speakers are quite different from bookshelf speakers in that the former is used for audio/music production in recording studios to generate clean/natural audio without effects, distortions, alterations or manipulations, whereas the later are for home entertainment purposes. The source audio in consumer entertainment speakers such as the bookshelf speaker comes out in manipulated form to enhance the listening experience and enjoyment of music. Monitors are the opposite, they are not made to enhance or boost the audio, but to filter out all the environmental effects and influences which may alter the source audio. They are designed to give you the raw output which is close as possible to the raw input. At this point, one may be wondering what type of environmental influences will affect raw audio.

Environmental Influences on Raw Audio.

Raw audio, that is natural audio in its clean, unpolluted state is affected and distorted by many external and internal factors which are listed below:

  1. Colouration
  2. Reverberations
  3. Background Noise
  4. Total Harmonic Distortion (THD)
  5. Intermodulation Distortion (IMD)
  6. Transient Intermodulation Distortion (TIM)
  7. External Noise
  8. Internal Noise
  9. Acoustic Feedback Oscillations
  10. Amplitude Distortion (THD and IMD)
  11. Spectral/Frequency Distortion
  12. Phase Distortion
  13. Transient Distortion
  14. Crossover Distortion
  15. Frequency Modulation (FM) Distortion
  16. Saturation Distortion (Non-linear /Overload/Amplitude Distortion)
  17. Distortion caused by low-level inputs.
  18. Distortion caused by high-level inputs.

Excluding external influences which may be filtered out, all audio systems including monitor speakers will have some amount of internal distortion. This distortion cannot be completely eliminated due to the need of some form of transmission and equipment to convey audio signals.

Monitors will minimize distortions where possible, for example, they will produce flat frequency responses (near-flat curves) on a frequency/amplitude graph. Imagine a graph paper with X and Y axis. Frequency is plotted on the X-axis and Amplitude is plotted on the Y-axis. An ideal flat frequency response has a linear graph (straight line) whereas an undulating frequency has a wavy graph with shorter wavelengths.

Colouration is another phenomenon that is handled by monitors. It’s whereby the audio causes the speaker components to vibrate during and after transmission. This vibration distorts the audio quality and therefore it must be measured and minimized.

The monitor speaker used for studio recording is made of high quality materials which are resistant to fracture and damage caused by sudden bursts of signals, high volumes and physical accidents which may take place in the studio while rehearsing and mixing.

The monitor alone will not handle everything that is required to produce unpolluted audio. The studio or room in which the speakers are located must meet specific minimum acoustic standards. These speakers should be used in a professionally-built studio with an ideal environment for filtering out undesired noise and sounds. Studio design should entail acoustic control and soundproofing of the interior – the walls, floors and ceilings. The environment must eliminate or reduce reverberation, absorb sounds, incorporate reflection-free zones, QRD diffusers, hanging bass absorber and so on. But the shape, size and configuration of your room in relation to other elements in room is even more important, as well as the type of materials used and positioning of the monitors.

A lot of modern monitors have inbuilt amplifiers, and they also have two or more drivers for low and high frequency responses. Monitors with inbuilt amplifiers are called “active monitors” whereas those which are connected to external amplifiers are called “passive monitors”. A passive monitor speaker does an excellent job of processing audio /vocal input in its raw/pure state without conversion or distortion. However, the audio input is often weak and you need an amplifier to magnify the signal.

It’s important to distinguish the function of amplifiers in monitors and bookshelf speakers. Their function is not the same. Monitor amplifiers are designed to give life to weak audio inputs without enhancements whereas bookshelf speakers are designed to provide and enhance the audio appeal to music consumers.

A bookshelf speaker is made for convenient and comfortable placement on a shelf, table, desk or compartment. It fits well on top of furniture, saving space and giving you room for other items such as stationery, flower vases, laptop, mouse pad, cups and books.

Modern bookshelf speakers can have two or more drivers for wide frequency ranges. They come in various types such as wired, Bluetooth, single, pairs or satellites. They can be placed on stands as well. The advantage of a bookshelf speaker is its compact body or cabinet which is shorter than a tower speaker in vertical dimensions. These speakers come in various sizes from small to large.

Last but not least, bookshelf speakers or any other consumer speakers cannot be used as monitors. Monitors are not designed for audio appeal, they are made for raw music production, so if you are looking for entertainment or audio effects, they will give you the worst audio. Get a monitor if you are recording music and get a bookshelf if you are listening to music for entertainment.

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