Keeping Up With A Jones: Part 4 – Feeling Queasy

MusicTech’s senior editor is building a recording studio from scratch and blogging every week on his progress. And this week he actually does make some progress…

 

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“I’m starting to feel a little queasy…”

Building a recording studio was supposed to be easy. I’ve been building them, selling them, building them and selling them for nigh on 20 years. I decide to do one in public by way of this website and it all goes wrong. Well, sort of…

For the last month I’ve been trying to get some monitors. I have decided to invest a big chunk of my budget, up to £3k, in a set thinking that would open up my options. But that’s the problem: my options so far are too many. Best advice comes from Huw Price our monitor expert. “Go and audition some.”

So despite me initially hoping that he, and many others, would point me to one single pair of great monitors I now realise he’s right. No matter what MusicTech tells you (and we do here and here) you should try monitors before you buy. Fortunately it’s pretty easy to do just that…

20 years ago most music equipment dealers were manned by men who used to be in bands in the 60s who really weren’t interested in selling you anything. These days it’s very different. Retailers actually have gear plugged in and encourage you to try it out! So I’m sat at KMR Audio in London doing just that. For the sake of balance there are many other music equipment retailers and many others offer this kind of service (I recently visited both Gear4Music in York and The Production Room in Leeds and both offer incredible retail experiences in the North of England, and I also hear good things about Absolute Music too in the South).

 

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But before I begin, a few words of advice from my experiences already. Don’t expect any dealer to have 20 set of monitors set up for you to audition. Try and hone your choices down to four, six maximum, and obviously make sure they carry those particular lines. Audition two sets at a time so you can make A-B comparisons. As we’ll see (or hear) auditioning can be overwhelming – two at a time is good.

So I’m at KMR and have three sets monitors in mind that I’d like to listen to. MusicTech’s hardware guru John Pickford recommends the Unity Audio Rocks, so they’re on the list and the cheapest at £2100. Mike Hillier’s a Focal fan so the Twin 6BEs are the choice and at £2500 slap bang in the middle of my £2-3K budget.

 

 

Finally Huw originally recommended the now discontinued PMC DB1S-A so I’ve opted to try their replacements, the PMC twotwo.5 or 6 although sadly they are out on loan for an audition today (although starting at £3300 they are over budget anyway). Thankfully KMR’s sales manager Stefan Pope is on hand and recommends a replacement, the Neumann KH310s (£3200, ok still above budget I know), and given that it turns out that what this man doesn’t know about monitors isn’t worth knowing, who am I to argue? He’s also got some cracking advice on auditioning…

 

 

“Don’t constantly switch between monitors – listen to one set with one piece of music and then try the others. If you switch between the two sets too many times it just becomes disorientating.”

… which I completely ignore. Put a couple of big buttons marked ‘A’ and ‘B’ in front of me and I’m going to press them, I can’t help it. I’d be useless, and the world a very burnt out place, if you put me in a nuclear missile silo. I just have to press buttons and it’s part of the reason I want my recording studio back – actually the main reason if I’m honest. So I’m sat in the KMR studio constantly switching between the Focals and the Neumanns and starting to feel a little queasy.

 

 

And the music I’m listening to? Nearly forgot to mention that. All solid advice recommends taking some of your own mixes along to an audition as you are obviously comfortable with them and knowledgable about their structure. I’d say take some of your favourite tracks too plus some music of the type you are going to make. I end up with some Prodigy (Breathe, used in a previous speaker test I did); Leftfield (Leftism, classic, obviously); Blue Nile (quite the opposite end of the scale – the Hats album, sublime) and Talk Talk (some of the most amazing recordings ever made with sparse mixes where you can really hear the detail).

Another piece of advice: be prepared to be blown away. I’ve had good monitors in the past, but have now become used to headphones so forgotten the joy of listening to proper music on proper speakers. And it’s proper music too, as in CDs not MP3s. We’ve all probably become used to MP3s a little too much and the combination of using CDs today and listening to them on proper speakers is raising the hairs on my arms. This is what listening to and making music is all about. I’d forgotten what emotion it can bring…

Anyway, that’s it for now. The results I hear you ask? Mm, sorry you’ll have to wait until Part 5 because next week it gets even more hair raising… 

Read Part 1 of Andy Jones’ blog here, part 2  here and part 3 here  

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