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Are monitors accurate at very low levels?

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Are monitors accurate at very low levels?

Postby _ Six _ » Sun Jul 25, 2010 9:05 pm

As a guitarist I know that to get the best from my amp speakers I have to crank it up and get them moving....

What about monitors? I have a pair of ADAM A7's and often mix/ track, late at night, at low levels. I set the input gain to 0dB and have my FF Saffire Pro 26 monitor section set so that the output is around conversation loudness. Not very much considering what they can do.

I understand that room acoustics are important but without taking those into consideration do the monitors need to move a little air to do their thing? What about cranking them right up? Does that do the same thing?
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Re: Are monitors accurate at very low levels?

Postby Wigworld » Sun Jul 25, 2010 9:43 pm

It should be fine for tracking, but for mixing, it's good to make sure your mix sounds good at low, medium and high levels. After all, your audience will be listening at all different levels.
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Re: Are monitors accurate at very low levels?

Postby mjfe2 » Sun Jul 25, 2010 9:59 pm

Good question! I know that we hear different frequencies more than others at higher volumes, but can't remember specifics off the top of my head. So it does make an objective difference as to what level you monitor at.

Subjectively, I've read that some engineers say get a mix good at a quiet level, then it will really impress when you crank it up (e.g. Bruce Swedien in a recent SOS interview!).

On the technical side, I think you'd need a high-end monitor controller to ensure you were getting a balanced stereo image at low levels. Certainly the built-in 'Ctrl Room' knob on my Mackie 400f interface doesn't attenuate evenly at the lowest volumes.

Does anyone know if you can bypass problematic room acoustics, to some extent, by monitoring at a low level?
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Re: Are monitors accurate at very low levels?

Postby afterworks » Sun Jul 25, 2010 10:19 pm



Does anyone know if you can bypass problematic room acoustics, to some extent, by monitoring at a low level? [/quote]

No, you cant. you just get the same problems in proportion to your monitor level.
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Re: Are monitors accurate at very low levels?

Postby Exalted Wombat » Sun Jul 25, 2010 10:35 pm

Myles Eastwood wrote:Does anyone know if you can bypass problematic room acoustics, to some extent, by monitoring at a low level?

You can reduce perceived room effect by sitting closer to your monitors. This would imply setting a lower level, but that isn't really the point. The ultimate "sitting closer" is sticking the speakers straight in your ears - i.e. headphones. Room effects disappear, but other factors prevent this being ideal for at least the later stages of mixing.

It's different with guitar speakers. The sound of an overdriven amp and the speaker cone breaking up are integral to many electric guitar sounds.
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Re: Are monitors accurate at very low levels?

Postby TurboD » Mon Jul 26, 2010 3:41 am

As far as I know, monitors don't 'lose' accuracy at lower levels, nor should you encounter stereo imaging problems. The problem actually sits with your ears - their frequency response become less linear at lower levels:

http://blogs.msdn.com/blogfiles/audiofool/WindowsLiveWriter/LouderSoundsBetter_12855/FletcherMunson_EqualLoudness2.jpg

The Equal Loudness Contours (Fletcher-Munson Curves) in the link above show what happens to our ears (generally speaking) at different SPLs. So mixing extremely quietly alone is likely to result in excessive bass and treble since your ears will be less sensitive to those.
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Re: Are monitors accurate at very low levels?

Postby matt keen » Mon Jul 26, 2010 7:54 am

TurboD wrote:As far as I know, monitors don't 'lose' accuracy at lower levels, nor should you encounter stereo imaging problems. The problem actually sits with your ears - their frequency response become less linear at lower levels:

http://blogs.msdn.com/blogfiles/audiofool/WindowsLiveWriter/LouderSoundsBetter_12855/FletcherMunson_EqualLoudness2.jpg

The Equal Loudness Contours (Fletcher-Munson Curves) in the link above show what happens to our ears (generally speaking) at different SPLs. So mixing extremely quietly alone is likely to result in excessive bass and treble since your ears will be less sensitive to those.


I always used to double check bass guitar levels by turning the monitors down very quiet.

Other than that I would use moderate/comfortable levels most of the time
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Re: Are monitors accurate at very low levels?

Postby Guy Johnson » Mon Jul 26, 2010 9:07 am

Good monitors are accurate at low levels. Some ported designs in particular sound poor at low levels, so I have heard, anyway.

Three great reasons for listing very quietly...

Tonality is different, whether from perception as we've seen, or because of the monitor design. So if the mix still sounds good, that's great.
If you can hear all the elements of a mix at really quiet levels, that's a good starting-point, and a good reference.
You can really hear the subtleties of compressing & limiting at low levels
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Re: Are monitors accurate at very low levels?

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Mon Jul 26, 2010 10:24 am

It depends on the monitors...

The linearity of some monitors suffers with high levels because the voice coil moves outside the linear fluxivity region of the magnetic gap. But at low levels the voice coil stays close to the centre of the gap and so that's ot a problem...

Conversely, in ported monitors the loading on the bass driver changes with volume becuae of the acoustic impednace and the momentum of the moving aor mass inside the enclosure trying to fight its way out of the port(s).

As a result, ported speakers tend to go bass light as you reduce the listening volume, and this effect is emphasised by our own non-linear hearing response (as mentioned above).

Sealed cabinet speakers, electrostatics and ATL cabinets (PMCs) don't suffer this problem and retain a flat balance at low levels.

Hope that helps

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Re: Are monitors accurate at very low levels?

Postby mjfe2 » Mon Jul 26, 2010 6:24 pm

afterworks wrote:

Does anyone know if you can bypass problematic room acoustics, to some extent, by monitoring at a low level?

No, you cant. you just get the same problems in proportion to your monitor level. [/quote]

But presumably at a low enough level the problems become too low to be audible? Though you'd then run into the other problems mentioned above (accuracy of the speakers, human ear..)
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Re: Are monitors accurate at very low levels?

Postby Exalted Wombat » Mon Jul 26, 2010 10:43 pm

Myles Eastwood wrote:
afterworks wrote:

Does anyone know if you can bypass problematic room acoustics, to some extent, by monitoring at a low level?

No, you cant. you just get the same problems in proportion to your monitor level.

But presumably at a low enough level the problems become too low to be audible? Though you'd then run into the other problems mentioned above (accuracy of the speakers, human ear..) [/quote]

Unfortunately, the human ear has no cut-off level. Room effects will always be proportional to speaker level. Hear one, hear both.
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Re: Are monitors accurate at very low levels?

Postby pwhodges » Tue Jul 27, 2010 9:02 am

Hugh Robjohns wrote:in ported monitors the loading on the bass driver changes with volume because of the acoustic impedance and the momentum of the moving air mass inside the enclosure trying to fight its way out of the port(s).

As a result, ported speakers tend to go bass light as you reduce the listening volume,
Are you really claiming that the behaviour of the air is significantly non-linear at those low levels?

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Re: Are monitors accurate at very low levels?

Postby SecretSam » Tue Jul 27, 2010 10:38 am

Paul

From what I recall of undergrad hydraulics, the energy loss of a fluid flow (e.g. air) moving through a constriction (e.g. a bass port), and then on into an unconstricted space (e.g. your studio) will be related to the rate of mass flow (driven in this instance by cone excursion - which in turn is driven by audio loudness). The mechanisms of energy loss are boundary friction (in the bass port), and eddy currents as the fluid emerges out of the port.

So the answer to your question to Hugh is "Yes."

If you care enough I'll try to find a fuller explanation. Otherwise, take it on trust :-)

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Re: Are monitors accurate at very low levels?

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Tue Jul 27, 2010 3:32 pm

Thanks sam... I couldn't have said it any better ;)

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Re: Are monitors accurate at very low levels?

Postby thefruitfarmer » Wed Jul 28, 2010 5:47 am

afterworks wrote:

Does anyone know if you can bypass problematic room acoustics, to some extent, by monitoring at a low level?

No, you cant. you just get the same problems in proportion to your monitor level. [/quote]

I did get the acoustic treatment in my room to the point where it was effective only up to a certain volume though. I added more Rockwool until it was effective at a louder volume.
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Re: Are monitors accurate at very low levels?

Postby thefruitfarmer » Wed Jul 28, 2010 5:52 am

AFAIK there is an optimum level to mix at, which is 85dB. This is at the level where you have to speak loudly to be heard over the music.

If you mix louder the mix will end up with too much of a volume difference between the louder and quieter sections.

If you mix quieter then the mix will end up with not enough of a volume difference between the louder and quieter sections.

This is n't written in stone though - I do mix at quiet volume too - but it is a rule that can be applied to good use when necessary.
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Re: Are monitors accurate at very low levels?

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Wed Jul 28, 2010 9:37 am

thefruitfarmer wrote:AFAIK there is an optimum level to mix at, which is 85dB.

Take that with a pinch of salt. It is based on the idea that the human hearing response is typically at its flattest at an average level of 85dBA.

However, achieving an average level of 85dBA in a typical bedroom studio or small project studio is another thing entirely! In those circumstances 85dBA will sound oppressively loud and overbearing!

Added to which, few people at home will listen that loud.

My general advice is to mix at a reasonable but not obviously loud level, and to check the mix at low levels frequently.

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Re: Are monitors accurate at very low levels?

Postby Keith_in_AZ » Sat Jul 31, 2010 10:26 pm

Are studio monitors accurate at ANY level? How can you tell?

Is your subjective evaluation accurate enough to make that determination? I like to think that mine is, but I don't know for sure.

Studio monitors do not undergo any technical evaluation in any forum of which I am aware. A reviewer of greater or lesser experience may state that they sound good or bad, but the only specifications for them are those published by the manufacturers and are not verified. This is where the suspect audiophile has an advantage; many home audio speakers undergo technical evaluation in one forum or another.

This is why when I spend thousands of dollars on monitors in the future, it will likely be on home audio speakers which have undergone some third-party technical evaluation. (And they probably won't be ported.) At least I'll have some verification that what I think that I hear is accurate.

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Re: Are monitors accurate at very low levels?

Postby Andi » Tue Aug 03, 2010 9:30 pm

Keith_in_AZ wrote:This is why when I spend thousands of dollars on monitors in the future, it will likely be on home audio speakers which have undergone some third-party technical evaluation. (And they probably won't be ported.) At least I'll have some verification that what I think that I hear is accurate.

Keith

Mate - I'll third party technically evaluate any monitor speakers you might fancy - and I'll even throw-in some exclusive special speaker cable at no extra cost ;)

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Re: Are monitors accurate at very low levels?

Postby zenguitar » Wed Aug 04, 2010 12:09 am

Keith_in_AZ wrote:This is why when I spend thousands of dollars on monitors in the future, it will likely be on home audio speakers which have undergone some third-party technical evaluation. (And they probably won't be ported.) At least I'll have some verification that what I think that I hear is accurate.

I can understand your caution, and the logic behind your decision. But I think you are entering Reductio ad Absurdum territory here. Your decision becomes one based on the evaluation of a 3rd party, but how do you select which 3rd party you choose? And how do you evaluate the performance of the candidates and their chosen methodologies? Do you then need to find a meta 3rd party to evaluate the evaluators?

And that doesn't even consider the inherent problems in technical evaluation. Disregarding the issue of access to suitable facilities, models that measure performance are limited by what is measurable (and are often driven by measurable parameters) and the assumptions made in building the model. That which can't be measured or understood is simply omitted. And often the choice over what is actually measured is subjective... Speaker X is subjectively better than Speaker Y, analysis shows that that the differences are A, B, and C. Speaker Z is deemed better because it's A, B, & C are better than Speaker X.

My subjective judgement isn't good enough to make the decision yet. So until then I would rather sample the informed opinions of experienced pros who spend many hours a day working with monitors earning a living, rather than trust an unknown with a dubious definition and a table of measurements. But perhaps that's because I am old enough to remember the original SoundBlaster 16 sound card and all the people who believed it was CD quality because it was 16 bit 44.1Khz, even though it's dynamic range was worse than Compact Cassette.

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Re: Are monitors accurate at very low levels?

Postby Exalted Wombat » Wed Aug 04, 2010 12:37 am

Keith_in_AZ wrote:This is why when I spend thousands of dollars on monitors in the future, it will likely be on home audio speakers which have undergone some third-party technical evaluation. (And they probably won't be ported.) At least I'll have some verification that what I think that I hear is accurate.

Oh come on! Read some monitor reviews, then go to the hi-fi comics. You're just as likely to see technical numbers in either, but I'll go with the reviewer who DOESN'T believe in magic cables :-)
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Re: Are monitors accurate at very low levels?

Postby . . . Delete This User . . . » Wed Aug 04, 2010 12:52 am

I listen to the speakers..... and am secure enough in my personal experience to know whether or not i like what i hear..... and i am picky enough about that to be considered a PITA by some..... if i don;t like what i hear, then i'll dig out the measurement Mic, and take some measurements... and find out more precisely why.....

occasionally i'll do so even if i do like what i hear.... usually when i need to prove a point, or supply someone with reassurance , or to give a definitive comparison when tweaking positioning and alignment....


for the vast majority of people, 7.5 times out of ten, the problems will be to do with the acoustic space , or the placement, and listening position, not the speaker itself, but sometimes it is the speaker..... usually in the budget market.... often to do with poorly designed, or cheaply implemented, ported behaviour artefacts. and cheap nasty amplification.


when spending thousands , there are fewer issues, but some still exist, but these issues, are more points of different design choice, interpretation of what is "desirable"

manufacturers do tend to publish specs, but they also like to play the game of marketing, so publish them in their own unique way, which makes it harder to compare A with B..... unless you understand the spec , and can interpret the data based on the given parameters it's usually meaningless.....

what is "good"? in my view?

neutral balance, bags of headroom, low distortion, pin point imaging detail , and tight , precise, time domain behaviour...


i've been to the listening rooms of a couple of Hifi reviewers... suffice to say , i was unimpressed, to the point where I couldn't read another review with a straight face.....

how anyone can pontificate on minute tonal differences between bits of equipment, when their room has ±40 dB or more, variances of response, at a range of frequencies, differing hugely with position, even by a few inches.... is entirely beyond me.

Hi Fi market rigour?


yeah right.... pull the other one, it has bells on.
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Re: Are monitors accurate at very low levels?

Postby Exalted Wombat » Wed Aug 04, 2010 2:24 am

idris y draig wrote:
i've been to the listening rooms of a couple of Hifi reviewers... suffice to say , i was unimpressed, to the point where I couldn't read another review with a straight face.....

Read this
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Re: Are monitors accurate at very low levels?

Postby . . . Delete This User . . . » Wed Aug 04, 2010 7:47 am

lol, Cheers oh Exalted one..... that pretty much encapsulates the better end of my experiences in a nutshell.... frankly, some have been markedly worse...
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