If you have been following this series so far, you should be able to find a suitable location to record, and choose a multitrack recording option that suits you and your budget. The next thing to consider is what you are going to listen to the recording on, as you add more instruments and the mix develops.
Put simply the choice is between a pair of headphones, and a pair of speakers. In an ideal world you would like to be able to listen on both, as it gives you a more informed view on how your mix sounds. Of course, don’t forget that your potential listeners will use headphones and speakers, so referencing on both is one way you can step up your mix towards the professional level.
For a fixed budget, a pair of really high quality headphones is a very attractive option as they are way cheaper than a pair of really high quality speakers. They are arguably a more versatile tool to have if you are choosing one or the other, as you can use them as monitoring for overdubbing musicians, and you can take them with you to other studios so you have something to listen on that you are already accustomed to and know well. The best advice I can give you on choosing a pair is to go and try some out. I personally spent ages researching, browsing and trying out all over London, then finally settling on the Sennheiser HD650 set. All over the professional industry, the HD600 and 650 pairs have become pretty much standard issue and both cost about £250 give or take a few quid. I chose Senneheiser because they are so widely used, the build quality is excellent and I know for a fact that the customer and product support is first-rate.
The 600s have been around longer and are generally considered to have a flatter response than the 650s which sound much warmer with a more present low-end response. In my experience the 650s are more accurate when balancing reverb levels (I can’t tell you why, that’s just my findings from blind trials), and also they sound ‘nicer’ for general listening, so I went for them.
When checking your mixes, you will want to listen on as many different pairs of headphones as you can (within reason!) and particularly on small earbuds such as the ipod ones because your mix still needs to sound exciting without all the low end you will get with bigger ‘over-ear’ headphones.
Again with speakers, I would highly recommend going to listen to them. In fact if possible, listen to the actual pair you chose buy to rather than the demo pair on display, especially if you decide on active speakers.
Size is a crucial when buying speakers, as they need to fit the available space so measure before you go. There is a huge variety of makes and models to chose from, too many to cover here because all different music genres suit different speakers. My advice is to go for a pair of active speakers, as you won’t need to spend yet more money on an amplifier and more cables, and they can still sound good. On a budget, I would recommend the Adam A7 as an all-rounder because you can get a pair for about £550-£600 depending on how hard you bargain, and they have a genuinely really nice top end, thanks to the ribbon tweeters. As with most smaller near-field monitors the low end isn’t huge, but they will compliment the Sennheiser HD650 headphones well if you chose to go with both.
Basically getting decent headphones is a must, and then maybe some speakers if you have the budget. You will get a lot more out of the headphones as they are more versatile, and will be much cheaper but really good value for money. It’s also quite likely that you know someone who owns a decent hi-fi system which you could make use of every now and then to check mixes, and less likely that they’ll have a pair of professional quality headphones lying around.
[image via Israel D]