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Monitoring and the Black Arts
#1
Monitoring and "The Black Art"

I very much wish that you read this as part of my own journey, rather than treating it as some sort of advice.   Comment as you will. Smile 

When it comes to studio gear, I generally buy whatever I can afford at the time (hopefully in a smart way) and then justify to myself why its "good enough" until I manage to come up with something better. Smile  I may dream of owning $12,000 Barefoot Monitors but I drive KRK's.     

I don't think its necessarily a bad choice.  The response of some Grammy winning engineers was that "Sure zillion dollar monitors are great, but what else could you recommend in the buyer's price range that's significantly better than [his] KRK's?"  Those comments have stuck with me. 

But I didn't have any context to understand how different monitors might affect the quality of my projects - or the efficiency at which I work.  I've listened to all the different monitors I could find.  They all sounded sounded a little different, sure.  Maybe I liked some better, but there was no "aha" increase in my understanding.

Okay, so one afternoon I geeked out with a Mastering Engineer about what he calls "The Black Art" of crossover design.  If you are not familiar, a crossover is the electronic thingy that splits apart the bass and treble parts of your sound and sends them to the different individual speakers (drivers) inside your speaker cabinet.  As yes thingy is an official term. Okay maybe it's not, but "thingy" to me reflects the idea that building one is far from an exact science.  Just as an loose analogy, I think of the bass driver as sort of like a great bass singer who doesn't have the best tone in the upper part of their range.  Likewise the treble driver can be like a soprano that struggles in the lowest part of her range.  And that place in the middle where the two of them overlap and neither one of them are really at their best?-  Like I said, It gets tricky.  There is no perfect design for the drivers, cabinet, or crossover.  Its kind of absorbing to me how they affect each other with air flow, porting, baffles, what those caps in the center of the speaker cone can do - hey I said we were geeking out at the time.   

The point is, it gave me some understanding when another engineer was discussing the use of Auratones in the studio.  Auratone monitors don't have a crossover.  They don't need one, because they're really just one 5" midrange driver in a carefully proportioned and sealed square box.  They call it an "infinite baffle design". It means sealed box. Smile   It has no bass to speak of. It has no highs either.   What does have is a naked midrange un-smeared by any gimicks.  Quincy Jones is a major fan, and among other things he mixed Michael Jackson's "Thriller" exclusively on Auratones first, then tweaked with Nearfields.

Still not sure that would have meant anything to me - until I stumbled across the right sort of drivers for about $18 each at Tanners.  Auratone was out of business for a number of years.  For a time the only option to fighting for them on ebay was to build your own, and so the specifications and plans are out there.   I built a pair of them for grins, and I think I gained a lot more in skill and knowledge than just some new speakers.

Some people call Auratones "Horror-tones" because they make mixes sound bad."  I think what they should be saying is that they make THEIR mixes sound bad.  Because I noticed pretty quickly that the really GOOD mixes, the ones that I especially admired on my Nearfields, sounded good on my "Auraclones" too.   In fact you can separate the sheep from the goats pretty quickly if you go through a bunch of commericial mixes with them.  The good ones remain full and well balanced across the apparent spectrum - they were in spacious stereo. Effects like reverb or phasing or whatever were nicely proportional to the rest of the song, and the panning felt laser precise for up front voices and widely spread for things like pads.
 
To be perfectly clear, listening to Nearfields for a while and then switching to the Auraclones is something of a let down - I do miss my ear candy.   The payoff though, that "aha" moment that I was really looking for (the one that makes this more than some kind of advertisement for Auratone or Auratone clones) came after listening to the Auraclones for a somewhat extended period and then switching BACK to the Nearfields. 

Whoa.  The Auraclone midrange was a crisp clear picture .  The Nearfield's midrange was like watching a movie on a projector that's slightly out of focus with a sort of lingering afterimage.  An image I might add with some mud spattered on it. Whenever I make the switch after prolonged Auraclone use, it take no special effort to grasp the differences. Its seems obvious then how BOTH drivers interact a little clumsily at a certain point in the Nearfield's midrange, and more specifically how the low driver is laying like an oaf on top of the high driver's sound like a pillow.  I get what my Nearfields do to color the sound in a way that I don't think I ever would have otherwise -  Though my perception fades as I continue to listen to the Nearfields, that mental picture is the most useful takeaway I think.

I think my approach to bass balance was nearly backwards.  I didn't need to hear the bass better.  I need to hear less blurring in the midrange.  When I get something balanced so that its good on the Auraclones (and that is frustratingly hard) then bringing up the bass seems pretty forgiving and becomes more a matter of taste.  Want a booming bass? It'll set pretty well.  Want a sparser bass? It'll still set pretty well and the song will still feel full.

I think too that it exposes the flaw in any sort of room equalization software, 1/3 octave EQ's or such.  Because nothing like that will change the physical properties of how my drivers react. I think that the physically largest low drivers aren't necessarily the best answer, especially in somewhat less expensive monitors, as their greater size and mass may (or may not, I imagine its not an easy answer)  result some of the issues being more pronounced. I'm just saying. For sure it gave me a greater appreciation for all that goes into designing highest quality monitors.

You can read various people on the net saying things like "any crap speaker will do", that all you want is to make sure it doesn't sound horrible on a little TV speaker or whatever. (Many of those people also say, well I've never used an Auratone before but…sigh. )  You can read people saying that you only need one Auratone and that you should use it mono to check for mono compatibility.   And you can also read of people who want to compare the original Auratones to new "extended range re-issued" Auratones, or to Beritones, or whatever.  In my opinion I think they are all missing the point.  I don't want something that has a range closer to my Nearfields, especially if it comes (as it will) with some kind of gimick like a port or EQ.  I want a design that gives me an accurate stereo balanced sound in a bare naked middle.   
  
My two cents? I figure I'm up to about a dollar and 28 cents now. Your thoughts?
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#2
I have heard and read experiences similar to yours regarding Auratones, and have considered doing something similar for a while, but haven't done it. I'm glad you shared your experience here.

Behringer makes an "Auraclone" model C50 (or C50A is the new model). I've considered purchasing it and do similar experiments to what you're describing.
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#3
Yep, I have heard the same about Auratones and clones. I have heard similar things about NS-10's, that they are kind of crappy speakers, but they detail the mids very well. The old NS10's had a trait to the woofer....from my understanding....as soon as they started to flutter, the bass was about correct.

Reece and I had a discussion on this, just a couple of days ago, but it really does come down to learning what to listen for, learning your monitors and your room. Or, lack of what you can hear in your room, from your monitors. As a band, (Scandalous Grace) we generally listen to preliminary mixes on multiple sources, include each others systems. It really does help to know that things sound good on multiple sources.
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#4
True,

You know how a vocal coach distinguishes between exercises and performing - to me that makes a good analogy here. Vocal exercises are meant to bring awareness quickly of what is not learned easily just by performing. Especially if an artist's experience has become a habit that limits or our hurts their performance, and that they aren't aware of or can't see past.

Some of them are discarded once a point is made . Some are continued throughout an artist's career for various reasons or purposes like warmups, fixing a problem or strengthening a skill...
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