- All studios need near-field monitors
- You cannot flush-mount ("soffit mount") near-fields monitors.
- Near field monitor must be placed on the console meter bridge, or on shelves above the mix engineer's desk.
- Near field monitors are better/more accurate/louder/nicer than mid-field or far-field.
So, let's start by clarifying the most most basic issue here, about near-fields monitors:
They do not actually exist!
There is no such thing as a "near field monitor". They are a myth. A fantasy. Marketing hype, not technical reality. And you should NEVER listen in the "near field" anyway!
Bold statements? Yep. But true. Here's why:
The "near field" is a property of the ROOM, not the speaker. This graph and explanation come from the book "Architectural Acoustics": That's pretty clear, isn't it? That's from a leading text book on acoustics, not on marketing hype, so it tells the truth about what "near field" actually means, acoustically.
If you say that a speaker is a "near field" speaker, then you are using pure marketing drivel, not an actual technical term. In fact, try googling the term "definition of near field monitor", and be shocked: You'll notice that is no technical definition at all! It's a marketing term, not an acoustics term.
As you'll note in that image above, it clearly says: "Sound pressure levels can fluctuate dramatically in the near field .... sound pressures cancel and enhance each other near large reflective surfaces [such as a desk, console, etc.], so sound pressure level measurements should be avoided in the near field." I kind of think that's what our ears do: they make "sound pressure level measurements".
So according to Architectural Acoustics, you should not try to listen in the "near field", since levels fluctuate, and pressure cancel each other out, or enhance each other... So why on earth would anyone make a "near field monitor", and tell you to listen in the "near field"? ??? Beats me...!!!
Not convinced? Then maybe listen to what one of the world's leading experts on speakers says: I quote Floyd Toole himself: "In recording control rooms, it is common to place small loudspeakers on the meter bridge at the rear of the recording console. These are called near-field or close-field monitors because they are not far from the listeners. ... the near field of a small two-way loud-speaker ... extends to somewhere in the range 21 in. to almost 6 ft (0.53 to 1.8 m). Including the reflection from the console under the loudspeaker greatly extends that distance. There is no doubt, then, that the recording engineer is listening in the acoustical near field, and that what is heard will depend on where the ears are located in distance, as well as laterally and in height. The propagating wavefront has not stabilized, and as a result this is not a desirable sound field in which to do precision listening, but as they say, perhaps it is “good enough for rock-and-roll.”
Your honor, I rest my case! As the man says: "this is not a desirable sound field in which to do precision listening".
OK, maybe this calls for a more complete explanation:
If you set up a speaker at one end of a large room and play music through it, that sound spreads out through the room, bouncing back and forth between the room boundaries and objects in the room. If you suddenly turn off the speaker, that sound continues to bounce around for a while, slowly dying away. How long that takes depends on several factors, but the point is that the sound does NOT stop instantly when you cut off the speaker: it carries on "reverberating" around the room. And that reverberant field is there all the time, not just when the speaker is off. When the speaker is on, that "reverberation" is obviously still taking place, and still filling the entire room, along with the direct sound from the speaker. The sound that remains when you cut off the speaker is called the "reverberant field", and the level is more or less even, and constant, throughout the room (this is a large room that we are talking about). It doesn't matter where you are in the room, as soon as you cut the speaker off the remaining level is roughly the same all over, since it is just reflections that are bouncing around randomly. (Note to the acoustic purists among us: Yes, I'm well aware that small rooms do not technically have a true reverberant field, and that will be the subject of another article: I'm using the term loosely here, to simplify things, and I did qualify all this by saying that this hypothetical room is "large"...)
So, with the speaker turned on, if you go all the way to the other end of the room to listen, as far away from the speaker as you can, then what you will hear is practically all "reverberant sound" that has been reflected off the walls / floor / ceiling / furniture / etc., and practically nothing that comes directly from the speaker. Everything you hear has bounced off at least one surface before reaching your ears, and most likely has gone through several such bounces. So you are totally in the reverberant field.
On the other hand, if you were to put your ear right in front of the speaker, just a few inches away, then what you hear is practically all coming directly from the speaker, and almost nothing at all from the room. Everything you hear has not touched any room surfaces, and is exactly what came out of the speaker. In this case, you are totally in the direct field from the speaker.
The point in the room at which the reverberant field and the direct field are exactly the same intensity, is called the "critical distance".
This isn't just a theoretical concept: it can be measured in practice. In that hypothetical large room, use a sound level and stand as far away as possible from the speaker while it is playing at a constant level. Move towards the speaker slowly and watch the level on the meter. Throughout most of the room the level will remain the same, since you are measuring the reverberant field, which is roughly equal throughout the room. But eventually as you get closer to the speaker, the level will start rising as the meter "sees" mostly the speaker. At the point where you get a 3 dB increase, that is the "critical distance" for that room. Any closer than that and you are in the "near field": Any further away and you are in the "far field" or "reverberant field". It's that simple.
As the first image I posted above shows, there's a region between the near field and the critical distance, called the "free field", where things are nice and smooth. That's the best place to be. (It probably won't be long before some savvy speaker manufacturer starts re-labeling their near-field speakers as superior and better "free field" speakers... )
There's a lot of people who should know better than continue to buy into the "near-field / mid-field / far-field" marketing hype. Fact is, those are all just fictitious names made up by manufacturers, and gullibly swallowed by some sound engineers, studio owners, and producers, who never bother checking. Most of those would probably be shocked to learn that there is no technical definition for what constitutes a "near-field monitor", or a "far-field monitor", and even less for the mythical, non-existent "midfield". If you don't believe me, do a google search for "technical definition of near-field monitor"... Enjoy your search....
Here's a smattering of definitions for "near field monitor" that I've picked up over the years, not one of which is true:
- "Nearfield is a reference to the range of frequencies the speaker is capable of replicating."
- "Nearfield speakers are not affected by room acoustics." [Wouldn't that be nice, if it were really true?]
- "Near field means that the sweet spot is going to be achieved approximately 1 or 2 meters away from the speakers. If you move out further, the performance starts to degrade."
- "Near-field monitors are short throw, narrow dispersion, limited range units."
- "Nearfield is a reference to the range of frequencies the speaker is capable of replicating."
- "Near-Field monitors have a louder playback as compared to other studio monitors" [Ummm--- tell that to the manufacturers of "mid-fields"]
- "Nearfield monitors are designed to be positioned approximately one to two meters away from the listener"
- "Near-field: a compact studio monitor designed for listening at close distances, typically between three and five feet"
- "Nearfield monitors are designed to sit on or just behind the meter bridge of a mixing desk, within a couple of feet of the engineer"
- "Nearfield monitors are small speakers which you sit fairly close to."
- "Nearfield is if your ear is closer to the speaker than it is to any reflective surfaces."
- "The whole point of small near field monitors is that you sit close enough that you don't need a treated room. Amazing how many people don't seem to get that"
- "Near-field studio monitors are small speakers that minimize the effects of your room on the sound source."
- "For nearfield monitors, you need a listening distance that's at least 3 times the distance between the woofer and tweeter"
- "Near field monitoring is a way to sit closer to your monitors with the idea that sitting closer to the speakers say 3'- 4', will reduce the sound of the room in the mix."
- "Nearfield simply means "close distance."
- "Nearfield means so close that the SPL no longer increases if you move even closer."
- "Nearfields are distinguished by their largest drivers not being all that large – usually between about 4 to 6.5 inches"
- "Nearfield means less than 2.50 meters"
- "The range of the field is directly proportional to the size of the driver. The driver size decides whether the speaker is a near field, midfield or far-field."
- "Near-Field monitors have a small driver size, but they don’t produce extremely low frequencies which are harmful to human’s health." [Huh? Seriously???]
- "Near field is the critical listening distance"
- "Nearfield means that your ears are closer to the speakers than they are to any of the room boundaries".
- "Near field refers to the size of the monitor in relation to the listening distance"
- "Near field monitors are ones that are small enough to sit on a stand or desk close to the listener."
- "Near-Field monitors are designed to be placed less than 6 feet away from the listener."
- "Near field listening: set them up 4 feet apart, from 4 feet away. They will sound great regardless of the room from that close".
- "Near-fields are perfect for balancing lower high and higher low frequencies which fall within the human audible range."
- "Nearfields have a maximum distance between them to the size of the woofer cone…on the order of about 1 foot of separation per inch. More than this distance will kill the phantom image"
- "Nearfield monitors"? = No bass, no hope of bass, let's not pretend."
What a wonderful hodge-podge of garbage answers! Most are totally off, a couple get sort of close, but they are all still absolutely wrong! And mostly they contradict each other. The worst thing is, all of those come from "experts" offering their opinions on how to set up speakers and rooms... (perhaps the last one on the list is the closest to being accurate ... )
In reality, anybody can build any speaker, slap the name "nearfield" on it, and nobody else can call them a liar, since there is no such thing! Ask six manufacturers for their definition of what a "nearfield" monitor is, and you'll get six different answers, most of them directly contradicting each other!
So, to recap: there's no such thing as a "near field" monitor, since the term "near field" refers to the ROOM; not the speakers. If your head is closer to the monitors than the critical distance (and free field) for the room then you are in the near field. If you are beyond the free field or the critical distance, then you are in the far field. Period. That's it. The "critical distance" is a well defined technical term that can be predicted mathematically, and it can be measured physically and easily. There's no question about where it is, or what it is. That distance varies for each room, and each set of treatment, but does NOT vary for different speakers in the same room. For a smallish to medium room that is treated one way, the entire room might be in the near field, regardless of what speaker you use, but if you take out that treatment then the near field might only extend a couple of feet beyond the speakers. In a small, badly treated room that is poorly laid out, there might be no free field at all. And in a large room, the free field might extend several meters, starting quite close to the speakers.
There is nothing at all that you can do to a speaker to ensure that it will always be a near-field monitor, since that depends mostly on the room and also on where you place the speakers and your head in that room.
And as both Floyd Toole and Architectural Acoustics point out, the near field is a terrible place to listen!
Sorry about the rant! But this is one of my "pet peeves" about speaker manufactures: Some of them seem to love promoting marking hype, instead of technical superiority of their products. In reality, you can use pretty much whatever speakers you want to use in your room (within reason!), regardless of what it says on the box they came in. You do not have to listen close to near-fields, and you do not have to be 20 feet away to listen to far-fields or "mid-fields". And you can soffit-mount pretty much any speaker you want to, with only a very few exceptions. So chose the best, acoustically flattest speakers you can get, with the spectrum range that you need for your music, put them in properly designed soffits at the correct locations in the room, and then design the room around them, and treat the room according. If you like your LSR 305's, then keep your LSR 305's!
About the only issue that you do need to take care about with any monitor, is that you sit far enough away that the fields produced by the tweeter and woofer (and other elements, if applicable) have all merged smoothly: if you sit too close, then you will hear one of the drivers more than the others! So don't get too "near" to a "near-field"! In reality, there are just "big" speakers and "small" speakers, and you can listen to "small" speakers at a closer distance than "big" ones, because the sound fields from the individual drivers marge at a shorter distance. That's it. The correct listening distance for any specific speaker is: no closer then the distance at which those fields from the various drivers and ports are fully merged with each other, and no further away than the critical distance for the room where they are being used. That's the correct range. If you get any closer than the distance where the fields merge, you will hear one of the drivers louder than than the others, and with various undesirable artifacts. If you get further away than the critical distance, then the room sound dominates over the direct field form the speaker.
If you REALLY want to get your room as good as it possibly can be, then yes, absolutely, DO flush mount your monitors! Regardless of whether they are "near field" or "far field" or something else, flush-mounting the monitors is the best single thing you can do to any room, and pretty much any speakers. The vast majority of studio monitors can be flush mounted, with very few exceptions. Some can't (for example: if they have active drivers on the top, bottom or sides), but most can.
- Stuart -