Wednesday, October 29, 2014

I Got Speakers

After literal years of hemming and hawing, I finally got off my ass and got some good speakers (or, as we call them in the audio engineering world, powered monitors). They are JBL LSR308's. Why did I wait so long to get them? How did I listen to music (much less try and mix it) without speakers? And why did I buy them now? All good questions. Now, some answers.

What are powered monitors?
This is an easy one. Powered monitors are speakers that have amplifiers built into them (as opposed to the amplifier being a separate component that powers standard passive speakers). The amplifiers are designed specifically to power to the drivers in the speakers (known in the consumer world as "woofers" for low frequencies, and "tweeters" for high frequencies). There are many different kinds of monitors. Some have one driver, and some have two drivers; some have three or more. Unlike consumer speakers that are voiced to make music and other audio sources sound appealing to most people, professional powered monitors are designed for accuracy. What you hear coming through a well-designed monitor is exactly what's being put into it. It's not sweetened. It's not boosted in the bass or treble frequencies. The reason for this is that pro monitors are what's used to create and mix recorded music, and you want to be able to make fine adjustments to your sound without worrying that the speaker itself is adding coloration, or not equally representing all the frequencies. We engineers say that the most important aspect of a mix is that it "translates"... i.e., it sounds good no matter if its played back in a car, on iPhone earbuds, through a home entertainment system, and so on. Making mixes that translate require professional monitors, which I now have.

Do all people agree on what speakers are great versus those that aren't? Oh, hell no. Listening is as subjective as taste; think of it like ice cream. Some people like strawberry and some like chocolate and some like pistachio, and no amount of arguing ever convinces someone else that their favorite ice cream flavor is somehow "wrong". I therefore always avoid any and all pointless arguments about speakers, microphones, guitars, and ice cream.

The back of my new JBL LSR308. It has a big-ass port (that's a technical term) to allow for better bass reproduction, as well as both XLR and 1/4" TRS inputs, an input sensitivity switch for +4dBu or -10dBV, trim controls for each individual driver, a volume knob, an on/off switch, and a power pluggy-inny.

Cool! Why did you wait so long to get them, then?
Well, like most good things in life, professional monitors are expensive. And to be completely frank, I never had a serious need for them. When I'd record things like the music for my last solo album, the actual recording was done in a professional studio, as was the mixing. The stuff I record here are simply "demos"; early versions of songs that simply capture the idea, and not intended as final versions. But again, good monitors are not cheap. It's not uncommon to see good powered monitors that range from $1500-$3000 for a pair. And that's not even close to the high end. My JBL LSR308's were based on technology that JBL developed for their M2 Master Monitors, which go for $20,000 per pair. Yes, you read that right. Twenty thousand dollars. So, since I wasn't about to spend an amount of money I'd usually associate with a new car on speakers, that wasn't going to happen. But then, JBL introduced this new, much more affordable monitor series. At first I was skeptical, but then I heard them and was really impressed, and then found out that a lot of other people whose ears I respect were also raving about them. For the price, they're probably the very best powered monitor available, in my opinion. So I bought some.

Uh, what were you using before you got these?
Mostly headphones. Good headphones from Sennheiser, but headphones nonetheless. When I wanted to listen to something without phones on, I'd have two options: plug in a little boombox I keep here in this office/studio, or take it out to the car and listen there. As I said, I really didn't have a good reason to get speakers before, and I wasn't going to get some crappy-ass "multimedia speakers" just to meet my budget. So I just waited until some really good speakers were within my budget. See? I'm smarter than I look.

So now you're going to mix records there with these awesome speakers?
No, I'm really not. Ha ha. Let me explain. First, I need something better for simply playing back audio here, even those demos that I'm working on for my band They Stole My Crayon. But the fact of the matter is, I'm a freaking musician who records, and it's just stupid that I didn't have a good pair of speakers to really hear what I'm doing. Running back and forth to Kat's Jeep every time I wanted to have an idea of what a song sounded like was getting old. And also, I spend most of my time in here, and just for things like watching movies or listening to music (as I do often), it was high time to have a good listening setup. That having been said, having these JBL's here will definitely make our creation of demos that much better, and will indeed add to our creative process.

So there you have it. By the way, I did purchase these from my very old friends at GC Pro, the professional division of Guitar Center who've been a client of my marketing business for over 10 years. I'm not telling you that to pimp them; just to say that they are cool people, and they gave me a fantastic deal on these already reasonably-priced monitors. Hats off to my bros at GC Pro. And now, I'm going to start planning how I'm going to rearrange this office/studio to best set up these new monitors... something I won't be able to do until the weekend, so for the moment, sadly, my new speakers are just staring at me in silence. Not for long, though!

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