Back in April, I bought my first set of studio monitors for my little home studio. They went onto my desk straight away, and I’ve been using them pretty regularly since.
Read on for my First Impressions of them.
Nope, not today. Sorry.
Studio monitors are too complicated a topic to condense into a useful summary. Heck, even this post barely touches on many of the things that matter once you’re getting into buying studio monitors.
Why Has It Taken Two Months To Write This Blog Post?
Most of my First Impressions posts are written as I’m trying a piece of gear for the first time. A good example of that is yesterday’s post about the D’Addario XT strings. I drafted the post right after putting those strings on the guitar, and then revised the draft while playing both guitars for a few hours.
Sometimes, I just need more time with a piece of gear before I feel confident enough to say anything about it. That’s certainly been the case with my first set of studio monitors.
What Did I Buy?
I bought a pair of Tannoy Gold 5 Studio Monitors, a pair of Iso Acoustic R130 Speaker Isolation Stands to put them on, and a pair of 6.3mm -> male XLR cables so that I could plug them into my audio interface.
What Are They?
Tannoy Gold 5s are speakers for my home studio / recording setup.
- They have a 5 inch main speaker, which can reproduce frequencies from 70 Hz to 20 kHz.
- They are active studio monitors: they contain their own powered amplifiers, so that I don’t need to buy a separate monitor amplifier / controller.
They’re very much budget studio monitors. They’re made by a firm owned by Behringer.
It’s worth pointing out that – at the time of writing – they’re sold as individual monitors, and you have to remember to order two at the same time. They’re not sold as matched pairs – that’s budget monitors for you – so it’s a bit of pot luck as to how well they work together for you.
The Iso Acoustic stands allow me to lift the monitors off my desk, so that the tweeter is closer to ear-height. The stands come with two sets of metal rods that you use to set the height, and some spacers you can use to tip the monitors so that they’re pointing slightly upwards.
Why Did I Buy Them?
The short version: I needed something that I could plug into the Monitor Out jacks on my audio interface. For the longer version, have a read of my Studio Diary.
Yes, But Why Buy These?
When Mick Taylor from That Pedal Show was forced to start filming content from home due to the lockdown, these were the studio monitors he bought for home use. You can see them here, on the same stands that I bought:
Mick’s got decades of experience and knowledge, and a wealth of contacts through his work as a journalist. I suspect that he could have had just about any set of studio monitors he wanted.
He chose these. And he stuck with them.
I went with these because:
- I found a few forum posts (not many!) where early adopters seemed happy with them.
- A pair of them together is literally guitar pedal money, whereas pro-level monitors are decent guitar money. If it turns out I’ve made a mistake, it’s inconvenient rather than a major financial hit.
- I was (rightly, it turned out!) worried that bigger monitors would be too large for the available space.
I’d been really struggling to choose a set of studio monitors. I think they’re a really difficult thing to buy. How do you work out whether a set of speakers will suit your ears, your music, and your space? You can’t listen to YouTube videos, and its one of those areas where online forums aren’t a source of informed (or up-to-date) advice. (Honestly, threads about studio monitors are right up there with discussions about PAF-replica pickups or the Kemper for their toxicity.)
In the pre-pandemic days, you could have gone to a stockist and listened to a range of monitors for yourself. I did that once, and while it’s definitely useful, it’s not enough on its own. Their room isn’t going to sound like yours or mine, and they can’t recreate your listening position either. It does help you hear how the speakers compare to each other – for example, which ones have hyped highs, or forward mids, or better stereo imaging and instrument separation. None of that helps, though, if the monitor you’re interested in isn’t in the demo room the day you visit.
Literally, your only option is to buy something, and then return them if you don’t like them. Here in the UK, we have an automatic 14 day right-to-return for any goods bought online, but no automatic right-to-return for goods bought in a physical store.
The thing is – 14 days just isn’t long enough to work out if a particular set of studio monitors is right for you. Especially if music is a hobby (rather than your day job). And especially if you’ve never used studio monitors before.
Because they’re not intended to sound like your hi-fi speakers.
How Do They Sound?
I don’t know.
You might be reading that, and wondering how I can sit in front of a pair of speakers and not know what they sound like. I’ll do my best to explain.
Studio monitors are not hi-fi speakers. They’re not meant to sound like hi-fi speakers. They’re meant to sound as sonically-flat as possible. If you like, they’re meant to sound neutral. It’s a very different sound.
That’s why they say that you have to “learn” a set of studio monitors.
On top of that, what you hear depends a lot on the room that the speakers are in, where the speakers are placed, where you are sat, your listening volume, your own hearing, and no doubt lots of other factors that I’m completely unaware of.
Accurate audio is complicated.
As best I understand it, the important thing is translation: how well a mix made using these speakers sounds on a variety of normal gear (like your hi-fi, in your car, on your phone or laptop, and so on). That’s the learning part, and it seems to involve a cycle of creating a lot of recordings, trying them on lots of normal gear, and then changing and improving the mix until it’s a fairly natural, reliable process.
In the two months I’ve had them, I haven’t even begun on this cycle yet.
On top of that, my room has a new sound to it that I’m also having to learn. I spent the first few weeks of lockdown completing the layout change. (I’ll post something about the furniture I built for the studio soon!) The new layout and furniture has changed how everything sounds in this room, including the amps and cabs I’ve been using for years. In many respects, everything is new to me right now.
And that’s why I don’t know how they sound. Because it isn’t about how they sound on their own in the room. It’s about how something recorded using them sounds elsewhere.
What Are They Like To Use?
Remember that I’m completely new to using studio monitors. I’m not used to using flat(ish) sounding speakers yet.
The thing that really stood out for me was the lack of reproduction of bass frequencies. These monitors only go down to 70 Hz or so, and while that’s perfectly fine for blues and rock guitar, it’s a little weird for heavy genres.
The best example I can give is listening to Gravity Kills – the greatest industrial rock album ever made bar none. It’s an album that’s driven by its iconic, genre-defining bass guitar parts.
On the Tannoy Gold 5s, those bass parts almost completely disappear.
Surely That’s No Good, Right?
As always with audio, it’s more complicated than that.
It’s as much a problem with the album mix as with these studio monitors. The bass guitar has almost no mid content, and as a result it also largely disappears if you try and listen on your phone speakers too. It’s very much a 90’s mix.
So while the lack of bass frequencies seems bad at first, it’s also a tool that we can use for today.
We can use it to help us spot recordings where bass instruments don’t have enough mid content. If we can’t hear them well through these speakers, you won’t be able to hear them on your phone speakers too.
And, like it or not, lots of people consume music by listening on their phone speakers or their iPad speakers. Or on really crappy phone headphones.
What Are You Using Them For?
I haven’t done any recording with them yet. (That has to change!) I’m using them instead of speaker cabs for playing guitar at home.
Instead of hooking my guitar amps up to speaker cabs, I’ve got them going into a Two Notes CAB M and Captor, and from there into my audio interface. I’m using impulse responses on the CAB M to simulate different speaker cabinets, and I’m using my audio interface to add delay and reverb effects (effectively a wet/dry setup).
I’m one of those people who prefers a recorded guitar sound to a live guitar sound, and this allows me to have that in real time while I’m playing guitar.
I also find it helps bring out the differences in guitars and pedals a lot more. Through a real speaker cab, the bass roll-off from my beloved SHOD pedal isn’t always that obvious. Through this setup, the difference can be quite stark.
Any Other Observations?
In no particular order …
- These monitors don’t hiss very much at all. I’m really grateful about it. It’s one thing that put me off trying a set of Kali Audio monitors.
- The auto power-on/off thing works really well. They happily wake up without me having to crank the output from my audio interface. That’s one thing that put me off trying a set of Focal Shape monitors.
- If auto-standby isn’t your thing, there’s a switch on the back of the Gold 5 to switch that feature off.
- Although I’m in an untreated room, I’m running mine with both the bass and treble adjustments in their neutral position.
- I think they look great.
Are You Keeping These Monitors?
Yes. I’m going to stick with them for at least 12 months, or until I run into serious problems with using them.
I don’t think that I can learn to work with studio monitors quickly. I’m a home hobbyist after all, and these are my first set of studio monitors. It’s just going to take time – and a commitment to stick with it until I’m confident I know a bit more.
I’m glad that I bought something. It’s solved so many frustrations with using my audio interface. It’s just to early to know whether or not I bought the right something.
There are definitely days when I wonder if I should have bought the Tannoy Gold 7s instead, because of the bass reproduction thing. If these died the day after the warranty runs out, right now I’d probably go for something different. That opinion may change once I’m used to using them.
I did look into adding in a sub-woofer. Decent ones are pretty big, and I just don’t have the space for one. And, in an untreated small room like mine, a sub-woofer would probably cause as many problems as it would solve.
I’ve thought about buying Sonarworks Reference 4 Studio Edition to calibrate the monitors. Unfortunately, I can’t use that in Universal Audio’s LUNA (because of LUNA’s ARM mode) when tracking, or just practising. I can only use it for mixing. One of many frustrations I have with LUNA at this early stage!
Finally, don’t under-estimate how putting two bulky boxes on your desk will change the character of your space. The Tannoy Gold 5s are long and thin, and in my little room, they’ve definitely made the room feel a lot less open than before. Bigger studio monitors will only exaggerate that effect. If (like me) you’re a bit sensitive to these things, it’s something you’ll need to adjust to.