Headphones or Speakers?
When it comes to listening to your recordings, there are only two options: headphones or speakers (called monitors). Headphones are the least expensive solution, and many musicians prefer to mix on headphones. When selecting headphones (shown in FIGURE 4-3), make sure to buy headphones designed for audio mixing. Audio mixing headphones should have a flat response: They don't boost the bass or lower the treble like other “radio” headphones sometimes do. Headphones start around $20 and top off around $150 or more.
If you want to listen without headphones, or you need to have several people hear the mix at once, you will want to go with stereo monitor speakers. Monitors resemble the speakers found on your stereo system. Monitor speakers should have a flat response like headphones, so you can hear what's really going on with your music.
Why is “flat response” so important when mixing?
If the speakers unnaturally boost the bass, or reproduce any part of the signal unfaithfully, you might decide to change the sound to make it balanced to your ears on those speakers. After you finish and mix down to a tape or CD and play it back on a good sound system, you might find that the bass is too low because your monitor speakers emphasized the bass too much and you cut it during the mix to balance out. It's important to hear what's really there.
Studio monitor speakers
Two monitors (left and right) are the standard way to mix, as you can see in FIGURE 4-4. There are two types of monitors, self-powered (active) and passive. Just like a microphone signal, the output from the recorder won't be loud enough to drive the monitor speakers: it needs to be amplified. Active monitors are slightly more expensive because they contain amplifiers built into the speakers. Passive monitors require a separate power amplifier between the recorder and the speakers. In a home studio, active monitors are usually easier to deal with. You can expect to spend $100 on the low end to $800 or more on the high end.