Using Studio Monitors for PC Audio for Awesome Sound

Most people would buy a pair of (insert your favorite brand here) computer speakers for PC audio. We, however, are creators. Good audio is essential for great video. In fact, some would say audio is more important than the visual quality of the video itself.  You can watch a video that is grainy, but would you watch a video where you can’t understand or hear what they’re saying because of horrible audio? Probably not.

If you’ve got room in your budget, studio monitors are a great investment to round out your editing equipment.

At The Twobers, we’ve got high end studio monitors and lower end studio monitors. Even our lower end monitors are better than your traditional PC speakers. We’re using a pair of DynAudio BM5 MkIIs and a pair of Tannoy Reveal 502s.

So what exactly are “studio monitors”?

Studio monitors are speakers built for audio production, whether music, or in our case, video. Ok, what does that mean? What it means is they will provide more accurate audio than traditional speakers. Studio monitors will sound as close to the original recording as possible. The idea is they provide what’s called a flat response. In other words, they shouldn’t add extra bass, extra treble, echo, hollowness, etc. Speakers that add any characteristics to the sound that was not in the original recording are doing what’s called coloring the sound. Studio monitors are built so that they do not color the sound. Another benefit of studio monitors is that they help you hear detail in the sound that you cannot hear with most consumer level speakers. Ok, ok, for those of you audio nuts, yes, high end consumer speakers can reproduce details that you can’t hear with lower end speakers, but this post isn’t targeted at those that would purchase audio systems which costs thousands or more and not even blink. If you spend that much on audio equipment you probably already know about studio monitors.. just saying 🙂

Are studio monitors essential for Youtubers?

For your average Youtuber I would definitely not say studio monitors are essential, but if you want to edit your audio to the highest quality possible, then yes, studio monitors are essential.

What do I need so I can use studio monitors on my PC?

Unlike PC speakers, studio monitors usually do not have a connection that you can simply plug into the audio out jack on your PC. You’ll need a USB DAC or a USB Audio Interface. These are devices that plug into a USB port on your PC and provide volume control and the outputs needed for studio monitors.

There are several different types of studio monitors so the equipment and cables you need will vary. Some studio monitors have volume controls on the front, some have different types of inputs available, etc.

The Twobers are using a NuForce DAC with unbalanced RCA outputs and a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 with balanced TRS outputs. Both sets of our studio monitors have XLR inputs. For the NuForce DAC we needed unbalanced RCA to XLR cables. For the Focusrite Scarlett we needed balanced TRS to XLR cables. Here are some photos and illustrations of the various connectors.

 

TRS Connector
XLR Connector
RCA Connector
RCA Connector

 

A balanced vs unbalanced output/cable helps to reduce noise (interference) in the audio signal. This becomes even more of an issue with longer cables. Without getting too much into the science, a balanced cable sends a signal through two wires within the cable. The way this signal is sent and “processed” makes it possible to remove any unwanted noise. An unbalanced cable only sends the signal through one wire within the cable. If there is any interference picked up by the cable you may hear it from the speakers. The best way to described this is think of the weird noises that used to come from your computer speakers when you had your cell phone close to them… that’s noise, aka interference. In fact, this still happens occasionally on some speakers.

So what studio monitors do you recommend?

What we really wanted to do was introduce you to the idea of using studio monitors for your PC audio. Unfortunately we do not have the budget or the connections to thoroughly audition several different studio monitors. I’ve personally had my DynAudio BM5 MkII’s for years and absolutely love them. They provide very crisp sound and a decent amount of bottom end (bass) for their size. I can hear details in music that I’ve never heard before. Speaking of which, that’s the other advantage of studio monitors… you’ll hear details you may have never heard in your music collection before such as the very light pluck of the guitar pick, or the singer taking a breath. I should note, the DynAudio BM5 MkII has now been replaced with the BM5 MkIII.

Our other studio monitors, the Tannoy Reveal 502s produce excellent sound, especially for the price. They’re a little light on the bottom end (not a lot of bass), but these speakers aren’t meant to shake your house off of its foundation. Unfortunately, and this is a known issue with this particular studio monitor, ours happen to suffer from an audible hiss. We’ve learned to tune the hiss out, and even with the hiss, the audio quality from these monitors is *likely* better than most, if not all (bold statement), PC speakers. That said, unless you can get these on sale I think there are probably more reliable studio monitors at this price point.

If you want more in-depth reviews, please speak with your friend, “Google”. There are a ton of resources out there that really get into the science of audio and measure speaker performance with a lot of really cool gear. That said, what you really should do is listen to, or audition, the studio monitors yourself. Go to your local Guitar Center and take a listen to what they have in the store.

One more important item. Studio monitors are usually sold as SINGLE units. The prices you see are typically just for one. Also, they usually only come with a power cable and do not include the necessary audio cables. Remember, studio monitors are not targeted at your general consumer. You might be able to find them somewhere sold as a pair, or as a kit, but this would be the exception.

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