Best Studio Monitors for Game Audio
The pro audio market is flooded with studio monitors. Companies cut every corner imaginable to make a profit, resulting in sub-par gear with a heavily colored and innacurate output. There are still a few companies obsessed with making speakers that deliver an accurate sonic image. No longer does one have to spend a fortune to hear the sonic truth of what you are working on.
The following studio monitors have an overwhelming number of positive reviews with near-perfect overall market ratings. Let this list be a starting point for any studio near-field monitor purchases. The reality is that most consumers wil be listening to your work on smaller speakers which make up the bulk of real-world playback systems. This list factors in budget, size, quality and overall popularity. The best studio monitor for you will depend mostly on your studio space as well as your budget. While most mix rooms have inadequicies that distort certain frequencies, this can be remedied for tighter accuracy with some well placed acoustic treatment There's no one pair of monitors that can satisfy everybody, but the models listed below are hard to beat. They will handle any professional game audio project as well as music composition, audio production and mastering. Consider the following when choosing this important studio purchase:
IK Multimedia iLoud Micro Monitors
The best entry level studio monitor is the iLoud Micro Monitors from IK Multimedia. For the $300 and under budget bracket, the iLouds are the undisputed champion. You want to hear exactly what you are doing and get the full sonic picture. This can be a challenge in a less-than-perfect monitoring environment. Speakers shoud be as uncolored and neutral as possible with a flat frequency response. These have received heavy praise from the audio community at large and even celebrity engineers. Nothing comes close to these in the ultra-compact studio monitor market at this price. Their portable size and neutral character make them perfect for game audio composers, sound designers and engineers. These work brilliantly in small rooms with a compact size and accuracy that translates incredibly well to the real-world. The calibration options include a number of position EQs like the flat/desk switch as well as a -3db rolloff for both LF and HF. The free field positioning let's you change the angle and even mount them on mic stands. The low end response is impressive for the size and reaches down to 55hz while the silk dome twitter handles the top end with ease. The iLouds are in a league of their own and can even be calibrated further with the room-correcting ARC System 2.5 with MEMS microphone.
Focal Professional Shape 40
For budgets around the 1K range, the Focal Shape 40's are a strong choice. Focal needs no introduction in the high-end studio monitor market and these improve upon the discontinued CMS40's which made waves with everyone from bedroom producers to celebrity engineers. The Shape 40's include the side woofers and a wooden design as well as adjustable, padded feet. As the most compact monitor of the Focal Professional range, the Shape 40s feature a 60Hz-35kHz frequency response. They are revealing across the entire spectrum, particularly with extreme high frequencies, but the bass boost function is quite possibly the most natural ever heard in a compact monitor. These translate incredibly well to smaller speakers, which are the most common consumer speaker size. It is imperative that your audio content translate well to real-world playback systems, which are getter better every day. The overal level of detail on the Shape 40s truly is breathtaking across the spectrum. Focal use only the best materials for their drivers and the LF/HF shelving options on the Shape 40 make them a powerful tool for the game audio professional.
Dynaudio Lyd 7
The Lyd 7 from Dynaudio improves upon their classic B5 MKIII and is a strong contender for the "best powered monitors on earth". Dynaudio is based in Denmark and known for clinical levels of sonic accuracy, due in part to their handcrafted drivers. The seven inch woofer and 1.1" soft dome tweeter deliver a tight, 45Hz to 22kHz frequency response. Just as advertised, the Lyd 7 excels at low volume precision, making them perfect for smaller rooms and home studios. The position switch allows for placement within 50 cm of a wall or free standing. The lack of coloration on these allows for extended periods of work without listener fatigue. The sound balance feature lets you select from bright, neutral or dark tonality. Adjust sensitivity or add some bass extension, all from the back panel. The stereo image is remarkably phase-accurate with a neutrality that makes them perfect for any serious audio work. If your mix room is generous in size the Lyd 7s will really fill it out nicely.
Making Sense of Speaker Specs
Compare the specs of various studio monitors and you'll notice that most of them are quite similar. Cheap low-quality speakers can list the same frequency response as those costing $3000. There is quite a bit more to the story here. For example, high quality components and speaker enclosures are far better than cheap knock-offs. The models above are the most talked about in their size but they are also made from companies known for very high standards in design and manufacturing. An important spec would have to be speaker size which should increase when you move to a larger room. Having EQ options on the back of the speaker helps with room challenges.
2-way speakers divide the audio into Low Frequencies (LF) and High frequencies (HF), sending them two different speakers. Tweeter sizes are typically one to two inches, but woofers come in many different sizes. ,The larger the woofer the lower the bass as well as character of the mid frequencies. Larger woofers will introduce issues in a small room so it's generally a good idea to gauge the room size and choose accordingly. Mixing low end bass nuances as well a the upper stratosphere of 30khz treble can happen on headphones. Most vocals and instruments live in the mid range area. Pick speaker size in accordance with your room size.
This is the range of frequencies that the monitor can handle. You want this to be as flat as possible without added coloration to the audio content as it plays back. Most speaker systems used for gaming range from 20hz to 20khz and include a subwoofer that can reach down to 5hz. The studio monitors listed above can easily handle the bulk of frequencies in todays audio content. Always test your audio on several consumer level speakers from earbuds to portable bluetooth speakers. These are all heavily colored and often enhance the bass as well as high frequencies
The power rating of the amplifier, along with with speaker size, dictate the headroom and overall loudness limits of the speaker. Mix with volume just high enough to fill the room, noticing which volume level brings unwanted muddiness or distortion. Ears become fatigued easily and many professionals work a low levels. Typically a 50w rating is the most anyone will ever need. Consider the volume that your audio content will be played at when it reaches the final destination. Chances are, it's a speaker system with less then 50 watts.
If you want to get the most out of your studio monitors, find the best position and dial in the sweet spot. Carefully move them away from the wall while they are playing audio. Notice how the sound changes and the perceived volume moves. This is a great time to play familiar music and game audio to find the ideal location for the studio monitors. This can mean moving to another room and/or using acoustic treatment to tame reflections. Find a setup that suits your needs. Some engineers have their speakers in the center of the room and others are near the wall. When speakers are sitting flat on a desk, the low end tends to change. Some prefer a position slightly lifted from the desk and others have them free standing on isolation stands.
The biggest problem with home and even pro studios is low-end resonance problems which distort the bass frequencies and impair the ability to mix accurately. Room correction software can resolve some of these problems but you still need to tame eary reflections and deal with noise pollution coming from outside the building. Headphones can be incredibly helpful for working in the lower bass registers and dealing with stereo panning. The good news is that professional game audio work can be produced on near-field monitors in most rooms at reasonable volumes. Again, try to eliminate early reflections near the mix position. For those on a tight budget, moving blankets work amazingly well and can even be found in world class studios. A well rounded monitoring environment will include pro headphones, which provide a a perfect acoustic environment right on your head. Pro studio headphones can reach down to 5hz, allowing for greater accuracy work in the lower registers as well as the top of the spectrum. They are the perfect addition to a well rounded studio setup. There is something to be said about sticking with the same pair of studio monitors over the years. It takes time to learn their character in your room. Getting familiar with your monitoring setup can take time and as the speaker drivers move day and night, their sound can change for the better. Keep you studio at a consistent humidity and avoid smoking near them.