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Can You Use Bookshelf Speakers as Studio Monitors?

When I started my studio, I had amplifiers and speakers everywhere that I got from my father because he had an entertainment room previously, and he was kind enough to give them to me. Luckily for me, I did my research on studio monitors and speakers and found out why you need studio monitors instead of normal and bookshelf speakers when recording.

It is not recommended to use bookshelf speakers as studio monitors, because studio monitors are designed to sound “bad,” be active with a flat response, near-field response, and crossovers, while bookshelf speakers are designed to sound “good” with a far-field response and are usually passive.

There is quite a bit of understanding in regards to really knowing what the differences are between bookshelf speakers and studio monitors. I’m sure there is terminology and even concepts that you wouldn’t believe that manufacturers actually build with these speakers and monitors in mind. Let’s have a look.

Can you use bookshelf speakers as studio monitors

The short answer is that you shouldn’t, and the long answer is that you really shouldn’t. Studio monitors are built and designed with specific factors in mind that we will take a look at.

These factors produce the sound of a different quality to that of bookshelf speakers. Even if you have top of the range bookshelf speakers, they are probably not as good for audio mixing as a mid-level set of studio monitors.

Bookshelf speakers are made for listening to music, not for dissecting it. Let’s get into the details.

What are bookshelf speakers?

Bookshelf speakers are speakers that are designed to sit or rest on a shelf, table, or any elevated surface. These speakers can go anywhere except for the floor. They are specifically designed to produce exceptional quality sound in medium and small-sized spaces.

These speakers are great for listening to music or watching movies.

A few things to consider about bookshelf speakers

Bookshelf speakers, just like studio monitors, come as passive speakers or active speakers.

Active speakers vs. passive speakers

Active speakers are speakers that have amplifiers built into them. The benefit of this is that you don’t need a separate amplifier to power and drive the speakers.

Passive speakers are speakers that are standalone and do not come with a built-in amplifier. These speakers have to be powered by an external amplifier. Lets quickly go over a few pro’s and cons of an active (powered) speaker and a passive (not powered) speaker

Watch this YouTube video by Fluance Audio explaining what active and passive speakers are.

Active speaker pro’s and cons

  • These are great because they are an all-in-one solution.
  • The amplifier inside the speakers is tuned and set up specifically for that speaker.
  • You can change settings and configure your sound from the back of the speaker.
  • They are easy to setup.
  • Some are designed to be battery-powered, so they are portable.
  • You can upgrade your system without having to upgrade your amplifiers.
  • They can be pretty heavy to carry because of the built-in amplifier.
  • If the amplifier inside breaks down, you are going to have to send the entire speaker in for repair.

Passive speaker pro’s and cons

  • Because your speakers are passive, you are able to upgrade the parts of your sound system individually.
  • Passive speakers are very light.
  • You are able to maintain and service both your speakers and amplifiers more easily.
  • Depending on where you have set up your speakers and your amplifier, you are able to EQ and from one location. This is great if a speaker is too loud or too soft (you don’t have to run around the room, adjusting everything).
  • It could be quite tricky, however, to match speakers specifically to amplifiers in terms of power.
  • Depending on how many speakers you have and the cable length, you could experience signal loss (cables should not be longer than 18.5ft).

Far-field

Home theater speakers, bookshelf speakers, and hi-fi speakers are designed with the intent that the listener will be sitting far away from the speaker, i.e., the listener will be sitting on the couch while the speakers are up against the cabinet next to the TV.

This is how bookshelf speakers are designed. Audio clarity and sound precision are lost when speakers are built this way. That is why studio monitors are built with a near-filed response instead of a far-field response

They are not designed with the intent that the listener is going to be sitting close while listening to music; hence, they are built differently for a different purpose.

What are studio monitors?

Studio monitors are speakers similar to bookshelf speakers in the respect that they are relatively the same size and are either active or passive. However, studio monitors usually tend to be active monitors.

Studio monitors are not the same as bookshelf speakers. They are built and designed to behave almost entirely different from your normal home-theater, HI-fi, and bookshelf speakers.

Studio monitors are designed for listening to sound critically and crucially. They are created with the purpose that you must be able to pick out imperfections and inadequacies in the audio so you can fix them.

What makes a good studio monitor

Active Monitors

Good studio monitors tend to be active (you do get passive monitors, but active tend to be slightly better overall). This is good because your monitors are receiving power from a dedicated power amplifier within the speaker.

The reason why having each speaker and as such, each driver (woofer and tweeter) with their own amplifier is that the amplifier can directly power each driver, creating more of a precise sound.

Crossovers

A crossover splits frequencies to make sure that they always go to the correct speaker. This is essential to adding clarity to your mix. (The left part of your mix will always go to the left speaker, and the right side of the mix will always go to the right speaker).

Near-field

What is near-field? Most likely, when hearing about or jumping into a conversation about studio monitors, you will hear this term. As you guessed, it is the opposite of far-field speakers, which your bookshelf speakers most probably are.

Studio monitors are designed to be near-field. That is, they are designed to give the listener good, clear sound that the listener is close to the speakers when they are playing.

Because the listener sits just a few feet away from studio monitors, they are not subject to natural reverberations caused by the room or any other objects. This intern also produces a more clear, crystal, and precise sound.

Watch this YouTube video by Acoustic fields explaining the differences between near-field and far-field.

Flat response

While home theatre speakers, Hi-fi speakers, and bookshelf speakers are designed for an amazing listening experience, studio monitors are not built quite the same way.

Good studio monitors are built with the best flat response they can possibly have. That is why they are usually active and have crossovers.

What is a flat response? Flat response means that studio monitors don’t emphasize any one frequency range (they are not built to give you big bass or nice highs). Being built in this way, the sound again is more clear and precise, and the listener will be able to pick up inconsistencies and mistakes in the frequency ranges.

Why do you need a flat response?

If you don’t have monitors or speakers that have a flat response, when you mix your audio, you won’t be able to tell what frequencies are overpowering and which frequencies are too weak.

For example, let’s say you are mixing tracks. You will be mixing your audio to sounds good for those speakers. Perhaps those speakers were built with a mid-frequency push for excitement. Accordingly, you turn down the mids in your mix, and on those speakers, they sound great.

However, when you play your mix through your pc, laptop, headphones, hi-fi, or anything else, you will notice that the mid frequencies are dull, and they don’t sound as good as they did on your speakers.

This is why you need a totally flat response that only studio monitors can give you. Studio monitors don’t emphasize any one frequency, so when you mix your audio, it is more likely going to sound the same no matter what you play it through after you have mixed it.

Watch this Youtube video by Audio dynamics explaining in detail what a flat response is.

What are the differences between a bookshelf speaker and studio monitors

For lack of a better term, studio monitors are designed to sound “bad” or as bad as they possibly can be. This does not mean they are terrible speakers. It means that when mixing and listening to the audio, the producer and engineer need to be able to pick up on the inaccuracies, inadequacies, mistakes, hisses, pops, and any unwanted sound or frequencies that are potentially bad for the mix.

We can only achieve this by having crystal clear, undisturbed sound which studio monitors provide because they have a flat response, near-field response, crossovers, and are power-driven.

Bookshelf speakers, though, are made of high quality and sound amazing, can be passive, are far-filed response built, are not potentially crossed over, and are not built with a flat response.

In essence, they are designed to sound “good.” Some of the speakers will be built, and taller made with music and movies in mind, giving more response to certain frequencies. Almost always, these speakers will be built with low frequencies in mind.

Watch this Youtube video by Edward Smith explaining the difference between studio monitors and speakers.

What are the similarities between bookshelf and studio monitors?

Well, as we discussed, the similarities are that they can both be passive or active. They both have the same drivers (woofer and tweeter), and they are small and compact.

Then they are both great for listening to audio, except they are used to listen to audio in different ways.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I would not recommend that you use your bookshelf speakers as studio monitors.

As I have laid out for you, the differences between bookshelf speakers and studio monitors are like night and day. If you are looking to mix on a professional level, then any form of bookshelf, hi-fi, or home theater speakers just won’t cut it.

Most likely, you will produce a mix that is filled with frequency booms, inadequacies, and the audio will sound different on every device you play it through. This is not the mark of a professional sound engineer or music producer.

So do yourself a favor. If you want to mix audio, then you will need to get a set of good studio monitors.

Devlon Jarrod Horne

I am passionate about everything I undertake with music being my first love! I started playing guitar and singing at the age of 13 and have toured extensively throughout the UK, SA, and the UAE, playing and recording in original bands, cover bands, theatres, shows, and productions. I graduated top of my class at Damelin College of Music in South Africa and have his graded classical theory and composition from the Royal Schools Of Music in London. I have taught privately, for schools, companies, and online since 2006, and have founded Master Music Talent Academy where I employ and share my love of music with some of the top pro players, performers, and teachers in the South African music industry.

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