Nearfield Speakers (What and why we need them?)

If you’re an audio engineer, then you probably know all about nearfield speakers. But for those of us who are less familiar with the term, nearfield speakers are loudspeakers that are designed to be placed close to the listener, usually on either side of a mixing console.

Nearfield listening is a technique where the speakers are placed close to the listener so that they can hear all the details of the mix without the sound being disturbed by reflections from walls and other surfaces in the room.

Nearfield speakers are an essential tool for mixing and mastering engineers and will be found in all the best music studios.

In this article, I will discuss the importance of nearfield speakers and explain what nearfield listening is, covering:

  • What are nearfield speakers?
  • What are nearfield monitors used for?
  • What is nearfield listening?
  • How far away should nearfield monitors be?
  • Buying guide for nearfield speakers
a small desktop speaker

What Are Nearfield Speakers?

Nearfield speakers, also known as nearfield monitors, are speakers that are designed to be used in close proximity to the listener. This is in contrast to traditional loudspeakers, which are designed to be used in a space that is further away from the listener.

The purpose of using nearfield speakers is to create a more accurate soundstage. By placing the speakers closer to the listener, it is easier to control the directivity of the sound and avoid unwanted reflections.

This leads to a more accurate representation of the soundstage, which is especially important for critical listening applications such as mixing and mastering.

Types of Nearfield Speakers

There are two main types of nearfield speakers: active and passive.

Active nearfield speakers have their own built-in amplifiers and so they don’t need to be connected to an external amplifier. Passive nearfield speakers, on the other hand, do need to be connected to an external amplifier.

What Are Nearfield Monitors Used For?

There are several reasons you might want to use nearfield speakers.

First, they allow you to hear all the details of the mix without being distracted by reflections from walls and other surfaces in the room.

Second, they provide a more intimate listening experience because you’re not as aware of the sound coming from the speakers themselves.

Finally, nearfield speakers are less likely to cause listening fatigue because they don’t have to be turned up as loud as main or midfield speakers in order to be heard clearly.

The most common application of nearfield monitors is in the professional audio industry, where studio engineers use nearfield monitors to listen critically to music as they mix and master the music for release. 

What Is Nearfield Listening?

Nearfield listening is the act of using a pair of small studio monitors called nearfield speakers that have a wide frequency range. These speakers are placed about 4 feet apart and in front of the person critiquing the audio mix.

It is called “nearfield listening” as you are very close to the speakers. Here is what a typical nearfield setup looks like:

Image via Coya Music

The phrase “close field monitoring” and technique was developed by audio consultant Ed Long. The principle is straightforward: because the speakers are so close to your ears, you will hear mostly what is coming from the speakers and less of your surrounding environment. [source]

How Far Away Should Nearfield Monitors Be?

Nearfield speaker placement is critical to ensure you are getting the best sound from your nearfield speakers.

As a general rule, nearfield speakers should be placed about 4 feet apart and about 4 feet in front of the listener to get the best results.

The best way to position your nearfield speakers is on either side of your mixing console, at ear level, when you’re sitting in your sweet spot.

The sweet spot is the location in the room where you have the best possible listening experience.

To find your sweet spot, sit in your normal mixing position and move your head around until you find a spot where the sound seems evenly balanced between both speakers.

Once you’ve found your sweet spot, mark it with a piece of tape so that you can easily find it again later on.

Buying Guide For Nearfield Speakers

In my studio, I use a pair of Yamaha NS-10ms, from the 1970s, which have become the standard in nearfield monitoring in the industry. These speakers are no longer made, so to get an exact replica from the 1970s, the only option is second-hand. 

The cost of nearfield monitors can vary dramatically. Typically, the higher-priced nearfield speakers will have the following characteristics:

  1. Have a wider frequency range. You will hear more bass and dynamic sounds.
  2. Have better sound definition and clarity. You will hear more detail in the sounds.  
  3. Be unbiased and sonically accurate. The speakers will not add colouration and accurately reproduce the original recorded audio.  

When you’re shopping for nearfield monitors, there are a few things you need to keep in mind:

1. Size

Nearfield monitors come in all shapes and sizes, so it’s important to pick the right size for your needs. If you’re looking for a monitor that can be used in a small studio or home recording setup, then you’ll want to go with a model that’s on the smaller side. Conversely, if you need a speaker that can handle larger spaces, then you’ll want to go with a larger option.

2. Price

Nearfield monitors can range in price from around $100 to several thousand dollars, so it’s important to set your budget before you shop. That said, it’s important to note that you don’t always have to spend a lot of money to get a quality product. There are plenty of great monitors available at all price points.

3. You Need To Buy Two Speakers

Nearfield listening requires two speakers for stereo imaging. When browsing online products, some nearfield monitors will come as a pair (two included in the price) and some will be sold as a single unit. 

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking a speaker is really cheap when really you are buying just one speaker and not two!

4. Frequency Range

One of the most important factors to consider when buying nearfield monitors is their frequency range. This tells you how the monitors can play back sound.

In order to get the most accurate representation of your music, it’s important to select monitors that have a frequency range that matches your project’s needs. For example, if you’re working on a dance track with lots of bass lines, you’ll want monitors with a good low-end response.

4. Driver Size

The size of the drivers in your nearfield monitors also plays an important role in how accurately they reproduce sound. Larger drivers tend to produce better low-frequency sounds.

5. Passive Or Active

Check if the nearfield speaker is passive or active.

Active speakers are plug-and-play as they have an inbuilt amplifier. You just plug them in and you are good to go. 

Passive speakers need an amplifier to work, so you will need to include an amplifier in your costs. It should state on the product is passive or active, so watch out for this. 

6. Isolation Pads

Most users place their nearfield monitors directly onto their desks. This can be problematic as your desk will vibrate and you will get unwanted resonances. A good solution is to place your nearfield speakers on stands or on isolation pads. 

Personally, I prefer stands as I can raise the speaker up to be in line with my ear. I enjoy having my ear at the same level as the speakers so I am listening “on-axis”.

This allows me to focus on the direct sound in front of the speakers and mostly ignore the reflected room sound.  

If you can’t afford or use stands, ensure you place some foam or isolation pads underneath your speakers and not directly on your desk to avoid vibrations.

Final Thoughts

Nearfield speakers are an important tool for audio engineers because they allow you to hear all the details of the mix without being distracted by reflections from walls and other surfaces in the room.

They provide a more intimate listening experience and they’re less likely to cause listening fatigue.

By using nearfield monitors, you can work on the assumption that you are hearing a good representation of your audio, with reduced impact from your room acoustics.  

There are many nearfield studio monitors on the market which range in price from less than £100 to many thousands. Typically, the more expensive monitors will have a wider frequency range, better sonic quality and audio definition. 

If you want a professional studio speaker setup for critical listening of audio, especially for mixing and mastering of audio, then nearfield studio monitors are an excellent choice. 

Happy listening!

Engineer Your Sound

We love all things audio, from speaker design, acoustics to digital signal processing. If it makes noise, we are passionate about it.

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