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Monitor speakers are speakers that are used to check the quality of or keep track of the content of an electronic transmission. They are different than a loudspeaker or PA speaker, which is designed to make electric signals audible for an audience. The same equipment may be used for both purposes—the distinction is in the function that the speaker carries out. There are several types of monitor speakers, including stage monitors, studio monitors, and in-ear monitors.
The type of monitor speakers called stage monitors are set up in the performance area, but is not pointed at the audience of a performance. Instead, the speakers are directed at the performers in order that they may hear each other and be able to evaluate their music as they make it. There are both different types of stage monitors and different configurations that they can be set up in, depending on the performers’ preferences.
One kind of stage monitor is the stage wedge, a wedge-shaped enclosure that is often set on the floor of the stage or other performance area with the speaker angled up toward the performers. Wedge stage monitors may be set up as a group to serve all the performers or each performer may have a personal monitor. Side fill monitors refers to monitors placed to the side of the stage, whatever type of monitors they happen to be. Thus, wedge stage monitors may be used for side fill, as may other types of monitors.
In-ear monitors are earphones with earbuds with either wired or wireless transmission. Drummers often use closed ear headphones, which both keep sound from leaking and also help them hear the other performers rather than just their own sound in the loud environment of the performing space. Whatever the stage monitoring arrangement, in any set up that is not shared, the monitors may each have a different mix to meet the needs of the performer or performers at whom it is aimed.
Studio monitors, also known as reference monitors, are a type of monitor speakers that forms a crucially important part of a recording studio setup. For many mixing engineers, this means that the speakers present the sound “as is” or “uncolored” so that they can understand the raw quality of the sounds they are working with to create the mix.
A near field monitor is a studio monitor placed close to the performers to eliminate the effects of the room. Through a near field monitor, you hear the sound nearly directly and unaltered. That said, performers and producers have strong and differing opinions about the style, set-up, and qualities that make a good studio monitor set up.
Our college theater department received a federal grant a few years ago, and we had a big meeting to decide what to buy with those funds. One of the first things we all agreed on was stage monitor speakers. We didn't have a good way to project sound effects or musical tracks towards the actors on stage. The audience could hear the music just fine through the main PA speakers, but the performers couldn't hear themselves or the accompanists.
Once we had stage monitor speakers installed, however, the actors could hear everything that was being said onstage, so they didn't have to worry about missing their entrance cues.
I really enjoy singing karaoke, but I'm one of those singers who needs to hear myself through monitor speakers. That's how I adjust my pitch while the backing track is playing. If a karaoke club doesn't provide monitor speakers, I have to position myself near one of the main PA speakers so I can hear my vocals. I much prefer to hear my vocals coming out of a speaker below my feet, though. If I can't hear what I'm singing, I have a tendency to go flat or sharp during the performance.
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