Friday, January 27, 2012

Yamaha NS-10 / NS10M Review

So, I made a post a long time ago about NS10s and how mixing on computer speakers was very similar. The truth is, it really is. I finally got the chance to purchase my OWN pair of NS-10M speakers. I was very pleased.

To my ears, they are not harsh. They are not "brittle" or "bright" like some people say. I guess if your mixes are terrible, maybe they would sound that way. To me, if I had to describe the NS10s in one word, it would be "boring." I'll give you a few reasons as to why these monitors work for me:

1. They are not punchy. This is primarily because the woofer is folded paper that is very stiff and doesn't have much give to it. By having this stiff cone, the frequency response suffers (which is the point) but they are very quick in terms of fall time, and they don't push a lot of air. This helps because you can really just focus on tones and carving holes in the mix rather than being distracted by things popping out of the speakers.

2. They cannot take much power. This causes you to mix quietly -- if you weren't already. I mix VERY quietly already so this was an easy transition. Mixing quietly not only trains your ears to listen more carefully, it causes much less fatigue over long mixing sessions, and it allows you to really get in the zone with the mix.

3. They have a limited frequency response. They are not very effective below about 100hz and above maybe 5k. Bass guitars, kicks, and body from acoustic instruments won't show up too much in these. This is good because in most consumer systems, the frequency response isn't that fantastic, so you need to make sure the kick and bass can be reproduced in a 1" MacBook speaker, you know? If there's not enough midrange information in these instruments then they disappear in smaller speakers completely. It also helps with focus because you're not really being excited by a big bottom or sparkly top.

So you might be saying, "THOSE ARE THE GOOD THINGS?" Yes. There comes a time when you have to be honest about your process and just realize that putting these restrictions on yourself actually HELPS you mix better. Go figure!

Like I've said before, the NS10s are not magic speakers. They aren't going
to all of a sudden make your mixes perfect. However, there is something to be said about the fact that many of our favorite records have been mixed on them. With this logic, we could infer that by mixing on the NS10s, we are setting ourselves up to make similar EQ cuts and boosts that our mixing heros would have made on guitars, basses, drums, vocals, etc. in order to get them to fit in a mix and sound good on these monitors. That is my theory, at least.

There are a few downsides to the NS10s.

1. They are ugly. Okay, obviously nothing I can really complain about. Don't get me wrong, they're just sort of an eye sore when it comes to modern studio equipment. Since they're not made anymore you are invariably going to get a pair that is used and somewhat beat up. They look very "old" and the cones are sort of dirty and off white. Vibe? I don't know. Sitting next to my Focals they look like a joke, haha.

2. They are much bigger than I realized. Their dimensions are 15" x 8.5 " x 7.5 " (HWD) and they take up a lot of space, especially when sitting sideways. It's sort of a pain to get any other nearfields to share space with them.

3. They are passive, which is a two edged sword. On one hand, you can customize the amp and get a very nice one and use it for other passive monitors in the future. On the other hand, when you buy them, you have to make sure and have all the appropriate impedence outs on the amp, make sure they are balanced, make sure they are wired correctly, etc. Sort of like setting up a home stereo, really. I am spoiled by plugging in a Passive monitor and starting right away. You can't really take NS10s to another studio easily because you have to bring an amp, speaker wire, and also, these huge ugly monitors.

My overall review? I love them. I don't find them annoying to mix on. After ten minutes, you're used to their response and you don't even think about it. You really can focus on the midrange and making sure everything has a spot and nothing is stepping on anything else. I could mix on them for hours and flip back and forth between a nice set of Focals and be totally content.


This is becoming my standard mixing practice:

Hours 1 - 2 : Discovery of the mix. Listening to parts, all together, then individually, thinking of the song's intent, making rough balances, pans, etc. This is done on the Focals (or any high quality full range speaker). Starting to get some feel for the song, do my groupings and gain staging, set up the mix for the real stuff.

Hours 3 - 4 : Processing phases. Starting to get compression, delay, and other effects on the tracks. Not much EQing here other than high pass filters and low pass filters. Maybe some obvious things like "problems" that I hear, but nothing drastic. Not really trying to shape things yet, just filtering out unwanted lows, compressing, and giving things a space to sit. Still working on the full range speakers because of the HPF and Compression work - needs a detailed speaker. At the end of this time frame I'll add my master bus processing and tweak that for a while. After this is done (even though it's 50% through the mix's lifetime) it's actually sounding more like 70% done. There are still fine tweak to make but the base of the song is there.

Hours 5 - 6 : Carving and shaping phase with the NS10s. Spending a few hours getting tracks fitting together tonally with the NS10s. Fine tuning levels and balances, getting everything tight frequency wise and not worrying too much about frequencies below maybe 150 and above maybe 4k. Primarily working focusing on the 200 - 4k region, and even more specifically, really looking at the 400-2.5k region. That's where most instruments build up.

Hours 7 - 8+ : Finalizing phase. From this point I am switching between the Focals, the NS10s, a boombox, an Ipod Dock, and computer speakers to make sure I'm maintaining perspective on the mix. It's sounding good even on the lowest quality system. My biggest test lately has been the laptop speaker. These are probably the worst sounding speakers on the market right now - virtually no low end, and about 1" in diameter. Very bright. Very harsh. If the mix still sounds good and you can still hear chord changes and kick hits in these speakers, your mix is probably shaped REALLY well.

When I send the mixes to clients, I'll have them listen to them, and depending on what the changes are, I usually am mixing almost exclusively on NS10s for making corrections. They are usually things like "kick needs to be punchier" or "kick too punchy," or "toms need more power" or "guitar is too bright" or "....too loud" or "too soft". These changes are very simply and often only take 30 minutes to an hour per mix to completely solve. After this mix, I'll send them another copy and if there are no final debates, it goes on to mastering.

If I am the one mastering it, I master it exclusively with the Focals / full range monitors. This is to get the big picture perspective back together and hear it full range. I will also switch between systems and check it in the car at this phase.

So that's a day in the life of my NS10s.