Understanding Monitor Speakers, Subwoofers and PA Systems

Understanding Monitor Speakers, Subwoofers and PA Systems

What are Monitor Speakers?

The purpose of a monitor speaker (or studio speaker) is to produce a flat frequency response. In other words, they’re designed to produce a true representation of the output sound with no exaggerated bass, treble, and other frequencies.

They should be positioned in close proximity to and often directly at the user, rather than outwards at a dancefloor as with a normal, more-powerful speaker such as a subwoofer.

Because of their design function, they’re generally smaller and more-affordable than ‘’regular’’ speakers, thus they’re ideal for singers, musicians, music producers – and of course, DJ setups in your bedroom or studio.

KRK RP5 ROKIT 5 G4 - Pro monitor speaker
Pictured above: KRK RP5 ROKIT 5 G4 Professional Bi-Amp 5-inch

What are the different types of monitor speakers

There are a few different terminologies that you might need to know when looking to buy:

‘Passive’ monitors and ‘Active’ monitors:

Active monitors (sometimes described as ‘powered’ monitors) have a built-in amp, whereas passive monitors require a separate amp for them to work. Although neither option is necessarily better from a sound perspective, active monitors would be more convenient for a home studio as you won’t need an amp. You’ll generally find that most monitor speakers these days will usually be active monitors, ie, they’re ready to plug-in-and-play!

‘Near-Field’ and ‘Far-Field’ monitors:

As their names suggest, near-field monitors are meant to be positioned in closer proximity to the user (about 3-5 feet to be more exact) and might be considered more appropriate for singer & acoustic recordings, or for a smaller-sized room. Far-field monitors on the other hand can handle louder volumes and are more appropriate for larger rooms or studios.

Which brand should I choose?

There’s no shortage of popular monitor speaker brands out there, and generally speaking, you’ll get what you pay for.

Just to give you an idea, here’s a couple of brand names you won’t go far wrong with: JBL, Yamaha, Pioneer, KRK, Adam, Behringer, M-Audio, Event, Mackie, Focal, Fostex, Genelec, and Tannoy.

These days you can pick up some half-decent monitor speakers starting as low as 150USD for the pair, although they can run well into the thousands as part of a high-end studio setup.

Monitor speakers in DJ booths

The monitor speakers you’ll find in DJ booths go by exactly the same principle, in the sense that they allow the DJ to hear an accurate ”real-time” representation of the sound output rather than the second-hand delayed sound coming from the main speakers.

Monitor speakers in DJ booths

These sound delays would be more extreme at larger venues and festival environments, making it a necessity to have monitors in the DJ booth.

You can, of course, just cue up your mixes in your headphones, using the ‘cue’ knob on your mixer, rather than relying on monitors.

What’s a Subwoofer?

A subwoofer (often described as a ‘’sub’’ for short) is basically a ‘’complete loudspeaker’’, designed to pump-out low frequencies like the bass. A sub can easily be used to power a small-to-medium-sized room, such as a smallish wedding reception or a large house party, for example.

A subwoofer can also be used in a home environment at a low volume to deliver a nice warm bass response, creating an intimate listening experience. As well, when set up correctly, a sub can even be used as part of your studio sound-monitoring set up in conjunction with your monitor speakers, or separately again as part of a surround sound home cinema set up.

What’s a PA System?

A PA system (or ‘’public address system’’) simply means a sound system that’s amplified so more people can hear it. A typical PA system includes microphones, amplifiers and loudspeakers (like subwoofers), used to power larger function rooms and events.

In the DJ world, a PA System would typically be used more by mobile and wedding DJs, who, depending on the size of the gig, might either use their own or hire one out.

Prices would vary massively for PA Systems …you could be talking about a modest karaoke set up for 4-5 hundred dollars, or on the other extreme, it could be used to power a major concert, which would easily run well into the thousands.


More resources for beginner DJs:


Check out our ‘best DJ controller’ posts:


Image credits: Marinko Krsmanovic, Aira Booking.

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