Google hi-fi speakers vs monitors. Go ahead, do it. I got 1,050,000 results. You’re here for the real answer aren’t you? I have the definitive answer below. It’s true.
Don’t read the manufacturers BS. Don’t read the 1 million web pages, because 99% are all going to tell you a different answer than I am going to tell you. And definitely don’t ask someone inside “the industry” because they too want to sell you speakers and keep having food on their tables.
There is this concept that hi-fi speakers are intended to sound “good” and monitors are intended to sound “accurate”. Let’s assume this is a completely true GENERALIZATION. Yes, a generalization. So now when you get down to your specifics – your specific speaker and your specific monitor – it all breaks down.
Let’s begin by discussing design intent speakers, because you could also get into manufacturing variability, which can even more destroy this “good” vs. “accurate” misnomer.
Here it is:
Let’s say there is an exact objective measurement for “accuracy” for speakers, which boils down to 1 number. There can be and has been arguments all day what this number is, be it frequency response (which is still multiple numbers) or transient response or cab/speaker resonance or THD or Mr. Golden Ears rating or some weighted combination of all those. And it’s true, there is no exact measurement, at least no industry standard. The point is, if it existed, it would look like the graph below. The blue line would represent speakers designed as hi-fi and the red line will represent monitors. As you can see, the 2 overlap because speakers designed for classical music and/or audiophiles are intended to be accurate, and I’m sure there are dozens of speaker manufacturers who just reskin monitors and sell them as hi-fi speaker. The blue line also includes walmart speakers and boombox speakers, which will not be accurate and are purely intended to sound “good”. So, if you select the average hi-fi speaker vs. the average monitor (assuming you could find these units), you can see that the monitor is more accurate. But if you select the top end hi-fi vs the low end monitor (assuming again you could find these units) you could find a more accurate hi-fi vs monitor. This would be true even if the 2 lines only overlapped a little. And they would since the assumption that hi-fi speakers are designed to be accurate is proven with the audiophile movement and such publications as stereophile.
Now I could go in much further detail as to why I’m qualified to make these claims, or details as to speaker design (and I’ve taken some classes on speaker design, no where was it even discussed this “good” vs. “accurate”, so that to me indicates this difference is extreemely subtle), but the whole concept is easy to follow with just the 2 graphs.
So why the whole “you need monitors and can’t mix on hi-fi speakers” movement? A) manufacturers want you to believe this to sell more. How many types of shoes are there? Can you not run in walking shoes? Are Nike cross trainer shoes better suited for running than Rebok hiking shoes? Who cares? They’re shoes! B) People are trying to mix on the Walmart level “hi-fi” speakers and are putting out crap. Stop! [sorry, yes I've done it...] C) Eliteism – “I’m more of a real musician because I have monitors!”
Many, many things perpetuate this myth.
Now, you know the truth. But why were you asking? Because you have hi-fi speakers and don’t want to spend the money to “upgrade”, right? What you need to do is assess your personal situation. So how can you assess this situation, since there is no exact objective measurement for accuracy?
1) We have determined that hi-fi speakers can be used as monitors. If you are looking for accurate, they should be top of the line hi-fi speakers.
2) If you are in the market for new speakers/monitors for monitoring, get ones intended for monitoring if that’s what you want to do.
3) Let’s say you have top of the line hi-fi speakers, would it be good investment to invest in cheap monitors? Probably not.
4) If you have $XX set aside to buy speakers, should you buy monitors or hi-fi speakers? Odds have it that monitors will be more accurate, that’s what you want, right?
5) I want monitors, but my GF wants speakers – easy answer: just buy some really nice speakers, or use your monitors as speakers – I do it all the time.
6) If you have hi-fi speakers should you upgrade to monitors? Research your current speakers, if no info exists, then probably there isn’t a good chance these are touted as accurate. You should probably buy speakers which are in the same price range or higher to increase your odds they are more accurate.
7) Can you buy hi-fi speakers that are more accurate than monitors for the same price? It seems it would be possible, but it’ll be harder to find.
So there you have it. Issue resolved.