NS-10's. Do they suck or what?

I bought my first set of these because my clients wanted me to. They were in every other “real” studio they had ever seen a picture of, so of course they should be in my little hellhole if I wanted to make the grade. I was seriously underwhelmed, trading up(?) from a pair of Acoustic Research AR-18’s - another crusty old nearfield monitor of legend discovered only fossilized these days or in tar pits. Here is my short guide to successfully using NS10’s should you find yourself confronted with a pair. Listen to your mix. Now ask yourself:

Is the vocal too loud?

Is the snare too loud?

Are those white cones jumping violently forward on every bass & kick beat even though you can’t hear any real bass?

As long as you answer yes to all of the above and in general the rest of things are balanced and ideally over wide - then your mix is probably ok, but bass heavy. My issue is this - this is exactly the kind of thing we DON’T want from a reference speaker! You could Google a never ending debate regarding the pros and cons of these mythical beasts as per most monitors and get absolutely nowhere, especially if you bought pair and want to believe the myth. The truth is you can “learn” almost ANY monitor and become proficient at using it. Paired with a decent amp, a room that is treated properly, you can do this very well with NS-10’s. I will tell you one other truth; NS10’s do allow you to get right up the ass of the midrange which is super useful, and balanced with a sub can actually be even more helpful. They also are pretty fast as far as transient response. But really, this section is about drinking the Kool Aid. That’s why Yamaha eventually made a new, totally unrelated series and made them with white cones. Kudos to the marketing department. This of course continues is further illustrated with “The Sound Of Hits!” via the CLA-10, and at least those are allegedly faithful to the design down to research on the pulp used in the cones which is why Yamaha stopped making them in the first place. Watch a video you still don’t see them on CLA’s meter bridge though. Nope, he is still using his originals with a sub. Why? Because that’s what works for him. A lot us didn’t miss the icepick in the ears NS-10 magic as the reality is that the small bookshelf speaker design and small studio monitors have moved on from the 70's and 80's. You can buy KILLER speakers cheaper than ever, both for the studio and home. That you can even buy spares for! In my own home we have moved past even that with networked powered speakers with built in room tuning and bass so awesome they can cause bowel movements but there is still a lot of value in having real world references if you can even really get a handle on “real world” these days - and THAT is the key; sure, I use a pretty cheap, shitty Pure digital DAB radio with a line in jack as an extra reference while mixing quite often and it sometimes reveals useful things about a mix balance. I stole this idea from a very successful guy that uses the exact same one to do 80% of his mix. I also use the Sonos setup that’s here. But mainly - a pair of studio monitors that more or less tell the truth. There are also numerous software plugins to simulate less than ideal speakers, and even “the horrortone” as we called it - the Auratone has made a comeback courtesy of Avantone. Find me a domestic speaker THAT crap. It’s almost impossible. There are several plugins which also do this, and you can even use an app, yes there IS an app for that - to use your phone speaker which I assure you “the kids” WILL be listening to your work on.

Adam Whittaker