Near Field vs Far Field Monitors

When you look at the control room in a large commercial studio, you may see multiple sets of studio monitors…

The monitors closest to the listening position are called near-field (or sometimes mid-field) monitors. Some studios also have larger speakers that are placed much further away – these are called far-field monitors. 

In this video, let’s listen to the differences and determine if you should be using near-field monitors, mid-field monitors, far-field monitors, or all three in your studio.

I’ll be using Sonarworks SoundID Reference for some of the demonstrations (specifically the Virtual Monitoring Add-On). You can download a free trial, and if you decide it’s a good fit, use discount code AUDIOUNIVERSITY10 for 10% off!

Thanks to Sonarworks for sponsoring this video and supporting audio education. 


Let’s start with some audio examples… You’ll want to wear headphones for this.

Learning to communicate what you’re hearing is a very important skill for music producers and engineers. So, leave a comment below describing how each one sounds different to you, and then compare your answers to what others thought. 


Before discussing the sound differences and how they can help you create better mixes, let’s start with the obvious…

Far-field monitors are designed to be placed far away from the listener (maybe 10 feet or more…), near-field monitors are designed to be placed near the listener (between about 3 and 5 feet…), and mid-field monitors are designed for somewhere in between. These ranges will vary, depending on who you ask. 

Because far-field monitors are intended to be placed further from the listening position, they are typically capable of greater max SPL. Take for example the Adam S5H monitors with a max SPL of more than 131 dB per pair (at 1 meter). These could be a very powerful pair of far-field or mid-field monitors because by the time the sound travels over a long 10-foot distance, it could still be as loud as 121 dB SPL (allowing you to run the speakers at a level well below the maximum, while still achieving an appropriate listening level at the listening position). 

Now compare that to the Adam A7Vs, with a max SPL of 105 dB (at 1 meter). If you placed these monitors 10 feet away from the listener, they would struggle to reach 95 dB SPL. 95 dB SPL is very loud, but remember – this is the MAXIMUM with SINE BURSTS… not continuous music. 

The Adam A7Vs are therefore designed to be used in the near- or mid-field. At those distances, these monitors will have no problem providing adequate SPL. The same for the T5Vs, with a max SPL per pair of more than 106 dB (at 1 meter). 

Ideally, we would have our monitors calibrated so that the near-field and far-field monitors output the same level at a given level on the monitor master knob. Naturally, the Virtual Monitoring within SoundID Reference matches the level of each monitor type, as you heard in the demonstration. 

The reason this is important is that we usually want to A-B things at the same level so we can listen for other differences that might be more subtle than the overall level. 

But when you need some extra SPL to listen to the mix louder (whether for mixing purposes, or just to show off to clients in the room), more powerful speakers will come in handy. 

Frequency Response

Beyond the additional SPL, you can also expect more extension down into the low frequencies when using a pair of far-field monitors, or when using bigger monitors in general.

Larger woofers (or coupling of multiple woofers) can allow for lower-frequency signals to be accurately reproduced. 

I wouldn’t say that the difference between these three pairs of virtual monitors could be summed up by merely saying “The far-field monitors have more bass”. There seem to be differences throughout the spectrum…

Keep in mind that studios won’t typically have the SAME monitors in three sizes… But rather three different monitors. Therefore, even after running SoundID Reference with a measurement microphone and applying corrective EQ, the speakers will still have unique characteristics throughout the midrange and highs. 

This gets to one very important reason why studios have multiple sets of monitors, including near-field, mid-field, and far-field: to test the mix for a variety of playback scenarios. 

The people listening to your music won’t be listening on your system, in your room… They will be listening on their own playback system, which could be anything. 

That’s one reason the SoundID Reference Virtual Monitoring Add-On offers the ability to simulate the way something will sound on different monitors AS WELL AS various laptops, phones, TVs, and cars. Listen to how the low-, mid- and high-range frequencies are more or less prominent depending on the playback system…

Using multiple sets of monitors that vary widely is another way to achieve a similar outcome: a mix that is resilient and that translates well to other systems. 

Room Acoustics

One pair of studio monitors can sound very different depending on the acoustic characteristics of the room. I’ve recently added acoustic treatment to my room, which has made a big difference to the frequency response and the reverb time.

Now that I have acoustic treatment in my room, the critical distance has moved back further from the speakers. The critical distance describes the point in the room where the direct sound and indirect sound are equal in level. No acoustic treatment, and the critical distance is pretty short because there’s much more indirect sound. 

In any case, near-field monitors will provide the listener with the greatest ratio of direct to indirect sound. Not because they are near-field monitors, but because they are monitors being used in the near-field. 

This is another difference I hear when comparing the near-, mid-, and far-field monitor simulations from SoundID Reference Virtual Monitoring. Listen for the reverb and clarity…

The far-field monitors seem to have the longest reverb tail, while the near-field monitors have a relatively dry sound. This difference informs the amount of reverb you add in a mix and it also impacts the overall sound quality, as some of that additional reverb can cause additional masking at various frequencies. 

For me, this is similar to the difference between studio monitors and headphones (which are essentially “extremely near-field monitors”). Headphones will give you the most detailed and dry sound, while far-field monitors can sometimes have a “smearing” impact on a mix by comparison. Again – this isn’t necessarily bad. It just gives you another perspective. 

Considering that my room is only 14 feet long, I only use near-field monitors. It would be impractical to sit 4 feet from the back wall with a gigantic pair of speakers taking up a quarter of the space in my room. 

Would I love to have a larger control room like you can find in commercial studios? Yes. I really would. But for now, I need to make the most of what I’ve got. That means I’ve got high-quality near-field monitors, acoustic treatment, and corrective EQ. 

When I want to test on other systems, I can either print the track and play it on other systems (or test it right here in the DAW on a variety of “virtual” playback systems) to make sure things will sound acceptable no matter how someone is listening. 

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