How do you know which studio monitor, audio cables, audio interface to buy?

Here’s a step-by-step list of non-technical things you can or should do if you want to knowledgeably decide on which studio monitor, cables and audio interface you should buy.

  1. Go to a concert, preferably of music that you don’t need earplugs for, that has silent parts and contains a lot of detail.
  2. Concentrate on what you hear, not on whether you like what you hear. In other words, focus on what it sounds like in terms of sharp highs, rumbling lows and everything in-between, especially the detail.
  3. Make a first selection based on comments in forums where audio engineers gather; not audiophiles. With all due respect for the last category of people but they often talk rubbish.
  4. If you want to visit a store, go to the store and listen to the monitors on your shortlist. If you buy online it’s less simple — you can always send back stuff that you don’t like but that can quickly become exhausting.
  5. Do the same for an audio interface. The more both your monitors and audio interface sound like what you heard in terms of detail, depth, soundscape (placement of instruments and vocals), and accuracy of notes, the better your system.
  6. Do the same for cables. Cables do add coloration to your setup, so don’t buy the cheapest ones but invest in a good pair of cables, e.g. Sommer Cable (aka Hicon in some parts of the world) Epilogue, SC-Carbokab 225 and EMC-QUAD-EGB1, Mogami Gold Studio and Stage, d’Addario American Stage… If you insist on buying Vovox cables — about the most expensive ones you can buy at all — don’t get the unshielded ones. You’ll have unnatural highs due to the lack of shielding and probably some manufacturing tricks as well.

None of the above is the most technical way — and I’m sure most audio engineers will be horrified by my oversimplification — to build a small but decent studio setup. You can, of course, also buy purely based on technical specs but how you perceive sounds is in large part subjective and so, if the setup sounds much like what you experienced at the concert, it most probably will be the best you can do.

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