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NS-10In 1978 the Yamaha NS-10 first hit the home audio market. The speakers were originally designed for the consumer rather than the professional sphere. The only problem was that the speakers sounded terrible and no one wanted them for that purpose. They were often described as overly bright and harsh and the frequency response was abysmal in the low end (criticisms which are founded and still exist to this day). However, despite its audiophilic shortcomings, Fate found other uses for this Little-Speaker-That-Couldn’t.

As New Wave, punk, and other lo-fi genres began to take hold on the world, a DIY spirit took over and smaller, cheaper recording studios were created that catered to a clientele who didn’t necessarily place a premium on fidelity. Near-field monitoring became the fashionable choice for these studios because it minimized the effect of listening environment on the sound of a mix. This allowed bedrooms, basements, strip-malls and other ostensibly acoustically unsound venues to become mixing environments.

In these situations the NS-10s weaknesses became strengths. Their lack of low-end capability meant that room nodes (standing waves in a listening environment which cause certain frequencies to be accentuated because of the geometry of the room) weren’t much of an issue since these acoustic phenomena are largely confined to the lower frequencies. Furthermore, their use with cheaper, lower output amplifiers (as was common in these smaller studios) meant that the program output was lower. These volume levels are generally agreed to be the NS-10s’ most accurate operating range. And of course the price, as a previously undesirable commodity, was just right for small studios.

Over the course of the 1980s, the NS-10 became a mainstay of the recording studio and their ubiquity, coupled with the fact that their poor sonic characteristics generally do not incite the individual characteristics of a listening environment, meant that the NS-10 could become a fairly universal reference. By and large, NS-10s were thought to sound reasonably similar in every listening environment. Thus, most mixing decisions are themselves adequately portable.

However, the NS-10 is only as useful as you are familiar with its sonic characteristics. A +7 dB peak at around 1500 Hz contributes to the audibility of some mid-range sounds such as the human voice and acoustic guitar. Operating without this knowledge may result in a weak vocal or acoustic in the mix when you take your songs to other environs.

It is also very difficult to judge a mix’s low-lows on NS-10s. The speaker simply was not designed to reproduce those frequencies. If you aren’t aware of this, then you may find yourself pumping in a ton of low-end just so that the sub frequencies are audible, but if you took it to the club, you’d probably blow out the speakers with all that 808!

It is now agreed in most professional circles that NS-10s are an excellent reference at low volume levels and for gross judgments that do not invoke the sub-frequencies. Armed with this knowledge, you’ll have a better understanding of how to use this omnipresent piece of gear and knowing how to properly use a tool is the most important part of the audio world.

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