Lives for gear
Joined: Nov 2007
Location: Cleveland, Ohio
Ubiquitous Nearfield Monitor
The Yamaha NS10m, the SM57 of nearfield monitors, is a survivor. It has seen more monitor trends come and go than any other, having weathered the Genelec storm of the 90s and every trend thrown at it from the Mackie 828, time-coefficient Tannoys, and even recent heavyweights like Focal and Adam. The NS10m just keeps on truckin'.... There are about as many theories to why the NS10m works as there have been hit records mixed on them. Ideas ranging from "if you can get a mix to sound good on these, they'll sound good anywhere!" to the "superior frequency impulses inherent in its speaker design" to "people are just used to 'em." So far, the true reason seems uknowable--obscured by conjecture, hypothesis and a healthy dose of old fashioned BS.
It's a love or hate device, one so common almost everyone with professional time behind a console has spent more than a few evenings with. That being said I should let it be known that I happen to like 'em quite a bit and consider them my primary nearfield when tracking, mixing and even mastering (heresy!). Why? I dunno... they just work for me. For whatever reason, and I'll share my personal theory in a minute, whenever I do the majority of my work with the NS10m things just come out better. Note that I said "majority of my work"--having a second set of monitors as far removed from the midrangey, unflattering, woefully inaccurate NS10's is--in my opinion--key to getting the best from these speakers. It is incredible how much can be revealed when switching from one perception to another; one's mistakes jump out at you, decisions become easier, consequently you can work faster and with less fatigue and, with little surprise, the audio quality increases. Not bad for a speaker not even designed to be used in critical listening environments or ever envisioned as a recording tool!
Using a proper, high quality power amp is critical for getting the most out of the NS10's. I suspect that many engineers, especially ones that haven't had the luxury to work in well-equipped professional studios, may harbor a dislike to the NS10's because they were hooked up to a less-than-stellar PA. Having a clean, transparent signal, with ample gas behind it, to push the NS10's is a major factor for getting the real experience. If you've used them in the past and disliked them, find out what was powering them and maybe consider giving them a second chance.
So what does the NS10 do for you? Although this isn't scientific I can tell you what I think happens when I sit down in front of them to work. First off, the range of the speaker forces you to focus on critical midrange frequencies instead of wasting too much time on the extreme top/low end. Secondly, the NS10 can get really congested in the lower mids, forcing you to make hard decisions for what's going on there. NS10's don't handle low end really great and will distort a bit if you go too crazy--so it saves you from making mistakes higher quality speakers might actually encourage you to do. More importantly, in my opinion, is the narrow "range" the NS10 reproduces 3 things: snare, the top end of the kick, and the vocals. If any of those are too high, or too low, the NS10 will quickly tell you. Probably by happy accident this little "zone" lines up with really nice places to put these elements. Probably most important, however, are its inherent volume limitations--NS10's cannot be "CRANKED UP" loud compared to most nearfields. Yes, the fact that you cannot boost NS10's up to the "everything sounds amazing" volumes is, in my mind, possibly the most important aspect for why good mixes seem to pour out of these monitors. In other words, because of its flaws and limits the NS10 makes you act like a better engineer, allowing you to get a better mix. Weird.
Given their low cost, which places them squarely in the range of a prosumer nearfield, these are an excellent choice for home recordists, project studios or anyone on a budget. Not the only choice, but something to think about. Personally I'll take the NS10's over anything else when given an option, except for the occasional A/B'ing to double check.
Bottom line: the combination of easy availability, low cost, its contribution to your output, and sturdy construction make the NS10 a classic piece of audio equipment. Are they sexy? No way. But, like your slightly boring and plain friend who's your number one cheerleader, they often inspire you to create things that are pretty darn sexy in and of themselves. Are there plenty of nearfields out there that would get you to the same location? Sure there are, but few of them seem to do it as quickly, reliably and cost-effectively. A real winner, which illustrates how the misuse of technology can sometimes turn ugly ducklings into swans.