Regardless of the size and scale of studios today, many are choosing to incorporate a commonly seen and little spoken about speaker in their monitoring setup – the Auratone. Auratones (and the clones that have popped up on the market in recent years) have a special place in many engineers’ hearts, though their role in a mixer’s setup might vary depending on who you ask.
The truth of the matter is – Auratone monitors have carved out a very specific niche of the professional audio community and aren’t going away any time soon. They add something unique and useful in an area where many brands have taken a relatively cookie cutter approach and, in the process, they’ve amassed a huge following of both professional and amateur mixers.
What exactly is it about the Auratone and its clones that make these small, square speakers so appealing? Let’s start with their iconic sound.
The general design of an Auratone speaker is relatively straightforward. It’s a roughly 5” speaker in a slightly larger housing. No dedicated tweeters or bass ports, no crossovers… Just a small speaker for basic application. It’s a far cry from many other studio classics like the Yamaha NS10s (another favorite in this category).
Due to the size and shape of the Auratone, the frequency range of the speaker is extremely underwhelming when compared to the range of other professional monitors. As a single driver and cone, the Auratone is only able to reproduce mid-range frequencies well – usually with a range from about 80 Hz to 15 kHz. Most other speakers will tout their ability to reach the edges of human hearing (and sometimes beyond) as a major selling point. So why not the Auratone?
For the Auratone, their unique positioning is that they’re not trying to sell you on some marketing that advertises them as the best sounding speaker of all time. As a matter of fact, they’re proud to be on the other end of the spectrum completely.
Commercial-Grade & Consistent
Auratones are incredibly accurate at replicating the sound of consumer electronics. In the 50s, 60s, and 70s, they were more in line with the sound of home radios than the hi-fi systems found in major recording studios. By the 80s and 90s, they sounded like the stereos and portable players music fans were listening on. Even today, Auratones sound closer to budget Bluetooth speakers than other monitors do.
It’s amazing to see how these speakers have withstood the test of time. As much as consumer electronics boast about their improvements in audio quality, we’ve barely progressed on that front in the past few decades. We’ve gotten better at storage and size, but components in consumer devices remain cheap unless a listener is willing to pay extra. As a result, Auratones have found themselves at the perfect cross-section of consumer audio for more than 60 years.
Auratones provide a commercial-grade solution for engineers and mixers that want to listen to music the way their listeners are most likely to hear it – warts and all. The common term for a trashy, low-end speaker in the studio is a “grot box”, but that moniker doesn’t do the Auratone justice. These are the professional solutions to the age-old need – a way to have a quality product that’s not going to constantly break in the studio while still getting that limited bandwidth sound.
Look at any major studio that uses Auratones today and you’re less likely to find a stereo pair than you are to see a mono speaker placed on the center of the console bridge. Adding to the “consumer sound” the product offers, many Auratone owners love them for their ability to check a mix in true mono without breaking the bank.
By placing an Auratone-style speaker right in the center of your mix environment, you can quickly and easily A/B test your mixes without moving from your listening position. The Auratone provides a great way to check stereo fold-down of your mix and reveal any panning or spatial widening issues. It can also reveal common frequency issues related to compounding or masking as it relates to EQ – things that you’d much rather catch while mixing rather than finding out your mix sucks on a fan’s smartphone later.
Technology is constantly changing as new devices introduce stereo speaker setups and processing that fakes dimensionality in sound, but the Auratone still fills the niche as the perfect solution for any engineer looking to check their work against what most listeners will hear – and that’s kind of what everybody loves about them.
They don’t claim to do anything they can’t, and they do one thing VERY well. There’s something extremely reassuring knowing that your mix is going to sound about the same on most consumer devices as it does on this type of speaker. That peace of mind alone perfectly sums up why Auratone-style speakers are so prevalent in the industry.
Other Quality Control Options
Auratones aren’t the only solution out there for mixers looking to quality control their work. Calibrated mix environments can often provide just as much value, if not more value than Auratones or grot boxes simply by improving the accuracy of your room. It also doesn’t hurt to check your mix on multiple systems before committing to your final mix that you send off for mastering.