The Yamaha NS-10N is a domestic loudspeaker launched in 1978 that became the standard nearfield studio monitor in the music industry, particularly among rock and pop recording engineers. Technically, it is known as a speaker that easily reveals poor quality in recordings. The speaker has a characteristic white-coloured mid–bass drive unit.
Referred to as "the most important loudspeaker you never heard of", the NS-10M has been used to monitor a large number of successful recordings by numerous artists. Yamaha discontinued the product in 2001.
Originally conceived as a domestic hi-fi speaker, the NS-10M was designed by Akira Nakamura and launched in 1978. It was sold at the $400 price point. It was poorly received and its commercial life was short. However, the NS-10 found favour in professional circles over the years, and came to be relied on by recording engineers as a benchmark. Recognised for its ability to reveal shortcomings in recordings, it displaced the Auratone 5C Sound Cube as the nearfield monitor of choice in the 1980s. Recording studios around the world, particularly those specialising in rock and pop music, adopted the speaker as the standard. In excess of 200,000 pairs were sold throughout the world. It has thus been referred to as "the most important loudspeaker you never heard of".
Yamaha stopped manufacturing the speaker in 2001, citing problems sourcing the wood pulp for the drivers.[Note 1] Even years after it was discontinued in April 2001, the speaker continued to be found in studios everywhere. Mix reported in 2008 that variants of the NS-10 were still commercially available in the Japanese consumer market.
Design and construction
The NS-10M is an 8-ohm two-way loudspeaker with a 10.4-litre infinite baffle (sealed) cabinet measuring 382 × 215 × 199 millimetres (15.0 × 8.5 × 7.8 in) and weighing 6 kilograms (13.23 lb). According to its specification sheet, the 2.5 cm (0.98 in) particle-board cabinet has a wood veneer skin with seven black finishing layers. The domestic version of the speaker was vertically orientated, and came factory fitted with a grille.
Its two drivers are a 180 mm paper woofer and a 35 mm soft-domed tweeter. The woofer's diaphragm, weighing 3.7 g (per specification sheet), is manufactured from a flat sheet of pressed pulp paper. Unlike the typical manufacture of speakers, it is formed into conical shape not through moulding or pressure, but by curling and then gluing the two ends together. Against the black finish of the cabinet, the white bass/mid driver cone is a distinctive and iconic feature to the product.
The network is second-order passive, crossing over at 2 kHz. The frequency range is quoted from 60 Hz to 20 kHz, and rated power handling quoted on the back panel is 25–50 W. The early version of the speaker has press-down type output terminals, which gave way to screw terminals in later models.
In the most simplistic terms, the NS-10 possesses a mystical quality that record producers knew "if [a recording] sounded good on those monitors, then it was going to sound good on most things". On the other hand, it ruthlessly reveals any shortcomings in the recording mix as well as the monitoring chain, and may be uncomfortable to live with in the domestic setting.
The NS-10 does not have a perfectly flat frequency response. The sound of the NS-10 is slightly heavy in the midrange, and like other sealed-box speakers of similar size its bass extension is limited. It has a +5 dB boost in the midrange at around 2 kHz, and the bottom end starts rolling off at 200 Hz. The midrange response is so open that it exposes the frequencies that are the most problematic and worst-sounding to the human ear.
On a practical level for the music professional, the speaker is analytic and clinical-sounding. Gizmodo likened the NS-10 to music editors who reveal the weaknesses of recordings, so that engineers would be forced to either make necessary compensation in the mix or otherwise rework them.
A study by researchers undertaken for Studio Sound at Southampton University in 2001 found that the NS-10 had excellent time-domain response at low frequencies – its ability to start and stop in response to signal input was found to be superior to that of most other nearfield monitors. Part of this was related to its closed-box design. The researchers held that extremely fast decay time of the speaker in the low frequencies ensures that the bass instruments (guitar and drums) are correctly balanced in the mix.
The initial product was disliked by many engineers, and it became a legend that Bob Clearmountain, then a rising star in record production, had chosen them because they were the worst speaker he could find. Clearmountain was also said to have been one of the first to hang tissue paper over the tweeter of his pair, to tame the over-bright treble that would result in mixes that were treble-deficient when replayed on normal domestic hi-fi. The authors of a study for Studio Sound magazine suggested that had the speakers' grilles been used in studios, they would have had the same effect on the treble output as the improvised tissue paper filter. The phenomenon became the subject of hot debate and an investigation into the sonic effects of many different types of tissue paper. The author of the tissue study found inconsistent results with different paper, but said that tissue paper generally demonstrated an undesirable effect known as "comb filtering", where the high frequencies are reflected back into the tweeter instead of being absorbed. The author derided the tissue practice as "aberrant behaviour", saying that engineers usually fear comb filtering and its associated cancellation effects, and suggesting that more controllable and less random electronic filtering would be preferable.
Although a commercial failure in the domestic speaker market, it took five years for their popularity to be established with professional users. The NS-10 then dominated the music mixing of pop and rock music throughout the world for at least 20 years.
Bob Clearmountain is often credited for the popularity of the speaker he trundled from studio to studio for his work. He was the rising star among a new breed of creative freelance recording engineers and producers, who would hop studios equipped with their own gear that included microphones, and a pair of Yamaha NS-10 as a reference. Phil Ward, writing in Sound on Sound, suggested that Clearmountain was probably not the earliest, but was certainly the most influential early adopter. The NS-10 probably reached American shores through a recording engineer's visit to Japan. The engineer, likely to have been Greg Ladanyi, monitored a recording session through the speaker in a Japanese studio, and brought a pair on his return to the US. Ladanyi then used these in a studio in Los Angeles. Other engineers who heard them were impressed by its sound. Use then spread to New York, where the NS-10 was adopted in The Power Station, among others.
Early users of the NS-10 among engineers include Clearmountain, Rhett Davies, and Bill Scheniman in the US, and Nigel Jopson in the UK. Top independent producers' reliance on the NS-10 became a viral phenomenon, and thousands of studios would equip themselves with the NS-10s to attract the big named producers – to the extent the speaker was considered an industry standard. However, the sound quality of this speaker has polarised opinions, characterised as "love them or hate them". Many professionals find them indispensable, even though they may not particularly enjoy listening to them; others refuse to give them space in their studio but will happily admit that they are an effective professional tool. The speaker came to be relied on by independent engineers, who needed equipment they were familiar with as reference point. Throughout the 1980s, engineers and producers worked widely with the speaker to monitor "[almost] any album you love from the 80s or 90s" – from Born in the U.S.A. (Bruce Springsteen), Avalon (Roxy Music) Let's Dance (David Bowie), to Big Bam Boom (Hall and Oates).
The Auratone and the NS-10 are two of the most influential nearfield monitors used in professional mixing of sound recordings. Clearmountain set up a pair of NS-10 as the main monitors in his own mixing room. Even in 2008, the speaker was to be found "in almost every studio".
On the back of the popularity of the NS-10M among engineers, Yamaha launched a "professional" version some nine years after the first introduction. The revised version, with everything including the logo and connection panel orientated horizontally, was badged "NS-10M Studio". Improvements included a new tweeter and crossover to address the problem in the treble, better connection terminals, and a sturdier cabinet that no longer accommodate grilles. The Studio reincarnation also has improved power handling – 60–120 W. In excess of 200,000 pairs of "Studio" alone were sold throughout the world.
There were many other versions of the NS-10, the best known of which were the "NS-10M Studio" and the "NS-10M Pro", both introduced in 1987. Technically identical to the "Studio", the "Pro" comes fitted with a speaker grille and is meant to be used in horizontal orientation.
Also in the product line-up were NS-10M X, NS-10MC, NS-10MT. The NS-10M X is a "Studio" with magnetic shielding and a different tweeter. In the 1990s Yamaha introduced the NS-10MT, a bass-reflex version of the 10M X with a different tweeter and grille. Designed for home cinema, it has bass response down to 43Hz, nominal impedance of 6 ohm and maximum power handling rated at 180 W. A miniature version named Natural Sound Surround Speaker NS10MM was launched in 1997 or 1998.
- Yamaha NS10 Press Release: Buena Park, CA, 21 Feb 2001 – Yamaha Corporation has announced that effective April 2001, production of the NS10M studio monitor speaker products will be discontinued, citing that the source of the wood pulp used in the woofer cone is no longer available. Despite an intensive worldwide search for a replacement material, none was found that provided an acceptable sonic substitute. Along with the NS10M studio model, production of the NS10MC and NS40M will also be discontinued.
Introduced in 1987, the NS10MS and NS10MC were hailed for their consistent sound quality and "reality-based monitoring," evolving into a reference standard for professional engineers, producers, recording studios and post production facilities worldwide. "Yamaha felt the respected sound of these products could simply not be compromised by using lesser materials," stated Wayne Hrabak, marketing manager, Professional Audio, Yamaha Corporation of America. "We recognize that the NS10s have become the industry standard for recording professionals worldwide, but are hopeful that the recently-introduced successor, the MSP/SW10 series powered monitor speakers, will more than meet the needs of the most discerning engineer, and become the new standard.
- Gardiner, Bryan (15 September 2010). "Yamaha's NS-10: The Most Important Speaker You've Never Heard Of". Gizmodo
- Phil Ward, "The Yamaha NS10 Story". Sound on Sound, September 2008
- Klasco, Mike; Hidley, Jack (1 February 1998). "The Mix Speaker Tests, February 1998". Mix.
- 1977 Yamaha NS-10M Speakers | Mix Inducts the Yamaha NS10M Speakers into the TECnology Hall of Fame. Mix (28 August 2008).
- PR Newell, KR Holland & JP Newell. "The Yamaha NS10M: Twenty Years a Reference Monitor. Why?". Report commissioned by Sound on Sound, Institute of Acoustics (2001)
- "Yamaha NS-10M". vintageknob.org
- "Yamaha NS10 Press Release". Yamaha Corporation, 21 February 2001. (courtesy link via cdmasteringservices.com)
- History. NS-10.net
- Bob Hodas. "Examining the Yamaha NS-10M 'Tissue Paper Phenomenon' – An Analysis of the Industry-Wide Practice of Using a Tissue-Paper Layer to Reduce High-Frequency Output". Recording Engineer/Producer Magazine, February 1986
- "Monitors & Monitoring Tutorial", MusicTech Magazine, 14 December 2012
- Senior, Mike. Mixing Secrets for the Small Studio, Pg.9, Focal Press (2011)
- "Master Mixer Bob Clearmountain",Sound on Sound, June 1999
- "Natural Sound Surround Speaker NS-10MM ". Radiomuseum.org
- TECnology Hall of Fame | Mix magazine List of TECnology Hall of Fame Inductees. Mix.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Yamaha NS-10M Studio.|