The Yamaha NS-10 launched in 1978 and since then, modern pop recording has never been the same.
To put it simply, if your mix sucks, the Yamaha NS-10 will tell you. Having been used by diverse artists in hip hop, rock, and pop to test their production sound, it has been a crucial part of the formation of contemporary mainstream music sound.
Where the Yamaha NS-10 Came From and its History
Some of the early adopter of the NS-10 include engineer Bob Clearmountain (Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA, The Rolling Stones’ Start Me Up, Bon Jovi’s It’s My Life, etc.). This was the guy who popularized its use, oftentimes showing up to the studio with only a few microphone and a pair of Yamaha NS-10s to use as a guide. These speakers have become so popular that, despite being officially discontinued in 2001, studios everywhere continue to have them and use them regularly. The reason why they are an industry standard today has some to do with their almost myth-like reputation but additionally, the Yamaha NS-10 is just a speaker with a lot of uniqueness to it.
Some do call it a ‘shitty speaker’. And, in a sense, it is – especially compared with the more advanced speakers available today. The truth of making music though is that an artist can never be sure how their recordings are going to be heard. Some will play it through their car stereo and others will hear it in their cheap $18 earbuds. The Yamaha NS-10 covers the less advanced sound systems, providing the listener with an accurate view of what their production sounds like under the lens of ‘bad speakers’. The NS-10s really do put a mix to the test.
The Sonic Charm and Characteristics of the Yamaha NS-10
The charm of Yamaha NS-10s is they are ‘bad’ in the best of ways, with many producers and engineer arguing that if you can get a song to sound good on a pair of Yamaha NS-10s, it’ll sound good on any playback system.
The exact characteristics of Yamaha NS-10s can be spoken about extensively but for the sake of keeping it short and to the point, these are the primary features that make these speakers so special. Yamaha NS-10s do not have a flat frequency response, instead being a little heavier in the midrange and with limited bass function.
The midrange response is also open so much that it brings out the frequencies considered by audio experts to be “the worst-sounding and most problematic to the human ear”. The value of this to a production engineer is that the weaknesses of a recording are instantly revealed, challenging the listener to compensate in the mix in other ways.
Many independent producers depend on them to be able to develop and orchestrate recordings that can compete with what else is being played on radio.
A Love and Hate kind of Dynamic
This piece of gear is classic, yes, but it is polarizing. Many professionals use them, many don’t. Many independent producers depend on them to be able to develop and orchestrate recordings that can compete with what else is being played on radio.
If you are fortunate enough to come across some Yamaha NS-10s, plug in your mixes and give them a try. You might be surprised with what you end up with for a production sound and it might reveal to you, as a mixer or producer, where the weaknesses are in your tracks.