The Yamaha NS-10 launched in 1978 and since then, some might say that modern pop recording was never the same.
The Yamaha NS-10 is, in short, a loudspeaker but it went on to become the must-have studio monitor in rock and pop music over a tenure that spanned several decades. It may look like nothing more than an average bookshelf speaker but its characteristic white-colored mid-bass drive unit was at one time synonymous with the best music on the planet.
To put it simply, if your mix sucked, the Yamaha NS-10 will tell you. Having been used by artists across hip hop, rock, and pop to test their production sound, the Yamaha NS-10 was once a crucial part of the formation of the mainstream music sound.
History Of The Yamaha NS-10: A Loudspeaker With Personality
The Yamaha NS-10 first launched in 1978 as a hi-fi speaker designed by Akira Nakamura but was poorly received upon release.
Somehow, the Yamaha NS-10 found its way into recording studios first in Japan. Then, the speaker was brought over to the United States and adopted by recording engineers who praised its ability to essentially identify a recording’s shortcomings.
Some of the early adopters of the Yamaha NS-10 include engineer Bob Clearmountain who worked on everything from Bruce Springsteen’s “Born In The USA” to the Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up” and Bon Jovi’s “Crush”.
Clearmountain is the guy who popularized its use, oftentimes showing up to the studio with only a few microphones and a pair of Yamaha NS-10s to use as a guide.
Why Did They Stop Making Yamaha NS-10 Speakers; Can You Still Buy Them Today?
It was often said that Bob Clearmountain only liked to use the Yamaha NS-10 because he attributed it as being the worst speaker he could find. Whether that’s a true story or not remains unconfirmed but the reputation of the NS-10 is exactly that. It was a bad speaker, to a degree.
For this reason, they were discontinued in 2001. You cannot buy brand-new Yamaha NS-10 speakers anywhere.
Despite this, studios everywhere continue to have Yamaha NS-10 speakers and use them regularly. The reason why they are an industry standard today has something to do with their almost myth-like reputation but additionally, the Yamaha NS-10 is 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 listeners will play a track 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 a ‘bad speaker’. The NS-10s really did and do put a mix to the test.
What Did The Yamaha NS-10 Speaker Sound Like? Listen Here
The charm of Yamaha NS-10s is they are ‘bad’ in the best of ways, with many producers and engineers 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 boosted in the upper midrange and with limited bass function.
They are known to have a +5 dB boost at around 2 kHz and the bottom end rolls off around 200 Hz.
The midrange response of a set of NS-10 speakers 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.
The Beauty Of A Bad Speaker: The Yamaha NS-10 Still Packs A Punch
More than 200,000 pairs of Yamaha NS-10 speakers were sold over the course of two decades.
Variants and knock-offs still permeate the marketplace, particularly in Japan.
The closest thing in North America to it is the Bold North Audio MS-10W launched by the Minneapolis Speaker Company in 2019. This speaker is argued to be the “best replacement model of the NS-10 ever made” and is engineered to duplicate a lot of the same behavior.
While the original Yamaha NS-10 was a classic piece of gear, it was also polarizing. Many professionals use them and 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.
Yamaha NS-10 speakers are an excellent measuring stick to identify and eliminate the weak parts of a recording. For that, they can be argued to be a ‘great speaker.’
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.