How To Set Up Studio Monitors – Tips for Perfect Placement

If you are going to go to the trouble of setting up a home studio, you are going to want to get the best results you possibly can. This is especially true if you are going to be spending potentially thousands on the audio equipment to get the best home studio for your needs.

And the truth is that with some solid information and a little trial and error, you can in a short space of time set up a great home studio that will deliver solid results for years to come.

It's not as simple as dumping down your studio monitors in the corners of the room and getting on with it. The key things you will need to know are:

  • How to make a good studio monitor buying decision
  • How to know the best studio monitor stand type and position
  • How to set up studio monitors by positioning them for the best sound
  • How to maximize sound quality and minimize interference

Setting up your own home studio is an exciting thing which can give you years of enjoyment and fulfillment, so let's look now at how you can get your journey off to a trouble-free start by helping you to get it set up the right way, first time by learning how to set up your studio monitors in detail.

Choosing The Right Home Studio Monitors

The first thing you have to do when you want to set up your monitors to create the perfect home studio is to get the right monitors in the first place. To get you started on the right foot, we've already curated lists of the best studio monitors below $100 and $200!

The basic fact is that if the speakers aren't up to the challenge then it doesn't matter how you position them, EQ or correct them, sound just won't be up to the standard you going to be looking for as a long-term investment.

There are several key considerations:

1. Power!

The power handling of the speaker system will have a dramatic effect on the overall sound. I'm not just talking about volume here, but the power will also affect the dynamic range of the monitors. This is the amount of range you have before the signal's peak.

The higher wattage will basically mean that you have the ability to hear more of the transient details of the sound, which will allow you to not only tune your monitors better, but also to hear more and better refine your mixes.

A lot of people don't know that peaks within music can often demand as much as 10 times the power as the average detail within a musical track. So although you might average 10 watts during playback, peaks could hit 100 watts. You don't need a ridiculous power rating, but more wattage will definitely give you a better dynamic range so that your music isn't compressed.

2. Ported or closed cabinets?

It's often the case that smaller studio monitors, and a few of the larger ones, are based around what is known as a ported cabinet. This can help to extend the response lower, giving you more bass.

This can be a benefit, but generally the sonic accuracy of these ported monitor cabinets are not as good as in closed cabinet monitors. This is exaggerated further if those ports are on the rear of the speaker, and then you position it to close to a wall. If you are going to have ported cabinets, always look for a front ported design, unless you have a very large home studio to work in.

3. Do you need built in EQ and room correction?

You will find many studio monitors have the selling point of having a built in equalizer that help you fine tune them to the studio they are in. Some better speakers even have inbuilt digital processing that can help to optimize them for the acoustic space they reside in.

But the bottom line is that speakers cannot make up for deficient placement, or deficient acoustics in the room. It's better to invest in the best quality speakers rather than looking for add-on features, when you can control things better using simple placement.

Do I Need A Subwoofer In My Home Studio?

Before we move on to how to set up studio monitors so they are positioned for perfect home studio sound in detail, I want to briefly talk about using a subwoofer.

I'm going to say that the purpose of your home studio is key here. If you are mixing up musical tracks, especially a rock band for example, then you don't really need a subwoofer, high-quality studio monitors are going to be enough to get that range of sound.

It basically comes down to asking yourself how will the audience for what you are producing listen?

So on the other side of that coin, if you are a film editor and you are mixing sound for cinema use, then you would need a subwoofer to get the depth and range of sound they would experience in a modern cinema.

It's also about the size of the room. If you stuff a subwoofer into a tiny home studio is going to create an uneven experience. There will be uneven peaks and dips around the room, and some of the bass will sound solid, but others parts will sound indistinct. The bottom line is if you bring too much lower range frequency into your home studio you are asking for trouble.

Don't Stand For Inferior Studio Monitor Stands!

A monitor speaker is not just a box that emits sound from the cone. In reality, it doesn't matter how strong its cabinets is, there will be vibration and sound coming out of it from all directions.

This sound will create motion and unless the speaker stands you use can deal with this then those vibrations will transfer and hit barriers within your home studio, creating uneven sound.

A good speaker stand or support will help to stop vibrations, or least cope with them. They also need to be able to be angled so that sound travels through the air in the right direction within your home studio, which we will cover next.

The basic fact is that the heavier the stand the less it will move. So you are looking for very heavy, high-quality monitor stands:

  • They should be very heavy metal construction
  • If they are not that heavy they should be hollow so you can fill them with sand
  • The feet of the stand should have a rigid and stable contact with the floor

On the last point, if the feet are too rigid then the vibration will travel down into the floor creating vibrations. So flexibility and absorption within the feet are also crucial, either built in or added by placing a heavy rubber sheet under the feet.

A cheap do-it-yourself option is to build towers using concrete blocks. These are so heavy and dense that they will absorb sound stopping floor vibration. Although they don't look that appealing, you can always paint the black or put a cloth over them, but the limits with them is that they cannot be angled vertically, only horizontally, and you will need several quite tall and heavy stacks.

The last point is that the speaker stand should allow a very solid and insulated attachment with a monitor in itself. Any play within this connection will lead to vibration and be detrimental to sound. You can use dampening aids such as foam decouplers to help with this.

How To Perfectly Position Your Studio Monitors

Now we talked about the type speakers you should be looking for, we are going to look at how to set up studio monitors so that the full potential of the investment you have made is realized.

The truth is that an incorrectly positioned monitor can affect the sound quality far more than you would realize, far more than the quality of the monitors themselves. If they are incorrectly positioned, the studio monitor can lead to large peaks and troughs in the dynamic range around the room, which can destroy your ability to mix correctly.

So let's go through your options and help you to avoid making mistakes from the start.

1. The standard correct studio monitor placement

There is a standard positioning that most sound engineers generally consider as optimal.

That optimal positioning is basically:

  • Your head sitting at the mixing desk should create an equilateral triangle with your monitors
  • The monitors should point directly towards your head

In terms of forming an equilateral triangle, the logic is that it creates a standard pattern that minimizes differences between one studio setup and the next. It's an easy to remember rule which creates an easy to remember distance between the speakers, avoiding a too wide or narrow configuration.

Pointing the monitors directly at your head is rationalized because high frequencies sound much stronger when the speakers are pointing directly at you than when they are not. So again, it's about consistency from the perspective of listening within the studio.

2. Understanding room modes

What you're trying to achieve in monitor placement is to create a home studio environment where the best balance of sounds occurs without being tainted by the acoustics of the room.

The big obstacle in getting to this point is what is known as room modes. These form when the dimensions of a room are either:

  • The same length as the sound wave
  • A multiple of the half wavelength (1.5, 2 etc)

When your room is at these frequencies the sound waves can get trapped in between the opposing walls, this creates what is known as a standing wave.

So for example, when the dimensions of a room are equal, say 10 feet x 10 feet, this problem is amplified. This is because there are twice as many standing waves within the same group of frequencies, which is why you will often hear people with recording studios saying that cubed rooms are the worst.

If we are assuming your home studio is a small room, then the problem of this is bigger than in a large room. So to help get rid of these effects, the usual strategy for minimizing standing waves is to create singular ways at multiple frequencies, rather than creating multiple ways at a lower amount of frequencies.

This is done simply by making sure that the distance between each monitor and the wall is varied. By doing this you can help to minimize each wave within a frequency, and the response of the room is kept as flat as possible.

To do this simply, you should:

  • Position your monitor speakers on the longest wall
  • Ensure that the height of your monitors is slightly above or slightly below the midpoint of the wall
  • Once you've done this, measure the distance between the monitors and the sidewalls. Make sure these distances are not equal

The next step is to create extra space between the monitors and the rear wall. The reason for doing this is that bass frequencies can project backwards and reflect off the rear wall of your home studio. What happens is that this bounce combines with the direct sound of the speakers, to create what is known as the boundary effect.

To solve this problem a professional studio will often build monitors into the wall to eliminate this behind the speaker area. But as you not going to be able to do this in a home studio when you set up your home studio monitors, the best solution is to create the maximum separation you can between the monitors and the rear wall. If you can do it, around 2 feet between the wall and the rear of the speaker is enough.

On top of this, we talked about buying monitors earlier on. If you know that you are going to have this problem, then buy monitors with front bass ports. This is because they will direct a significant portion of the energy forward, and not back into the walls where it can rebound.

3. Position yourself correctly within the speaker configuration

This basically means way you position yourself physically both to record and to mix. It also is about where you position your head naturally most of the time, so that the sound hits your head as we mentioned earlier.

Monitor positioning is crucial, and so is head positioning within this. You should make sure that you position your chair symmetrically between the sidewalls of your studio. In addition:

  • The chair height should be set so that your head is not exactly halfway between the ceiling and the floor
  • The chair and desk should not sit exactly halfway between the front and rear walls
  • Measure the distances to make sure they are not exact and not exact multiples

4. Apply acoustic treatment

Once you have configured the positioning of your studio and set up your studio monitors exactly how they need to be, the last thing you need to consider is to position acoustic treatment around your monitors and chair position.

As I said earlier, bass frequency can be reflected off your rear wall. The best way to minimize this, on top of speaker positioning, is to add bass traps behind the monitors.

These are a type of acoustic panel that absorb low frequencies. There are four locations where the majority of reflected sound issues from monitors will occur:

  • Two of them are directly above your head
  • The left wall
  • The right wall

These reflection points are the spots on your home studio wall where you would see the reflection of your monitor if there was a mirror positioned there. It's then a case of covering these spots with acoustic panels and adjusting to get the best sound.

How To Set Up Studio Monitors: Conclusions

Now obviously this is not a completely exhaustive guide, some of it is by its nature going to be very trial and error and chock full of technical jargon, for example when we talked about reflection points, it will take some time and a bit of reading understand exactly, and a bit of trial and error to find exactly where they are.

But the bottom line is with the basic principles outlined here and a little further research you will be well equipped to not only buy the best studio monitors for your requirements, because you will understand how they will work within the home studio you have, but you will learn how to set up studio monitors much more quickly to produce the optimum quality of sound within the room.

Nothing is going to be perfect, and it is going to take trial and error over a few sessions to get things right. You should make these sessions about pinpointing and adjusting things, not doing your usual work and trying to focus on that as well as sound adjustment at the same time.

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