One of the most important aspects of designing a good space where you can record and mix is making sure that your studio monitors are set up properly.
Each and every decision that you are going to make during your mixing process will be based on the sounds that you hear from your monitors. Obviously you should mix with a good pair of headphones as well, but to make critical decisions, you’ll need your studio monitors.
There are hundreds of great mixing monitors out there found in all different shapes, sizes, and prices. Unfortunately, an improper setup can create hurdles with even the best studio monitors. We’re here to help you get the best possible results when mixing by getting it right at the source. Let’s get started, shall we?
- 1 Getting the Right Studio Monitors
- 2 Understanding Room Modes
- 3 Setting Your Studio Monitors Up
- 4 Set Up Treatment Around Your Monitors
- 5 Hearing Your Mixes In a Whole New Way
Getting the Right Studio Monitors
Before we get into the details, we want to make sure that you are mixing on the right kinds of monitors for your space. Here are a few things to consider before you begin the studio speaker setup process!
It is important that you select the right space for your setup. Even though home studio setups are in small rooms these days, we don’t recommend going any smaller than 15’x10’. The smaller the room, the denser the reflections will be. Plus, if you want to use large speakers with a high SPL, you’ll need to use them in a large room to take advantage of them.
Here is a small chart to get you started on the right path:
|Woofer Size||Minimum Room Size||Wattage|
|10” (+ Subwoofer)||> 15’x10’||> 100W|
Home Studio Monitors vs. Hi-Fi Speakers
To mix a song, you are going to need to make sure that you are hearing it properly. While consumer-grade hi-fi speakers usually create an exciting listening experience, studio monitors are made to offer a flat frequency response so that you can make sure your mix will sound great on any system.
Studio monitors like the Yamaha HS-8 monitors in the picture above are perfect for producing a neutral sound so that you can hear your mix in the most honest way possible.
Studio Monitor Stands v.s. Desktop Placement
Monitor placement can make a huge difference in the sound that you end up getting. For those of you that are working with near-field studio monitors, you want to place them around 2-3 feet from your listening position.
However, if you decide to use far-field monitors, then you should place them anywhere from 5-6 feet from your listening position.
The primary difference between these two types of monitors is the rate at which the sound decays before it reaches the listening position. Small woofer and wide domes are characteristics of near-field monitors, giving them a high-intensity sound.
When you get beyond 3’, you begin to notice a reduction in that intensity. You can either place these on your desktop or monitor stands.
Far-field monitors are different in that they are much larger and come with higher wattages. This means that the distance they are placed from your ears won’t have as much of an effect.
Of course, they don’t compare with PA systems, so you don’t want to get too far away from them for the mixing process. For far-field monitors, we recommend having a pair of studio monitor stands.
If you are set up at a home studio, you will likely have a small space to work with and an even smaller budget. We never recommend getting monitors with woofers that are less than 5” as they won’t be able to produce enough of a bass response to give you a good mix.
With that said, there are genres of music that will require certain monitor specs. For example, you’ll likely want to get monitors with larger woofers if you are mixing EDM or metal music.
Understanding Room Modes
Remember, the goal of placing your monitors correctly is creating a natural balance of sounds that is uncolored by the acoustics of a room. One of the biggest downfalls that many engineers have in their home studio setup is: Room Modes
Room modes can form under a couple circumstances:
- When the length of the room is the same length as the soundwave
- When the length of the room is a multiple of the soundwave cut in half
Essentially, the sound can get trapped between opposite walls, creating a standing wave. This can greatly affect the volume and the decay rate of the frequency in question, which will distort the overall room acoustics. Understanding how the dimensions of your room can affect your speaker placement and mixes is very important.
Setting Your Studio Monitors Up
Connecting Your Monitors
The first thing you should do is make sure that you understand the inputs and outputs on your studio monitors. There are three primary types of input and output connections for studio speakers:
- ⅛” TRS
Different studio monitor manufacturers use different input and output sockets, so be sure to check. If you have a pair of active studio monitors, you won’t have to worry about connecting these together. On the other hand, if you are using passive studio monitors, you need to connect the master with the slave.
You can read more about active vs. passive monitors here.
How to Position Studio Monitors
An equilateral triangle is what we refer to as the CORRECT MIXING POSITION.
Most engineers agree that using your monitors to create an equilateral triangle is the best way to form a compromise between a studio monitor setup that is too wide and one that is too narrow.
If your studio monitors are placed too wide, they can leave you with a hole in the middle that may lead to you placing too many elements down the center. This can produce a mix that doesn’t take full advantage of the stereo field.
On the other hand, if your studio monitors are placed too close together, you might end up making panning choices that are too wide, creating a weird fake stereo mono mix like we hear from the 1960s.
⚠️ Note: It is recommended that you aim for 60-degrees, or 30-degrees between the monitor angles and your head.
For those of you who are using near-field monitors, we recommend keeping your speakers about three feet from each other and three feet from your listening position. This helps maintain the perfect triangle while also minimizing reflections in the room.
Aim the High-Frequency Drivers At Your Ears
High-frequency content is much more directional compared to low-frequency content. When high frequencies are directed at your ear, you can hear more of what is going on. For best practice, we recommend making sure that your ears are level with the center of the tweeter on your speakers.
Avoid the Walls
No matter what speaker size you are working with, it will deliver a much stronger bass response if it is placed up against the wall.
While it may sound good right off the bat, since many of us are conditioned to the hyped bass response from consumer systems, it will actually create an uneven frequency balance that will cause more problems as you continue to mix the low end.
Ever wonder why amateur mixers seem to have trouble with their kick and bass?
This is exactly why. We recommend placing your studio monitors at least a foot from the nearest boundary, meaning wall, ceiling, or floor. In this way, you’ll receive the true low-frequency information that is present in the mix, not the low-end presence from the room.
Some studio monitors, like the Mackie HR624mk2, come with directions as to how you can place them in the room, so we recommend following their directions if this is the case.
Now that you have taken your monitors away from the walls, you need to check your surroundings to make sure that room boundaries don’t affect your sound on any side. As a rule of thumb, you want to try to place your studio monitors symmetrically, equidistant from each wall on the left and right side.
For example, if your right speaker is 4’ from the right wall, you want to make sure that the left speaker is 4’ from the left wall.
This will help you ensure that any reflections you get from your room will be balanced at the sweet spot.
If you have one monitor that is too close to one side, you could actually end up skewing your mix decisions to one side. This could result in a mix that sounds off-center and imbalanced when you hear it in other systems, such as headphones.
Height and Tilt Regulations
You want your studio monitors to sit at least 47 inches above the floor. When it comes to ITU Standard Monitor Heights, any monitors that are not tilted down should be anywhere from 47-55 inches off the floor.
The tweeters should be aimed at your ears. If you must tilt your speakers toward your listening position, you need to make sure that they aren’t tilted any greater than 15-degrees on the vertical axis. This is because tilted speakers can reflect off of surfaces below.
If you do have tilted speakers, note that the frequency response will change as you move backward and forward.
Avoid Unwanted Reflections
Of course, you never want to mix in a room that is dead. By dead, we mean a room that is free from mid and high-frequency reflections.
With that said, you do want to avoid excessive comb-filtering from strong, short reflections. This can muddy up your mix and destroy the room tone in your mix. To help tame these reflections, you can make sure that there are no reflective surfaces directly in front of your monitors.
These reflective surfaces can be anything from large television screens sitting behind the mix position to large framed posters on the walls.
While it will be very difficult to avoid these kinds of reflective elements altogether, you can do your best by making sure that they aren’t sitting at speaker height.
Set Up Treatment Around Your Monitors
Now that you have your studio monitors and mix position set in place, it is time to look at how you can acoustically treat the room around you to make sure that your new setup works optimally.
Add Some Bass Traps Behind Your Monitors
As we said earlier, having your monitors against a wall can create unwanted bass response. The best way to minimize this frequency buildup overall is by adding bass traps behind each monitor. It is one of the most important forms of acoustic treatment. Even if you can’t afford to buy top-notch bass traps, any kind of absorption will do the job.
Add Absorptive Panels At Initial Reflection Points
The initial reflection points are as follows:
- Above your head
- On the left wall
- On the right wall
The best way to find the initial reflection points in your room is to think of your walls and ceiling as reflective surfaces. From wherever you are sitting in your mix position, these are the places that you would be able to see the reflection of your monitors. To get rid of these initial reflection spots, we recommend adding panels at each one.
Add Rear Wall Diffusion
So, as you now know, sound is pretty much floating around everywhere in your room. However, most of the sound is either coming at you or going past you and into the wall behind you.
Because you are likely mixing in a home studio, we can assume that that wall is flat. This means that your back wall can be liable for harmful standing waves.
Instead of putting regular padding or foam panels on the wall, we recommend using diffusers, as they can help to scatter the sound energy.
⚠️ NOTE: if you are in a smaller room, diffusers might not be as effective as there might not be enough distance between you and the panels. In this case, thicker absorption panels with a good low-frequency response might be more efficient.
Hearing Your Mixes In a Whole New Way
Just like any field of work, learning from all of the available resources is the key to finding success!
Understanding how to set your monitors up to optimize your sound is a wonderful skill to hone, as it can make or break a home studio like nothing else.
To sum everything up, here are a few key takeaways to remember when setting up your studio speakers:
- Find the right size and type of studio monitors for your studio
- Use the equilateral triangle method when placing your speakers
- Make sure your high-frequency drivers are in line with your ears
- Avoid unwanted reflections or frequency build-up by avoiding walls and parallel surfaces
- Add panels and bass traps in your room to get rid of unwanted reflections
Look, calibrating your studio with a pair of monitors is not an easy task, especially if you are new to the recording game. If you have a studio at home already, we recommend checking to see if it is set up correctly! You just might have been mixing in a skewed environment for far too long!