In this article, Studio Slave cover some of the simple errors that many bedroom producers are making when setting up their studio monitors. Read on to find out some simple tips on avoiding these mistakes and how to build your room into the best possible listening environment it can be..

Setting a budget and choosing your studio monitors should be up there as a high priority task for your home studio. However producers often overlook the setup of the monitors. Every single decision you make will be reliant on the sound of the speakers in your room so it’s absolutely vital that you get his sounds as best as you possibly can. Having the best quality studio monitors counts for absolutely nothing if you have a problematic room setup

1. SPEAKER SELECTION

Research your choice of speaker carefully before buying. Some speakers lend themselves to certain rooms and types of music. Things you should be looking at is the frequency response of your speakers. You want this to be as neutral as possible. What this means is that the speaker will give you a true sound and level at any given frequency whereas consumer speakers such as hifi’s often have a non linear response which will accentuate high and low frequencies to make the signal warmer & louder.
Also pay attention to the type of drivers in your speakers. A general rule of thumb is that the larger the driver size, the better your speakers will be at being able to reproduce the low end frequencies.

The Yamaha HS SERIES Frequency response. A good set of monitors should have a flat non-biased frequency response. The bigger the drivers, the lower the speakers will be able to go in reproducing bass frequencies. The HS8S is a sub-woofer designed to aid nearfield monitors with drivers of less than 8″ 

2. KEEP THINGS SYMMETRICAL

This can sometimes be a hard task of you have unusual room dimensions, but it’s important that your speakers are in symmetry with the dimensions of your room. This means that ideally you want your desk in the middle of a rectangular room with your speakers on either side in an equilateral triangle shape from each other to your head.
If the left speaker is 1m from the left hand wall then the right speaker should be exactly the same, this is also the case for the back wall.
If your studio is in the corner of a room then you can still achieve the same symmetry by angling off diagonally from the corner of the room.
The reason we do this is because no matter where we place the speakers in the room, they will always be affected by the rooms walls and boundaries to some degree. By positioning the speakers so that they are symmetrical, any effect on the left hand speakers audio should be very similar to the right speakers audio. This means when we make adjustments we won’t be doing it in a lopsided manor due to compensating for one side of our room sounding different to the other.

Correct: Symmetrical alignment of the speakers in your room

Incorrect: This alignment will cause the speakers signals to be heard differently as they are blended with the reverberated signal of the room in different ways before reaching the ear.

3. AVOID WALLS

You may have noticed that Placing a speaker near a wall will usually cause the bass response of the speaker to get louder. This is because of a phenomenon called ‘standing waves’
This is where the wavelength of your bass frequencies are bouncing off the wall and either cancelling or summing the wave coming out of the speaker. This will result in a louder bass sound which is very uneven along the frequency range (30 – 300Hz is the most affected area)
We suggest making sure your speakers are at least a foot away from any wall and definitely avoid corners at all costs as they will make your bass response very inconsistent across the low frequency range due to the speakers woofer ports usually being located on the back of the speaker. If this can’t be avoided then think about some acoustic foam treatment in the corners to try and eliminate the reverberated standing waves.

Standing waves causing a rise in volume in the corners of the room & an uneven frequency response due to being too close to the walls.

 

An ideal situation keeping symmetry with the shape of the room and also staying away from any walls. Think about investing in some speaker stands & acoustic treatment if you need to keep your speakers away from corners.

4. AVOID POOR ANGLES

Your speakers ideally want to be positioned in the shape of an equilateral triangle. Roughly 3 feet from one another and 3 feet from the listener. This creates the least amount of high and low frequency interference and also positions the listeners head nicely in the sweet spot. If our speakers are placed too far apart this will create a hole in the centre of the mix which will cause a producer to over compensate by creating a narrow mix-down. Likewise having the speakers too close together means that when the producer listens to the audio it will all be coming directly to the front so the tendency will be to pan extremely widely which will make the mix very unfocused and can cause problems when summed to mono.
A further point is to ensure that the speakers tweeters are at eye level and are facing directly at the listener. Some OCD producers will want their studio speakers aligned to the wall however not only will this drastically effect the bass response, but it will also cause the mix to sound duller and less detailed than it actually is as well.

Incorrect: speaker placement too wide causing a hole in the mix, the producer will over-compensate by panning his instruments more central which will relate to an overly narrow mix.

Incorrect: speaker placement too narrow causing the producer to over-compensate by panning his instruments to the extreme. This will result in a wide & unfocused mix

Correct: Speaker placement being in an equilateral triangle between the listener and the two speakers. The recommended distance is 3ft apart. Symmetrical with the room and at least a foot away from walls. The only improvement that could be made in this room is to use the length of the room rather than the width of it for monitoring. by using the longest side of the room this further helps with standing waves below 300Hz.

5. AVOID PROBLEMATIC REFLECTIONS

As well as our main room walls. We will also get reflections off of surfaces within the room. The main surfaces to be aware of are the surfaces between the listener and the speakers, this could be computer monitors, mixing consoles, keyboards, desks or racks. Try to keep these bits of equipment out of the way of the speakers projection area. Clearly not all of these items can be removed but some producers have even gone as far as to add acoustic foam around the main areas of their desk to try and reduce these early reflections. This is also why having the tweeters at eye level is so important as this ensures that the audio from the speakers travels directly to the war instead of bouncing off surfaces first. 

Speakers tweeter set at eye height. different speakers have different dispersal angles. Typically monitors are designed to travel directly to the listener with a narrow dispersion.

Reflective surfaces in between the listener and monitor can cause interference. Try to remove any clutter or objects to keep this interference to a mininum

6. EQUAL LOUDNESS AND LEVELS

Our ears do not perceive the loudness of sound in a linear way. This has been proved by equal loudness or fletcher-Munson curves. The basic theory is that human ears are more sensitive to the high and low frequencies of the spectrum at higher dBspl (decibel sound pressure levels)
WithIn the studio this equates to the a producer thinking their bass is really loud because they are monitoring at 90-95 dBspl when in fact if they reduced the volume to 80 dBspl they would realise that they’re mix is lacking in low and high frequency volume.
It also goes without saying that monitoring at loud volumes will increase the onset of ear fatigue, tinnitus and hearing loss.

A graph showing the equal loudness curves and main frequency ranges.

 

7. TOO MUCH LOW END

If your monitors have small drivers which are less than 8″ then possibly think about adding a sub woofer to your setup. The sub woofer isn’t to be used as many car sub woofers are to add extreme bass volume. All the subwoofer is there to do is extend the bass frequency response of your studio due to your small monitor drivers not being able to reproduce the low signal. This means that when you set up the subwoofer it shouldn’t actually add any extra volume. This can be checked with an sound pressure level (SPL) reader. We want to get the level as close as we can to the level of the rest of the sound system without the sub. This sub should also be set up so that it’s only receiving the necessary frequencies it needs (the crossover) which will usually be set at around 80Hz.

Using a Sub-Woofer (HS10W) marked in yellow to enhance the low end frequency response of a monitor such as the HS50M

If you follow these few basic rules when setting up your speakers then you will be well on your way to a much better sounding studio. Check out our full ebook on mixing for a more in depth look at studio setup and room acoustics.

This article is an extract from book 1 of our ‘Zero To Hero Guide To Mixing In Ableton Live’ eBook series

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