Studio monitors are the crux of any recording studio, whether you’re using the spare room at home or tracking in a professional environment. They provide the most reliable information about the tonal qualities and balance of your mix, but that information won’t be worth much if your speakers are positioned sub-optimally. Getting your monitors in the right position is key to ensuring consistent results from your mixes, so where should your studio monitors be placed? And why does it matter? Read on to find out.
Stands & Mounts
Before we get into where your monitors themselves are positioned, we need to talk about speaker stands. You can have the most expensive set of studio monitors available but you won’t get reliable mix results if they’re not firmly anchored. This means no placing them on the boxes they came in! If your speaker stand or mount isn’t sturdy enough, it will vibrate in sympathy with your speakers, clouding how the low end of your mix is represented.
Dedicated speaker stands deliver far more reliable performance than wooden shelves or the hard surface of your desk itself, which is especially crucial in mixing bass-heavy styles like Trap, D&B, and Dubstep. A sturdy stand will disconnect your speaker from other surfaces that can vibrate in sympathy, preventing issues with the low end.
The listening position is the point around which you build your studio monitoring environment. It’s the essence of any studio setup, so your speakers must be aimed properly at your listening position to get the most out of your mixes. A speaker’s frequency response is measured directly in front of it (on-axis) so if your listening position is slightly askew (off-axis) then you won’t be getting a clear picture of your mix.
If your speakers are too far apart you’ll lose the ability to judge those important mix sounds that are usually placed in the centre of the stereo image, like your kick, snare, and lead vocals. Too close together and you won’t get an accurate feel of the width for hard-panned sounds like electric guitars. So remember when calibrating your listening position and speakers, symmetry is the key to a well balanced mix.
To get the optimal listening position, you need to think of yourself and your two speakers as part of an equilateral triangle, with equal distances between all three. To do this you will need a tape measure to ensure identical spacing between all three points of the triangle, and something to measure the angle of the speakers. Your speakers should be angled 60° towards your listening position to form this equilateral triangle, and if your maths lessons are a distant memory, then thankfully KRK do a free smartphone app (for iOS or Android) that will measure these angles for you.
Also, remember that speakers need to “breathe” in order to reproduce the frequencies without compromises – don’t cramp them to the left or right wall of your room. Here’s a simplified visual guide:
Not too close to walls!
As you move your speakers closer to the surfaces of your room, something called the boundary effect will make itself known. This is a build-up of low-frequency sounds which will hype the bass in your mix. Place your speaker close to a corner of the room and this effect will become even more prominent as the reflections of two planes occur, resulting in a bass boost anywhere from 4 to 6 dB! Now we all love super hyped bass sounds, but it’s certainly not a good look for making mixes that translate accurately across a wide variety of listening systems.
The best solution to this problem is to place your speakers as far away from any hard surfaces as possible, but of course when working in a small studio, this is often easier said than done. A lot of studio monitors feature low cut switches that will knock off some of the low-end which can help you get a more neutral sound. This in combination with effective acoustic treatment should cure the majority of room issues with low-end buildup.
The right distance from you
There are different types of monitors: since we are talking about the near–field ones, it’s pretty obvious that they have to be close to you. Bigger monitors have to be placed further from the listener (you). This means not meters away, and not inches from your ears – one to two meters should be just fine – the manufacturer usually recommends the ideal distance for their product. Generally speaking, the closer they are, the less influence from the room’s acoustics you will hear.
Horizontally or vertically?
If you’ve ever scrolled through social media feeds of pro recording studios you may well have seen setups lit up like the deck of the USS Enterprise, with nearfield monitors placed horizontally. The truth is these monitors are more than likely placed that way to get them out of the way of the main, wall mounted studio monitors, to increase sightlines to the control room, or because they are three-way systems specifically designed to be placed horizontally.
For the home studio, we wouldn’t recommend placing your speakers this way unless absolutely necessary. By having them horizontally you are drastically narrowing the available sweet spot on the horizontal plane, meaning your listening position will need to be inch-perfect as any slight head movements horizontally or vertically will result in you dropping out of the listening sweet spot. And if you decide to place them all the same in a horizontal position, make sure to place the tweeters outside!
The height is important too
It’s not just the horizontal plane that’s important either, you must place your speakers correctly on the vertical plane to get in the listening ‘sweet spot’. Most studio monitors are made up of two drivers, the woofer and the tweeter. The woofer is the larger circle usually at the bottom of your speaker which delivers the majority of mid-range and low-end information. The tweeter is the smaller circle above it, which is responsible for high-end sounds. As high frequencies are the most directional, you’ll want the tweeters pointing directly towards your ears to ensure the most representative listening experience. If you have to angle the speakers up or down slightly to achieve this then so be it, but we’d recommend keeping them level wherever possible. You can achieve this tilting by using height–adjustable tripods or wedge shaped foam pads.
Directly on the desk? No, thanks!
It has been said over and over but still, people don’t really understand this: speakers shouldn’t be placed on the desk! Why? Well, you don’t want your desk to absorb and amplify certain frequencies AND you want to avoid tone changes from the monitors due to the hard surface of the desk. Use the methods mentioned above to separate the loudspeakers from the hard surface.
After all the minor but crucial changes that we mentioned, there’s still one thing that needs to be taken care of: the room’s acoustics. If the room is resonating too much, or unevenly, (which happens most of the time inside normal rooms) you need to treat it accordingly with acoustic elements such as basstraps, standard absorbers and diffusors.
Active monitors are often equipped with tone adjustments to compensate for the influence of room acoustics. Again you have to experiment and trust your ear in any circumstance!
The basics of correct monitor placement are small, easy to make changes that will help you get the best out of your mixes. Take the time to do this properly and you will reap the rewards as you learn your speakers and improve your mixing skills. When used in conjunction with proper acoustic treatment and supplementary monitoring, there’s no reason you can’t get commercial level mixes out of your home studio. 🔊👂
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