Whether you’ve just picked up some of the best studio speakers or have an existing set, calibrating them is a crucial step to getting the optimum output in your studio.
This guide will cover why calibration is necessary, the tools you’ll need, and a simple step-by-step guide to getting the perfect sound pressure level in your studio environment.
Why Calibrating Is Important
One of the most critical elements of making music is ensuring the volume of your mix is at the correct level. But every studio is different with its inherent issues.
Calibrating your studio monitors gives you a consistent baseline volume level.
Calibrating studio monitors ensures you have an accurate baseline that will translate your creations cleanly across various systems. Plus, it ensures that both your studio monitors have the same SPL level for a perfect listening environment.
This clean base level allows you to make educated and informed decisions regarding how elements sit within your mix. Establishing a baseline can prevent sections of your creations from sounding too loud or soft.
Calibrating studio monitors also helps your monitors to deliver smooth response across the whole frequency range. Flat studio monitors can easily sound incorrect when not correctly calibrated.
The Standard Reference
Before we dive into the step-by-step guide on how to calibrate studio monitors, it’s worth covering the volume level we aim to achieve and why this level has become the standard reference.
Human hearing is an interesting beast that can play tricks on us. Specific frequencies can appear louder or softer depending on how loud the output level is.
Generally, the accepted level for optimal reference listening is 85 dB SPL. To put this into perspective, this is similar in noise level to a crowded restaurant or a hairdryer. This level provides the most balanced output across the entire frequency range.
Consistently listening at over 85 dB can damage your hearing.
When mixing your latest creation, you’ll have a good grasp of how loud each element is. This gives you a higher chance that your mix will successfully translate at various playback levels.
A consistent acoustic level will also train your ears to a particular volume level over time. This will make it quick and easy to spot issues in your mix. This will save time and also prevent you from second-guessing your work.
But the 85 dB level is quite loud, especially in a small room, and it can also be fatiguing to your ears over longer studio sessions. That is why working in the 70-80 dB SPL range is not uncommon. While not entirely as accurate as the 85 dB level, it is still accurate enough for you to make educated mixing decisions.
What level is right for you will depend on your room size and how long you spend in the studio. It is worth noting that at a lower level, you’re less likely to annoy other people in your household or your neighbors. Nothing dampens your creativity more than a knock on the door from the local police!
So now you know why it is essential to calibrate your studio monitors and the reference level you want to aim for. The next step is to ensure you have the right tools up your sleeve to calibrate monitors.
The first thing you’ll need is a way to measure the acoustic level in your studio accurately. These acoustic measurements will be the foundation of all the changes you’ll be making. There are a couple of ways you can achieve this.
SPL meters are a worthwhile investment if you want the flexibility to measure the sound pressure level at any location accurately. These meters are easy to use and offer a wide range of functions. If you’ve already spent hundreds or thousands on quality studio monitors, it’s a relatively minor additional purchase.
A dedicated SPL meter is the best option for accurate measurements.
But suppose you don’t want to spend extra money. In that case, a range of apps available on both Apple and Android utilize your mobile device’s microphone to determine volume levels. Many of these apps are free or unlocked for a small fee.
If you want to use an SPL meter app, it is worth checking out the app’s reviews before diving in. Some are better than others.
Likewise, it is essential to know where the microphone is on your smartphone and to remove the case if you use one. The case can block incoming audio and provide an inaccurate reading.
Speaking of accuracy, an SPL meter app might not have the same level of accuracy as dedicated SPL meters will. Suppose you plan on frequently calibrating studio monitors or want to accurately check sound pressure levels at gigs. In that case, it’s worth picking a high-quality SPL meter.
The next thing you’ll need is an audio source to calibrate with. The most common is a range of pink noise audio clips that hit the entire frequency range. This allows you to test each frequency band to ensure accuracy and consistency.
What is pink noise? It’s an audio clip that features a consistent energy level for each octave, thanks to filtering. It tends to feature lower sound waves and will sound less sharp compared to white noise.
Pink noise features a greater emphasis on lower frequencies.
This aligns with our hearing and helps deliver an even sound level across all frequencies. These qualities make it the perfect audio source to calibrate studio monitors.
A quick Google search for ‘Pink Noise Download” will bring up various options. Where possible, aim to download the highest quality file you can. WAV is preferable, but a 320kbps MP3 will also suffice. Your DAW may also have a built-in tone generator that might include a pink noise tone.
Once you have a way to measure the sound pressure levels and a pink noise file to work with, you can start on speaker calibration.
Step By Step Guide To Calibration
There is one final thing worth mentioning before you calibrate your monitors. Your studio should already be set up correctly. Proper studio monitor placement, room acoustics, listening position, and any acoustic treatment should already be finalized before you begin to calibrate your reference monitors.
With that out of the way, it’s time to dive in and calibrate your studio monitors, so you have the flattest response possible in your home studio.
Step 1: Check Connections
Start by making sure that everything is connected correctly. Your left speaker should be connected to the left output and your right speaker to the right output on your audio interface.
Step 2: Set Levels To Zero
Next, ensure that your monitors are turned down to zero. Most professional studio monitors have the volume knob at the speaker’s rear. Also, ensure that your audio interface is set to the lowest setting possible. If you are using a monitor controller, the same applies.
Step 3: Set Up Your SPL Meter
Place your SPL meter in the exact listening position that you will be mixing in. It should be at the same height as where your head will typically be. If you have set up your studio monitors correctly, the meter will be in the ideal sweet spot.
For a dedicated sound pressure level meter, the microphone will be upright. If you are using a smartphone, ensure the microphone points towards the speaker. Also, ensure your SPL meter is set to C-weighted and slow response.
Step 4: Play Pink Noise
Now that everything is set up, you can play the pink noise tone through your DAW through the left channel in mono. Loop the audio file if required. Ensure all faders are in the unity gain setting (0dB). Adjust the audio interface to the unity gain setting (0dB) position.
Step 5: Adjust Volume
Begin increasing the volume of the left speaker or monitor controller until your SPL meter is reading the desired predetermined SPL. If you have selected 85 dB as your preferred level, you should aim for a reading of 82 dB as the overall output will be louder by 3 dB once both speakers are active.
Step 6: Repeat For The Other Speaker
Once you have set up one speaker, you can repeat the steps above for the second speaker. This time switch to the right channel and make changes to the volume level of your right monitor until the SPL level is at exactly the same level as before. Ensure that the meter is in the same listening position as when you did the first speaker.
Step 7: Fine Tune
Now that both the left and right monitor have been calibrated independently, you can turn the pink noise off. Switch the primary audio source to a music file and sit in your mix position.
Using some subjective listening skills, assess the music to determine if everything sounds correct. If one side sounds off, you may need to adjust speaker placement to ensure the sweet spot points directly at your mix position.
You’re All Set!
Once calibration is complete, you’ll have the optimum listening environment for mixing. Correct calibration can significantly affect your ability to make informed decisions.
Achieving the correct output level will yield cleaner and tighter productions that will sound good on various speaker systems.
Home studios that feature a subwoofer will require separate calibration to attain the correct subwoofer level. But if you are just working with a pair or multiple pairs of speakers, the above how to calibrate studio monitors guide is all you’ll need to ensure your listening environment is optimized.