Getting new studio monitors is exciting. But this can often lead to disappointment. It doesn’t matter how great your monitors are; you’ll need to take some time to set them up properly. This guide covers everything you need to know about getting your studio monitor placement as close to perfect as possible.
Setting Up Studio Monitors
Monitor placement is a critical step you need to take to ensure you are getting the most out of your new or existing studio monitors. Follow all the steps below, and you’ll be well on your way to achieving the best possible sound in your studio space.
Studio monitor placement is an integral part of any studio setup.
Step 1: Finding The Right Spot
Every studio space is different, with room acoustics that will impact how good your monitors sound. So the first step is to assess your studio space and understand some simple principles that can help guide you to where your workstation should be.
Which Wall To Set Up On
Selecting the right wall can go a long way to help minimize issues. Setting up your workstation on one of the longer walls in a rectangular room can be a good choice. This allows the sound to travel more before hitting the side walls.
If the room is relatively narrow, the shorter wall might be a better choice to avoid rear reflections. Selecting the right wall will depend on your room shape, but no matter what shape your room is, avoid setting up in a corner. Corners have multiple reflective surfaces, making it difficult to achieve balanced output.
The 38% Rule
Now that you have figured out which wall is the most suitable, it is time to find the spot for your workstation. The 38% rule is an easy-to-follow guideline for selecting the correct location.
Measure the length of the room and find the 38% mark. This should provide a good amount of distance from the wall in front of you while providing enough space behind you to minimize reflected sound.
The 38% theory offers a good balance between peaks and nulls.
Keep in mind this is a guide and not set in stone. You can make adjustments based on other factors that impact your room dynamics. It can also be affected by the very nature of your monitors. For example, front-ported monitors can sit closer to walls as they are projecting air and sound forward.
But irrespective of whether you have front vs rear ported speakers, the next section is something you’ll always need to factor in.
When sound exits your monitors, it is in the form of sound waves. The distance they travel is referred to as a wavelength. The wavelengths will travel and reflect off the walls. These wavelengths can then collide with each other and create standing waves.
Standing waves impact the sound and can cause the output to sound unbalanced, leading to critical mistakes when creating and mixing. That is why room dimensions play a more significant role than you may initially think.
High frequencies have a short wavelength.
Where possible, it is best to avoid a perfectly square room. The dynamics of soundwaves are already challenging to tame, but in a square room, these issues become ever more of a challenge due to the equal distances involved.
Different frequencies will generate different wavelengths. For example, higher frequencies have shorter wavelengths and, as a result, are easier to mitigate as they decay before hitting reflective surfaces. On the other end, lower frequencies travel further and, as a result, can be more prone to standing waves.
This diagram highlights that lower frequencies travel the farthest.
The general rule of thumb is to avoid lengths that are an exact match to a wavelength or a multiple of it, whether that is half or double. Avoiding lengths that are close to this will lead to the best results.
As you can imagine, you can’t handle all of the potential standing waves. But that doesn’t mean all hope is lost. You can do several things to help mitigate issues, which we’ll cover later in this guide. But for now, the goal is to minimize the amount of potential standing waves you’ll need to deal with.
Symmetry Is Important
When you factor in all of the above, you’ll have a rough guide to the best position for your workstation. From here, you’ll want to make a few more checks to ensure you pinpoint the best area, and there are a couple of simple tips you can follow to make the process easier.
The first is to center your workstation between the walls on either side of you. This ensures you have an accurate stereo image. The other thing to factor in is to ensure that the distance from where you intend for your monitors to be is not the same distance as the wall in front of you.
Putting It All Together
If you apply all of the above principles, you should have an ideal spot for your workstation. Before we dive into the next step, it is worth mentioning that much of the above is just a guide. Your project studio will be different from every other studio, and you’ll need to make adjustments based on the specific dynamics of your space. But the above information can serve as an excellent starting point.
Step 2: Vertical Or Horizontal Orientation
Now that you have your workstation position figured out, it’s time to get out your monitors and set them up. The first thing to consider is whether to have them standing upright or sideways.
Some monitors are specifically made to be placed horizontally.
Most studio monitors work best in a vertical position, but this does vary from one monitor to another. Refer to the documentation provided with your monitor to see if the manufacturer states that the preferred orientation is vertical or horizontal.
Step 3: Ideal Listening Position
With your workstation set up and your monitors in the correct orientation, it is time to find the perfect listening position.
The ideal spot will form an equilateral triangle from your listening position. The distance between the two monitors and you should be equally far apart as shown in the diagram below. The monitors also need to be pointed directly at you.
Forming an equilateral triangle will provide the best performance.
There are many types of studio monitors however most are near-field and, as a result, will have a relatively narrow sweet spot. You’ll notice a substantial sound level and performance drop as you move further away from the sweet spot. This is by design. Most monitors will not fill a whole room with sound, which is good for a listening environment where you are trying to achieve a flat frequency response.
When you have found your perfect position, there is one other check you’ll need to make. You do not want an equal distance or exact multiples from your head in relation to your floor and ceiling. If this is the case, look to raise or lower your listening position.
Once again, this comes back to room modes and how sound travels. Equal distances will create nulls that will impact sound level and accuracy, making it hard to make correct mixing decisions.
Step 4: Studio Monitor Height
Now that the monitors form an equilateral triangle with your listening position, it’s time to get them up to the right height.
The tweeters should align with your ear level when sitting in your listening position. Having them too low or too high will not provide a natural balance or accurate stereo imaging. It is also vital that both monitors are at the same height to ensure accurate stereo imaging.
Monitor stands are a great way to get your speakers up to the correct height.
Most desks will be too low for you to place your monitors directly on them. This is where monitor stands play a crucial role. These speaker stands help bring your monitors up to the correct height.
Good stands will offer a variety of height settings to reach the ideal height for your needs. Some may also provide the ability to tilt your monitors up or down. This combination of features should allow you to find the correct height and angle.
Step 5: Deal With Surfaces
Monitor stands also help decouple your monitors from a hard surface like your desk. Reflected sound can cause vibrations and irregularities in frequency response. Some stands will feature isolation material to prevent sound from traveling through the frame and engaging with other hard surfaces.
Isolation pads help decouple your monitors from resonating surfaces.
You can take it a step further if you want to deal with reflected sound by investing in some isolation pads. These can be used in tandem with stands or on their own if you happen to have a shelf that your monitors sit on.
These isolation pads help absorb vibrations and also minimize reflected sound waves. They are an ideal choice for a reflective surface like a desk. Plus, they are often inexpensive, making them a worthwhile investment for home studios.
Step 6: Tame Your Room
So you now have your ideal workstation location, found the perfect positioning, and set your monitor speakers in the correct orientation, height, and location. Plus, you’ve dealt with the immediate sound reflections. Now it’s time to tackle the rest of the room with some acoustic treatment. A step which is especially essential for small rooms.
Minimizing reflections is possible via different acoustic surfaces.
Wall reflections can make or break home studios. If you’ve ever stood in an empty room, you’ll already know how much flutter echoes occur in an untreated room. Thankfully there are several things you can do to minimize this.
The first step is to tackle the front wall. The most crucial aspect here is to tame lower frequencies. The best way to do this is by installing acoustic treatment in the form of bass traps behind your monitors.
Bass frequencies travel further than high-frequency content and often cause most studio acoustic issues. The bass traps will help absorb, capture and minimize wall reflection from your front wall.
Next up are the side walls. Wall reflections from your side walls can be just as problematic. First, you’ll need to assess where the reflection points are. There can be several of these, but the primary focus should be one on each side wall and above your head.
Tackling reflection points is critical to achieving the best sound.
It’s a simple process of discovering where the sound will hit. Imagine that your side walls had mirrors, and find the spot where you could see your monitor from your listening position. Once you know these spots, you’ll need to add acoustic panels to absorb those wall reflections. The same applies to the wall reflections from the roof of your studio.
With each side wall tamed, the final step is the rear wall. The size of your studio will depend on how critical this is. The rear wall can be a significant issue if you have a small room, but it might not be as vital to deal with for larger rooms.
Diffusion and absorption panels are fantastic at taming difficult rooms.
The ideal acoustic treatment to resolve issues here is a diffusion panel. These panels help scatter the direct sound and minimize reflections coming back to you.
But you don’t always need to rely on panels. Any irregular surface can assist. This could be a bookshelf with various objects in it or even furniture. The main goal is to break up and disperse sound waves, so they don’t return directly to your listening position.
Step 7: Fine Tune Your Monitors
You are now close to your ideal setup. But there still might be some sound issues present, which is where your monitors might come to save the day.
Most high-quality studio monitors will feature various tuning options to adjust output. Often this will impact the frequency response at either the top end or the low end. It’s usually a decibel drop to help compensate for low frequencies becoming amplified due to wall reflections or other issues in the room.
You can play with these settings if you find the high frequencies too bright or the low frequencies too boomy. These fine adjustments might be enough to tip your monitor positioning from good to perfect, which leads us to the final step.
Step 8: Listening Tests
Monitor placement can be complex and challenging. There is a lot of science behind how sound travels and interacts with objects. I don’t expect you to become an expert overnight. So once you feel your main monitors are in the right spot and your room treated, the final step is to use your judgment and make final alterations as needed.
You can play a bass sweep to identify if there are any further issues with low frequencies that you need to address.
But your ears are also a fantastic guide to whether your studio sounds good. Play some professionally mastered music and compare it with other playback sources. This could be your car stereo or a separate Hi-Fi system in another room. If the music sounds right, you’ll know your studio has a good listening environment.
While everything else in this guide has some solid foundations in direct sound science, this one does require some natural intuition. Trust your ears and tweak your set up accordingly.
What About Subwoofer Placement?
Placing monitors in the correct position should always be your priority. But suppose you have added a subwoofer to your home studio for a richer bass response. In that case, you’ll also need to place that accordingly.
The omnidirectional nature of bass frequencies does make placement a little easier. For quick and easy placement, place your subwoofer in your normal listening position and move around the room to see where the bass frequencies sound the most natural.
Once you find this spot mark it and place your subwoofer there. Where possible, you should align the subwoofer with your monitors.
Enjoy The Rewards
The right monitor setup is crucial to ensure you have accurate frequency response and room dynamics. It helps elevate good speakers to the next level and provides a proper sonic environment you can trust.
You’ll enjoy a smoother and more accurate sound, resulting in a more satisfying experience in your studio. While it can seem a little daunting, it’s a process worth completing and you’ll reap the rewards of your setup work. Good luck!