It's a good thing to invest in a high-quality studio monitor system but the more important question to ask yourself is whether you’re getting the sound you spend so much money on or not.
It makes no sense to spend thousands of dollars on studio monitors and fail to get their full potential just because you couldn't position them right.
What most people don't realize is that small details such as monitor placement can greatly affect the sound you get from your equipment. Studio monitor placement is important in creating the perfect mixing and listening environment.
If you don't place your studio monitors properly you may end up with huge frequency response peaks and valleys in your recording studio. You should, therefore, find the right arrangement for your speakers and monitors when you want to create professional-quality sounds.
In this post, we look at the best studio speaker placement tips and practices to help you create perfect and accurate professional mixes.
Why Studio Monitor Placement Matters
When working from your home studio you definitely want to produce and record your music with the same quality found in professional studios. However, it’s not always easy to achieve a high level of professionalism when your speakers and monitors aren’t properly aligned.
With poorly placed monitors you may not pick up the small mistakes and flaws in your production and possibly end up with a grainy or strange-sounding final product. The right monitor setup will help you to reduce the chances of messing up your production.
One thing you need to understand is that sound waves react differently in different surroundings. The movement of sound waves can be influenced by the way you position the source of the sound. For example, unlike bass, high-pitch sounds are direction-based and very likely to be influenced by your listening position.
It’s, therefore, important to choose the best listening position for your monitors if you want to get the best quality sound, better studio sessions, and success in your music mixing position and production journey.
Studio Monitor Positioning Tips
General Considerations and Best Practices
The most important thing to consider when positioning your monitors is exactly where you'll be sitting when working on your music.
Your listening position will determine where the monitor is going to go.
Your monitor placement will also depend on your personal preference and a variety of other factors including the following:
Strength of the Monitor
If you have invested in serious sound monitors the first thing you should do is to place them at a safe distance to prevent hearing damage.
The strong monitors can also be toned down or at least placed within a minimum of three feet from the listener's location. You can tell how strong your monitor is simply by lifting it to feel its weight. The heavier the monitor is the bit bigger its magnet and the more powerful it’s expected to be.
If you don't have enough room dimensions you may consider investing in near-field monitors for desk use which can be used at a closer range of around 2 feet or less from the listener.
They are easy to work with in small spaces or room acoustics and tend to provide a good listening position for a wide range of effects such as pops, breaths, and swallows taken while singing. Near field monitors are a great option for those with serious acoustic treatment problems.
Observe the 38% Rule
Professional sound technicians recommend as one of the best practices placing yourself in a position that’s around 38% of the length of your rooms away from the wall behind.
For example, if your recording studio is 10 feet long consider placing yourself around 3.8 feet from the rear back wall.
If you can't get that precise since different people have different room modes, you can always place your monitors within 30% to 40% of the length of your rooms from a sitting position.
Keep Away from the Midpoint of the Room
While still on the issue of room modes, if you have a square room, expect to run into serious acoustic treatment problems, especially in bass response.
The situation is even worse if you sit in the middle of the room which often leads to reflection of sound from all four walls and plenty of muffling, distortion, and inability to hear the exact sound of your music.
Ensure that your monitors are all at the same distance from the side walls or either side.
Your Monitors Should Not Face Corners
Avoid placing your monitors in a direction that faces the corners of your room boundaries as this might cause sound reflection problems.
Make sure all your monitors form an equilateral triangle, are facing away corners, and always parallel to the walls if you want to avoid echoes, reflections, and inaccuracies when listening position.
The Right Distance Between Monitors
So how far apart should you place your monitors?
Here are a few tips to help you find the right distance between monitors:
- You can form an equilateral triangle and tilt each monitor around 60 degrees to help you catch everything coming from each monitor from your listening position. When you form an equilateral triangle, you will be centered at the right place to hear the sounds properly.
- You may also decide to go the scientific route and follow what scientists say. According to scientific research, studio monitors are perfectly optimized when you place them at a distance of 67 and 1/2 inches between each tweeter.
- There’s also the mirror trick which uses symmetry as a way of balancing reception from different monitors. When placed properly at an equal distance from each other, your monitors will have a mirror reflection from your focal starting point.
You can also maintain even space or studio room between different monitors. This is because your music could potentially sound overemphasized or warped when one speaker is placed closer to you than the other. Both monitors should be placed at an even distance from the listener to get a well-balanced reception.
The Best Height to Place Your Studio Monitors
The height of your studio monitors can significantly affect the way you hear your music. Sound technicians recommend that you keep your monitors at ears height. This is especially useful for electronic music and other mainstream music genres.
Keeping your monitors at your ears’ height helps to focus the sound directly to you and ensuring that you don't get extra noise. It’s also an easy-to-work-with option because you don't need to tilt your monitors up and down every now and then.
You can simply keep the monitors parallel to the ground and the sound will still be focused on you. However, avoid placing the monitors too low or you may end up with sound muffling.
Distance from the Rear Wall
How far should you place your monitors from the wall?
This is an important factor to consider given that the walls have the potential to make or break the ability of your monitors to deliver the right output.
Since different people have different room modes, here are a few tips recommended by sound techs when deciding how far to place your monitors from the wall:
· Place your monitors at an even distance from the back and side wall reflections. As previously stated, square smaller rooms don’t work well for your music, especially because they create soundwave reverberation problems. Square rooms make sound waves bounce off the walls faster and more frequently. You can reduce such distortions and reflections by ensuring that each of your monitors has a different distance from the back and sidewalls. The monitors shouldn’t be at an equal distance from the two walls they each face. For instance, if a monitor is placed 6-9 inches away from the rear wall, ensure that it’s around 5 or 7 inches away from the side wall.
· In most home studios, you’ll find speakers around two to three feet close to a wall behind to deliver clean sounds that allow the listener to catch all the details. However, if you have a small room, you can place the speakers as far apart as possible even if it means placing them just a foot away.
· What can you do when you cannot absolutely avoid being near a back wall? Well, it’s indeed true that most people reading this post don’t have the luxury to work in a perfect music production room with no windows and plenty of space or room for optimal monitor placement. The good news is that you can still produce good music even if you have a small corner in your apartment to work from.
Your production may, however, not be studio-quality perfect and not have the right acoustic treatment but with the right monitors, you can easily counteract any problem caused by your room. For example, the Yamaha HS series comes with hi trim and room control features that help to counteract unwanted frequencies caused by placing a monitor too near a wall, such as accentuated bass frequencies.
How to Mount Your Monitors
Mounting your monitors is just as important as placing them in the right location.
Here are a few important things to remember when mounting your monitors:
- Don’t place the monitors on top of your desk’s top if you can help it because this will muffle and smear your audio. Sound standing waves normally travel faster through wood than other materials so placing your speakers on a traditional computer desk will make you feel the sound through the materials before you get it in the air. It’s, therefore, not a good idea to mount your spakers on a desk when you want to get clear and detailed sound in your project studio, your best option is to invest in monitor stand mounts.
- If you don't have the budget for quality monitor mounts, there’s another alternative that can help you minimize muffling although it's not the best for listening to really high-quality sounds. Basically, all you need to do is to put some soft material between the monitor and the desk in an effort to reduce smearing on your ears. Many low budget home studio owners usually place their monitors on a half-inch or three-quarter-inch piece of cell neoprene or similar material to reduce isolation.
- As stated, it's important to get the best results you can use monitor stands. Most monitor stands aren’t extremely expensive and even come with features that allow you to adjust the height and position of the monitor for the best results. Some can even be automatically adjusted from your listening position.
The Tools You Need for Studio Monitor Placement
Before you start your studio monitor placement task, make sure you have basic tools such as masking tape, tape measure, a level, and a felt-tipped pen. These are tools you need to measure and mark the distance from walls and between speakers.
You don't need very advanced tools to position your monitors. You can even use the tools that came with the monitor to overcome most of the problems you may run into when positioning the speakers in your room.
The most important thing to remember is that space or room you use to mix and produce your music should be big enough to allow you to position your monitors well away from walls and corners. If your room is limited in terms of space invest in good studio speakers that come with built-in controls to overcome some of the problems associated with limited sound spaces.
You can also check if the monitor comes with speaker stands calibration software which has become quite popular in more studios today. Sound calibration software doesn’t cost a lot and is quite easy to set up. Good examples include Trinnov, IK multimedia, and Sonarworks just to mention a few. The software provides users with useful features such as flatter or high-frequency response monitoring system and many more.
There are also mobile apps that can help you to position your studio monitors perfectly. Some of them only cost $1 and can be downloaded to your phone directly from Google Play Store or Apple App store. For example, SpeakerAngle developed by Genelec, a respected manufacturer of monitoring position playback systems, is a good iOS and Android app that allows you to use your phone as a monitor placement tool.
The app uses an accelerometer located in your phone or tablet to find the best angle to place your monitor on your studio desk. You can still research for more tools to help you place and test your monitors such as the AtlasIED and the Sound Liaison DXD sampler.
Testing the Placement of Your Monitors
After you have positioned your monitors in the best possible way, you can run a few listening tests to ensure that everything works fine.
You can begin by setting the volume of your monitors to either a low or medium ear level. This helps to ensure that you don't struggle to hear the speakers’ output from your listening position. Loud sounds aren’t good for your ears.
Once you find the best sound ear level you can use an ascending sine wave test, which tests each frequency at the same volume.
Sit back in your listening position and play the ascending sine wave test to determine if the frequencies are either jumping out at you or dipping to a significantly audible level. Don’t focus too much on low frequencies below 30 Hz if you don't have a subwoofer because such frequencies aren’t all that important. You’re mainly looking for sound standing waves that stand out.
Repeat the process a few times to find out which frequencies have problems and knock them down after each test. Keep in mind that you cannot achieve a perfectly flat frequency response in a room size with limited space but to get the best results run the test, reposition the monitors again, and repeat the test.
After several attempts and test rounds, you will be able to even out the ascending sine wave. Whenever you find a low frequency that’s consistently too quiet or loud simply adjust the room EQ at the back of your monitors to flatten the response.
When you have tested and repositioned your monitors to the best possible placements you will have a generally good idea about the best your speakers can achieve inside your every room. Remember to mark down the best possible position for your speakers for future reference.
Most of us lack the luxury of having a large home studio with enough space to create and mix high-quality sounds.
If you work from a corner desk or somewhere in your bedroom with limited space, you’ll need to have the best studio speaker placement to get the best sound possible.
The tips and recommendations discussed above should help you find the most optimal way to place your monitors whether you have a large or small studio.