You’ve bought studio monitors, the digital audio workstation, audio interfaces, bass traps, condenser microphones, multi-track recording equipment, and other pro tools, as well as paid to get the room’s acoustics perfect. The final pieces in the recording studio jigsaw are high-quality surround speakers. However, shelling out all that money for your speakers means nothing when they haven’t been set up properly. You can’t just put them where you want to and hope for the best.
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No, your speakers deserve better than that—you need to find that sweet spot. They’re doing a lot of work for you, layering a sonic story with their rich vibrations, but your room doesn’t appreciate it that much.
So, you have to position your equipment and make the right modifications to your room to make sure you’re getting optimum sound from your speakers.
Where are you sitting?
You’ve most likely set up your home studio at, well, home. Nearly all bedrooms are rectangles, which means that there will be two walls longer in the length. When you set up your speakers, position them so that their backs are to the shorter wall and their sound travels along the longer walls. This way, sound can travel farther without hitting a wall, causing echo.
By sitting against the short wall, you give your ears the maximum distance from the rear wall, letting you listen to the maximum audio. According to Arqen Sonic, the minimum distance between the back wall and your ears should be 10 feet.
This position gives you flatter bass response so it’s not bumping and making your walls shake. That can be fun at first, but gets annoying when you’ve been listening to your mix for a couple hours.
Your sitting position should involve the desk, computer, speakers, and other equipment you’ll need. Be sure you have a comfortable chair, or else you’ll hurt your neck as you listen to your speakers and work. You know, you need your neck.
Now that we’ve got sitting position covered, let’s move onto the next question.
Where do your speakers point?
Imagine for a second that your speakers shoot laser beams instead of noise. While it would be a cool thing to see happen, this will help to make sure that the laser beams are properly placed so that everything goes smoothly (and nothing gets obliterated).
When your speakers shoot out their laser beams, the laser beams face difficult conditions in the room. The beams are affected by the dimensions of your room, where hitting a wall will cause the power of the beam to dissipate.
See where we’re going?
To overcome the conditions in your room, which are hard to control (unless you buy your own professional recording studio), you’ll have to take the easy route and position your laser beams—er, speakers—in an equilateral triangle.
There should be two speakers a bit more than shoulder length apart in front of you. The speakers should be turned inward so that if they did shoot lasers, they’d hit your head.
By doing this, you get the most sound hitting where it needs to hit: your ears. And the better quality speakers, the better you’ll be able to hear the intricacies of the musical texture you’re playing.
If you want to make your studio speakers even better, buy a third speaker. Then, place one speaker in front of you. After that’s done, place one speaker behind you hitting your right ear and another one behind you hitting your left ear.
Overall, if your speakers shot lasers at the same time, the lines would make a peace sign. Your head should be in the middle of it. Wrong positions include speakers that are placed in any direction but are not aimed at where you’ll be sitting when you listen to/edit your sound. That would be like shooting a laser at the wall. It’s useless. Whether you have 2, 3 or 10 speakers, make sure to place them all facing you so that you get the best sound.
You should get optimum sound quality in a surround sound setting. The speakers also add to each other and make the sound quality richer and more authentic.
Where are the speakers placed?
While pointing the speakers properly is good for making sure they’re heard most efficiently, lower notes (e.g., bass notes) are felt more than they’re heard. If you place a speaker on your work desk, you’ll disproportionately feel more notes than you’ll hear, skewing the sound experience.
Opt to get a separate stand for your speakers or attach them to a wall. That way, you are properly distanced from the speakers and don’t feel the vibrations coming from the lower bass notes.
But wherever your speakers are placed, be sure to heed the same advice above—that the speakers are pointing directed at your head, that they’re a good distance away, and are equidistant at equal volumes.
A few mistakes to avoid.
Skip hyped up speakers. If you’ve gone to a music store and turned up a speaker, it probably sounded bright and loud and awesome. “Heck, yeah! I’m totally gonna’ get this speaker,” you say to yourself.
Speakers in big box type stores are often “hyped,” meaning that the bass and treble are emphasized to create a punchier sound. While this makes the sound more exciting, it muddles what the mix actually sounds like.
When you edit on a hyped up speaker, the sound will be good in your editing room but not on speakers that aren’t hyped up. So, when you go shopping, get a speaker with a neutral balance or set the EQ yourself.
Avoid bad angles. We can’t stress this enough. When you set up your speakers, make sure that they make an equilateral triangle with the point being your head. That means that the angle between you to your left speaker and you to your right speaker should be 60°degrees (or 30° between each speaker) according to Joe Albano from Ask Audio.
You don’t have to whip out a compass, but make sure you use the laser trick to put the point of congruence on your head. If you don’t, you’ll end up hearing the flat zone in the middle of the speakers, which you’ll adjust to in the post and affect the sound of your music.
Deflect reflection. Having too much absorption in the room makes it sound dead and lifeless. But you should stay away from strong, short reflections that can cause excessive comb-filtering (tonal irregularities due to wave interference).
This will muddy your sound, for example, and make it difficult to pick out the “room tone” in the recording itself, according to this article from Ask Audio. Not being able to tell the “room tone,” muddles up how much ambiance and effects to add.
Leave some sound waves to reflect off your back wall, allowing weaker, long reflections to create a comfortable listening environment.
Don’t be too loud. Even if you’ve managed to place your speakers with utmost precision, all that work will go to waste if you listen to your mix too loudly.
Listening to your monitor too loud poses many dangers. First, and most seriously, listening to your music too loudly can permanently damage your hearing. Prolonged periods of listening to loud music can lead to deafness, tinnitus, and other hearing problems.
However, there will come a time when you will have to blast your speakers. It’s to test the compression and see if all the sounds fit together, according to John Rogers of JR Mastering. If your speakers are too close, you’ll blow your eardrums out.
So, yeah, don’t do that to your ears.
But listening too loudly is bad for your mix as well. If you monitor too loudly, you can set your mix to be good only if the listener listens loudly too, which is not always the case.
For example, you’ll probably set the bass lower if you listen at a loud setting making it sound weak at a quieter volume. Overall, your mix can sound thin and screechy if you monitor too loudly.
Many engineers recommend working at around 83–85 dB SPL. You can check this level with an SPL-Meter app on your smartphone, according to Digital Domain.
Here are a few notes.
- If one speaker is, say, four feet away from you, all other speakers should be four feet away from you as well. This way the volume coming from each speaker will be the same and you get a consistent sound when you listen.
- However, you can manually adjust farther speakers to be louder and closer speakers to be quieter. It requires more tweaking than getting the speakers to be the same distance from you, but you can make it work.
- When you buy speakers, try to get the same type and brand for all that you want to use. If you splurge on one speaker but skimp on the other, you’ll get an asymmetrical listening experience that can throw off how you edit your music.
- Be sure to set your chair so that it isn’t halfway between the front and back walls. If you do, you’ll find yourself in the flattest possible bass zone, which will again affect how you hear your sound.
What are the best budget speakers for your studio?
KRK RP5G3-NA Rokit 5 Generation 3 Powered Studio Monitor
For crystal clear sound in a compact speaker, get the KRK Rokit 5. The bass is full, and the treble is strong without sounding reedy. High-quality sound is guaranteed, with no cracking or wavering when you first turn on the speaker.
Personal adjustments allow you to change the system to your personal tastes, and you get consistent awesome audio with these at an affordable price. And, best of all, they come in a pair so you can quickly set up the proper speaker triangle for your studio.
Besides, the yellow against the black just looks really good. The KRK Rokit 5 will look great in your home studio in addition to providing awesome sound, serving you for years to come.
Mackie CR Series CR3 – 3″ Creative Reference Multimedia Monitors
If you’re looking for more budget-friendly speakers, the Mackie Creative Reference series is for you. You get a studio-quality design with professional-grade components for optimized sound performance.
The Mackie Creative Reference Multimedia monitors are ideal for multimedia creation and recreation. They are made from only premium materials that not only look great but are designed to give the best sound for cheap without sacrificing quality.
M-Audio AV42 20-Watt Compact Studio Monitor Speakers with 4-inch Woofer
If you like bass, you’re definitely going to love this M-Audio monitor. It’s an entry-level, compact, desktop monitor that is flexible, with uncovered speaker cones for improved sound quality.
Audio engineers and producers from all over rely on the beautiful M-Audio monitors, and you can enjoy the same professional standard right on your desktop. They’re sleek, powerful, and sure to get the job done.
There was a lot of info in this article. Just to sum things up, here’s a brief list of things we covered:
- Make your speakers an equilateral triangle
- Make sure there’s even volume with both speakers
- Hang up your speakers so that they don’t touch your desk
- Skip hyped speakers
- Don’t put them too close to your ears or listen to your recordings too loud
- Sound reflection is your friend
- Get some awesome speakers like the ones listed above!
Any sound engineer is only as good as the tools they use. Sure, there’s some baseline talent involved with making audio art, but without proper equipment, they can only go so far. It’s like a painter using cheap paints, brushes, and canvases.
That’s why placing your speakers with precision is crucial since it creates the setting in which you’ll listen to your sound. Setting up proper speaker placement isn’t easy to do, but we hope this article helped you.
Take a glance at the other sources cited here as well, as some of them have good graphics to visually help you along.
Now go out and make the recording studio of your dreams!