Why is studio monitor setup important?
Your studio monitors are incredibly important, as they dictate exactly what you hear, and how well you hear it. Whether you’re a musician who’s trying to home-record some material, a producer, or an upcoming engineer – what you hear dictates how you perform.
This is an extremely important and often overlooked aspect of recording music. Making sure you’re getting the best out of your monitors means that you’re responding to what’s really happening.
When you’re recording a performance, you can hear every nuance and potential timing issue in your take and correct it for next time. When you’re mixing, it means you’re hearing the full picture of the track, so you can make edits, timing corrections, and precise processing to get the best possible result. So, naturally, setting up your speakers in the right way is key to absolutely anything you want to do in your studio.
How do I connect my monitors to my computer?
Connecting your studio monitors to your computer used to be a more complicated process but, with so many different products and convenient routes to go down nowadays, it’s easier than ever.
Whether you’re running projects out of your bedroom, a professional recording studio with a state-of-the-art mixing console, or anything in-between – you have so many options for control over your monitors.
What outputs do I have?
The first thing to consider is your main output source. Whether you have an audio interface, a desktop mixer, a monitor controller, or a full-blown console – you need to see what kind of monitor outputs it has. Usually, this should be a quarter-inch jack port. However, in some cases (such as on most desktop mixers) you’ll need a 3-pin XLR output to connect to monitors.
What cables should I use?
The next important aspect is identifying the inputs on your monitors. These will come either as a 3-pin XLR input, a quarter-inch jack input, or perhaps both. Either of these input formats offer the best sound fidelity.
It’s extremely important to ensure that your quarter-inch speaker cables are balanced, or TRS format (often referred to as stereo jack). You can identify this through the two black rings on the jack connector instead of one. This type of cable reduces unwanted noise and maintains the integrity of your signal, which is always a benefit.
Shop Now | Studio Cables
How do I position my monitors?
Height and angle
Firstly, the most important thing to consider for your monitors is height and angle. Whatever your space and setup, your monitors should be at ear height relative to you. This helps your ears receive more of the direct sound from your monitors, resulting in a richer and more detailed listening experience. This same principle applies to the angle of your monitors.
If you’re not positioning your monitors towards your ears, some of the sounds you’ll be hearing will be reflections from some of the other surfaces in your studio. Walls, ceilings, desks, floors, keyboards, and even windows will reflect sound to at least some extent. This is an inevitable effect of the sound’s behaviour when in an enclosed space, and should be considered in any room.
Why is this a problem?
The main issue with reflections is that the signal you’ll be hearing is a combination of the direct sound and reflections from various surfaces. This combined sound gives you a less accurate picture of what’s going on, making it harder to mix. As such, getting your studio monitors to the right position for your ears is the first thing you can do to help combat this.
A quick demonstration
Consider your two speakers as two points of a triangle, with your head being the third. Ideally, you want the distance between your pair of monitors to be equal to how far back your head is from them – on all sides. This means that, for the same reasons as we want monitors to be at the same height as our ears, we also want them to be angled towards our ears.
This ensures that you get a more accurate sense of the stereo field, so you can get accurate panning. These two positioning solutions are the best way to get started with good monitoring practice, but there’s a lot more you can still do to get the most out of your speakers…
Monitor stands – desktop or floor?
Now that you know the fundamentals of monitor placement, we can move on to the more advanced aspects. The type of stands your monitors need depends primarily on two factors: the size of your chosen speakers, and your studio’s space.
Floor monitor stands tend to be quite large, which means you need a bigger studio space in order to make the most out of them and position your monitors on them correctly. Desktop monitor stands are perfect for a quick, compact solution to monitor positioning.
Floor stands tend to be built for bigger speakers. If your speakers have five-inch woofers or smaller, they may not be large enough to cover your space or make the most of the space a floor stand would offer. There are exceptions to this, however larger monitors, like the iconic KRK RP8, will tend to work best.
For desktop stands, anything with drivers up to eight inches should be ideal, as anything larger is too powerful to stay controlled in a more compact space. Anything from the compact PreSonus Eris E3.5, to the ever-popular Yamaha HS8 will be well-suited to this stand.
Where do both stand types overlap?
There are plenty of monitors suited to both desktops and floor stands. Products such as the powerful ADAM A7X will be at home in either setting. Any monitors with drivers between five and eight inches will work well on either stand type.
You might be able to find bundles of studio monitor pairs with a fitting stand included to get your monitors set up for your studio space straight away. Remember the positioning rules we established in the previous section, as stands are a fantastic tool for achieving your ideal monitor position.
Shop Now | Speaker Stands
Having covered some of the fundamentals, we need to move on to the aspect that will take your sound to the next level – acoustic treatment.
While it may seem straightforward, there’s a lot to consider for properly treating a space, but don’t be intimidated. With enough knowledge and adhesive for attaching everything to your walls, you can get there!
Fundamentals of acoustics and room shape
The best shape for even sound dispersion in any indoor space is a rectangular room. You might think a perfect square would be better, but some offsets are important for preventing frequency build-ups in your studio.
Corners always tend to be problem areas, as the reflections of sound from the walls will build up here due to the shape. Sound travels as a wave so – just like light – it’ll bounce off everything it touches. This means that areas where surfaces converge, like corners, tend to be the biggest problem.
To get started with acoustic treatment, monitor isolation pads are a fantastic introduction. These pads are an inexpensive but often overlooked part of acoustically treating a room. Isolation pads are simple foam inserts you can place underneath your monitors that help to reduce vibrations from the speaker enclosure to your desk or stand.
Why do I need isolation pads?
The reason isolation pads are important is that external materials of your monitor tend to shake as they output sound, making a subtle rumble. This can draw focus away from the sounds that are in your signal, muddying your low-end frequencies or adding resonances that aren’t actually in your mix.
Since they’re affordable, easy to set up, and solve a problem that can be difficult to notice – these are a good start to treatment. A set of reliable isolation pads like the Universal Acoustics Vibro-Pads Lite should be all you need for a quick and easy fix to this issue.
The next priority for treatment is the corners of your room. A set of bass traps to cover the corners of the room should help to reduce low-frequency build-up and reflections. Since bass traps also cover some absorption in the mid and high frequencies, these should be your first choice for affordable absorption.
You’ll likely want between four and eight traps, the points of your room where the ceiling and walls or the floor and walls meet are the targets here.
Bass trap recommendations
If you can manage eight bass traps, you should do the same for the corners of the wall that’s in front of you, too.
This ensures that your sound is more focused. The Sonitus Big Trap is a good-value, high-performance product made to help you target the corners of your space.
What comes next?
Whilst this is an excellent start, it won’t quite be enough to achieve that pleasingly accurate but balanced room sound you’ve heard in professional studios. This is where acoustic panels come in.
Typically in the form of a foam panel, these units will help you bridge the gap and ensure you get a fully treated room. These panels should first go in the corners, in the spaces untouched by your bass traps, as well as horizontally covering your back wall.
Placing your acoustic panels
A general good practice is to ensure that the centre of your first wall panels are directly in line with where your monitors are pointing, as this will be where reflections are worst. From there, the panels on your wall should be evenly spaced, with small gaps in-between, or continuous if possible.
If you want to identify any specific problem areas to place your panels, walk around your room and clap. Anywhere you hear a pinging reflection sound or noticeable echo is a spot that needs more treatment.
How many panels do I need?
Since panels tend to be smaller, we recommend investing in a high number of these panels so you can be sure you have enough coverage.
At least 18 total panels should be enough to make a good start on your back wall and corners.
For performance and value, the Vicoustic Super Kit MD55 is a great place to start, with enough units to fill an average room.
What about diffusion?
As far as diffusion goes, this really depends on how your studio sounds after installing your bass traps and panels. If you feel good about how your space sounds, you’ve probably reached the right point for you.
Since many acoustic panels are designed to provide diffusion as well as absorption, this might be enough. So especially in smaller spaces, diffusion might not be necessary.
However, in many cases, you’ll need a completely foam-padded room before you reach a point where you’re happy. In this instance, a fully deadened room might not sound natural to your ears, either. We tend to expect at least some reflections when we hear sound signals. So, if your room’s sounding too lifeless, diffusion is probably what you’re missing.
The Universal Acoustics Mercury Diffusor 300 is a cost-effective diffusion option to help make your studio sound, and look, as professional as possible. As far as placement goes, it’s a good idea to place two diffusers on your back wall, and two on each side wall at the very least.
Diffusers do tend to act as more limited absorbers too, so you don’t have to worry about them undoing the hard work you’ve done treating your room, either.
Shop Now | Acoustic Treatment
Find out more
Once you’ve followed these steps and you’re happy with how your room sounds, you’ve covered just about everything you need to get the most out of your studio monitors for your space. Enjoy the sound of your studio, exactly as designed by you!
Why not check out our full range of studio monitors and acoustic treatment gear below?
Shop Now | Studio Monitors
Shop Now | Acoustic Treatment
See More | Studio Furniture