Proper home studio monitor placement is vital to ensure a high standard of translation in music productions, mixes, and masters.
There are several factors, which come into play when selecting, setting up, and calibrating studio monitors to best suit the mixing environment. Ideally, it is highly recommended to invest a legitimate acoustic treatment (purchased or meticulously built DIY) for all home studios of all sizes.
So much so that a lack of adequate treatment and proper placement of said treatment can make even the most expensive monitors not translate well.
Before jumping into speaking about monitors, placement, and calibration lets’s briefly cover the basics of acoustic treatment. We need first to address a few truths that most people want badly to ignore. We hope that you take this information to heart as the content is meant to share truth, and help recording artists, music producers, and audio engineers with their craft.
Without Floating Floors, advantageous heating and air placement, and loads of acoustic treatment there is a higher need for “acoustic awareness” while in the mix. Developing a “room awareness,” for the acoustical character of your room is something that audio engineers and music producers must acknowledge… and also spend adequate time researching through experiential trial and error.
In a perfect world, we will all have the best and most acoustically sound environments to mix music in, but this is not the case. Rather than spending a ton of money on gear, the first step to ensuring mixing translation, and that you are getting the absolute most out of your monitors, is to understand the sound of the room on a deep level.
For many music producers and audio engineers, the mixing room is also the recording room, the producing room, the mastering room, and the sleeping room (laugher). A bedroom is not ideal mixing environment but…
It is best to have a reliable pair of headphones around to check the mix without dealing with the tonal shaping of the room. Though we can not advocate doing full mixes on headphones (unless you have no other choice), we do advise having a nice pair of cans to reference the mix without the modes of the room taking over your perception!
To best understand the environment we encourage that you spend as much time as possible listening to as much music as you can in this environment!
After you learn the sound of your room (sitting in the sweet spot for countless hours on end), it would be wise to invest in some decent room treatment to deal with any problems that you now are aware of based on your experiential time in your mixing environment. After weeks of listening to hours of music a day on whatever monitors you own you should know a bit more about:
One or more (often most) of these issues are common and will be dramatically affecting your mixes. This is good news because it means on thing: You do not need to buy new monitors! You will, however, need to allocate a considerable amount of time to calibrating the room to hone into the character and unique response of your monitors.
We will be the first to admit, running a commercial studio and educational facility, that there are two expenses no producer or audio engineer wants to spend money on and those are:
It is your call where to spend your money, as we all know how exciting it is to get a new outboard piece of gear in the rack or add an upgraded set of monitors to the room but do yourself a favor and start with the necessities before getting to the luxuries.
Any gear that you do not have right now! (We do not qualify cables or acoustic treatment as gear but rather necessary utilities).
If you are currently able to make music, even if it is on headphones, anything else you “want” is a luxury. Does this mean that you should not invest in a quality set of monitors? No! It means that what you have “to make music now” is taken care of and you should plan you evolution based on “knowing through experience” what tools could help you with your craft. By the time the article is over, you have will an exceptional direction for how to gauge your evolution with gear and more.
If you are looking to upgrade the equipment, start with the room and the cables and then expand to the monitors. By addressing the room and the cables, you will have a much higher chance at more accurate translation when it comes to the best monitor placement and more so the best monitoring options for your room (which could very well be the monitors you have right now).
Great question. It is highly recommended to use the monitors you have now for at least a few months. The way your monitors will sound with the treatment up will be night and day. Therefore, the character and response of your current monitors might be what is best for the dimensions of your room and style of music. After all, you own them for a reason and know these monitors better than any others.
By comparing your mixes to reference tracks and listening to countless hours of music in your “new acoustically treated environment” you will know more about what the monitors are doing well and what the monitors are not doing well. Ample critical listening is a crucial practice. Only you can discover (the truth about your current monitors) through experience, and this experience will set you on the right path to calibrating your monitoring system (and room) in the most optimal manner.
Don’t fall into the trap of reading forums on which monitors are the best. This is all subjective because no two rooms will ever be equal. What is working for one Dubstep producer might not work for you even if you are also making Dubstep. The point is that you need to have a firm understanding of what your room and monitors are doing before moving forward with new options.
If you take the time to learn your room, your needs, and your ambitions for the future (of your music productions or budding studio business) you will most likely make purchases (based on educated online research and possible demos) that are in your best interest for years to come. The time you dedicate today to deeply understanding your mixing environment will render high dividends when it comes to achieving the best sound you can in an “imperfect” environment.
Stay tuned Part 2 of this series on home studio monitor placement tips is going to cover the equilateral triangle position, manual calibration, and an action plan to help you setup your monitors in the most advantageous position.