It’s no myth that proper set up and positioning of studio monitor speakers are essential when it comes to producing great sounding mixes.
More often than not, mixes that sound great in the studio but lackluster everywhere else can be attributed to improper monitor placement. This is especially so among bedroom producers, or those that make music within small rooms spaces.
But with knowing how to setup bedroom studio monitors, and applying a little acoustic treatment, you’ll find that you will significantly improve in the quality of your mixes, as you will see from the rest of this article….
Let’s get started.
Table of Contents
- Types of Studio Monitors
- Where to Place Your Monitors
- Ideal Listening Position
- Acoustic Properties of Small Rooms
- Final Thoughts
Read the related guides:
- Bass Traps Placement
- Headphones VS Speakers for Music Production
- Monitor Speakers for Music Production
- Headphones for Music Production
Types of Studio Monitors
You may be aware that there are three main kinds of studio monitors: near-field, mid-field, and far-field monitors.
And the clue to knowing how to setup bedroom studio monitors lies quite frankly in the name…
Near-field monitors are designed for smaller studios. They are typically positioned one to two meters from the listener, and are usually quite small.
Mid-field monitors are usually larger than near-field monitors, and are intended for bigger rooms. The optimal position for these monitors is two and four meters from the listener.
Far-field monitors are even larger than mid-field monitors, and can be placed even farther from the listener. Unlike near-field and mid-field monitors however, these aren’t usually used for critical listening or monitoring, like in a mastering studio.
In a typical studio, far-field monitors are generally used for referencing recorded material at loud volumes.
From the above you may surmise that the near-field monitor is the monitor speaker of choice for bedroom producers (and other small spaces, crevices, and closets).
Where to Place Your Monitors
Proper monitor placement is dependent on several factors…
While most beginners simply place their monitors where they are most convenient, more thought should be given to how the sound is affected by their position.
The sound coming out of the monitors can be affected, to a considerable degree, by the surroundings….
The wall behind the speakers, the corners near where they are placed, the desk where they are set, and even the farther rooms of the studio–all these can give you a less accurate representation of the sound.
Traditional studio wisdom dictates that monitors be placed as far from walls as reasonably possible. Even facing away from the walls, speakers bounce sound waves off these surfaces, resulting in an inaccurate sound.
Tip: If possible, place your monitors at least one meter away from the wall behind them.
Placing monitors in the corners of a room is generally a no-no… and for good reason.
Low frequencies tend to accumulate in the corners of a room, and placing your monitors there merely exacerbates the effect.
Dealing with excessive low frequency buildup will be discussed later on in the article. For now, suffice it to say that…
placing your monitors in the corners generally isn’t a good idea.
Most people wouldn’t think to put monitors on the floor, simply because the position would place them well below the ears.
But there are other good reasons why monitors shouldn’t be placed on the floor, and why they should be raised off the desk as well…
Any hard surface reflects sound waves, which can cause a host of issues such as clashing sound waves, comb filtering, phase issues, and more. Even the top of your desk will bounce off sound waves, giving a less accurate picture of the sound from your speakers.
Using speaker stands will help you avoid most of these problems. These come in a variety of types, from DIY wooden platforms to acoustic dampening foam, and even isolating spikes and hollow cones.
In general, you will want your speaker stands to keep your monitors free from external influences. These could be anything from reflected sound waves to sympathetic vibrations from the desk underneath.
Tip: With the isolation a good set of speaker stands provide, you will get more accurate low-frequency response and better stereo imaging.
Ideal Listening Position
Ideally, monitors should be placed so that they form two points of an equilateral triangle, the third point being your head.
From your mix position, you should be at the same distance from your monitors as they are from each other. This position results in the most accurate stereo image and frequency response.
Positioning your monitors
The monitors themselves should be positioned level with your ears and slightly angled inward. This will give you the most accurate representation of the sound.
As mentioned previously, placing your monitors on stands will provide you with a more accurate sound. In addition to reducing sound reflections off your desk, stands may also raise your monitors up to the ideal height.
Acoustic Properties of Small Rooms
The size and material of the room where you work has a considerable effect on the sound that you hear.
These factors are a lot more important than you may think, and could even have a more significant effect on the sound than the type of monitors you use.
This is because all rooms have a collection of resonances that, if they are excited, can cause havoc to your listening experience.
You may be sensible of this fact whenever you hear a bassline cause the room to vibrate or “hum” at a certain note, almost as if the room were zoning in and amplifying that note.
The science behind that is called “room modes,” and it’s a rather mathematical topic which we covered in our bass trap placement guide, and can be found in more detail on Wikipedia’s article on the topic.
That being said, acoustic treatment is one of the most commonly neglected aspects of monitoring. Many audio engineers in fact feel that acoustic treatment is much more important than your choice in monitors.
Consider this: no matter how good your monitors are or how much you spend on them, they won’t give you an accurate sound representation if your room’s acoustic properties are less than optimal.
As with monitor positioning, the goal of acoustic treatment is to reduce the room reflections that could give you an inaccurate sound.
All rooms–even the smallest ones–have a unique sound. So you will want to reduce this sound as much possible and hear mostly the sound coming from your speakers.
With proper acoustic treatment, you will be better able to hear what the music sounds like, resulting in better mixes that translate across a wider variety of playback devices.
Let’s take at some acoustic treatment options…
This is one form of acoustic treatment, and is arguably the most basic, fundamental, and simple form of treatment you should get for a small room.
Bass traps generally come in two types: resonant absorbers and porous absorbers.
Both can be of value in a recording studio, but resonant absorber will have to be tuned in order to resonate at the same frequency as the sound being absorbed…
And for that reason, porous absorbers (such as acoustic panels and foam), are popularly the traps of choice for home studio owners.
This is because porous absorbers do not resonate, so tuning isn’t necessary. They are also usually smaller than resonant absorbers.
Hence, between the two, porous absorbers are easier to design and build, and they usually cost less.
You can find the best bass traps for small rooms in our guide on the topic.
That said, in terms of accuracy and usefulness, porous absorbers are generally seen as inferior to resonant absorbers. This is because they tend to be less effective at attenuating extremely low frequency content.
For their part, resonant absorbers have the ability to absorb a narrower spectrum of low frequencies. These designs result in more focused sound absorption, and are better suited to critical listening applications.
But expect to shovel out gobs of cash for custom traps and expert installations…
So unless you’re at that point in you musical career, stick to some porous absorbers for now.
The why’s and how’s of bass trap use
Effectively dealing with low-frequency content is one of the most crucial factors in ensuring an accurate mix. Not coincidentally, low frequencies are also among the most difficult to control. In many studios, bass traps are employed to provide a more accurate representation of the low frequency content of the music.
If left uncontrolled, low frequency build-up could give you the impression that there is more bass in your music than there actually is.
You could therefore end up reducing the bass excessively. This results in thin sounding music with little body when played back from other systems.
As mentioned, bass traps help tame the low frequencies in a room by absorbing the low end buildup in the corners. Also called “bass absorbers”, they are especially useful in small rooms which are more prone to this phenomenon.
But even larger rooms can benefit from the use of bass traps. These can help ‘neutralize’ the inherent sound of a room, resulting in a more accurate perception of the low frequency content of the music you are monitoring.
Because low frequencies have a way of building up in the corners of rooms, bass traps are usually placed in corners. Ideally, you will want to have bass traps on all corners of a room. If this is not possible due to cost or space constraints, the next best thing is to have bass traps on the two corners of the wall you are facing when monitoring.
Read more on where you should be putting your bass traps.
Other types of acoustic treatment
Right off the bat, we’re going to advise against the use of egg or fruit trays as acoustic treating material…
We’ve all seen them in studios of various sizes; we’ve even used them ourselves. In addition to being unsightly, these actually don’t do much in terms of reducing unwanted sound reflections off your studio walls.
Bottom-line: don’t use them!
Acoustical foam is a much more effective–albeit more costly–option. These are especially effective at reducing flutter echo and slap, both of which can skew the sound of recordings.
Most rooms aren’t actually designed for recording or monitoring, which is why acoustic treatment is so essential. Do this quick test: clap your hands loudly in any room. Hear that just slightly delayed echo? It might seem insignificant to you, but that slapback can actually wreak havoc on the sound that you hear.
With proper acoustic treatment, you can prevent sound waves from accumulating and affecting your sound in a negative way. Your room then effectively becomes acoustically “neutral”, which gives you a more accurate representation of the sound that you hear.
As an added benefit, acoustic treatment will also have a diffusing effect, reducing standing waves and flutter echoes without significant loss in the room’s acoustic energy. With the right balance of diffusive and absorptive surfaces, you will be better able to produce high-quality, consistent sounding mixes.
As you can see, proper monitoring is about more than just buying the best speakers you can afford. As important as the type and quality of your monitors are, positioning, room treatment, and proper bass trap usage are equally important.
With all these factors in place, you will eventually develop the ability to produce mixes that sound great, no matter where they are played from.