Studio monitors are probably the most useful tool in any producer’s toolbox. Not only are they useful, but they are downright necessary if you want your mix to sound good. However, just getting a set of decent monitors won’t be enough. How you position them is even more important. There are numerous schools of thought on this subject, making the whole process seem like a form of art rather than science. We won’t get into those details, but we are going to give you a crash course in studio monitor placement. The information you will read below should allow you to properly enjoy the performance of your monitors, no matter how good they are. Let’s get started.
Why Is Positioning So Important
In order to answer this question, we have to enter the world of physics. In its core, sound can be represented as waves that have their length and speed. Speed is a constant, but the length changes depending on the frequency of the sound. For example, a 10 kHz sound is going to have a much shorter wavelength than a 5 kHz one. This is important because sound waves of different length tend to behave differently depending on the space where they propagate. By doing proper speaker positioning, you can optimize the performance of your speakers and get a more transparent sound.
To start things off, let’s talk about the room you plan to use for a studio. The optimal shape of the room is a cuboid with a lot of depth. If you don’t have a room that is twice as long as it is wide, that isn’t a huge problem provided that you get a set of smaller monitors. The worst possible room shape for studio applications is a cube. The reason for this is the phenomenon called a standing wave.
A standing wave is what happens when the length of the wave is the same as the length of the room it spreads through. Going back to our impromptu physics lesson from above, we can conclude that bass frequencies are the only ones that are problematic. With cuboid studios, you will often run into a single standing wave as the room is often longer than the lowest frequency wavelength your monitors are capable of delivering. However, if your studio is a cube, you might have to deal with two standing waves and that can be a problem.
Finding The Best Listening Spot
Listening spot or listening position relates to a point in your room where you will be standing or sitting while mixing music. There is one unwritten rule about finding this spot, which was created by Wes Lachot – a famous monitor speaker designer. He states that you should measure 38% of your room’s length and mark that position. If you are using near field monitors, which are the optimal choice for home studios, this means that the speakers will be 1 to 2 meters away from your listening position.
Positioning The Speaker
Now that we have found the perfect listening position, it is time to position the speakers. What you want to do is measure the distance between you and the speaker so that you are always in the sweet spot. This is imperative if you expect to get any kind of reasonable performance. You and your two monitors should form an equidistant triangle with the speakers pointed towards your face. In other words, the angle between you and each monitor should be 60 degrees.
Now that we have the monitors at the right distance from your optimal listening position and at the right angle, let’s talk about height adjustment. The most recommended height for studio monitors is anywhere between 120 and 140cm or 46-55 inches. The exact elevation will depend on where your ears are within the margin listed above. Most important thing to keep in mind is that tweeters should be level with your ears and pointed directly at them. Even though some monitors have a pretty wide sweet spot and allow you to get off axis, this is still a rule that works 99% of the time. Unfortunately, dedicated speaker stands are a must have in most cases. Also, as a side note, if you are using your desktop as the base for your speakers, make sure that you have a dampening mat of some sort for each speaker.
How Far Away From The Wall?
One of the main questions that people ask is how far should the speakers be positioned away from the front wall? The short answer is at least 2,2 meters or 7.3 feet. Here’s why. Most modern studio monitors feature rear firing bass reflex ports. If you were to put them close to the wall, you would get quite a bit of conflict in your bass range due to the low-frequency sound waves bouncing off the back wall and canceling each other out. Where these waves are going to cancel out will depend on how low your monitors go and a few other things. The distance of 2.2 meters is a general recommendation that works in most cases with two-way near-field monitors.
How To Improve The Acoustic Properties Of Your Studio?
The optimal way to mount monitors is to actually build them into the wall. However, that’s not something a large majority of enthusiast producers can do. What almost everyone can do is get some sound insulation. If you were to take a few layers of insulation and cover the wall behind the monitors, you could actually do a lot towards dampening the sound to a point where most of the negative effects of your space are nullified. With that said, proper insulation is a subject for another time.
Monitor speaker positioning can be complicated or simple depending on the quality and nature of your monitors. Sometimes you just have to use trial and error before you get acceptable results. However, following the steps we have listed above, you should get good results no matter what kind of monitors you are using. Afterward, you can fine tune the setup if you notice that your speakers react better to different angles or similar changes.