Studio Monitor Advice Pt 2: Placement + Understanding The Sound of Your Room

A few weeks back on the Dubspot blog we took a look at studio reference monitors with some investigation on what these speakers do and which types of speakers our staff prefers. This week we’re looking at some other variables in your home studio that can affect your listening experience.

A new pair of speakers can be a huge inspiration to your music making experience. Who doesn’t like better sound? But it’s important to realize that where you place those nice new speakers can have a massive impact on how they will sound and also how your productions will sound. As I explained in the previous article on studio monitors, these speakers aim to achieve “zero coloration,” which is to say that all frequencies in the audio spectrum are presented equally with a “flat” response. Variables such as the surface they sit on, how they are angled, and where you sit in relation to the speakers can change how your ears will receive this spectrum of sound.

Speaker Size

One of the most important variables to consider when purchasing new monitor speakers is the size of the room that you will put them in. While most of us would love a nice 10″ or 8″ driver, this might be too much bass for a small studio, which will in turn create a false representation of your signal. Dubspot’s Evan Sutton explains,”Using a smaller speaker will actually make the bass response better in a small room. These days, we’re really preoccupied with bass, but the fact is that too much low end in a small room will make the bass sound worse, or emptier than it would be.”

Speaker Placement

Generally speaking, studio monitor speakers should point at the listener at an oblique angle from the wall. They should be approximately the same distance from each other as they are to your ears. The space where the two signals meet at your head is called the “sweet spot.” Most studio monitors sound best when placed vertically but some speakers are made to be placed horizontally (Yamaha NS-10‘s, for example). The speaker’s manual will also tell you ideal vertical and horizontal placement. For example in the JBL LSR 4328 manual it says that vertical placement is important and that horizontal placement will throw off the phase of the speaker. The Mackie user manual for a pair of HR624′s says that vertical placement will provide the best possible sound but horizontal use is also possible.

Speaker Isolation Pads

Speaker isolation pads are small wedges of foam that sit between your speakers and the surface that holds them. If your speakers sit directly on a desk or hard surface, they can create false sounds by way of vibration that flows through that surface. Isolation pads such as the Editors Keys Monitor Guards (above) are created from dense foam that isolates your studio monitor speakers and allows a true sound to be projected without your desk or stands resonating.

Bass Traps / Absorption

Once again, the room that you are working in has a lot to do with the sound that will be reproduced on your speakers. The size and shape of the room as well as the surface of the walls can completely change the sound. An empty room will allow sound waves to bounce off the walls in every direction creating a very problematic situation for producers. For this reason many studios have bass traps or absorption panels to keep the sounds in place. Dubspot’s Evan Sutton explains further:

Essentially what absorption does is it stops waves from bouncing around and banging into each other. First of all, this can create boosting and attenuation of different frequencies because of cancellation. Trapping in this case will result in more even frequency spectrum across the spectrum. Bass traps are typically used in corners because low frequency waves build up more severely there. There are many bass traps and absorbers on the market, and the ones to stick with are made of fiberglass or rock wool. Foam will help a little, but ultimately won’t absorb enough to make a big difference.

Absorption is also important in rooms with parallel walls. When a wave leaves the speaker, hits the back wall, and reflects back to the listening position, the brain can’t tell the difference between the original wave and the reflection. This causes smearing of the stereo field and increases listening fatigue. Trapping and absorption especially on the back wall and in corners behind the listening position are infinitely helpful.

I’ve got a small boxy room without much stuff in it, so some additional bass trapping was necessary. I think lots of people starting out should spend a little less on monitors and get some good bass traps! - John Marguiles

Agree with John, thinking a bit about the acoustics in your room is about 50% of the battle. I have mine aimed at a big high shelf full of junk behind me which I find helps.Matt Shadetek


In case you missed it check out Studio Monitor Advice part 1: Dubspot Instructors Give Home Studio Speaker Tips

 

Michael Walsh is a producer of audio/visual art and a journalist living in Southern California. Read more of his work at soundsdefygravity.com


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