If you want to reproduce high-quality sound, a proper studio monitoring system is one of the best investments you can make. Suppose you’ve already done some research and have a pair of studio monitors and an audio interface. In that case, you need to connect them to the computer and start enjoying the high-fidelity sound coming your way.
If you haven’t yet figured out what speakers and audio interfaces to buy, this guide can help you decide what connections you need to use.
Naturally, your speakers and audio interface connect via cables. However, cables are typically not included with speakers or audio interfaces. Either that or what is included is not exceptionally high-quality, so you’ll have to do additional research and shopping to get what you need.
There are three most popular connection types that monitors and interfaces support:
- TRS (tip, ring, sleeve), sometimes TS (tip, sleeve)
- XLR (X Latching Rubber)
- RCA (derived from Radio Corporation of America)
Some cables can be equipped with more than one type of connector, for example, TRS to XLR. However, the most popular and reliable connection is the TRS since it supports balanced cables.
Cables can come in a few types, typically optical or light pipe cables. The most commonly used type is S/PDIF, which can transfer two audio channels simultaneously.
However, the more important feature that cables need is balancing. A balanced cable connection means that the cable minimizes interference created by other wires and devices in the system, allowing the speakers to play smoother sound. Interference can be more pronounced over longer distances, so longer cables are typically balanced TRS. XLR cables can also be balanced, which can be beneficial if your studio monitors don’t have the option of a TRS connection and you’re not up to mixing connectors.
An additional consideration is cable length. If you’re using far-field studio monitors, you’ll need longer cables to reach the speakers. Shorter lines will force you to put monitors closer together, which negatively impacts the sound quality and will produce unpleasant music.
Connecting the Monitors to the Interface
Once you’ve found the right cables for your monitors and the audio interface, it’s time to connect them.
1. Power Off
Before you start plugging cables, turn off the monitors and lower the volume all the way down. Active monitors (the most popular type) have a volume knob either on the front or back panel. If you’re using a pair of active-passive monitors, only the active monitor has a built-in amp. If you want to be extra safe, unplug the monitors from the power socket.
You can plug the audio interface into the PC via the provided USB cable and turn its volume all the way down as well.
2. Connect Cables
Audio interfaces have two types of outputs: mic and line. Mic outputs come from the microphones connected to the interface and are typically weak and need a preamp. For studio monitors, you’ll need to use the line outputs.
If you’re using two single studio monitors and an audio interface, connect the left line out to the left monitor, then the right line out to the right monitor. For audio interfaces with more than two line-outs, these are usually labeled “1” and “2” (but can also have “L” and “R” tags).
When using an active-passive studio monitor pair, connect both cables to the active monitor, making sure to match the labels on the interface and the monitor. Then, connect the active monitor to the passive monitor via the cable provided in the package.
Ensure that the cables are not bent at odd angles, and the connections are not loose or ill-fitting since even minor faults can lead to sound distortion or signal loss.
3. Turn On the Speakers
Once everything is connected, you can plug the studio monitors into the socket and turn them on. Then, you can turn their volume back to normal (usually 0dB).
4. Test the Volume
With your studio monitors on and ready, you can start playing music on the PC and direct it through the audio interface. Turn the volume on the interface up to suitable levels. Make sure your PC has all the drivers installed to work with the audio interface flawlessly, or you might have some glitches that are hard to get rid of.
When setting up your studio monitor sound system, it’s essential to keep several things in mind.
First, one of the vital qualities of a good studio is proper soundproofing. This means that any reflected audio should be minimized, and the sound from the left and right should meet at the listener’s ears. That’s why studio monitors need to create an equilateral triangle with the listener.
Measure the distance carefully to ensure your cables are not taut, and give some if you anticipate moving monitors around during the setup.
As a general rule of thumb, any free cables that come in the box will be non-balanced or simple RCA cables. While these work, stepping up to balanced cables can make a world of difference, especially if you add to the number of wired devices in the studio room.
Do You Need an Audio Interface?
If you’re working on a stringent budget, you might be wondering if an audio interface is needed at all. The answer really depends on how much audio quality you’re looking to get out of the system.
Some studio monitors can work with the computer out of the box via integrated USB ports that make connecting and controlling them relatively simple, with only a small loss to sound quality.
However, if your studio monitors have only the standard connections (RCA, XLR, TRS), you can use an adapter to plug the cables into the 3.5mm jack on the PC.
Studio monitors can be used without an interface for music playback or testing. However, for audio editing or sound mixing, an interface becomes near-indispensable. It provides a clearer, highly accurate representation of the sound that is much easier to configure to work well on different devices.