How to Set Up Studio Monitors

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Studio monitors are the pivotal point of designing a good recording studio, so you shouldn’t take any shortcuts when setting them up. Since each mixing decision will be based on what you can hear from the monitors, positioning them right will allow you to make more accurate changes.

Of course, setting up your studio monitors will depend on the room’s size, the make, and model of your monitors, their power, and the rest of your equipment. Although there is some technical stuff to keep in mind, the basics are relatively straightforward.

Best Monitors for the Job

Obviously, the most important thing to consider is how your studio monitors interact with the available space and how to center them. There are plenty of excellent speaker options to consider, even when you’re starting out on a smaller budget.

For a home studio, space is usually an issue, which is why active monitors with 5” woofers are typically the way to go. Active monitors are preferable to passive ones since you don’t need to search for an accompanying amplifier to put the system together. They are simply more popular these days.

Room Size

If you don’t already have a pair of studio monitors and are just planning your studio from scratch, you have more freedom and can tinker with options. Your target studio monitors will be based on how much space and soundproofing you can afford to put together.

It’s recommended to have at least a 15’x10’ room as a home studio, but you can get away with smaller and larger areas if you do enough prep work. Here are the basic studio monitor room requirements:

  • 3”-3.5” woofers with 15W-30W require at least 9’x7’ room
  • 5”-6.5” woofers with 30W-60W require at least 13’x10’ room
  • 8”-10” woofers with 60W-100W require at least 15’x10’ room

Systems with 10” or larger woofers, or complemented by a subwoofer, or with more than 100W, typically need a larger room to reproduce bass frequencies properly, eliminate reflections, and provide a good listening and mixing experience.

Luckily, most modern studio monitors do a good job of explaining their room requirements.

If you already have studio monitors, you can consult the owner’s manual for preferable room setups and how to make the most of the situation.

Sound Treatment

If you plan to build a home studio, an ordinary room won’t do. The sharp angles of the walls can trap some sound waves and create standing waves that reflect back into the room and interfere with the sound coming from the monitors. This effect is more pronounced in square rooms.

In rectangular rooms, place the monitors and the computer closer to one of the shorter walls. That’s so the sound will reflect further into the room and create less interference.

For better results, though, you’ll need to soundproof your room. This means that you’ll need to apply acoustic treatments to reduce or eliminate reflections off the walls. But, again, the goal is to only hear the original audio coming from the studio monitors.

Acoustic treatment comes in many forms, typically rounding out the edges and applying vibration-absorbing pads around the room.

Desktop vs. Monitor Stands

Placing your studio monitors on the desk will have a different sound than if they’re on separate stands a bit further away. This all comes down to the optimal distance the monitor delivers sound to.

Most home studio monitors are near-field monitors. Their sweet spot is between two and three feet, meaning that’s how far away they should be from the listener. If you have a large desk to accommodate their size and keep the appropriate distance, plop them on the table, adjusting for proper angles and distancing.

If you don’t have enough table space or own a pair of mid- or far-field monitors, you’ll need dedicated monitor stands.

Mid-field and far-field monitors have a longer listening distance. Far-field monitors specifically have little to no distortion at long distances, but they are most commonly placed about six feet away from the listener.

However, most home studio setups use near-field monitors due to space constraints and because they work best in smaller rooms.

How to Set Up Studio Monitors

Studio Monitor Placement

Now that you’ve figured out what type of studio monitors you’re going to get and the space to accommodate them, there’s one more technical issue to cover: how to place and angle your monitors.

For best results, the monitors should form an equilateral triangle with your head. That is, as far apart from each other as they are from you. Additionally, the monitors should be angled directly at your head, with the tweeter at ear level (or eye level to make it easier to judge). This height allows your ears to pick up more sound in the higher frequency spectrum.

The triangle spacing will work regardless of the size and power of your monitor. You can use the size references and distances based on the particular studio monitor setup you have.

You also need to keep the studio monitor setup symmetrical. That means placing them the same distance from their closest walls, respectively.

To get the most accurate bass response, you need to keep them away from any obstacles behind them. As a rule of thumb, five-inch monitors should be placed at least one foot from the nearest wall to allow for a proper low-frequency response from the monitor rather than the room itself.

Luckily, some studio monitors come with excellent guides in the owner’s manuals or printed on the back for the ideal placement in various room sizes.

Connecting the Monitors

The final setup step is the connections. Most monitors use one or more of these three connectivity options:

  • 1/8” TRS
  • XLR
  • RCA

The available connectors will depend entirely on the make and model of the monitors. Connections will also depend on whether you have paired or single monitors. In a pair of active studio monitors, one acts as an active monitor with an amplifier, and you need to connect it to the second monitor that’s passive, usually via the provided cables.

These cables might have weird ports that make replacing them more difficult, and shorter connection cables might make your job a bit harder, so consider those limits beforehand.

Regardless of the connection type, you want to use balanced cables whenever possible. Monitors that accept these cables will say “Balanced” or “BAL” next to the appropriate socket. Balanced cables reduce the interference picked up from nearby wires and devices.

For best results, you can use a dedicated audio interface between the PC and monitors. However, if you’re working on a budget, you can plug the monitors straight into the computer via adapter cables.

Get the Best Sounds From Your Setup

Setting up the studio monitors isn’t an exact science. Even if you do all the steps correctly, you’ll probably need to fine-tune the monitors to provide a more accurate response. Active monitors come with an array of settings, usually on the back of the (active) speaker or via an integrated smartphone app.

So if your first placement doesn’t yield the best results, feel free to tinker again.

If you want to sample how your music will sound to the listener, you can use a second pair of speakers. Typically, headphones or regular hi-fi speakers work for this purpose. If you’re using a second set of speakers to test your tunes, make sure they don’t interfere with your studio monitors.

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