Ensuring Proper Monitor Placement to Make the Best
Use of Your Studio
By Kyle Snyder
There’s a great quote by the late Richard Hyser (one of the 20th century’s audio greats) which states “In order to fully enjoy the intended illusion of a recording, it is necessary to willingly suspend one’s belief in reality. All recording and reproduction via two loudspeakers is an illusion.” Every engineer working today can attest to the truth of that statement, whether they’re a long-seasoned pro or the greenest of the green.
We depend on what we hear, placing absolute trust in our monitoring chain, and we put painstaking effort into the creation of our recording environments. However when it comes down to the final step of setting up our our monitoring chair, something our very livelihoods depend upon, why do we see pictures of “good” studios with monitoring environments that look like this? (Yep, over there on your left.) OK, this might be a slight exaggeration, but when you’ve spent thousands or tens of thousands of dollars on a home studio, you should take every step possible to ensure the most accurate and transparent listening environment possible.
What is the right way to ensure an accurate monitor setup? Much credence is given to experimentation (which is tremendously valuable the more trained your ears become) and the importance of following manufacturer recommendations. However, should the monitors be placed on their side? Is there really a proper positioning for monitors? For these basic issues of positioning it’s safe to assume that manufacturer’s really do know best.
For more specific acoustic issues you’ll get you can be guaranteed to get great results by following the following guidelines laid out by Bruce Bartlett in Practical Recording Techniques 6e for setting up your monitors within your mixing space, whether it’s an introductory home studio or a commercial recording facility.
• Mount them at ear height so the mixer doesn’t block their sound.
• To prevent sound reflections off the mixing console, place the speakers on stands behind the console’s meter bridge, rather than putting them on top.
• For best stereo imaging, align the speaker drivers vertically and mount the speakers symmetrically with respect to the side walls.
• Place the two speakers as far apart as you’re sitting from them; aim them toward you, and sit exactly between them (See Example). Some engineers recommend aiming the speakers 12-18″ behind the listener.
• To get the smoothest low-frequency response, put the speakers near the shorter wall, and sit forward of the halfway point in the room.
• Use a foam isolation device under each speaker to ensure deep, tight bass. Auralex MoPads and Primacoustics Recoil Stabilizers work well.
Try to position the monitors several feet from the nearest wall. Wall reflections can degrade the frequency response and stereo imaging.
The closer to the wall the monitors are, the more bass you hear. In small rooms you might have to place the monitors against the wall, which will exaggerate the bass. But some monitors have a low-frequency attenuation switch to compensate.
In the end, your listening environment will only ever be as good as the the effort you invest in its construction. Just like every other aspect of your studio! No matter whether you want to simply move the monitors around until they sound right or painstakingly try position after position that you analyze using one of the countless signal analysis programs commercially available today, you can’t go wrong by starting out with the great guidelines that Bruce has laid out above.
The key is starting out with proper fundamentals. Happy tweaking!
The above excerpt is from the just published Practical Recording Techniques, 6e by Bruce Bartlett and Jenny Bartlett.
Kyle P. Snyder is an educator, engineer, and consultant natively hailing from Northeast Ohio; he is proud to join the Ohio University faculty as a Visiting Professor. An alumnus of Indiana University and Ball State University, Snyder holds a Masters of Science in Music Technology from Indiana University and a Baccalaureate Degree with specific emphasis in both Digital Media and English from Ball State University.
His research interests include pedagogical approaches relevant to the field of audio engineering and specifically how best audio students learn. Snyder frequently contributes to various industry publications and is widely published, a complete listing can be found throughout this website and in his curriculum vitae at right.
As an engineer and consultant, Snyder is routinely called upon by clients of local, national, and international acclaim including countless independent artists and ensembles, private companies, and academic institutions.
Professionally, Snyder is active in numerous organizations, including the Audio Engineering Society for which he serves as a member of the Education Committee and recently hosted the First Annual Central Indiana Audio Student Workshop in the Spring of 2012. Additionally, Snyder is a member of The National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, The Society of Professional Audio Recording Services, The Association for the Study of the Art of Record Production, and the Music & Entertainment Industry Educators Association.
The above photo is from Flickr, user jamesbarnes.