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Studio Monitor Setup At Home

Published: Mon April 29, 2013  News Feed

Studio Monitor Setup At Home

By Hugh McKenna

Without accurate sound from your speakers you aren't getting an honest of representation of your music. Flat frequency response, detail and proper stereo imaging are all crucial in ensuring your mix sounds right on as many different systems as possible.

If you mix on your boomy old hifi speakers in your bedroom then listening with exaggerated bass means it will sound bass light on most other systems. This example demonstrates the need for a flat frequency response, unfortunately things are a little more complex in most real world scenarios. The room you are mixing in will colour the sound greatly and it's not simply a question of bass and treble, any number of peaks and troughs exist throughout the frequency range.

No speaker is truly completely flat but some are pretty darn close, bass extension is really the main issue as you need some pretty gigantic speakers to get all the way down to 20Hz (the lowest audible frequency). For home studios £5000 speakers weighing 50kg are not really an option.

So in order to have a great mix room you need thousands of pounds to spend on a Swedish physicist to analyse and treat your room and custom made speakers from a Japanese workshop? Not quite, if you take care of the main issues then you can be on your way to an excellent mix environment in no time. Even better some of the treatments for these issues cost nothing and with so many great active monitors available today you're spoiled for choice on any budget.

There's even further encouragement for the budding home recordist when you consider that many of the most popular mix rooms don't have a strictly controlled and lifeless acoustic. Great studio acoustics are an art as well as a science and if you play around with placement, treatment and even visual aesthetics then you can make your mix room an inspiration place to be. Just check out Jim Scott's Plyrz studio or the highly diffuse Blackbird Studio in Nashville for two different approaches, one informal without excessive acoustic treatment and the other heavily treated and professionally laid out.
Jim Scott Plyrz
Blackbird Studio

Low End Treatment

A controlled low end is crucial to getting a good sound from your speakers but can also be the hardest bit to get right. Excessive low end will mask frequencies well above it as well as those further below it, in this example you can see that an excess of 250Hz can obscure sounds all the way up to 1KHz.

Audio Masking

Monitor PlacementOne of the main considerations when it comes to low frequencies (LF) is the speaker placement. LF is strongest close to the walls and weakest in the center of the room so the ideal placement is to have both speakers close to the longest wall while the Left speaker is the same distance from your left wall as the Right speaker is from your right wall. The goal is symmetry, you don't want one speaker with more LF because it's closer to a wall or corner. Similarly it's better that both speakers be near the facing wall (under 1m), you at least then know you are dealing with a definite bass lift rather than the less predictable effects of moving the speakers towards the rooms center.

Acoustic improvement for LF is generally best left to the professionals and here Auralex have you covered with bass traps. For a really DIY approach you can put heavy furniture in room corners to break up the standing waves which cause uneven LF.

Early Reflections & Stereo Imaging


Another important consideration is to prevent sound bouncing around your room too much. Discrete echoes occur most on hard, flat surfaces (think of an unfurnished room) and can obscure details in the mix, make it hard to judge reverb levels and result in poor stereo imaging so it's hard to place things left and right in the mix. This is where the old myth about putting up egg boxes comes from, the idea being that an uneven surface will reduce and break up these echoes. However only the very high frequencies will be affected by this and it's really unruly mid range you want to concentrate on.

A DIY approach can be mildly effective here but not blue tacking towels to the wall, again this will only affect very high frequencies. One thing you can't really get away from is that acoustic energy will only dampened by mass or a change in state (i.e hitting a wall, vibrating through and coming out the other side). If you can get some heavy drapes or rugs and hang them away from the wall then you can start to get a handle on your reflections. Another technique is to use a diffuser, a device with a very uneven surface that breaks up the sound (put the egg box down). Place a bookshelf or similar furniture directly behind you against the wall or between you and the speakers on the left and right wall/s. These areas are critical as they produce the strongest & quickest reflections which obscure sound the most. If you're handy with a saw then you might even consider building your own.

In summary it's best to remember the wise words of Scotty from Star Trek.

Ye cannae change the laws of physics!

So while your lovely new monitors might be capable of delivering crisp, detailed sound you need to bare in mind the advice above and might want to look into professional acoustic treatment.

Home Studio Acoustic Treatment
Bass Issues Auralex LENRD Bass Traps
Auralex LENRD Bass Traps

Get some bass traps in the corner of your room to prevent low end buildup.
Jamstand Speaker Stands
JamStands JS-MS70 Studio Monitor Stands

Speaker stands can resolve a number of common issues. Ordinary furniture will resonate in sympathy with your speakers and can spoil their frequency response. Also stands help prevent unwanted early reflections as there's no flat surface to reflect off.
Auralex Mopads
Auralex MoPADs

If you need to put the speakers on furniture or a mixing desk then the MoPads are a perfect compliment to decouple your speakers and reduce unwanted resonance.
Early Reflections & Stereo Imaging Auralex MetroFusor
Auralex MetroFusor

Superb diffusers to break up early reflections in the manner described above and are easy to mount at home.
Auralex Project 2
A complete project studio solution with Studiofoam Panels and LENRD Bass Traps. Will tame any room under 100ft sq.
Dont forget what we said about the laws of physics. Mounting Auralex SheetBlok between your acoustic treatment and the wall/floor means the acoustic energy breaks up more on needing to pass through a different material.
Other Treatments KRK Ergo
KRK Ergo

Once you've settled on the right plan to treat your room acoustically then Room Correction software can really raise the bar to pro standard. It measures the frequency response of your room and adjusts numerous filters to compensate. Also a high grade monitor control the Ergo is ideal for the serious home studio.
SE Electronics Project Studio
SE Electronics Project Studio Reflexion Filter

Not all your acoustic considerations should be aimed at playback and mixing. If you can capture things cleanly at source then the less issues you will have to consider later on.
Auralex PlatFeet
Auralex PlatFeet

Similarly these Platfeet help reduce unwanted resonances appearing on your recordings. Simple, affordable an effective.

So you've got your room all nicely treated, some acoustic panels damping early reflections, stands placed centrally on the longest wall and some bass traps or heavy furniture positioned to break up standing waves. Now you've just got to settle on a pair of quality speakers. Dolphin stock a wide range of great monitors, active nearfields are the natural choice for project studios. They deliver superb sound quality at a decent volume without the need for extra clutter from an amp.

Yamaha Professional Monitors

Yamaha Monitors
Paul Epworth NS-10Few monitors have the instant recognition of the legendary Yamaha NS-10M monitors, found in countless professional studios (see Brit award winning engineer Paul Epworth with his). Revered for their totally honest depiction of the mix, Yamaha have built on this legacy with their latest HS5, HS7 & HS8 monitors. They deliver that same great musicality but with enhanced frequency response and for as little as £145!

Also available are the HS-50M and HS-80M monitors, with a similarly great heritage and sound quality but more controls to tune the speakers precisely to your listening environment.

Something we haven't touched on yet but if you really need to go all the way down the 20Hz then you might consider a subwoofer. Certainly with that much low end you are best to strongly consider some room treatment but if you're working in TV/Film or bass heavy music genres like dubstep or metal then the sub can prove essential. The HS10W and HS8S are perfect matches for the HS series monitors.

For more information on proper sub setup and bass management check out Sound On Sound's great guide. Great low end can require consideration of several important factors.

Here Yamaha break down exactly what you want from a good studio monitor and numerous producers and engineers testify to the greatness of the HS series.




Genelec


Genelec Monitors

Another heavyweight speaker manufacturer, you'll often find Genelec developing cutting edge monitor technology. They also write some great guides to proper monitor setup and we recommend checking out their site if you're interested in further reading on monitors.

Their latest development has been the use of a Natural Composite Enclosure (NCE) made of recyclable materials and Class D amplifiers for energy efficiency. The M030 and M040 are offering high grade studio quality for project studios and given the number of professional studios using Genelec you can be sure they'll deliver stunning quality.

Genelec Studio

Adam

Adam Monitors
Another high end manufacturer who has recently introduced a model for the project studio market is Adam. Their A7 model is one of the most popular speakers of recent years so we were very excited when they introduced the F Series monitors. Offering a pair for 7" studio grade speakers plus a sub for £760 from a high end manufacurer is pretty impressive!

Dont just take our word for it though...

"If you have always aspired to Adam monitors but found them beyond your budget, you may well find the F5s are just what you need, with the option of going for the F7s if you need something for a slightly larger room. It could just be that Adam have come up with a serious contender for 'best in class' with the F5s." - Paul White, Sound On Sound Magazine, issue March 2013

They've also visited the Adam factory, an interesting insight into the manufacture of Adam's legendary ribbon tweeter.



KRK

KRK Monitors

We're big fans of KRK monitors and we're not alone. Snow Patrol, London's 'Chestnut Studios', Moog and the SAE Institute all use KRKs to mix, demonstrate, teach and record. The VXT Series have proven hugely popular since their release and deliver a crisp, accurate sound perfect for any purpose or genre of music. A perfect match for the Ergo Room Correction system we mentioned before, indeed Johnny McDaid from Snow Patrol agrees.

"When I used the ERGO for the first time, I knew I was going to spend real time on it in the studio. I spent an hour doing all sorts of different spots and checks. What it seems to do is cancel out the bad stuff and make more of the good stuff."

Headphones

One final thing to mention is that it's definitely worth getting a quality pair of headphones to reference on. They can't wholly substitute your speakers but as more people listen on cans than ever they're an essential part of any modern studio. Another advantage of headphones is for detail and bass checking, even the best studios have little inconsistencies but your headphones will sound the same every time and everywhere.

Ideal Reference Headphones
KRK KNS 6400
KRK KNS 6400

A perfect compliment for your KRK speaker system. Light and great on the go and mix checking at home
AKG K77
AKG K77

Affordable quality, AKG don't really make anything that isn't clear and consistent. Superb as a reference and music listening for pleasure.
The DT770 headphones get a lot of the press (featuring on Live From Abbey Road) and it's easy to see why with sweet, clear sound and great bass extension. But if you really want a second opinion on your sound then the DT250 are superb.

 
 
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