After doing everything possible to save up enough to make your own home recording studio, you finally did it. You got the sound engineering equipment, padded your room’s walls, and even got the mics ready. Everything is set up…except for your monitors.
How to Position Studio Monitors? The short answer is, very carefully, in a way that gives you a balanced, non-distorted sound experience on all sides. The location of your studio monitors will impact how you hear your music, especially when it comes to their distance.
Setting up your studio monitors in a way that optimizes your listening means that you will need to take in a bunch of different factors. This quick guide will answer all your positioning questions.
How Should I Pick My Home Studio Room?
Before we even begin talking about positioning, it’s a good idea to take your studio location into consideration. Though not every artist can choose which room becomes a studio, those who can should make an emphasis on choosing their room wisely.
A good studio room has a lot of qualities to watch for. Some of the most important ones to take into account include:
- No/ Few Windows. Windows and other openings can make it difficult to put together a setup that has a clean sound. Every opening and design quirk adds another wild card to an already difficult-to-peg positioning process.
- No Clutter. You really can’t do great sound production in a home studio filled with furniture, toys, and clutter. Those surfaces can throw off the monitor’s ability to broadcast with ease.
- Tall Ceilings. Low ceilings will cause soundwaves to bounce and can even prevent the flow of sound from reaching you properly. If you can, try to find a room with tall ceilings so you don’t end up having to pad your ceiling.
- Measure It. Studies show that the best studio rooms are rooms that have dimensions that aren’t divisible by the same number or by each other. These dimensions minimize the chance of reverberation and echo.
- Pad-Ready If Possible. There’s a reason why recording studios tend to have foam padding on their walls, you know. It’s to absorb sound that could echo off them. If you can, do yourself a favor and pad your walls.
- No Carpet. Carpet has a way of drowning out higher pitches and adding shuffling noises to your listening session. That’s why concrete or hardwood is the way to go in a listening studio.
- No Outside Noise. Cities are very hard to create decent studios in, simply because walls tend to be thin and outside chaos always brings in noise. Try to pick a quiet area if you can.
- Avoid Small Places. When it comes to acoustics and studio setup, bigger is almost always better.
- No Square Rooms. A good music studio room will always be rectangular, and not just because of the measurement rule, either. Square rooms reflect soundwaves twice as frequently, which causes a lot of crossover waves and nullification. You don’t want a square studio!
No Room Is Perfect
Though you should always try to find the best room possible, it’s important to remember that no studio has perfect acoustics. There will always be bumps and dents in every room. It’s just the way things are.
Your job is to pick the best room you have available and work with what you have. If all that you have is a closet, you have to make do.
Why Does Monitor Placement Matter?
If you are working to make a home studio, then you already know you want to record, produce, or master your music. Music isn’t easy to make, and truth be told, it’s easy to miss mistakes that take away from your work if you don’t have equipment that picks up every little detail.
When you don’t have equipment that helps you pick out flaws, it’s easy to end up with a final product that sounds strange, grainy, or tinny. A good monitor setup helps minimize the chances of a studio session failure.
Soundwaves don’t all react the same way to your surroundings, and the way they move can be influenced by your position. Some, like bass, aren’t influenced by your listening location too much. Higher pitched sounds, on the other hand, are very direction-based.
By choosing a good position from your monitors, you’re getting the best sound quality possible. That translates into better studio sessions and more music success.
How Far Away Should You Be From Studio Monitors?
The first thing you should do when figuring out studio monitor positioning, is to know where you will be sitting. Your position is going to determine where the monitors are going to go. This all depends on a variety of factors, as well as personal preference.
If you’ve got serious sound monitors, you should keep your distance as a way to avoid hearing damage. Strong monitors should either be toned down or distanced from the listener’s location. At the very least, most people will want to say a minimum of 3 feet away from a large, professional grade system.
Not sure how powerful your monitors are? Most monitors get their volume power from the magnets that are used to conduct soundwaves. Magnets are fairly heavy. So a good rule is the heavier the monitor, the more powerful it tends to be.
Near-field Monitors For Desk Use
Feeling really cramped with big monitors? Not a problem. Near-field monitors are designed to be used at close ranges and are pretty easy to work within small spaces. They are made to be used in under two feet of space from the listener.
These monitors tend to be good for precision listening, especially when it comes to things like pops, swallows, or breaths taken between songs. If you have serious acoustic problems, this can be a good monitor option to consider.
The 38% Rule
Sound techs will tell you that you should place yourself about 38 percent of your room’s length away from the back wall. So, if you have a room that’s 10 feet long, you’ll want to sit 3.8 feet away from your back wall.
It’s worth pointing out that most artists don’t really have to get super precise with their placement. If you aren’t interested in doing all the measuring, that’s okay. Anywhere from 30 to 40 percent of the room’s length will work well for most monitors.
Avoid The Room’s Midpoint
Square rooms have a major acoustic problem when it comes to bass response. In most rooms, sitting in the middle of the room will lead to a lot of reflections from all four walls of your room. This leads to a lot of distortion, muffling, and difficulty hearing the real sound of your music.
The only real centering you want to have is your position along the wall. You need to make sure that the monitors are both the same distance from their respective side walls.
Away From Corners
This should go without saying, but it’s worth explaining to people who are new to sound engineering. You should always avoid placing your setup facing a corner, because it causes serious sound reflection problems.
Monitors should always be placed facing away from corners or parallel to walls. This rule exists so you can avoid reflection, echoes, or similar problems when listening to your music during production.
How Far Apart Should Studio Monitors Be?
Distance between monitors is a big issue, but it doesn’t have to be tough. There are plenty of good rules of thumb that can help you make the most of your positioning below;
- Use Triangles. Unlike what you see at clubs, your studio monitors shouldn’t face forward. Rather, they should make an equilateral triangle with your head. Tilting each monitor 60 degrees will make you capable of listening to everything while you’re sitting in your target area.
- Use The Science Route. Scientists found that most studio monitors are optimized when there is a 67 ½ inch distance from tweeter to tweeter.
- Keep Spacing Even. Music can sound warped or overemphasized if you are standing closer to one speaker than the other. That’s why it’s important to place both speakers at an even distance from you.
- Check With The Mirror Trick. Symmetry is the name of the game for placement, so it’s a good idea to check your positioning visually. If you set up your monitors correctly, they will look like a mirror reflection when you stand at your focal point.
How High Up Should Studio Monitors Be?
Height can make or break your ability to hear your music, and to a point, everyone has their own secret formula to this. That being said, there are still some good rules to follow when it comes to height positioning.
The Best Level Height
In most home studios involving electronic music (or most other mainstream music genres), keeping your monitors at your ear’s height is a safe bet. It focuses the sound on you and makes sure you don’t get extra noise.
Many casual recording artists and music producers like this option, simply because it is easy to work with. With this move, you don’t have to worry about tilting your monitors up or down. You can just keep them parallel to the ground because this height keeps the sound focused on you.
There are still some issues that can arise if you place them too low. A lot of sound techs suggest keeping your monitors a minimum height of 47 inches from the floor in order to avoid sound muffling.
Point Them Towards You
The only time that monitors should be parallel to a wall is if they are both directly pointed at your face. Otherwise, you will need to make sure they are pointing directly towards your ears from whatever height they’re at. That’s the only way to make sure you will hear everything.
Some people prefer to have their studio monitors five to six inches away from their heads. If you have your monitors slightly above your head, that’s okay. A little height isn’t bad, as long as you point both monitors down towards you.
This monitor positioning method takes some precision because you have to match the monitors well. Ideally, you will have both monitors at the exact same angle in order to balance out the bass, treble, and other music elements.
Studio Monitor Heights By Type
If you want to get really professional with your positioning, you might as well figure out the height by the type of monitors you have.
- ITU Standard Monitors: These are your typical monitors, and are positioned anywhere from 47 to 55 inches from the ground. These should be right at ear level, and never tilted more than 15 degrees from the ground.
- Main Monitors: Do you have a professional grade monitor trio? Place the main monitor in between your two tweeters, at a slightly higher level. Most pro spaces will place main monitors 58 inches off the floor.
- Surround Sound: If you want that movie quality goodness, place these monitors at equal heights, 47 to 55 inches off the ground.
It’s worth pointing out that most people don’t really go this far with monitor setup, especially if they are casual musicians. This is for ultra-precise acoustics, rather than simple production.
Notes About High Frequency Speaker Locations
High frequency soundwaves are way more directionally influenced than bass, so it’s really important to make sure you get the position of your high frequency speakers perfect. The key thing to do here is to align or point your high frequency right towards your ears.
If you can’t fully tilt tweeters towards your ears, you need to lower the monitors until you can. It’s also wise to avoid tilting your monitors too much, since this could make noise bounce off floors and distort sound.
Not Halfway Up
Proportions are still a major issue when it comes to speaker height. Having them at half the room’s height will cause standing soundwaves and muffling. Too much height towards one direction or another can cause a mismatched sound or just make it hard to angle the monitors correctly.
That’s why it’s always best to have the monitors at a height that’s slightly above or slightly below the mid-height of your room. It gives you a more balanced sound, avoids distortion, and also just makes positioning them in your direction easier.
How Far Should Studio Monitors Be From The Wall?
Your walls can make or break your monitors’ ability to blast out music. It’s not always easy to figure out where they should be installed. Here’s what every aspiring sound tech should know.
Keep Back And Side Wall Distance Uneven
Square rooms are not your friend when you are dealing with soundwave reverberation. It makes soundwaves bounce off surfaces faster and more frequently. To cut down on reflections and distortion, make sure each monitor has differing distances between the back and side walls.
You don’t have to make the differences too stark. The monitors just can’t be equidistant from the two walls they each face. For example, if your monitors are positioned six inches away from the back wall, make a point to position them five inches or seven inches from the side walls.
Where To Put Your Setup
Choosing where to put your studio setup matters when it comes to the amount of reflection you get from your surroundings. If you have an average to large room, the best place to put your monitors is on the long wall.
Your position should never exceed halfway across your room’s length since it can cause standing waves. That’s why smaller rooms tend to do well with the short (wide) wall area. It gives you more wiggle room, literally!
No matter which wall you choose, you will need to place your overall setup in the center of that wall. This helps keep the symmetry of the soundwaves, which improves the sound quality and keeps your listening balanced.
Avoid Wall Mounts
You should never mount studio monitors on a wall. Walls can add extra reverberation, distort certain keys, and even null other aspects of your music. Walls are not your friend if you want crisp, clear sound. You absolutely, positively need to have some space between your walls and monitors.
The biggest issue with keeping monitors on walls, though, is the way they exaggerate low frequency notes. This is a primary reason people overestimate their bass levels, and it could easily be avoided by just not hanging up your monitors on a wall.
If you have a small room with padded walls and minimal acoustic issues, you can get away with keeping your monitors six to 10 inches away from the wall. That being said, this is the bare minimum most studio owners can get away with without damaging the sound quality monitors push out.
The Ideal Wall Distance For Most Monitors
For the majority of home studios, the best distance to place monitors is approximately two to three feet away from the wall. This decreases the amount of bass buildup, giving you a way cleaner sound that lets you hear all the details.
Obviously, this isn’t always doable in smaller studio rooms. The best way to position your monitors is to place them as far as you feasibly can. If a foot is all you can do, just place them a foot away.
What if you can’t avoid being near a wall?
I admit it, a lot of the advice in this article is wishful thinking. Most of us don’t have the luxury of choosing a specific room which has no windows and loads of space for optimum speaker placement. Many of us are lucky if we can just get a small corner in an apartment. So is there any hope?
Well although it will never be perfect, some speakers have built-in settings to try and counteract the issues caused by your room. The Yamaha HS series, for example, has ‘room control’ and ‘high-trim’ which will allow you to attempt to counteract some of the unwanted frequencies generated by being close to a wall. As already mentioned being close to a wall will tend to accentuate the bass frequencies, so the room control will lower those bass frequencies by either 2 or 4db.
A good trick is to play a song you know really well and adjust accordingly.
How Should I Mount My Studio Monitors?
Now that you have a better idea of where to place your monitors, it’s time to talk about one of the other major aspects of sound monitor positioning: the mounting. Here are the most important matters to remember before you start working on this part of your positioning plan.
Avoid Putting Directly on your Desktop
If you have a traditional computer desk you want to use for placement, think again. This is actually an easy way to smear and muffle your audio. Sound waves travel fast through wood and other materials, which means you may end up feeling the sound from materials before you actually hear the sound in the air.
Placing your monitors on the desk or meter bridge is generally a bad idea, especially if you want to have high detail sound quality in your studio. You’re better off getting stand mounts for your setup, even if they cost more.
A Low-Budget Solution
Not everyone can afford the extra cash it takes to get stands for their monitors, nor does every studio have enough space for them. There is another fix that you can use in order to minimize muffling, though it’s not ideal.
Putting some soft material between the monitors and desk can reduce your smearing. Some low-budget home studios place monitors on a ½-inch to ¾-piece of open cell neoprene or a similarly cushiony material as a way to maximize isolation while they rest their monitors on their desks.
For best results get some stands
Probably one of the best things I have purchased in my home studio are my monitor stands. If you have space they aren’t too expensive and they allow you to adjust heights and easily adjust the position in the room to achieve the optimum placement.
I currently have a pair of these from Hola Music and would thoroughly recommend:
Treat Your Surroundings
Generally speaking, foam padding is always welcome. However, if you have a particularly small studio room, it’s more than a welcome option. It’s a must. Sound techs suggest padding the back wall and sides to ensure you get a decent sound. Foam or absorber panels both work well.
If you have a low ceiling, you might want to get acoustic treatment for that, too. A height of at least seven feet is what you need to avoid having a “claustrophobic sound.” There’s only so much you can do with a low ceiling, but every bit helps.
If you have furniture in your studio, it’s also a good idea to add pads to the bottoms of the furniture. Padding helps reduce vibrations that can interfere with your sound. That being said, this is kind of overkill for most casual users.
Pad Reflection Points
If you’re looking for a seriously crisp sound but don’t want to pad your whole room, then you should consider padding reflection points. By padding points where soundwaves naturally reflect, you will be able to absorb the reverberation and reduce noise.
These are some of the most important reflection points to pad:
- Above Your Head. Most studios will need two side by side pads here.
- On Your Left And Right Sides. This will help catch soundwaves that have already run their course once you heard them.
- Behind Your Monitors. This can help get rid of bass exaggeration from rear-port monitors.
- Some sound techs also suggest padding corners of the room with extra thick foam. This is a great option if you’re struggling with bass-related problems, but it’s not necessary by any means of the word.
Check 1, Check 2!
Every single studio is a little different, acoustically speaking. This means you will need to test out the setup in order to determine what adjustments need to be made. After all, your ears will always be the best guide out there.
A good way to figure out whether or not you did a good job with your monitor setup is to test the room using songs from mainstream artists. If they sound wonky or weird, you probably have to make some adjustments.
Do A Bass Sweep
Bass tones tend to be the hardest aspect of a monitor setup to perfect, which is why it makes sense to run specific tests on your rig focused on bass and bass alone. A bass sweep is a test performed by playing a track with increasingly descending bass tones.
When performing a bass sweep, you should be listening for significant changes between each note being played. If you notice a sudden drop or a sudden twist in the tone, you need to readjust your monitors or add more padding.
If the track sounds smooth all the way through, you did well. Most studios will only start to encounter issues around 300 hertz or less. Anything above that should be cause for concern, while anything below that is not real cause for concern.