Choosing and Positioning Home Studio Monitor Speakers
The positioning, orientation and mounting of studio monitors can have a huge influence on the final sound of a room and of course your mix. I wouldn’t go out and buy hi-fi speakers and a massive sub woofer if you have a room with parallel walls the size of a match box and don’t intend to apply much acoustic treatment.
We should be looking for a happy medium, neither too bright nor too much bass. If the aspirations we have for our work are that it should sound as good as it can on the widest range of systems out there; from top of the range hi-fi systems, portable mono radios to ipod players, then the perceived tonal balance of our monitors should be as close to the peoples average as possible. I encourage students to check their mixes in as many different environments as possible before putting their mix down; from studio monitors, built in computer speaker to simulate a poor quality mono radio (we use an Auratone speakerin professional studios for this), the car stereo (a favourite of mine), and even standing in a different room to hear only the reflections of your mix from a number of ‘natural’ diffusers and part absorbers which make up the hallway, curtains, plant in the corner and chest of draws under the stairs.
The most common nearfield monitoring systems found in professional studios are Yamaha NS102s, usually used closed up and reasonably close to each other. The idea of having the same make of studio monitors in every studio you go to seems like a good one, you’d expect the sound to be the very similar from one studio to another, but because they’re passive (they need an external amp which can differ) the mix can sound completely different. On top this of course the differing sound of the rooms themselves. I personally wouldn’t fancy listening to NS102s all day every day; high-mid frequencies feature prominently in their curve so they can be quite harsh on the ear, and there’s not much bottom end at all. I remember some engineers using them with a subwoofer, but not many. My NS102s and amp are in my Dad’s garage – I just didn’t have the surface space for them in my programming suite right now but when I move, i’ll try and fit them in somewhere . The more ways I can check the mix as I go the better of course.
Left: Event Studio Precision 8. Right: Yamaha NS10m
This is the main reason why engineers like to use the same room for mixing time after time – they know the sound of the room, monitors and what’s powering the monitors, they are of course used to the console, outboard, assistants, staff, restaurant etc but in some cases they’re superstitious. Mark ‘Spike’ Stent was never comfortable venturing outside of the old Olympic Studio 3 after all the success he had in that mixing room. Once he outgrew the room, he had no choice but to move and he ended up buying the SSL G-series console he’d mixed so many hits onand plonking it in a bespoke control room he had built at Olympic just after my time there in the late 902s. His near-fields of choice were the passive KRK 9000‘s. I wonder if they still are.
Then you have the main monitors or ‘biggies’ – some teachers and magazines say ‘far-fields’. One use for these monitors is when the A&R guy pops into the studio to tell us all that we need more midi or something (A&R people are much better these days, especially the ones who employ me now!). The biggies have plenty of bottom end, they are VERY flattering – you can fart down a mic and it’d sound amazing out of the biggies! The typical 902s A&R guy will always leave the studio happy after hearing the a rough balance of the mix on the biggies before we’ve even turned on the (automation) computer. And of course after he’d played producer soloing the entire desk for no reason.
But is this what we want all of the time when mixing a record? Of course not – we are not looking for the most pleasing experience for our ears, we want an accurate tool that will help us make the correct decisions, but at the same time not give us earache after an hour of monitoring. For this we want a pair of what I would call ‘alternative near-fields’. I say alternative nearfields because these monitors would not be the standard Yamaha NS102s and be situated (usually) either side them. These are the monitors we should buy for our home studio set-up. So what are we looking for when we are choosing near-field monitors? And where do we put them?
Most people listen to music in their cars or on a cheap home stereo sometimes even in mono. If your mix doesn’t sound good on a pair of small speakers, there’s not much point. A pair of ridiculously expensive active monitors may sound amazing, but no one else has them, so your mix will be lost in translation. In an ideal world you would like a pair of studio monitor speakers which are easy on the ear and capture an element of the ‘biggies’ you’d fine in big commercial studios, so perhaps a ported design like the Genelec 1031‘s I use here and a sealed box type like Yamaha NS102s for more of a ‘truer’ sound. Truer is all to do with their skewed frequency response, lack of low frequency resonances, low distortion and remarkably accurate transient response behaviour, all of which are qualities of infinite baffle designs using small, responsive drivers. Ported designs are popular in programming rooms and projects studios because you get more low frequency output which we all know and love – especially if we’re woking on dance records!
Genelec 8040a studio monitor speakers
If like me you don’t have space for two pairs of studio monitor speakers and like me given the choice of a ‘truer’ sealed box infinite baffle design or a more pleasing ported design, you’re going for the ported design you need to decide which ported studio monitor speakers you want. I’ve had my old Genelec 10312s for donkeys years now and couldn’t recommend them enough! The new version of the old 10 series are the 80 series. I’ve heard that they aren’t as good as the older 10 series which personally makes me happy. If you have space, the 10322s are a bigger and louder version of the 10312s. In fact the whole Genelec 10 series always sounded the same right from the 10292s right up to the 10322s. Just the higher the number, the louder they got!
Focal SM-6. They do look nice don’t they?!
If you choose any of the common active brands on any good pro audio dealers website, I’m sure that you’ll get used to the curve, the room and as long as you check the mix in as many different environments as possible, I don’t see why you wouldn’t get the best results for your mixing ability.
I always recommend active speakers these days because the pain of even more studio cables, more hassle transporting, finding the right amp, messing about with crossovers if needed, and generally the greater margin for error is taken away by the guys in white coats at the testing centres of these popular brands. Let them do all the work so you can get on and enjoy mixing your record. Now there’s just the small matter of getting good at mixing!
I wouldn’t worry too much about exact angles when you decide where you are going to be sitting and where you are going to be placing your monitor speakers because you’re going to be moving around, which in itself is healthy for your mix because you’ll be getting a different perspective the more moving you do. For your main seating position, your head should be roughly one point of an equilateral triangle with each of the pair of your monitor speakers the other points of the triangle. So roughly an equal amount of distance between your head, each monitor speaker and distance between the speakers themselves.
Studio acoustic treatment:
As for studio acoustic treatment, and think next on the agenda is to write a whole piece on it, but very quickly, and you may need to do some Googling – you may want to start with some treatment behind your monitor speakers, consider a bass trap above your head and if you’re in a square room particularly, try some absorbing treatment to your left and right on the the wall.
Article by Dave Garnish