How to Set Up Studio Monitors

(Last Updated On: February 27, 2021)

First-time home studio owners have a few common questions they all usually have. Some include things like what are the vital aspects you need to consider when designing a quality mixing and recording space, what studio monitors will work best, and how is Yamaha currently doing (everyone kind of always goes back to thinking Yamaha in this scenario, right)? Anyway, all the decisions you make when recording, from final mix tweaks to mic placements, is based on the sound quality offered by the monitors. While a headset can be a useful reference, speaker sound usually is what creators rely on when making important decisions throughout the recording process.

There are a plethora of high-quality studio monitors currently on the market at all price points and sizes; however, setup, even with the top-notch units, can hinder you from getting the most out of your studio monitor. There are 6 ways you can always ensure you’re getting the best monitor setup results possible.

Here’s how to set up your studio monitors properly:

  1. Studio Monitor Selection (Passive/Active Studio Monitors or USB Studio Monitors)
  2. Checking the outputs and inputs of your monitors
  3. Studio Monitor Placement
  4. Connection of the Audio Mixers and Audio Interfaces
  5. Sound Checking

1. Studio Monitor Selection:

There are many important things you need to consider when looking for the ideal studio monitors for your home recording setup. Some of these include:

a) Size

Home studios usually don’t have a lot of room to work with, can be conformed to tight spaces, and often don’t have big budgets they can operate with. This is why it’s typically advised you to go for the smaller studio monitors and avoid those monitors larger than 5-inches if you want to get the best results. Now, don’t worry, there are many studio monitors that include 3-inch main woofers that produce surprisingly decent sound quality. But, the two things you’ll sacrifice with smaller units is any kind of deep bass as well as the frequency range. If you are not getting enough spectrum, then you’ll probably miss out on a few nuances in the recordings that might just come back to haunt you, when the time comes you’ll need to mix and master your work. 

b) Space

The first thing you’ll need when setting up a home studio is enough space. Even though a lot of home studios are set up in very tight spaces today, the room you intend on using should measure at least 15×10 –inches for the large in order to get the best results. Furthermore, for even better results, use a space that has rounded corners so as to increase reflections. 

Also, when it comes to room size, always try to keep in mind something known as Sound Pressure Level. The Sound Pressure Level or SPL of a speaker unit depends on how big the woofer is and the amp’s wattage. So, if you intend to buy a heavy wattage and big-sized studio monitor, then you must make sure the room you’re using for the studio is big enough as well. 

c) Passive VS. Active

As with PA speaker units, you are typically not going to come across a lot of passive home studio monitor sets, which means monitors that can operate without power. Powered monitors are what most people opt for in their home studios nowadays. Such units usually come with their own in-built amps in the system, as well as a couple of other additional control features that passive speaker units simply do not or cannot offer. Just always keep in mind that you will probably require a power outlet to accommodate the studio monitor you’re thinking about. 

d) Key Features & Specs

Other than frequency response and tweeter and woofer size, there are several key features the Yamaha’s HS Series speaker units have that make a lot of difference when it comes to quality. Additionally, there are also a few other things you need to look out for when reviewing specification sheets. For starters, powered home studio monitors require high-quality amplifiers to cleanly drive the speakers (especially if you don’t want distorted, clipped sound). The HS8 series comes in a bi-amp overall design that has separate amplifiers dedicated to both the tweeter and woofer. One of the main benefits of high-quality amplifiers is that they’ll give you consistently flat responses across all spectrums. Be very careful with the monitors that don’t tell you about their amp types or specs.  

And, be wary when it comes to picking speaker enclosures. These are the actual materials used to construct the “boxes.” HS speaker units are manufactured using a resilient and dense MDF component, which is ideal for reference-quality playbacks because of the inherent ability it has to dampen acoustic responses. Bottom line, this enclosure can help eliminate (or at the very least drastically reduce) acoustic complications and problem-child resonances and rattling that low-quality studio monitors often suffer from. 

Okay, so far, we’ve looked at the “box” itself, the actual speakers, and the amplifier. Powered home studio monitors are not going to contain your standard speaker wire terminal as your stereo would. Instead, they’ll most likely have ¼-inch or balanced XLR inputs. It’s important to ensure that the input features on the monitors you’re considering match the outputs found on your audio interfaces. If the studio monitors you like lack XLR inputs, and for some strange reason, that’s the only type of output you can find on your console or interface, then you might want to strongly consider something else. Fortunately, the HS8 studio monitors offer both ¼-inch as well as XLR input features for flexibility. 

Lastly, you need to keep a close eye out for extra sound-shaping ability, among other adjustments, that’ll help tailor your home studio monitors to the specific acoustics in your space. For instance, the HS8 speaker units offer additional high-trim features and room control capabilities to help manage your room’s frequencies. If you’re looking for the best reproduction possible, then these high-end features are critical, especially when home production is concerned.

2. Checking The Outputs and Inputs of Your Monitors

Before anything really, you need to check out what type of outputs and inputs that come with the home studio monitor you’re considering. 

There are three main types of output and input sockets

  • RCA
  • XLR 
  • 1/8-inch TRS

Monitor manufacturers are the ones that decide which output or input sockets a particular monitor will get. Generally, individual active home studio monitors often lack output sockets because there’s usually no need for them to be connected with each other. However, if you’ve got master-slave type speaker units, then you’ll have to connect the master and slave together; this is because the built-in amplifier is generally in the master speaker, which needs to be connected to the slave speaker if you want to reproduce sound.

With an extra headroom of 4dB, you can mix projects so much better than ever seen before. 

3. Studio Monitor Placements

a) Studio Monitor Positioning

A useful technique that’s commonly used by many is to arrange a kind of equilateral triangle monitoring with one specific point being the position designated for listening and the other 2 points directed at a 60-degree angle to the listener. Symmetry is crucial here. You want to have a balanced hearing. Try to ensure you have the same room between the walls and the speakers. Direct sounds that follow straight paths from the speaker unit to the ear, undesirably mix with reflections from surfaces nearby, the likes of mixing consoles, tables, and walls. 

If the reflected path, from ear to wall to the speaker, is further than the straight path, then this will often result in the arrival of the sound’s copy just after the original. Sound, as we know, it is made up of the alternation of lower and higher pressure, or when it comes to electronic transmission, negative and positive voltage. When the original combines with a delayed signal, one might be cycling negative while the other positive. The reduction of specific frequencies at different levels is caused by the way these energies are working against each other. If both signals cycle positively, reinforcements at certain frequencies can be achieved. But, neither scenario is wanted because it changes the speakers’ frequency response. 

The best way to find out how your placements will absorb those early reflections is by, first, grabbing a mirror and then asking a friend for a little help. You then need to ask your friend to place the mirror on the wall and move around until the speaker can be seen by you who should be sitting at the listening position during this time. This is the where and how your treatments should be centered. Both light and sound travel in waves and have similar ways of reflecting (angle of incidence=angle of reflection), which means that the mirror reveals your speakers’ first reflection paths to the listening position. Consoles, ceilings, and floors can also be sources of unwanted sound reflections. 

b) The Walls

Avoid placing your monitors closed to the wall. Many people have noticed that any kind of speaker, no matter the size if placed on a wall will provide the listener with much stronger bass responses. This can really tempt you into using this sound acoustic phenomenon (a standing wave function) to provide a little additional heft, especially when it comes to the smaller, less than eight-inch woofers. However, this unique, room-enhanced bass often has uneven frequency balances. It can negatively affect you when making important decisions about the balancing of vital elements such as bass guitar and kick drum as well as low-end EQs. A lot, if not all, home studio monitors are specifically designed to offer the smoothest low-end responses when given adequate space from the closest room boundary (ceiling, floor, or wall). 

While the lack of room boundary reinforcements of these free-standing placement positions won’t provide a lot of thumps, the bass present will better correct the indication of low-frequency energies that are actually there in the recordings; this happens to be extremely important. 

One of the downsides that’s shared by a lot of home or small studio mixes is either an uneven bass that’s caused by EQ for the compensation of irregularities that are typically unique only to the monitors and rooms it uses when mixing too little or too much low-end. 

Most home studio monitors come with placement recommendations in its setup manual, and many have adjustable low-end responses as well, to match the speaker unit to the placement. Free-standing placements require “full space,” wall placements require “half-space,” and corner placements you should use “quarter spaces.”

Sadly, though, these bass control features will not increase the low-end over what the monitor can provide in free-standing, full-space positions. They’re often designed to help reduce the uneven, excessive bass that would come from placements near room boundaries. If you feel that you really need a little more low-end than what your unit can provide, do not try to use the room to try and get it out from that small studio monitors. Either step things up and add a subwoofer or trade upward for a bigger woofer (8-inches or more even).

c) Floor Monitor Stands Vs. Desktop Placement

Your monitor speaker placement makes a huge difference when it comes to the sound you’ll get. If you’ve got near-field home studio monitors, then you might have to consider placing them within two to three feet of the listener’s ears. On the flip side, however, if you have far-field speakers and a wide area, then they should be placed at least five to six feet from the listener’s ears. 

The main difference between far-field and near-field studio monitor units is the quantity of sound they produce that dissolves into the atmosphere before reaching the ears. 

Near-field studio monitors typically have small woofers that have wide domes which help provide high-intensity sounds, when kept within two to three from the listener’s ears. If the distance is gradually increased, the sound’s intensity will suddenly drop after a certain distance. 

d) Asymmetry

Avoid asymmetry. Even if you don’t back the studio monitors up against the walls in your room, the room boundaries’ reflections will still end up affecting the sound quality. You’ll ideally want to symmetrically position your speakers, which means equidistant from the boundaries to the right and left of the primary listening position. So, if your right monitor is three feet from the right wall, then you’ll want to do the same for both the left monitor and left wall.

This way, any reflection effects should be both similar and balanced just right at that sweet spot. If one speaker unit is closer than the other to the nearest wall, then this might mislead you into reducing the ambiance or level of mix elements that have been panned to that particular side. You might have a skewed panning placement, which, in turn, produces an off-centered mix sound when heard using headphones or other systems. 

e) Poor Angles

Positioning the studio monitors either too far apart or too close together can screw up overall stereo panning decisions big time. Speaker units that have been spaced too widely may offer stereo images that have got holes-in-the-middle. This can then eventually cause one to bunch up too many mix sound elements around the center. This, in turn, will end up resulting in mix elements that don’t use stereo sound fields effectively. Conversely, speaker units that are put too close together can lead to overly wide panning options. This means that when the end-result sound mix is played on other systems, there may be a lot of bunching together of mix elements at the center as well as in the right and left speakers, with a few gaps in between, which end up sounding like those old 60s mono mixes that have been transformed into fake stereo again, and this usually doesn’t make proper use of the sound field from the stereo. 

The perfect angle for home studio monitors is around sixty degrees (between speaker units) or around thirty degrees between the “sweet spot” and each speaker. 

f) Reflections

You should avoid the reflection on all costs. You do not want the listening environment to lack of mid/high-frequency reflections completely. That would lead to a room with unnaturally dead sounding for basic music production. However, you also don’t want to avoid short and intense reflections (that can often produce excessive comb-filtering), which can then lead to a muddied-up sound. This will make it difficult to determine the exact amount of “room-tone” that’s in the recording, as well as how much effects and ambiance to add. Longer, weaker reflections can offer enough overall ambiances, making comfortable listening environments without a lot of interference.

4. Connection of The Audio Mixers and Audio Interfaces

The mixers’ trend is decreasing these days. Audio interfaces nowadays have the ability to produce great quality audio. If your audio interface is decent enough and is equipped with an AD/DA converter and good preamps, then there’s no need for owning an audio mixer. Instead, you’d rather invest your money in controllers if you want better mixing experiences.

Connect the balanced cables with your audio interface outputs and monitor inputs. Ensure your system isn’t on, or you’ll end up ruining your monitors and audio interface. 

5. Sound Checking

Lastly, turn on your system (meaning monitors, audio interface, and computer) while keeping the volume on level zero. Play a pre-recorded song or audio project, and then slowly turn up the volume of your monitors and audio mixer. When you can eventually hear all the sounds produced clearly, stop turning the knobs. 

a) Volume Levels

There are a couple of reasons why monitoring your system consistently at loud levels isn’t such a great idea. One of the reasons is obviously because of the risk of damage to your hearing in the long-term. “Ear fatigue” will also happen sooner at loud levels and will likely result in you making some questionable mixing/EQ decisions. 

Our ears are generally more sensitive to the high-end tones and low-end tones when at high listening volumes. What does this mean? Well, it means we hear a lot more of the bass sound and a lot less treble when the volume is high. While this might encourage enjoyable and exciting listening experiences, if you’re consistently operating at such loud volumes, the decisions you make about how to set bass levels in your mixes will only hold true when you’re operating at those loud levels. People that’ll play your mix productions at low volumes might perceive that there’s no bass, the direct opposite of what you heard, which is a much weaker bass.

b) Sub Volume

If you feel you want lower-end tones from your small studio monitor, then you can consider including a subwoofer. However, ensure you balance the outputs of the monitors to the subs. Don’t use the subwoofer to increase the bass levels. Instead, use it to extend lower frequency bass levels. Typically, what this means is that the subwoofer will offer up frequencies below around 80Hz or so.

When setting up your subwoofer, whenever you can try using test signals and an SPL meter to dial-up sub-levels that match the low-frequency levels of your main speaker units (one or two octaves higher), do it. It helps ensure flat and even responses all the way until the response limits of the subwoofer. While you might be tempted to let the sub loose for a bit of excitement, your mix productions will benefit a lot more in the long-term with a well-calibrated sub. Ideally, you should not realize it’s running until it has been switched off. If what is being produced is obvious, then maybe it’s a bit too loud. This, as we highlighted earlier, can lead to your mix productions lacking bass when listened to on headsets or other sound systems.

And, for now, that’s all we’ve got for you folks. Hopefully, the suggestions we’ve provided you with above will help you get the best possible results from your home studio monitors.  

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