Where and how you place your speakers in your studio determines how well you achieve an accurate frequency response and stereo image. Ideally, your listening position and two monitors form an equilateral triangle. In other words, the distance between any two of the three objects, your head, and each monitor should be the same. A tape measure, a piece of string, or even a guitar cable will help you set up this triangle. There are some recommended measurements for the triangle, but it is most important that each side is the same length.
Studio monitors sound their best when listened to on-axis, so it is also important to ensure the monitors point directly at, actually slightly behind, your head. High frequencies are more directional than lower frequencies so you won’t hear the high frequencies accurately if you are listening to speakers pointing too far off-axis. As for height, ideally, the tweeters should be at the same height as your ears when you are seated, typically about 47-55 inches (120-140 cm) from the floor.
Noted acoustician Carl Tatz recommends nearfield speakers be spaced 67.5 inches (171.5 cm) apart, but even he agrees that this is only a starting point. Most recording consoles are about 48 inches (122 cm) deep, and for speakers sitting on the console’s meter-bridge, this setup creates an equilateral triangle with its focal point just behind the mixer’s head at the mix position. This geometry makes for a natural stereo image and sound will seem to take place in the room, rather than coming directly from the speakers themselves. If you use a smaller desk, speaker stands will help position the speakers to create the optimum geometry.
Try to place your monitors either almost against the front wall or at least 43 inches (110cm) away from the front wall. If your placement speakers must be placed close to the front wall, their bass response will be exaggerated by up to 6dB. For this reason, many monitors provide onboard EQ settings such as whole-space (placement away from any walls), half-space (for placement near the front wall), and quarter-space (for placement near front corners). Many monitors also provide additional EQ options, which can further tailor the speakers’ sound to compensate for deficiencies in the listening environment. Keep symmetry in mind, so the left and right speakers should ideally be equidistant from their respective side walls.
If your speakers have a rear port, keep the speakers away from the wall at least the same distance as the diameter of the port, usually about 5 to 10 centimeters. Speakers placed with their front surface more than 15 inches (38 cm) and less than 44 inches (110 cm) run the risk of creating uneven bass response due to low-frequency reflections from the front wall. Similarly, try to place your speakers at least 44 inches from their nearest side wall. If your speakers must be placed near a side wall or a corner, try the quarter-space EQ setting on the speaker to mitigate any extra bass build-up. For a more thorough article on room treatment to deal with low-frequency problems, have a look at this article from Barry Rudolph.
Getting the lows right
Subwoofers are non-directional, so placement is a bit less critical. One trick to help find a good location for a sub is to temporarily put the subwoofer in your listening position and crawl around the room to find where the bass sounds best, mark that location and. then place your subwoofer there. Your subwoofer may have a cutoff or crossover frequency control, which should be adjusted to match the bass roll-off of your particular main monitors. Refer to your monitors’ user guide to determine their optimal low-frequency cutoff.
The idea of subs is to take away the hard work of creating low frequencies from the smaller main speakers, so if the crossover point is set too low, perhaps below 70Hz, some smaller main monitors may still struggle to handle their low frequencies. Conversely, subs are not meant to handle anything but bass, so if you set your crossover much above 100Hz, there’s a good chance your ears will be able to locate the sub and your stereo image may suffer.
It may be necessary to decouple the speakers from their stands or the desk surface they are resting on. Otherwise, the desk or stands will vibrate and effectively absorb or amplify certain frequencies. Speaker isolation pads help mitigate vibrations and resonances by absorbing the vibrations before they can transfer to the furniture. Simple and inexpensive isolation pads are made of dense foam, like the Auralex Mopad, while multi-layer isolators, like Primacoustic’s Recoil Stabilizer, provide even more isolation. Other more sophisticated isolators, like those from IsoAcoustics, may use non-resonant spring systems and provide isolation as well as height adjustment. At a minimum, moving your speaker off of your desk and onto stands will provide some amount of isolation and you won’t feel the speaker vibrations through your work surface.
Careful monitor placement and isolation will ensure that what you hear is the most accurate sound your speaker system can produce. Once your setup is optimized, you can employ electronic room correction, like Sonarworks Reference 4, to really dial in the final touches to your monitors. Also, be sure to check out our article on acoustic treatment techniques to get the most out of your acoustic space.
Want to learn more? Here are some of our recommended articles:
Finding and treating first-reflections by Adam Kagan
Planning your home studio for the best sound by Barry Rudolph
Dealing with low-frequency acoustic issues by Barry Rudolph
Treating bass problems in your room by Tiki Horea