How do you set up studio monitors? What should I be looking for in the best home studio monitors? And why should I be tracking with studio monitors in the first place?
These are very common questions for first-time home studio users, and Yamaha and Performer Magazine have teamed up to help guide you towards setting up and choosing the best studio monitors for your home recording needs.
Welcome to the fourth and final installment in our series aimed at providing real-world advice for setting up your first home recording studio. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at studio monitor speakers, specifically what to look for in home studio monitors and how to set up studio monitor speakers in your space for optimal results. Yamaha has been kind enough to lend us a pair of their legendary HS8 powered studio monitor speakers, which we’ve set up in our office studio and will be using as examples throughout the entire series of articles.
HI-FI SPEAKERS VS. STUDIO MONITOR SPEAKERS
What good is mixing a song if you’re not hearing it properly? Unlike consumer hi-fi speakers, which often color the sound to make for a more pleasant listening experience, Studio Monitors typically offer a FLAT frequency response, which ensures that your mix will sound great on virtually any system. For years, the go-to for home recording studios and commercial studios alike have been Yamahas. You’ve probably seen the classic white speaker drivers in countless photos and videos. We’ve been testing out the HS8 8” powered studio monitors, and the legendary sound Yamaha is known for comes through loud and clear during both tracking and mixing. Our recommendation is not to skimp in this area – hearing your mix through pro-level monitors will be crucial when it comes to crafting the right sound for your project. The HS8’s offer additional controls for high trim and for compensating for your room environment. These features can make the difference when it comes to producing your project the right way.
Home studio spaces can be a tight squeeze and we know budgets can be even tighter; still, we don’t typically recommend speakers with woofers under 5” for best results. Now while there are some surprisingly decent studio monitors equipped with 3” main woofers, the first thing you’re going to sacrifice with smaller speakers is frequency range and any sense of deep bass. And if you’re not hearing as much of the spectrum as possible, you’re missing out on nuances in your recordings that could come back to bite you when it comes time to mix or master your work.
Now, most mere mortals can’t technically hear above 20kHz, but many powered studio monitors are “extended range,” meaning they are capable of reaching 30kHz or even higher. Why does this matter? Because even though you might not be able to “hear” extreme sounds (the same goes for ultra-low bass frequencies), believe it or not your brain might be able to actually “feel” some of those waves. And there have been studies on the emotional response to music with frequencies above and below our “normal hearing range” cut out and/or added in. We don’t have time to dissect psychoacoustics here; the key takeaway is the larger the speaker cone, the wider the response. So, an 8-inch woofer, like those packed into our HS8 monitors, will be able to reproduce deeper bass (down to 38Hz) than a smaller 5-inch model in the range (the HS5, which can reproduce sound accurately only down to 54Hz).
Your budget might dictate, to an extent, the size of the studio monitors you choose, but if you plan on tracking/mixing deep electronic bass or even gut-punching metal, try to go for the biggest models that fit your wallet and studio space.
If you absolute cannot afford, nor have the desk space for, larger studio monitors, you may wish to add a subwoofer down the line to help handle some of the lower frequencies based upon your cutoff point.
PASSIVE VS. ACTIVE
As with PA speakers, you’re typically not going to be running into many passive home studio monitors, meaning speakers that do not require power to operate. Powered speakers are much more common in the home studio realm, and typically will not only come with their own clean power amplifier built into the system, but also some additional controls that passive speakers simply cannot or do not offer. Just be aware that you’ll need an available power outlet in your studio rig to accommodate studio monitors.
KEY SPECS AND FEATURES
Aside from woofer and tweeter size and frequency response, there are a number of key features to the HS Series speakers that make all the difference in quality, and are some things you should keep an eye out for when you’re running down the spec sheet. For starters, powered monitors need a high-quality amp to drive the speakers cleanly (you don’t want clipped, distorted sound, do you?), and the HS8’s come equipped with a bi-amp design with separate dedicated amps for both the woofer and the tweeter. One of the benefits to a high-quality amp is that it will deliver consistently flat responses across the spectrum. Be wary of monitors that don’t disclose their amplifier types or specs.
Next, take care when choosing speaker enclosures (the actual material the “boxes” are constructed from). The HS Series is built using a dense and resilient MDF material, which is perfect for reference-quality playback due to its inherent ability to dampen acoustic response. Bottom line, the enclosure can be responsible for eliminating (or at least helping to reduce) acoustic issues, rattling, and problem-child resonances that lower-quality monitors may suffer from.
So far, we’ve taken a look at the box, the amp and the actual speakers, but what about the connectivity? Powered studio monitor speakers aren’t going to have standard speaker wire terminals like your stereo; rather, they will likely accommodate balanced XLR or 1/4” inputs. It’s crucial to match the inputs on the studio monitors you’re selecting with the outputs available on your audio interface. If the monitors you’re looking at don’t have XLR inputs, but for some reason that’s the only available output type on your interface or console, it’s time to make another choice. Thankfully, the HS8 monitors we’ve been running offer both XLR and 1/4″ inputs for flexibility.
And lastly, look for extra sound-shaping capabilities and other adjustments that will help tailor your monitors to your specific acoustic space. For example, the HS8’s offer room control capabilities as well as additional high-trim features to help tame frequencies in your room. You want the most accurate reproduction possible, so these high-end features can make all the difference in a home production.
HOW TO POSITION STUDIO MONITOR SPEAKERS
We’ll defer to Jay Frigoletto, expert mastering engineer with Mastersuite, who’s written on the subject in-depth for Performer:
“A common technique is to arrange monitoring on an equilateral triangle with one point being the listening position and the other two points being speakers aimed at the listener at 60º angles. Symmetry is important. You don’t want to be twice as far from the left wall as the right, or rotated with one speaker farther from the front wall than the other. Try to keep some space between speakers and walls. Direct sound, following a straight path from speaker to ear, mixes in undesirable ways with reflections from nearby surfaces such as walls, tables, and mixing consoles.
The reflected path, from speaker to wall to ear, is longer than the direct path, resulting in a copy of the sound arriving just after the original. Sound is comprised of alternating higher and lower pressure, or in electronic transmission, positive and negative voltage. When a delayed signal combines with the original, one may be cycling positive, and the other, negative. These energies work against each other, reducing level at certain frequencies (destructive interference). Both signals being in a positive cycle results in reinforcement at some frequencies (constructive interference). Neither case is welcome because it changes the frequency response of the sound from your speakers.
The easiest way to determine placement of treatments to absorb early reflections is to grab a mirror and enlist the help of a friend. While you sit at the listening position, your friend places the mirror flat on the wall, moving it until you can see a speaker. Center your treatments there. Sound and light travel in waves and reflect in similar ways (angle of incidence equals angle of reflection), so the mirror shows the first reflection paths from your speakers to your listening position. Ceilings, floors, and consoles also can be a source of unwanted reflections.”**
A QUICK WORD ON BASS TRAPS
Again, we’ll let Frigoletto address proper setup in your home studio:
“Low-frequency absorption, or bass trapping, is essential in small rooms, and acoustically speaking, any room in a house is a small room. Standing waves are a particular case of constructive and destructive interference between parallel walls causing certain frequencies to either ring or all but disappear at specific locations (anti-nodes and nodes). One node will exist exactly half-way between the front and back walls, so it’s best to have your listening position in front or behind the half-way point.
The poor bass response in un-trapped rooms contributes to many home studio mixes having problems in the low end. If you are missing bass at your listening position, you’re probably in a node. It may seem counter-intuitive to trap bass when you don’t have enough, but that’s exactly what to do. The missing bass is caused by sound bouncing between two walls, with the low pressure in one direction combining with the high pressure in the other, thereby cancelling each other out. If you trap the bass, it won’t bounce back, eliminating the cancellation and restoring an even bass response.
The simplest bass trapping is a thick porous absorber in the corners or on the back wall, often called a “super-chunk.” The classic material for these and many other absorptive treatments is Owens Corning 703 semi-rigid fiberglass boards in a frame covered with Guilford FR-701 fabric. The thicker the panel, the better the low-frequency absorption. Leaving a small space between panel and wall also improves low frequency performance. Four-inch panel depth gets you into the lower mid-range, but for real bass trapping, you’ll need it to be several times thicker.”
We hope this installment has helped guide you on your way to setting up studio monitors for optimal recording and mixing in your home studio. Keep in mind that this series is aimed primarily at the beginner home studio user in an effort to dispel common myths about home recording, and to make the entire process much less intimidating than it might seem at first.
Head to https://usa.yamaha.com/products/proaudio/index.html to learn more and to find the products that will fit YOUR home studio needs.
And don’t miss the first three entries in the series (links below). Again, be sure to check out the entire range of Yamaha professional sound products here and follow Yamaha Music USA on Facebook and Twitter.
Don’t Miss Our Previous Articles in This Series:
**For more, be sure to check out 4 Tips To Improve Home Studio Acoustics.