How To Correctly Place Your Studio Speakers In The Recording Environment
You just spent hundreds of dollars on your new professional studio monitors or high definition desktop speakers. It doesn't matter how good they are, if you get this one thing wrong, they will never be able provide you with the best possible audio quality you need. This one thing is the positioning of your speakers.
This is the one thing you need to get right, preferably while setting up your up your recording studio. Not only the positioning of the speakers, but the position where you will be situated in the room in relation to your speakers are critical.
By taking the following steps you will ensure both you and your studio monitors' position are set up to provide the best possible sound quality.
1. Use Your Room's Dimensions.
There is a reason most professional recording studios steer clear from rectangular or square rooms. The parallel and opposing walls directly reflect sound. The reverberation (echo) caused by the sound waves bouncing off the walls are extremely disruptive to any recording.
Unfortunately most of us creating a home recording studio, are limited to a rectangular room with directly opposing walls. Fortunately most rooms in a home are more rectangular in size than square. This means you can use the long and short walls to your advantage.
Always place your speakers against the short wall. You want the sound waves to travel as far as possible before being reflected. Using the length of the wall will ensure they travel the maximum distance and the reverberation is minimized as much as possible.
Even though speakers may be facing away from the wall they are placed against, some of the sound, especially the bass, travels in all directions. This is reflected off the back wall and clash with the sound travelling in the direction the speakers face.
You cannot completely eliminate this effect, but by placing the speakers at least 2 feet away from the wall, you can keep it to minimum.
You can further lesson the effect by applying acoustic materials to the back walls. Bass traps are ideal to be use for this purpose. (More on acoustic materials later on in this article.)
3. Always Direct The Speakers At The User
The direction the speakers are facing is almost as important as their position in the room.
Make sure the speakers are always directed at the user/artist, wherever they are placed in the room. (See above placed diagram.)
As sound is mostly directional in the case of speakers, especially mid to high frequencies, pointing them to the recording source will ensure the strongest signal is received.
It is important to take note of the importance of symmetry here as well. As illustrated in the diagram, for a consistent and equal signal strength, make sure the speakers are placed the same distance from the recording space. (Just as important is to keep an equal spacing behind the speakers, as well as an equal distance from the side walls to the speakers.)
4. Use An "Equilateral Triangle" Position
The ideal position between you, the speakers and the distance between the two speakers, can be determined by using the dimensions of an equilateral triangle. An equilateral triangle has equal lengths and identical internal angles (60 degrees).
Use it as illustrated in the diagram at the top of the article, displayed in the dashed line. This is always a quick and easy way to determine a good position.
Just remember, it is not always the best position, especially the distance between the user and the speakers. Sometimes the "sweet spot" is closer or further away from the speakers, depending on factors like the length of the room and the power output of the speakers themselves. Only by experimenting and and moving your position around, will you be able to find the perfect position.
5. Avoiding The Center Of The Room
The center of the room has what can be called a "dead spot", and again this is the fault of the reflection of the sound waves off the walls, causing reverberation.
Specifically with bass sounds, as the sound waves bounce off the opposing walls and meet up at the center of the room, they cause what is called "bass null". Basically this means they cancel each other out as they collide at the center of the room, causing the frequency of the bass to drop to almost zero. Obviously you want to avoid this position completely.
Moving your position away from the center and closer to the speakers, as illustrated in the diagram, will prevent you from encountering this "dead spot". (With the added benefit that you create more distance behind you, which allows the sound waves to travel farther before bouncing off the back walls, reducing the reverberation effect, as already mentioned earlier in this article.)
6. The Correct Speaker Height
This is a very controversial and highly debated subject. There are many theories doing the rounds causing a lot of confusion among users. I will just briefly touch on one strong argument, before recommending which position seems to work best, and can be recommended for the best overall results.
One very prominent argument is to combat the distortion and reverberation caused by waves trapped in a room, by placing your speakers below or above the halfway point between the ceiling and the floor. In this way you are disrupting the wave pattern and minimizing the distortion caused.
There is plenty of logic in this argument and it makes sense if you go into more detail as to how sound waves work. Luckily, by following the best practice and recommendation below you will automatically ensure this argument is adhered to as well.
One of the most popular recommendations, is still the best overall position to use. And that is to place the speakers at ear level. If you are seated, use a stand that allows the speakers to be placed at a position parallel to your years.
This way you get a balanced sound from both the bass and high frequencies produced by the woofers and tweeters respectively.
(In this position, the speakers will definitely be below the halfway point between the ceiling and the floor, ensuring the position the first argument in the section advocated, is also adhered to.)
Another advantage of this position is that by not placing the speakers close to the floor or ceiling, you avoid reflected sounds that would have been created by both surfaces.
7. Avoid Desktop Placement If Possible.
Many users still make the mistake of placing their speakers on their desks. This is a fairly common mistake. The problem with desks is their flat hard surfaces. Sound from the speakers get reflected off these surfaces and amplified, causing a distorted sound to reach the user and microphone.
Rather place your speakers on a pair of stands behind and to the sides of your desk, at ear level and facing you and the microphones. This way you largely cut out any interference your desk may cause.
(Remember, desktop or bookshelf speakers are named this way simply because they are compact enough to be placed on a desk or shelf, not because they were meant to be placed there. Traditionally most hi-fi speakers the size of a proper desktop speakers have always been placed on stands, as it is the most appropriate place from which the best possible sound quality is produced.)
If you have to place your speakers on the desk, place it at the front of the desk where no surface can reflect or distort the sound. This may cause some new challenges, but it is a compromise to begin with.
8. Use Acoustic Materials
Now its time to add some acoustic materials to put the final touches to your speaker setup. Its important to only start adding these acoustic materials after you have done all the other setups and placements of equipment and furniture.
I am only going to focus on the acoustic treatment relevant to your speaker setup. You can read more about room preparation and acoustic treatment in this article.
I already mentioned the bass traps to be added directly behind the speakers against the wall, to absorb the bass from speakers that may reflect off them.
Now lets have a look at look at the direction the sound from the speakers are traveling. If correctly set up, sound waves will travel the length of the room, before bouncing off the back wall and the reflected sound travels back to the user and recording device.
Although already weakened due to the length its traveled before being reflected, the sound waves are still strong enough to interfere with the recorded sound. The space directly opposite the speakers against the back wall will be the ideal place to one or more acoustic panel.
You can start with 2 panels vertically placed opposite each speaker. Normally this should be sufficient to take care of any reverberation, but judge for yourself.
The last bit of acoustic treatment is relevant your own position. You have 4 reflection points directly parallel to your position. Two are directly above you, and one parallel to you on the left and one parallel to you on the right wall.
Adding a single acoustic panel at each of these points should take care of acoustic treatment. (All acoustic treatments are indicated in grey on the diagram to make it easy for you to identify the correct placement.)
Just a word of caution. Work sparingly with your acoustic treatment, and add it in the order described. After each application, do a sound test first to see if enough treatment has already been applied. Depending on the size of the room, you may not need the full acoustic treatment.
You now have a rough plan to follow to make sure your speakers/studio monitors are placed in the correct position, angled in the right direction, and the acoustic treatment is applied in all the right areas to produce the best possible sound quality.
These guidelines are not set in stone, so feel free to experiment and find the positioning that works for you. If you run into difficulties, you can always revert back to these guidelines.
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Catch you in the next article and happy recording!