When I first set up my home studio, I knew that the monitor setup was necessary, but I wasn't sure exactly how to set everything up correctly. After a few hours of research and considering the impracticalities of working alone, I came up with these hands-on solutions.
How do I set up my home studio monitors? The studio monitors and listening position (the sweet spot) need to form an equilateral triangle with each other, while each monitor must be angled in towards the listener's head and angled down so that the high-frequency tweeters are pointing directly at the listener's ears.
Many home studio owners naively place their studio monitors in any available spaces around their bedroom or spare room without realizing that their expensive equipment is underutilized and producing less than optimal audio. There is little science involved in getting a good monitor setup, and vast improvements require minimal effort and no specialized tools. The tools I used for my set up included some sticky dots, a few pieces of medical tape, some brass tacks, and a steel tape measure.
Figure 1: Practical Home Studio Monitor Set Up Tools
Correctly set up studio monitors are fundamental to providing the best listening position and a productive working environment. Proper monitor setup ensures that audio reproduction remains as faithful to the recorded material as possible. Monitors are also the tool that you use to balance low, medium, and high frequencies, and judge how essential parts of a mix sound. How you first hear the audio you are recording, mixing or mastering has a dramatic effect on how the finished audio sounds to other listeners and on other systems.
The starting point of the process for setting up your monitors is figuring out where you place the monitors in your room, and how far away from the monitors you sit. A few factors are at play here:
Figure 2: Home Studio Monitor Set Up Variations
Where possible, center your desk, workstation, and speakers to the shape and size of the room (see the diagrams below).
Figure 3: Home Studio Room Layouts
The layouts above are typical for small home studios, so use these as your first guide. Where possible, put your desk and monitors central to the shape of your room – this is to help minimize the effects of room resonance, a topic too detailed to go in to right now.
In some cases, for example, in a bedroom with a bed or a spare room with hefty cupboards, a perfect setup is just not practical. Strike a balance between practicality and perfection by deciding the most pragmatic position for your situation. Remember, you are trying to optimize your speaker positions for the room you have.
Having decided which room layout is most suitable and rearranging a bit of furniture where possible, you can now go ahead with fixing the monitor positions relative to the room, each other, and the listening position.
Figure 4: Practical Monitor Setup Measurements
First, we measure the distance that we sit away from the speakers. To give you an idea, in my room, I sit 120cm (47 inches) from my monitor plane and my mac screen. Because you know the relative mounting position in your room, this should be an easy measurement to take. The measurement you take here is [L] for the calculator. So, go ahead and enter your measurement into the first field and hit ‘Calculate.’ The monitor plane is the imaginary plane looking from above, cone-to-cone, or tweeter-to-tweeter.
Figure 5: Perpendicular Length to the Head Postion
For my setup, an [L] of 120cm calculates to an [x] of 138.56cm – the distance between the left-hand and right-hand monitor (see the photo below). You can now slide your two monitors out so that the distance between their centers is equal to your calculated [x]. Make sure that the two monitors are equal distances from the middle of your desk or head position. You can double check your result by measuring the distances from the left speaker and right speaker to the head position and confirming that they are both the same. Furthermore, the measured distances should also be equal to [x] – making an equilateral triangle.
Figure 6: Distance Between Right and Left Monitor Centers
Table 1: Examples of L and X Calculations
Can I mount my studio monitors horizontally? Unless they were designed to be mounted that way, do not be tempted! -- huge companies like Heumann, Yamaha, Adam, and JBL spend small fortunes designing, testing and manufacturing studio monitors for use in a certain way. The design process centers around an optimal set up which they expect the user to replicate when they install them at home or in a professional studio.
Secondly, swivel the speakers inwards so that they are pointing towards the head position, and in particular the ear position. As the speakers rotate, make sure that the distance [x] is maintained. A useful tip for pointing the speakers here is to use an aiming aid. There are a few options, but something like this works well:
Figure 7: Pointing The Monitors Inwards
Stick two office stationary dots on the center line of the tops of each monitor to use as a line of sight reference – keep them there in case you need to do this again. Then place some upturned tacks on the dots to provide an even better line of sight – close one eye and aim with the other so that the two tacks and the target position (the listener's ear) line up effortlessly.
Figure 8: Aiming The Monitors Inwards Using Two Tacks
Do this for both the right-hand and left-hand monitor. Just be careful with the tacks, you don’t want them dancing around as you aim the monitors. Keep checking they are over the dots you measured out.
Thirdly, and probably the most tricky, is to angle the studio monitor tweeters down slightly so that they are in line with your ear. I tried quite a few things here, including taping a soccer ball with some headphones attached to the seat back, but by far the best and easiest option was a second person to sit in the sweet spot while I got things right. Be sure to find someone who can keep their head still for a few minutes and refrain from playing ACDC for this step!
At this stage, you may have to raise or lower the monitor height to be able to align the tweeters with your ears – exercise caution here as you may upset the [x] distance you so carefully got right a few minutes ago. If you have foam isolating pads, these are ideal for angling the studio monitors downwards. Also, in practical terms, it is not always easy to angle the monitors down, so in this case, aim for keeping the tweeters at ear height. Don’t agonize too much if you can’t get a downward angle; the important thing is to get the high frequencies arriving in a straight line to your ears.
You should now have been able to set the studio monitors depth, height, and angle in your room. Good job! You can feel confident that you are progressing well.
Before the final step, test out your setup with the following checks:
As a final thought, consider recording the positions of your studio monitors so that if anything ever gets nudged or shunted, you can quickly put things back the way they were. If there is a risk your studio monitor’s positions can become disrupted, try the following ideas for keeping a record of positions.
Figure 9: Recording The Monitor Positions With Tape
How do I calibrate my studio monitors? To calibrate your studio monitors, you need to have another piece of equipment, a Sound Pressure Level (SPL) Meter and a pink noise source (-20dBfs). If you want to use the recommended K-20 system for recording and mixing, adjust your audio level so that each monitor produces a chosen level between 75dB(C) and 85dB(C) depending on the size of your room and what is a comfortable listening volume. I calibrated my monitors to the K-20 system at 82dB(C).
How do I check the polarity of my monitors is correct? You can try sending two identical mono signals to right and left channels and folding to mono (useful to have a mono button on your control surface) – if you have a polarity issue, the mono signal completely disappears. If you still hear the folded audio, there is no problem with polarity. If there is a problem, there is no silver bullet here, a full diagnostic check from end to end, on each channel, is needed to confirm that positive flows to positive, negative flows to negative until you hit the speaker inputs.