I've always placed my home Hi-Fi speakers close to the wall. This was the manufacturer's advice to get a good bass response. I assumed this would be the same for my home studio monitors, but is it?
What is the correct distance to place my home studio monitors from the wall? Place home studio monitors at least 1.5 meters away from walls that can exaggerate the bass response. Place right and left monitors the same distance away from parallel walls. Use the acoustic settings on the rear of the monitor to adjust the bass response for the room. Ideally, home studio monitors should be placed in an open space at least 1.5 meters away from walls. Placing a monitor close to a wall will exaggerate the bass response by about 2dB and placing the monitors in the corner increases this to about 4dB.
When you sit down on your sofa to listen to your favorite CD, you want to experience the music in its best possible light. We all like it when the vocals are clear, the bass is rounded, and the high notes of guitars or hi-hats sparkle in a listening space. A Hi-Fi system is designed to soften the edges of music and present it in a performance environment in your home.
If you are an audiophile Hi-Fi buff the way you set up your system is a matter of taste and pride. Every keen audiophile knows the speaker locations can significantly change the sonic quality of the music being played. Often Hi-Fi speakers are placed closer to walls to enhance the bass in a listening room.
Studio monitors for mixing at home, however, have a different purpose. The purpose of your home studio monitors is to expose music in the most honest way possible. Studio monitors are designed to provide flat frequency response and therefore aid in sifting out flaws from the recorded material or buildup of muddy lows and mids.
When you can get your mixes to sound great on your studio monitors, chances are, they will translate well to a real listening environment like on your Hi-Fi in the living room, or on your car stereo.
The distance from the wall for home studio monitors is a critical aspect of room setup. Yamaha suggests that MSP7s and their smaller brothers, the MSP5s should be a minimum of 1.5m away from any walls to avoid exaggerating the speaker’s bass response.
I've managed this in theory as the speakers point backward at an angle and are about 1.6m from the wall. However, the speaker's are still 80cm from their respective parallel walls, which is not perfect, according to Yamaha. Considering how the speakers need to form an equilateral triangle to my listing position, this was the best solution I could come up with without moving home!
Despite this less than ideal situation, according to Yamaha, my mixes sound impressive and translate well to other listening mediums.
The KRK Rokit G3 Studio Monitor provides a low-frequency level adjustment switch. The manufacturer recommends changing the bass output level depending on your room and monitor setup. If your monitors are in a ‘Large Room’, add 2dB, for a ‘Normal Room’ keep it at 0dB, ‘Against the Wall’ drop the level by 1dB and in the ‘Corner of the Room’ drop the level by 2dB.
The Mackie HR824s also have a selection switch to compensate for room positions. In an open space, the 3-way switch should be set to ‘normal’. The ‘half’ position activates a 2dB shelving filter for used when speakers are against the wall, and the ‘quarter’ position increases the filter to 4dB for use in room corners.
Neumann, for their KH120, recommends distances to the wall of between 1 and 2 meters. They advise a minimum length of 0.75 meters and a maximum of 4 meters. However, the Neumann monitors also have a set of acoustic controls that allow bass-frequencies to be shelved at -2.5dB, -5dB and -7.5dB. The recommended starting point for monitors placed in a corner is -7.5dB.
The Genelec M030 and M040 manual describe that bass levels need to be adjusted when monitors are placed against the wall (-2dB) or in a corner (-4dB). Bass level should also be reduced if the monitors are used in a damped or reverberant room.
Regardless of which make and model monitor you own, try to place your monitors away from walls and out of corners. Think about what your monitor position and listening position will look like and put this ‘triangle’ in the center of the room so that the distance from the right speaker to the right wall and the distance from the left speaker to the left wall are equal.
Figure 1: Home studio Monitor Wall Placement Rules
Try to put the listening position (sweet spot) at least one meter away from any wall.
Use a blank piece of paper and make a scale diagram of your room and ‘triangle’ (Left and Right Monitor and Sweet Spot) and sketch out your room layout. For my own studio, I used an A4 size piece of paper and scaled 1m=4cm, so my room was 12cm x 18cm, and the ‘triangle’ had 3 sides of 5.2cm each. This will give you a good idea of how things may fit and will undoubtedly save you a bit of moving stuff around again later!
Because we live in the real world, you will most likely find that your monitor position cannot meet the ideal setup. So, when you see your speakers sitting closer than 1.5m to the wall or in the room corners, reach for your monitor manual and check how to reduce the bass response using the controls on the rear of the cabinet.
We saw above in the examples from the manufacturers the bass response decibel level needs to come down about 2dB if monitors are close to a wall or about 4dB if in a corner.
Use these values as your own starting point to adjust your bass response and don't forget to use the same settings on both sides.
We have learned here that walls and corners will have an effect on our sound reproduction capabilities in our home studios – especially the low end. But let's consider a little more about the type of wall that makes up our room.
For example, in my own home studio, the two longer length walls are made of a different material. The wall running down the right side is a partition (dry) wall and the one on the left solid concrete. As you can image, these two walls will have different responses to the bass frequencies they are exposed to, and there is very little I am going to change in terms of building construction!
So, just be aware of your own room construction too and think about the 2dB and 4dB levels explained in this article. Consider that when you turn your mix up, those bass response effects are amplified (literally!) and when you listen to your mix at lower levels, those effects are somewhat reduced.
Finally, after you have set up your room and monitors, listen to a selection of commercial CDs at mix volume and see (well hear!) if it sounds ok.
How do I connect my home studio monitors to my Digital workstation (DAW)? Typically, you will connect your laptop, or desktop computer to the back of a USB audio interface. In turn, you will also connect each studio monitor to the USB interface. You can adjust the gain on the rear of the monitors and set the volume on the front of the USB. Adding a console between the USB and monitors is also possible, giving you more control if you have more than one set of monitors, more than one input, or want to have a single button for folding your stereo mix to mono.
What is comb filtering? In a home studio environment, comb filtering can occur when the sound sources from the right and left monitors hit reflective surfaces such as walls and corners and are added back to the original mix as second sound sources. Some frequencies end up at higher levels and some at lower levels, but in both cases, the original mix is colored with the reflected sound. The colored sound in extreme cases does not allow a mix to translate well outside of the mixing room.