Grab Those Cables! Setting up studio monitors may seem complicated at first, but the process is actually quite simple once you understand a few basics about psychoacoustics and how rooms work.
As a rule-of-thumb, rectangular rooms tend to work better than square rooms because of the particular nature of room nodes, which are resonances that are created when a room dimension is an exact multiple of half of the wavelength of the sound being played through the monitors.
The more exact the dimensions are in accordance with the room nodes (in square rooms, all walls are the same width, length, and height), the more difficult it will be to correct the problem.
Though, in rectangular rooms, the solution is quite simple: you set up the monitors in either of the narrow ends of the room, which allows for a more even response during playback.
Why is this?
The simplest answer that I can give you is that given the smaller dimensions of either the narrower ends of the room, the resulting room nodes aren’t as likely to present a problem as long as you apply proper acoustic treatment and adhere to proper positioning methods for your monitors.
So Where Do I Put Them Exactly?
If you type in the words “monitor placement” in a Google search, you’ll likely find dozens of articles and manuals telling you how exactly you should place your monitors with the utmost mathematical precision.
While they may be useful, I believe there’s a far simpler technique at your disposal that won’t require the use of measuring tape nor a protractor.
If you don’t have monitor stands at this point, I highly suggest that you get a pair before you proceed, as they’re fairly inexpensive and provide a number of acoustic and spatial benefits that will simply make your life so much easier during your recording, mixing, and production sessions.
Before I continue, please keep in mind that, as studio monitors are made to substantially different and varying specifications, the distances I suggest may change depending on the manufacturer’s given specifications for your monitors.
In the event that they suggest that you place your monitors at least three feet away from the wall, follow their instructions and adjust your placement of the desk and stands accordingly.
Additionally, depending on the make and model, certain monitors feature configuration options that you can use to adjust them to the space you’re in depending on how much room is available.
Otherwise, set up your monitor stands roughly one foot to six inches away from the wall that your desk is facing (your desk should be roughly two to three feet away from the wall).
Many monitors tend to come with their own cables, but if you find yourself in need of a pair, be sure to visit either of the Sweetwater or Guitar Center websites, which offer an excellent variety of high-quality cables at reasonable prices.
Tweaking To Perfection
Hooking up the monitors is usually a snap, just identify the output ports on your audio device and insert the appropriate audio cables accordingly. Usually, the output ports on audio devices are denoted numerically or with the letters “L” (for left) and “R” (for right”) if there happen to be only two outputs total.
In regard to positioning, the easiest method that works for me is playing music through the monitors using your favorite songs as references and adjusting the position of the monitors until your “sweet spot” is fully established.
This means that you can clearly hear the full frequency range of the song as it was intended and that you can perceive a clearly defined image of the mix and instrumentation in the song. In other words, if the kick and bass sound sort of lopsided and the lead seems to be a little thin, your monitors may be placed a little too far apart.
Ideally, the tweeters on your monitors should be aligned with the tops of your outer ears while the monitors themselves are pointed just slightly outside of your sweet spot instead of pointing directly at you. I find that this positioning helps to enhance the stereo imaging quite nicely.
Experiment Until You Go Crazy, And Then Some More
Of course, you can invest your money and time into purchasing a room measurement system that will give you precise measurements and various calculations that could help you to tweak and calibrate your room to perfection, but there’s one element that all those tools can’t really measure: texture.
By all means, if you’re in oddly shaped room that requires a more strategic approach to proper and effective acoustic treatment, then do all the research necessary to treat as thoroughly as possible, but never doubt your ears when it comes to knowing what sounds right and what sounds off.