Today we'll be covering the basics of desk positioning, speaker placement and learn how to calibrate monitor speakers correctly using your DAW and SPL metering devices. We won't be focusing on acoustic treatment because most of you reading this blog will no doubt have little to no acoustic treatment, but don't let that put you off. Setting up and calibrating your speakers correctly is half the battle to achieving a better sound.
Buying big expensive speakers is completely pointless unless you have the correct environment to set them up in. Take a £1000 pair of monitors and place them a small untreated room with terrible positioning and they'll sound more like a pair of £10 tin cans. Before making a purchase evaluate the size of your room and really think about what size speakers will best suit your environment.
If your room is small enough to touch the walls from where you're seated then consider spending the money on decent studio headphones instead. Be logical about your purchase and remember bigger doesn't equal better-sounding results. It all depends on your room's shape, size, and acoustics.
The listening position (mix position) is where you'll be spending 99% of your time while making music, so it's important to ensure that your desk and speakers are positioned in the best possible place for your room to help minimise any potential issues with early reflections or bass build-up.
One of the most common mistakes is having the desk and speakers tucked into the corner of a room or having speakers right up against the walls. If you can, try to position your desk off the short-wall with equal distances to the side-walls. This will help give a better bass response as your speakers will be firing down the length of your room. The desk should be a couple feet off the short-wall or 38% of your rooms length.
- Centralise your desk to the short-wall
- Measure the length of your room and use a calculator to determine the distance the desk & speakers need to be from the short-wall. With a calculator enter (Length of room) x .38 = (Distance)
- Move the desk & speakers off the wall by the amount calculated.
Positioning your speakers correctly is vital to getting accurate sound. The quickest way to do this is with a tape measure. Find the center of your desk, then from the central point place your speakers at equal distances from each other.
While sitting in your mixing position angel the speakers inwards (towards you) so that you cannot see the sides. All you should be able to see is the face of each speaker (as shown in the second picture below). One of the most common mistakes is aiming the speakers directly ahead at the back wall.
- Avoid sharing the same distances between the side-walls and short-wall.
- Example: L Wall 3ft R Wall 3ft Front Wall (short-wall) 3ft
Now that the speakers are in the right position we need to do some fine-tuning to ensure we are sitting in the "sweet spot" by checking the relative distance between the speakers, our seated position and adjust accordingly. The idea is to create an equilateral triangle between you and the speakers.
Take a tape measure and measure from center of the left speaker cone to the right speaker cone. Now take the tip of the tape measure and move it towards you to form a triangle. Where the tip of the tape measure resides, will roughly be where the sweet spot is.
- Note: You may need to play around with the placement of your speakers to get the sweet spot distance that's right for your mixing position.
- Avoid placing speakers at extreme distances, or the corners of your room. Always follow the equilateral triangle rule.
When it comes to the height of the speakers your ears need to be in line with the tweeters. If you're just resting your speakers on a flat desk then the chances are they're going to be too low and you'll need to raise them a few inches using foam pads or desktop stands like the ISO Acoustics L8R-155. Alternatively, you could use monitor speaker floor stands like the QuikLok Bs-300 to free up desk space.
Some purpose-built audio production desks have a raised shelf just for monitor speakers, in most cases, they're set at the correct height but it's still a good to double check with a tape measure. Generally speaking, your speakers should be 47 - 55 inches off the floor and if you decided to tilt them do not exceed more than 15 degrees from vertical.
- Important: Tweeters should not sit at the halfway point of the height of your room. For example, if the room is 8ft high the tweeters must not be 4ft high. Try positioning them slightly off axis to avoid some issues.
Calibrating Speaker Volume
Calibrating the independent levels of your L and R speakers is really important. If the levels are unbalanced it'll cause the stereo image to be off and you'll be overcompensating for the volume differences in your mix which results in your music sounding one-sided or uneven.
Some monitor speakers come with fancy calibrating software and microphones. But for those of you that don't have that stuff, there's a more simple method using Pink Noise and an SPL Meter. Most DAWs come with a Test Tone Generator, usually as a VST insert. They allow you to generate various waveforms or noise.
If you don't own an SPL Meter, don't worry. If you have a mobile phone you can download one of the many SPL Meter apps. Just make sure that it offers C-Weighted metering and allows you to set a target SPL level and allows you to set a Fast or Slow Response.
- Listen to some music and set the volume of your Audio Interface (using the dial) to a comfortable level
- Turn the music off
- On the back of your left and right monitor speakers, turn the volume dials all the way down
- Start up your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation)
- Create a new session and add a Stereo audio track
- On the Stereo track, insert the test tone generator (that comes with your DAW) and select Pink Noise
- Set your SPL Meter or SPL Meter App to 85db using C-Weighted method with a Slow Response
- Position your SPL meter in the Sweet Spot (listening position) using a stand or, if you're using a phone, get a friend to hold it at arm's length at 45 degrees
- On the Master Fader of your DAW, pan the channel 100% left
- On the back of your Left Speaker turn the volume dial up slowly until the SPL meter reads 85db then power down the speaker
- Now pan the Master Fader 100% Right and repeat the process until it reads 85db on the SPL Meter
- Now turn off the Pink Noise and power your Left Speaker back on, sit in your mixing position and play some music back through the speakers.
Note: If you find your room is on the small-side and 85db is too loud then repeat the steps above but aim for a lower SPL of 79db.