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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.