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Studio Monitor Basics

Countless times I see musicians/producers posting pics “in the studio” working hard at their craft, while their monitor speakers are set up completely wrong, making things exceptionally hard on themselves. This is like trying to paint a painting wearing tinted sunglasses. It also doesn’t send the message to other producers/engineers/mixers who are scoping out your Instagram or Twitter that you really know what you are doing. 

Monitor set up and acoustics can get a little crazy when you start doing research on how to set up properly, so instead let’s focus on some simple basics you can apply right now to correct your monitoring and get better mix results!


1. Is Your Desk Really In The Right Place? 

Near field monitors respond better in smaller rooms. If you have a large space, try and section your studio area off better. Even if it’s just a bookcase or sofa. Having something behind you, taking up physical and sonic space, to can be very helpful. Get away from the corner, and at least 20in/50cm away from walls. Try to square yourself off as much as possible, i.e. aim for your desk be as centered in the space as possible. 


2. Ear Level, Always. 

Your monitors have to be at ear level, I can’t stress this enough. Having the left monitor stacked on books and higher than the right monitor in your studio is making things incredibly hard on yourself. Both monitors absolutely need to be on the same horizontal plane. If you can’t fit your monitors on your desk at ear level, simple speaker stands are a must. OnStage SMS6000 are a good place to start.


3. Up Right Please. 

Without getting into the gritty details of it, unless you know for a fact your monitors are recommended by their manufacturer to be placed on their side, don’t place them horizontal. It might look cool, or allow you a more seemingly practical placement, but by changing the relationship between the woofer and the tweeter you are interfering with the wavefront and interfering with the mid range frequency response. Aka making your mixing even harder to pull off.


4. Equilateral Triangles! 

The term to know here is ‘toe in’, it’s how you aim the monitors at your head to give you the best response, and how far apart you place them. The distance between each monitor should be the same distance between your nose in the listening position and each monitor. This takes getting used to, you’ll need to find the “sweet spot” for yourself based on the size of your monitors. Rule of thumb here is, the smaller the speaker (6″ to 8″ is as big as I would go for a small project studio) the closer you will want to ‘toe in’ your listening centre/tip of the equilateral triangle your making. 

To get each monitor at the exact 30 degrees you need to complete your equilateral triangle, Genelec has you covered with it’s free iPhone app: 


5. Listen, Listen, Listen! 

Everyone has different rooms, different acoustic hurdles, and different monitors with various degree’s of “flat”. Instead of chasing some expensive monitor set that producer X swears by, take the time to LEARN the ones you own. I can’t stress this enough, it’s way more important to know how your monitors sound, how your room sounds, than it is to chase the newest/expensive gear everyone’s drooling over. 

After you’ve adjusted your monitors as we’ve outlined, sit down and play a LOT of your favourite music through them. Make sure it’s music you’ve heard everywhere: your car, headphones, iPhone/laptop speakers, in the club etc. The more familiar you are with the music the better. Make sure it’s professionally made. Don’t reach for bootlegs kicked out of Ableton Live, go for tracks produced by amazing producers, and mastered by mastering houses you are familiar with (aka the famous ones!)

By training your ear to know how your room “interprets” the music you love, you’ll start to condition your ears so when you sit down to mix your own music, you’ll have a good frame of reference to what it should sound like. 

Extra Tips:

 – Get up and move around your room while you are listening back, if you spot strange bass response and/or reflections, it’s time to sort out some bass traps / absorbers. There are plenty of resources online on how to build your own, or invest in Primacoustic panels which I highly recommend. 

– Don’t monitor too loudly. We all have the tendency to get excited, and reach for our monitor control to crank it up. By doing this, you are diminishing the amount of time you’ll be able to listen to before ear fatigue sets in. Use a simple level meter app on your phone ( to keep your monitor level around the standard 80dBs. This is the level mix engineers work at daily, allowing them the maximum amount of time in front of their monitors before fatigue sets in.  

– Frequency Analyzers are your friend. Some think it’s cheating to slap a analyzer on your master bus while you are working. I don’t! First reason, if you don’t have a sub woofer, you’ll never know what your low end is actually doing without one. 

Applying a analyzer will allow you see exactly whats going on down there, and make sure the sub frequencies aren’t over powering your mix without you knowing it. 

Second reason, again if you don’t have the perfect acoustically tuned room, you’ll be able to spot issues in your mix that you might not be able to hear. Lastly, it’s a great way to train your ear to what frequencies sound like! If you can build the “eye to ear” correlation you’ll vastly improve your ability to know how to EQ properly, spot issues in the mix and eventually ween yourself off relying on the analyzer all together! 

Colin C runs The Cell Studio and is a certified Logic X trainer and sound engineer. His original compositions, collaborations and remixes have been featured on HBO’s “True Blood”, Showtime’s “House Of Lies”


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