Yesterday, we here at PAL discussed a few of the inherent problems that come with trying to setup the perfect home studio – specifically – setting up the monitors. We talked about Room Modes and how they can be a huge pain for anyone trying to create a perfectly balanced mix – a problem that gets worse the smaller the room is! Essentially, problems occur when the sound bouncing off the wall fall directly in line with the sound going towards the wall, known as in-phase, creating a sort of boosted effect that makes certain frequencies sound louder than others even if the sound coming from the monitors are perfectly balanced. This is an oversimplification but head over right here to get a more detailed look at Room Modes, why they occur and exactly why they can ruin a perfect mix. Alright, now that you know the problems that can occur when trying to setup a home studio, it’s time to fix them! Or more specifically, do your best to prevent them. While there will certainly be a few problems out of one’s control – such as the size and dimensions of your room – the good news is that there are enough little things that one can do to counter their adverse affects to the point where they should become negligible. So, for those of you ready to begin prepping that perfect home studio setup, read on and get a few tips in your arsenal that are sure to make your monitors perform their best!
Counteracting Room Mode Problems and Acoustic Treating Your Room
Proper listening position
Alright, so now that we know how room modes occur and other little annoyances that tend to pop out in smaller room environments, it’s time to fix them. For those of you out there who simply don’t want to spend the time to manually look for and adjust certain modal hotspots in their room, there are a few computer programs that can help analyze a room according to its dimensions and your speaker placement, but they are not perfect. While these programs can give you a rough estimate of where certain hotspots are bound to pop out at, they fail to take into account anything else in your room (such as any furniture or even the material used in the wall, all of which affect the way sound travels), meaning you’ll still have to compensate for all of these variables. In the end, you will have to do some manual rearranging so it’s probably best to use these programs as a starting point and not a cure all solution, but honestly, you’re better off fine tuning your speakers by ear as this will help you better understand and identify certain problems. But now, onto the setup.
As far as speaker placement is concerned, they should be placed at about a 30 degree angle from the center line (your head) or 60 degrees from all corners, similar to a perfect triangle, although you do have a little bit of leeway in order to compensate for the acoustics of the room or any modal problems. Modal problems are directly correlated to the position of the listener and the speakers, so it is at this position that tweaks should be compensated for. It is also advisable to put your speakers on a decent stand as this will help you avoid problems that can occur with too much vibration as well as bounce backs from the desk they sit on. One of the most common mistakes made when setting up speakers are their distance from the wall behind them. When placed too close in front of a wall, some of the lower frequencies will travel behind the speaker and bounce off the wall, causing the bass to sound louder than it actually is. Also, depending on how far the speakers are from the wall, the frequencies might bounce back in-phase (resulting in those modal hotspots that we are trying to avoid) while others will cancel, causing muffled frequencies. While it’s impossible to completely remove both of these problems, you would ideally want to randomize these peaks and dead spots as much as possible. One way to do this is to make sure that the distance from the speakers to the back wall is different from the distance of the speakers to the side walls and the same goes with the floor and the ceiling (which is why studios regularly have ceilings over eight feet tall) as this will help you avoid creating those perfect multiples we spoke of yesterday that cause modal effects. Also, because we are talking about perfect multiples in distance causing modal problems, the distance of the speakers to the wall should not be multiples of each other either, meaning if your speaker is about four feet from the back wall, anything distance that is a perfect multiple of that (be it half a foot, one foot, two, eight, sixteen, etc) should be avoided as this too will cause those problems. As mentioned above, randomizing these modal spots is the key here. As far as your work area is concerned, it is advised that your speakers and equipment be placed along the longest wall of your room as this will minimize side-wall reflections. This along with properly distanced speakers from all of the room dimensions is the best way to ensure the most balanced output possible as far as placement is concerned, although there are a few other things that can be done besides making sure the distances are proper as we will get into in a bit. After everything is in its proper distance, don’t forget that about that slight leeway in angling position of the speakers in order to fine tune the sound; simply listen and tweak until you find what sounds best.
Diffusers along the walls of a proffesional studio setup
Most professional studios have the advantage of being specifically designed for optimal acoustics and while certain things are close to impossible in a home setup – such as the raised ceiling – there are a few things that can be done that can give you similar results. Most studios tend to use diffusers – oddly shaped surfaces designed to scatter sound waves – and bass traps along their walls to absorb sound and avoid in-phase bounce backs that cause modal effects. Interestingly enough, furniture such as book shelves with random things scattered about can work very similarly as this will also randomly scatter the frequencies. Most of us are familiar with the carpet on the wall trick used as a sound trap in order to minimize noise leaking from the room, and although this works solid for cases like those, when setting up a speaker, balance for the listener is far more important than sound leaking out of the room. Instead of adding carpet along the entire room, try putting a piece of acoustic foam (doesn’t need to be more than a square meter in size as we are only trying to fix the frequencies that will bounce back to the listener and not around entire room) behind each monitor for bass absorption. Another good trick is to place heavy curtains or a rug along the center part of the back wall to minimize bounce backs. If possible, hanging this material a few inches off the wall and not directly on it will create much more effective results as sound will have more barriers to cross. Also, placing another one of those square meter acoustic foams above the monitors will help diffuse ceiling reflections. Even something as simple as placing a sofa along the back wall will help.
Essentially, when it comes down to it, there are two main things that go into proper monitor placement; proper distance from all dimensions of the room to avoid modal effects and optimal sound absorption to avoid bounce back. There are also a few other things one should do in order to create the best mix possible. Try listening to professional recordings (CDs) through your speakers to get a feel for how a proper mix will sound like with your specific speakers. Try doing this often until you truly get a feel for the sound. Also, sometimes the easiest way to cancel out certain annoying acoustic imbalances can be fixed by simply moving slightly closer to your monitors – otherwise known as near-field monitoring. The closer you are entails that you will hear more of the sound coming from the actual speakers than the frequency reflections. While these tips will help you get a good idea at some of the things you should be going for and what to avoid, everyone’s setup will be slightly different in order to compensate for their work area, so fine tuning and adjusting will be needed in order to get the best balance possible. And although that might sound like a bit of work, it will all be worth it once that perfectly mixed track is finally finished.