Studio Monitor Placement: An A-to-Z Guide for Beginners

Are you having trouble deciding on a concise studio monitor placement plan? With this guide, you will see clearly that it is not a challenge at all.

by Derrick Reeves | Updated: July 28, 2021

So, you have spent quite a bit of money on audio equipment and speakers, but the sound quality does not reflect the price. This issue is a clear sign that your studio monitor placement is a bit off, and you need to fix it immediately.

Here is the correct way to do studio monitor placement:

You start things off by figuring out the most suitable listening position. Then, you work on the listening distance as well as the height and layout of the speakers.

Finally, you decide on how far the speakers should be from the walls and fine-tune things with acoustic measurements.

How To Position Studio Monitors

Here are the tips on studio monitor placement that most pros use. They will surely improve the quality of what you hear even more.

Find A Suitable Listening Position

Find A Suitable Listening Position

The first thing you need to do before working on the placement of the studio monitors is picking a listening position.

You can do this by facing your studio room’s short wall. Doing this makes the speakers capable of firing down across the room’s length.

This phenomenon will let your speakers give out a much flatter base response. It also allows for maximizing the space between your ears and the wall.

You should remember that the rear wall must be at a minimum of 10 feet away from the ears if it is reflective.

Wes Lachot’s 38% “Rule.”

Despite what we call it, it is not as much of a rule. It is more of a guideline that a world-famous studio designer named Wes Lachot came up with. This theoretical optimal position for listening works the best in rectangular rooms.

Of course, this success is under the assumption that your room has ideal soundproofing measures. It is, after all, based on compromise, but it serves as a perfect introduction to a studio setup.

You can use acoustic measures later in order to fine-tune things to your preference.

First, you must calculate your room’s 38% in length and put a mark exactly this distance from the front wall.

This mark’s width center should be between the right and left sidewalls. This spot has always been the first recommendation to try out as a listening position.

An alternative way to place the mark is to do so at the same distance from the rear wall.

However, we do not think that it can be better than the front wall method. The nulls and bass peaks will worsen the further back you are, as the room’s rear is where reflection happens.

We strongly advise against sitting right at the back wall, as this position negatively affects comb filtering in the worst way possible. You can try it out if the walls happen to have some massively thick absorption layers, though.

Wes Lachot’s 38% “Rule.”

Using diffusion in the rear wall also requires there to be some space available, as the scattered sound waves must disperse.

If for some reason, you cannot place your listening position at the 38% distance, you can try something in the range of 35 to 43%. Avoid the nodal points, such as 50% and 25%, as much as possible.

We believe that this method can provide you with the flattest low-frequency response. However, it is still theoretical, so you should do proper frequency response measurements at a multitude of locations.

The Dreaded Point For Bass Null

Rectangular rooms always have a null right at their halfway points between all the parallel surfaces. Listening to these positions causes quite a nasty dip for the bass response.

To protect both your sanity and your music, we recommend against listening at your room’s halfway point in length. The same can be said for your ears/speakers and the halfway point heightwise.

Things are different if we are talking about the halfway between the sidewalls, though.

The symmetry between left and right is critical for localizing sound sources, especially during the sound stage. This phenomenon is especially important for people who do stereo imaging.

The Equilateral Triangle

The most agreed-upon idea among the audiophile community is that the speakers and listener should be in an equilateral triangle placement. This method is arguably the best if you want accurate stereo images.

We believe that the reference point, aka the third point of this triangle, must be behind the ears. This placement will allow your mid-range drivers or tweeters to point at you directly in the ears.

However, Dolby and ITU, two of the most popular standards for surround sound speaker placement, place it in your head’s center. Our guess is that this placement style makes it easier to lay the speakers out.

The designers for studio recording will almost always place the third point behind your head. Doing so makes your audio listening experience a whole lot better.

From this reference point, you look forthright and imagine two lines, each one a 30 angle to the side. The speakers should be placed on these lines so that the tweeters are on their axes.

The Equilateral Triangle

As long as you place them on these axes, they will always make an equilateral triangle with your reference point.

The reason behind this equilateral triangle lies in the directional nature of high-frequency content.

Following this nature, it goes without saying that the tweeters must be pointing directly into your ears. The level of necessity of this setup is dependent on your speakers’ off-axis response.

The directional nature of bass and mid-range drivers is weaker, so their position can be less exact.

A way to check if your studio monitor placement is correct is to look at the speaker from your reference point. If you can only see their front baffles, then they are correctly set up.

Height And Tilt Of The Studio Monitors

The minimum requirement for your studio reference monitors is that they must be 47 inches from the floor.

The tweeters should never sit right in your room’s vertical center. You can even adjust them slightly off your ears’ axes if that means they can be off the center.

ITU Standard Speakers Height: Freestanding studio monitors should be 47-55 inches off the ground if they aren’t tilted down. Their tweeters need to be firing directly to your ears.

In the case that you must tilt the speakers toward your listening position, remember to always angle them less than 15 from vertical.

Once your speaker is tilted down, any slight movement forward to backward will cause changes in the frequency response.

Main Monitor Height: The mid-range drivers should be somewhere around 57 and 58 inches above your floor. You must follow this requirement closely if your studio control room has flush-mounted main monitors.

The Dreaded Point For Bass Null

 

 

This setup allows people to be right in the sweet spot, no matter if they are standing or sitting. However, it only works when there is no tilt in the speakers.

Surround Sound Speakers’ Height: In an ideal world, all three of the front speakers have tweeters with similar heights. That’s not easily achievable in the real world.

As such, you only need to ensure that the difference is less than 5 degrees.

We generally allow surround loudspeakers to be at ear level. However, the truth is that mounting these around 2 feet above your ear height while seated is the better alternative.

Speaker-Boundary Interference And Bass

Speakers are omnidirectional when they operate at lower frequencies.

In simpler terms, the bass waves tend to radiate all over the place, creating a rumbling ruckus. These waves radiate toward the wall before you from the speakers, and they reflect once they hit the wall.

When this reflected sound wave meets the source sound wave, there will be acoustic interference. But that’s not as bad as the wave cancellation.

This phenomenon only happens for a certain frequency and only if your speaker is exactly one-quarter wavelength from your wall. The amount of cancellation is dependent on the reflection’s strength.

For instance, let’s take a 60 Hz sound wave. If you place the speaker at 1/4, 3/4, etc., wavelength, there will be a dip or even a null in your frequency response when it reaches 60Hz.

You should also be careful about the 1/2 wavelength distance from the wall, which we call an antinode.

The two sound waves add together at this point, causing a boost or peak at 60 Hz in the frequency response. A standing wave is formed from the reflected and direct waves.

No matter which phase the wave is at when it hits the wall, the cancellation will occur at the 1/4 wavelength point. The reason for this occurrence is due to the half a wavelength difference between the waves.

Half a wavelength means they are 180 degrees out of phase, so they cancel each other out.

Height And Tilt Of The Studio Monitors

 

SBIR (Speaker-Boundary Interference Response)

When the direct and reflected waves are equally strong, being half a wavelength out of phase means they annihilate each other completely.

We call this phenomenon the speaker-boundary interference response or SBIR. The core concept of this term lies in boundary-induced comb filtering.

SBIR is responsible for the deepest dips you can see in your bass response when it’s under a certain frequency. In fact, it can affect the low-frequency response more than things like room modes.

You can’t, unfortunately, correct SBIR with EQ. After all, applying a correction filter to boost the cancellation frequency signal means the reflection will also receive a boost.

The only way that you can address this issue is through acoustic treatment and speaker placement.

Speakers placed right before the wall means that there will always be boundary interference messing with you.

It may be impossible to completely get rid of SBIR, but some positions can do wonders at minimizing both the nulls and peaks. You see, the first SBIR cancellation notch tends to be 2/3 the width of an octave.

Knowing this information, fixing things will be much easier. You only need to either place the speakers:

  • Out of the frequency range reproduced
  • At a frequency high enough for absorption treating

Here are the three options that you can choose from:

Flush-Mounted Studio Monitors

Flush-Mounted Studio Monitors

Also known as the most efficient way to combat SBIR, this method makes your walls hard and rigid. As a result, once you flush-mounted the speakers on them, meaning you build the speakers into the wall, there is no reflection.

No wave reflection means absolutely no speaker boundary interference.

Now, the speakers and the wall will sing in perfect harmony with each other. Flush mounting also improves acoustical loading significantly, leading to increased efficiency for low frequencies.

You do need to be aware of the difference between flush mounting and soffit mounting. While many confuse them, soffit mounting means the speakers are flush-mounted on a soffit.

This kind of setup is certainly not ideal, as it turns the monitors’ angle steeply down to the listener. The space below your soffit is also quite resonant.

You will see this studio monitor placement style in most million-dollar control rooms.

Speakers Placed Near Front Wall

Some monitors are simply not built to be flush-mounted. Nonetheless, taking advantage of the wall’s proximity to the speakers is still doable.

This setup, while inferior to the one above, is the best choice if you want to use nearfield monitors for your home studio. You must be careful about the size of the speakers, though.

Small speakers’ mid frequencies are much less directional, so there is a high risk of low-mid frequency backward energy radiation.

When you reduce the distance between the wall and the speakers, your frequency response’s cancellation notch also changes to higher frequencies.

This is great, as higher frequencies tend to be much more directional due to less energy backward radiation.

We believe that a 0 to 8 inches gap between the speakers and your front wall will serve as the perfect starting point. It will surely provide a satisfactory coloration minimization.

However, you can do no wrong checking out the specs of your loudspeakers for recommendations.

When the distance is too small, having some 4-inch thick acoustic panels right behind your speakers can work wonders. You can go fancier and use broadband bass traps.

Keep in mind that the more distance there is between the two, the less practical treatment will become. Also, absorption’s effectiveness is dependent on your speakers’ directivity.

A prime example of this issue is the dipole speaker, which you usually see in most hi-fi setups. This type of speaker benefits more from absorption than monopole speakers.

Speakers being placed near the front wall means less disruption and more output. Nonetheless, it also means a boost in the bass response department and lower shelving.

The best way to combat this problem is through EQ. Most modern speakers give you the ability to control boundaries and gain compensation. Using it, you can apply corrections.

Speakers Placed Far From Wall

The core concept is simple, the further the speakers are from the wall, the boundary interference there is. By placing the lowest frequency cancellation point out of the frequency range, you can reduce coloration.

Of course, this option is only viable if you happen to own a huge room and small to medium speakers.

The larger speakers tend to have a lower cut-off frequency. For this reason, the distance required for bumping the cancellation frequency under the cut-off is simply too large.

Fixing Your Studio With Acoustic Measurements

Room EQ will fix some issues for you, but it simply cannot correct comb filtering or long reverberation times that strong early reflections cause. To fix them, you must kill the early reflections.

The only way to do so is by placing some acoustic panels on the first few reflection points you can find. Doing so will create a sort of sweet spot around the listening position.

Some of you may ask if it is truly necessary to kill off all comb filtering. Believe us, while subtle comb filtering can add some spice into the music, the harsh one is just pure pain.

Once you have placed the panels properly, you will notice that a reflection-free zone has appeared. While sitting in this zone, all you can hear is the speakers’ direct sounds with no reflection interference.

If you have a budget problem, you can use the oldest trick there is, broadband absorption.

You need nothing more than some rigid fiberglass or rockwool acoustic panels that are 4-6 inches in thickness. You can go lower, but the lowest possible thickness is 2 inches.

Conclusion

After going through this guide on studio monitor placement, we hope that you can now build your own studio confidently. We know that you must digest quite a lot of information, so we break it down into simple steps below.

The first step is to figure out the listening position, with the best method being the 38% rule. Next, you should decide on an appropriate listening device, according to the recommendation of your speakers.

The third stage is to configure the layout as well as the height of the speakers. You can follow any of the standards that we discussed.

Finally, we worked on the proper distance between the speakers and the back as well as the front walls. You also get three options to choose from.

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