So, you got the gear and now it’s time to set up your studio monitors.
If you haven’t already got the monitors be sure to check out our studio monitors guide for a few tips on choosing a pair. But read this first if you are here since there are things to keep in mind while shopping for monitors and setting a budget for that.
A big note before we dive into the actual setup, no matter how good the monitors are if you leave your walls empty the monitors aren’t going to compensate for that.
What I’m talking about is sound treatment. In short, what the monitors put out is going to bounce into walls and arrive at your ears as duplicate sounds that overlap the original sound put out by the monitors. You can probably tell that this is not ideal.
So, I’m aware that if you just got your first pair of monitors you probably don’t have acoustic treatment but I strongly recommend that you look into that and try to do a minimum of treatment in your room as soon as you can.
Until then, let’s set up your gear.
I feel I need to add this in here because a lot of people just grab their monitors and don’t really think much about what else they might need. And you might need some stuff that you didn’t really think of.
You can’t get sound into your monitors without cables. Ideally, you’ll have what is known as balanced cables.
This kind of cable reduces the interference that is usually picked up by other nearby cables or electronic devices. This interference usually translates into noise or hiss in your monitors. If you want to reduce that noise, first of all, use balanced cables.
Just with a bit of google-fu, we can see that there is a ton of people having trouble with this. Searching for “noise in speakers” returns 39.6 million results while “noise in studio monitors” returns 1.6 million results. It’s a common issue.
What you need to know about balanced cables is that, first of all, the monitors need to know how to use the signal. Look at the back of your monitors and see if you have a pair of inputs marked with “Balanced” or simply “BAL”.
I mention this because some lower end monitors might not have those.
Balanced cables will only carry a channel per cable, so you’ll need a cable for the right speaker and another for the right speaker.
The last thing I’ll mention here, don’t buy expensive cables for the sake of it. Go some something of good quality but don’t fall for “magic” cables that sell for hundreds or even thousands of dollars, those are just scams fueled by popular myths.
Also, before you grab your cables lets talk about the source of the balanced signal and you’ll see why in a bit.
Actually, read the whole guide before you grab anything.
If you are going to use balanced signal you’ll need a source for it, and that doesn’t come from your computer so the next option is to use a sound card. Commonly, an external sound card also referred to as an audio interface.
There is also the option to use a studio control unit or a mixer maybe but the simplest way to go is a USB audio interface.
Now, if you already got your monitors and you are out of funds, it sucks but it’s not the end of the world. One thing I would advise, don’t buy a crappy sound card. Been there, done that, the damn thing couldn’t keep a similar level between left and right channels, along with other issues.
What I would recommend is a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2, tried and tested by a ton of people, awesome value for money. Especially if you also want to record a mic or two. Don’t go for the Solo, it’s cheaper but doesn’t offer balanced output.
Neither the sound card nor the monitors come with cables to connect them so you still need to get those separately.
If you grab the 2i2 your outputs will be ¼” TRS jacks so your cables will need that on one end. On the other end, take a look at your monitors and see what inputs they offer for balanced signal.
So, let’s say your monitors have XLR female inputs. You’ll grab a TRS male to XLR male balanced cable.
And, maybe doesn’t need any clarifying but just in case, the female connector is the one that has the holes and the male is the one with the penis or three penises in case of the XLR 🙂
So, if you have a female connector on the gear, you stick a male connector in it.
While we’re still at cables, as far as I know, the 2i2 comes with a shielded USB cable but in case it doesn’t or you have another sound device look at the USB cable and check to see if it has a strange looking thing on it. That shields the cable from interference.
If it doesn’t, grab one that does. I had this issue where the cable didn’t have shielding and it would add noise in the monitors.
Don’t rush to buy one, look around the house for a cable from some other device, maybe from a printer and swap it.
Power conditioner or good power strip
If you need or not a power conditioner is a long time debate. What the thing does is it filters your electric power so it reduces fluctuations, reduces AC noise and most importantly protects you from power surges.
A good one to begin with and that will not break your bank is the Furman M-8X2. This is a rack mount unit that gives you 9 total outlets so plenty to cover quite a bit gear.
Think of this like a power strip with some extra bells and whistles, you plug it into your main power supply and plug the rest of your gear in it.
Alternatively, and if you don’t have much cash to spare, grab a power strip with surge protection.
You’ve invested a bit of money in your gear, and you’ll probably invest more so you might as well protect what you got as best you can.
The ideal placement for monitors is so that you and the monitors form an equal-sided triangle with the monitors aimed straight at you.
Another important part of the setup is the height of the monitors. You want your tweeters to be at the height of your ears while you are at the desk.
To achieve that you can use a pair of speaker stands. Just make sure to look at the height adjustments before you purchase to make sure you can actually place your monitors at the desired height.
If you have a desk that has platforms for monitors you can simply grab a pair of isolation pads or desk stands to get the monitors to the needed height.
We’ve addressed the monitor-listener system but there are few other points to keep in mind. If you are in a rectangular room, you want to place your monitoring system on the shorter wall, meaning that you face the shorter wall.
This will give you the most amount of space behind you so you minimize the amount of sound that bounces off of the wall behind.
Regarding the distance between the monitors and the wall you put them up against, you’ll find a lot of conflicting information and what I find most of the time is that the devil is in the details.
For instance, one guy refers to this distance as ‘close to the wall’ while another refers to it as ‘far from the wall’, both guys talking about roughly the same distance from the wall.
Ideally, read the manual of your monitors. Even if you don’t have the paper manual, search for the thing online, see what the manufacturer has to say about it.
Depending on the monitors you have you’ll have some adjustments on the back. Use them to fine tune the sound until you get somewhere that is comfortable but doesn’t have too much or too little of anything, lows, mids, highs.
Be sure to also pay attention to other frequency ranges whenever you adjust one. Our brain, by how it works, it makes us ignore things we are not focusing on and in result we tend to ignore mids and highs when we adjust the lows and so on.
Make sure you get to a balance between all frequency ranges. You’ll not be going to make it perfect so don’t even try but bring it to a point where nothing sticks out too much.
I would also mention that once you’ve made your first placement, don’t stick it in stone. If you can’t achieve a good final sound using the adjustments on the monitors, reset them to default, play around a bit with the positioning and re-adjust.
Repeat this cycle until you have a good sound.
The second pair
It’s a fairly common practice to have another set of speakers in the studio to check your mixes on.
Keep in mind, the point of a monitoring system is to make sure your mix will sound good on a wide variety of speakers, including mono speakers, headphones and so on.
For the indented purpose, you don’t need another pair of the same monitors or even monitors at all. You can simply grab a pair of regular speakers.
To manage the audio source there are a few approaches you can take the cheaper of them all is simply to connect the second pair to the usual audio output of your computer. When you want to switch between them you simply change the output of your pc from the USB sound card to the internal one and vice-versa.
A comfier but more expensive option is to get a studio control or monitor control unit. An affordable option would be the Mackie Big Knob Passive.
Otherwise, you can get a better-equipped unit that also serves as an audio interface and thus you don’t need another audio interface with that.
And that is pretty much it for our guide on setting up your studio monitors. I hope I managed to keep it simple enough and without too many technicalities.
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Featured image credits: imgur user GuitaristDaily