IK Multimedia's iLoud MTM Monitor

How To Set Up A Studio: Part 1 – Monitoring Unpacked

Understanding the importance of precise, balanced and uncoloured monitoring is nothing short of the cornerstone of setting up a studio – and producing release-quality music full stop. Over the course of this series, we’ll explain both the crucial factors that everyone needs to get right with monitoring, as well as providing expert monitoring setup tips, to guarantee that you’re getting the very best from your speakers.


Good monitoring - the most important thing in the studioIt doesn’t matter how good your demo sounds through those bass-boosted bookshelf speakers, or your ear-canal delving earphones, you’re always better off with the unvarnished honesty of a set of studio monitors when in the process of making tracks. As central to the mixing process as your DAW, an interface and even your microphones – truthful monitoring provides all-important perspective, giving you the impartial facts of your mix’s issues, and strengths.

While there’s lots of variables to consider when setting up monitors – the size of your studio, the acoustic qualities therein, the typical frequencies in the genres you work in for example – there are some constants that everybody should generally stick to. In previous eras, high quality studio monitoring was entirely the province of those with professional-scale budgets. These days, astoundingly detailed (and non-space consuming) monitors can be picked up for a relatively tiny overhead.

While major players, such as Genelec’s SAM series, Adam Audio’s S Series and Yamaha’s hallowed nearfield designs represent some of the very best possible in-studio monitoring systems, the affordable IN-Series from Kali Audio, the diminutive Eris range from Presonus, and even software heavyweight IK Multimedia’s modestly sized iLoud Micro Monitors are all more than qualified to take on the majority of deep listening tasks. But, just what are those qualities you should be listening out for?


Kali Audio IN-8 monitor
Kali Audio’s three-way IN-8 monitor


Central to the success of a pair of studio monitors is neutrality. While other speakers, particularly in the consumer audio domain, will add additional bass or treble frequency curves, monitoring is all about hearing things as they are. The frequency response should be flat. We’re not listening for enjoyment at this stage, and transparency is key.

Strength and power is also important. While other speakers can get away with cost-saving internals, studio monitors can’t afford to scrimp, due to the ever present danger of overload and distortion, which muddy our perception. Robust amps, immaculate drivers and solid building materials full stop are all contributory factors to the ultimate precision of the sound that monitors deliver. Some manufacturers, such as California’s Kali Audio, swear by a three-way approach to internal amplification, each of which take on different areas of the frequency spectrum. The likes of their IN-series harnesses the power of a trio of dedicated amps. “The benefits to a three-way loudspeaker are fairly obvious”explains Kali Audio’s Nathan Baglyos, “Having a dedicated driver for lows, mids, and highs means that no driver is operating at the extremes of its performance limits. Especially in a tri-amp design, this means more clarity overall, and it’s particularly noticeable at the extreme low end and the mids, since the woofer isn’t pulling double duty to reproduce these very different regions at the same time.”

It’s important to understand the difference between nearfield monitoring and farfield monitoring too. Typically, for home studio setups, nearfield monitoring (i.e. between one and two meters from your ears at a desk) is the norm. Angling your monitors towards your ears, to ensure on-axis frequency response, is highly recommended, otherwise your perceptions will be inaccurate. It’s also important that you don’t situate your monitors too far apart – you’re after an immersive rendering of your stereo image, and those sounds situated in centre of your image will not be presented fairly. “Set up the monitors in an equilateral 60 degree triangle with the tweeters or acoustic centre pointing directly to your ears” confirms KRK’s Product Development Manager, Craig Hockenberry.

KRK Iconic Monitors
KRK’s Classic Rokit series has become a truly iconic monitor design


So, establishing this listening triangle is core to receiving the best possible information from your nearfields. Farfields are typically the province of larger spaces and treated, commercial studios these bigger speakers can really pump out the volume – yet still maintain superb accuracy.


While at least one pair of monitors is certainly a prerequisite to auditory perfection, many producers plump for multiple pairs of monitors – particularly those of a notable lower quality than their main monitors. This allows us to hear how our mix will sound on an average to low-end speaker setup. One particular pair of monitors, the Yamaha NS10s, are still studio mainstays to this day, despite being launched back as far back as 1978!

The story goes that Bob Clearmountain sought a pair of monitors that truthfully reflected how most people would hear the finished product at home, and the NS10s, allegedly, presented the worst sounding mix he’d ever heard. In truth, the NS10s are actually a very good pair of monitors – a little too good in fact. They likely revealed the painful flaws in Bob’s mix. Making your mix work well on a painfully dry system, such as the NS10 is considered a solid step on the road to priming your mix for release. They remain a studio staple, even in the most cutting edge studios in the world.


Yamaha NS-10s, time proved monitoring
Yamaha’s NS-10s are still called on for their unvarnished honesty, despite having first launched at the end of the 70s!


A major factor to take into account when monitoring any audio is just how your room acoustically responds to the sound being produced by your monitors – is it bouncing the sounds back at you from harsh walls, is there outdoor noise seeping in to your space and, majorly, are you listening just a little bit too loud for the space you’re in? If you’re facing any one of these issues, and working largely at home then you’re going to need to consider investing in some acoustic treatment. Placing a pair of acoustic panels (such as those crafted by GIK or Vicoustic) is a definite consideration if you’ve got a pair of monitors that feature back-firing bass ports. There’s also those sharp corners of your room to watch out for – your sound can make its escape here, and so a little corner panelling will contain the sound within the space.


A Tileyard Education student equipped with industry-standard nearfield and farfield monitors


While forking out for custom designed acoustic treatment isn’t exactly inexpensive, there’s now a wider range of affordable monitors that offer more direct means to room-tailor. Budget and mid-tier solutions, such as the Eris series from Presonus, sport excellent, hands-on tone controls for delicately tailoring the output sound to the characteristics of your room. “[The Eris series] features onboard room-tuning controls like low cut, high- and mid-frequency adjust and an Acoustic Space switch that helps users mitigate boundary bass-boost issues.” Explains Presonus’s Director of Marketing, Wesley DeVore. “At the upper end of the range, the Eris XT models offer an EBM waveguide that creates a wide 100 ̊ horizontal dispersion with a focused vertical throw that keeps high frequencies from bouncing off the desk to reduce smearing. Every Eris-series speaker is designed to perform well in all types of mixing environments – from professional rooms to the spaces most home studio users are creating and mixing in.” While useful, it’s important to not go overboard with tonal controls as a means to make your mix sound better.

For greater efficiency, room calibration microphones, such as those designed by Sonarworks and IK Multimedia, intelligently judge room performance based on preset algorithms. “The ARC calibration is strongly advised and necessary in all those applications where the room acoustics are not ideal.” Explains IK Multimedia’s CTO, Davide Barbi. “Effectively, in virtually every situation, the ARC calibration is going to improve the accuracy – ranging from a subtle effect to a night and day difference, depending on the overall room acoustics.” However, Davide warns not to become too reliant on it in every situation; “There is only one case where we don’t suggest using ARC, which is in high quality, reliable, professional control rooms. The only reason is that the resident engineer in that room knows the sound of the room so well, and may not want to ‘flatten’ it.”


Once your monitors are effectively set up, and working in simpatico with your room, as opposed to in spite of it, then the best thing to do is to try out some reference tracks in your space, to establish how mix elements that you’re used to within your favourite songs, sound in your studio. Getting extremely familiar with the sonic signature of your monitors, and how they sound in the room is extremely helpful. Establishing the correct volume to listen at – determined by the type of music you’re working with – is similarly something to establish early.

While studio monitoring is the professional norm, there are also myriad benefits to mixing (at least partially) with headphones. In our next instalment, we’ll examine the key differences between deep listening with a set of cans and our studio monitors. Sign up to our newsletter here to get an update on How to Set up a Studio: Part 2.

Read parts 2 and 3 here.