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Listening Environment

June 12, 2012

The first thing you should consider before diving into home recording, is to verify your listening environment. If your control or referencing room isn't adequate for referencing purposes, your judgements of good recordings maybe skewed.  This in turn, will affect your final mix, however, there are a few basic rules when developing your control room. Have quality reference monitors, speaker placement, room shape and size, and acoustic treatment.

 

When deciding how to build your control room you must always have a budget. Be sure to spend 1/3 of your budget on your reference monitors, as these are essential to good recordings. A reference speaker's job is to present the listener with an accurate representation of the desired audio source. Depending on your budget, you should have more than enough options to choose from. So how do you know which speakers to select? Here are a few pointers to help you decide which speakers to choose.

 

Most engineers rely merely on nearfields because they focus on detail rather than sheer power. Although, be cautious of hi-fi speakers, as their purpose is to make everything sound tasteful to the ear, which is the last thing you need when you're trying to isolate and troubleshoot problematic characteristics of your overall sonic clarity. Active or Powered speakers are very common in budget friendly studios. They're more like a "match made in heaven" as it takes all the guess work out of matching amplifiers to specific speaker models for each of the speaker's individual driver units.

 

Most budget friendly speakers tend to be ported, in which the design incorporates a hole or vent in the speaker cabinet. This port has an agenda to enhance the performance of your speakers bass response. The port compensates for the speakers natural low-end roll off when it resonates in sympathy with the speaker's drivers. This increase in bass can skew your judgement, however, their are ways around this. You can block the port with a piece of cloth or you can simply adjust the roll off switch located on the back.

 

Aside from these particular issues, speaker preference is more about your personal taste or preference! When choosing your preferred speaker, AB continually while analyzing the tonal characteristics of each model. Some engineers prefer bright & aggressive-sounding speakers, while others will gravitate towards a sound with more warmth and body. In reality, it really depends on your musical preference, however, having a basic knowledge will help you make wise decisions.

 

Speaker placement plays a major role in the monitoring stage. We will focus our attention on proper speaker stands and the distance between speakers.

 

The best stands to place your speakers on are usually filled with sand, as these stands help reduce the low-end frequencies from traveling through your floor and walls, which affect your listening environment. There are several options of monitor stands, although, if you are handy with your hands, you can save a few dollars by building your own! Also, if you have to place speakers on your desk, Auralux's Mo Pads may help reduce these resonance problems. After you have placed your speakers on your preferred stand, aim your speakers directly towards mix position.

 

When spacing your speakers, typically, a good rule of thumb is to have them placed at equal distance from one another in correspondence between mix position; or rather, the distance between the speakers equals the distance from each of the speakers to the listening position. A good way to determine this is by placing a mirror on each speaker. If you can see your face at mix position within each reflection, then your speaker placement is relatively equal. Properly spacing your speakers is crucial as your stereo image is dependent upon this step. Failure to achieve proper distance will affect your balance from left to right and your final mix may be lopsided. Or you may encounter comb filtering problems as well as phasing.

 

 A major step, most overlooked in the home studio, is the distance between the walls. Typically, mix position should be at least 4 feet from the front wall. When positioning speakers against the wall, you increase your bass response which isn't ideal, if your purpose is to generate quality productions, as your final mix's bass response will either be to heavy or too little. However, you can compensate for these problems by utilizing bass traps.  Having mix position centrally located also plays a major role in the stereo image.  Having it balanced in the center of a room helps balance the reflections of the room, which also helps your stereo image. This is because it helps eliminate your chances of unmatched room reflections. If mix position is to close to one side, the sound from the speaker closest, may bounce of the wall differently than the opposite speaker, which can cause imperfections in your listening environment. Again, if you are unable to have your mix position in the center, you can compensate for these imperfections, however, it will take much more thought.

 

Correcting the acoustic reflections is vital to your listening environment. However, I have seen many home studios where they have gone overboard on treatment, without pin-pointing the problem first. These studios typically have carpet on every surface consuming every inch possible or studio acoustic foam applied in the same manner. This is not ideal. When you eliminate all reflections, the room becomes dry, and tasteless, which will cause you to wash your tracks in reverbs and delays, much more than needed, which may cause masking problems. Simply, all you want to do is eliminate most of the unwanted reflections, not all of them. You can build frames and mount acoustic treatment or simply glue the foam directly to it's desired location.

 

Avoiding small rooms is a good rule to live by when choosing your control room. Also, gravitating towards a room with nonparallel walls is a good concept to grasp. If your wife or landlord will allow you, and you're good with your hands, by all means, construct a closet in a corner. Not only will it help your project studio, but you've just gained a catch all closet!

 

However, when most of us may not have the option of large spaces or the ability of general construction, we can rely on bass traps. Our project studio's life saver as they help control standing waves in small rooms. These standing waves also known as room nodes and anti-nodes are disastrous to your listening environment. By utilizing bass traps, generally speaking, we balance out the frequency response, so that every detail of the bass may be heard.  You'll notice standing waves when certain notes in the bass spike or dip.  These spikes or dips affect your decisions when balancing or equalizing your bass tracks. Therefore, by controlling standing waves, you have a more accurate representation of what is actually going on in your bass tracks. You can purchase many varieties of bass traps from several vendors and dealers online or in store. Here is a link to ATS Acoustics (http://www.atsacoustics.com/bass-traps.html). They sell pre-built traps as well as building materials.

 

In conclusion, a good listening room depends on selecting good speakers, speaker placement, room shape & size, and its acoustic treatment. These basic tips will help you make better decisions when planning out your home studio, which will help you during the recording and mixing process. Now go forth and enjoy creating timeless works, through the art of recording and mixing.

 

 

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