Mixing isn’t easy. Despite that fact, I would be willing to bet that you are probably making it even harder for yourself in more ways than one.
Nowadays it’s common for professional engineers to mix completely in-the-box, in small home or project studios. Some famous engineers even mix on-the-go with headphones.
It takes a long time to develop the skills necessary for that level of confidence. Sure, it’s perfectly possible to produce professional, radio-worthy mixes in a less-than-ideal room with affordable equipment and hardly any acoustic treatment. It will probably take you years to get to that point.
Instead, as you’re learning you should try to create a listening environment that allows you to hone your skills. That requires some awareness of mix-room acoustics. It doesn’t, however, require a large budget for professional acoustic treatment.
You see, you could be placing your monitor speakers in completely the wrong place. Other factors are important in studio setup, but simply by moving the speakers you could create a more accurate listening environment. There’s a lot of complicated science behind this, but in this guide I’ll keep it simple and give you a few practical guidelines that will make a huge difference to your mixes.
No room is perfect. Even a purpose built professional studio will have compromises. The guidelines that I’m sharing with you can rarely be met all at once. Instead, focus on implementing as many of these principles as possible. Don’t become upset or disheartened if you can’t meet them all. You can still learn to mix and produce radio-worthy mixes in a less than ideal setup …it might just be a bit more difficult.
The worse the listening environment, the more important it becomes to compare your mixes to professional releases and test the mixes on multiple speaker systems.
Speaker and Listening Position
- Create an Equilateral Triangle Between Your Head and the Speakers
This is perhaps the most important rule and the easiest to implement. Most studio monitors are designed to have a sweet spot, a small area where your head should be for the best tonal balance.
By creating an equilateral triangle between your head and the speakers, you’ll be in the sweet spot. In other words, the distance between the speakers should be the same as the distance between your head and each speaker. So the further apart the speakers are, the further back you should position yourself.
Creating a triangle between your head and the speakers
- Don’t Listen From Exactly Halfway Across the Room
This is another common mistake that’s easy to fix. Avoid placing the chair, and therefore ears, exactly half way down the length of the room between the walls in front and behind you.
If you do, you’ll suffer a loss of bass. This is bad. You need to hear the low end of the mix clearly, as this is where most problems occur. The mixes could end up sounding bass-heavy and muddy.
This also applies to the distance between the floor and the ceiling. Adjust the height of your chair so that your ears aren’t positioned exactly halfway between the two.
One exception to this rule is the width of the room. It’s best to be positioned exactly halfway between the left and right side walls in order to get an accurate stereo image
- Don’t Listen From Over Halfway Across the Room
Equally, if following the previous rule means that you must position your head OVER halfway across the room, then you may need to reshuffle the room. If you are closer to the wall behind you than the wall in front of you, the reflections from the rear wall are going to cause an array of issues.
Don’t go over halfway across the length of the room
- Position the Speakers Away From the Wall
I need to be clear here, because there is a common misconception that your speakers should be as far away from the wall as possible. This is untrue. The reflection from the wall behind the monitors will cause comb filtering and result in some frequencies completely disappearing.
Instead, check the manual or manufacturer guidelines for the minimum distance between the speakers and the wall and use this distance. This will probably be under 30cm (12 inches).
Now, positioning the speakers this close to the wall will result in a small buildup of bass. If the monitors have a control that allows you to reduce the low end, use this feature. If not, you could use room correction software or simply account for this in your mixes.
This buildup of bass is preferable to the comb filtering that can result from placing your speakers further away from the wall.
- The Distance to the Side Walls and Front Wall Shouldn’t Be Equal
This refers to the position of your speakers. For example, if there is a 30cm gap between the monitor speaker and the wall behind the speaker, there shouldn’t be a 30cm gap between the side of the speaker and the side wall.
If the distances are equal, a buildup of standing waves will cause random peaks in the low end of your room.
Make sure these distances aren’t equal
- In a Large Room, Use the Longest Wall
This rule only applies to large rooms, where it’s possible to position the speakers and chair along the longest wall without being over halfway between the front and rear walls. Refer to tips two and three.
Don’t use the long wall in a narrow room
The benefit of positioning yourself along the longest wall in a large room is that the first reflections from the side walls are reduced in volume, as they must travel further.
In this situation, the long wall would be preferable
- Position the Speakers at Ear Level
As mentioned earlier, most speakers have a sweet spot. This sweet spot only works if the speakers are pointed inwards towards your ears.
Point the speakers towards your ears
Also consider the vertical angle of the speakers. If the speakers aren’t positioned at ear level, angle them upwards or downwards accordingly.
Ensure that the speakers and listening position are properly placed in the room can go a long way towards creating a more accurate mixing environment.
It doesn’t cost a thing to reshuffle the room, so it’s worth spending time thinking about each of these guidelines. Consider how you might be able to plan out or re-organise a room using these tips.