This article will cover some of the basics of both monitors and acoustic treatment and when you should think about getting them.
We’ll also talk about what considerations you need to have before purchasing equipment. What size and how much power do you need on them to fit your room correctly. And of course, if it’s worth it to spend your budget on them.
Are studio monitors worth it in the untreated room?
You don’t want to prioritize getting monitors when your room hasn’t been through treatment. There are lots of frequencies that you won’t be able to experience and other problems. However, once you’ve done a little bit of treatment, they are an essential tool to have.
There is no rush to get monitors. You need to set your priorities straight. If your headphones aren’t good enough, they should be your next purchase. However, if you want to do more mix/master types of jobs, you need to get some.
Even so, you will eventually need to buy a set of monitors. And for them to properly work, you’ll need to do some adjustments, like eq-ing your room, a little bit a treatment, etc. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be able to use them without a pro-level studio.
Though you can look at things from a different perspective – if all you want is just to make music that you like and have fun, without sounding pro, then yes, monitors are still better than any other speakers in your room and will be a better choice.
For this purpose, we recommend checking the budget options in this post.
7 Tips To optimize Your monitors within an untreated room
You can and need to do many things to use monitors in a room properly. But, if you are going to use them in a room without much treatment, you should remember the following:
- Calibrate your room
There are many VSTs that will help you understand how frequencies work in your room and how they react with each other. Using them is crucial for the use of monitors, as you’ll be able to know where you’re having problems and how to counteract them. This software will also help your monitors sound better inside that room; as the calibration will spot problematic frequencies, it will also spot which ones have a longer decay (which we don’t want). Once you know which frequencies to attack, you’re set.
Check out this article if you are looking for the best software to calibrate your room.
- Frequency response:
Monitors have a specific frequency response, which is how that piece of equipment reacts to different frequencies. When buying gear for mixing you should keep this in mind, as having a linear frequency response will help you hear what’s on the recording more clearly. This will also significantly affect your mixing, as you will be able to fine-tune those details faster, removing the need to go back and forth from speakers to headphones constantly.
- Compare mixes:
If you want to understand how to use your monitors inside your room correctly, you should listen to various mixes with them. Compare your projects with some pro mixes to help you understand what frequencies you need to be aware of. Doing so will better your mixing process. If you try out different setups, it will help you understand your monitor’s frequency response.
- Compare with headphones:
The next thing you should do is compare a song you like and that you’ve heard a lot with both your monitors and your headphones; this will help you tell if you have a problem with frequencies canceling each other out.
- Isolate your monitors:
To eliminate unnecessary noise, you should separate your monitors from your table. Because if you don’t, your desk will vibrate, generating extra frequencies and making your sound poorer.
- Use low volumes:
Keeping your volume low is an effective way to properly hear without sound bouncing unnecessarily. It will also tire your ears less, so it will be essential for long mixing sessions. That being said, it’s not the best to use your monitors at max power, as it might damage them, but if you want to know more, check this article that talks about that.
- Form an equilateral triangle:
You need to form a triangle with your monitors and ears in the middle, leaving space behind you. This way, the sound goes directly to your eardrums before it bounces. Helping you hear more clearly and not giving much space for frequencies to bounce around before you hear them. For reference, take a look at the picture below.
On top of that, be sure to keep them at the height of your ears so that you’ll be able to hear all the frequencies it provides.
Can monitors be too big for a room?
Yes, monitors can get too large for your room. Think about what a big monitor gives you, compared to what you need in that room. On top of that, keep in mind that untreated rooms have lots of problems with low frequencies. So that will make some higher-grade monitors a problematic fit.
It will be a big problem having equipment that can go down to 30 Hz in a square room without any bass traps. And monitors have a better capability of reproducing low frequencies the bigger they are. So there’s a delicate balance between not going so big that it’ll unbalance your sound and getting some better quality lows.
What size should monitors be in an untreated bedroom?
Anything between 5” and 6.5” will do the trick if you have a standard, medium-sized square room. Keep in mind that you could go higher if your space is too ample. On the contrary, if your room is pretty tiny, you should keep it between 5” or 4”. But with a standard square room, those sizes are a great fit.
When talking about power, aim between 40 – 50 W. You won’t need more, except if you plan to give them another use. But for purely studio sessions, this will suit you best. You’ll have plenty of power for some loud mixes, and they will sound good at low volumes.
Are small acoustic enhancements worth it?
Yes, they are worth it. Having little bits of foam or soft absorbing material will get you a long way towards bettering your acoustic treatment. You don’t need to think only of rock wool panels; everything absorbs or reflects sound. With a bit of creativity, you can get some good results.
As a basic rule to keep in mind, hard objects reflect sound, and soft ones absorb it. We’ll need to absorb in this case, as we don’t want unnecessary bounces around the room. You can use anything from foam to a mattress. Be creative and find those spots where you need to cancel reflections.
Remember that a typical square room is not the ideal shape, to begin with, as it will bounce a lot. But many studios have walls that are parallel to each other. And this is because, with some strategically placed sound absorbers, you can get a great sounding room.
And so, with some minor but well-placed adjustments, you will be able to get your home studio a better, less bouncy sound.
What do I need to do to use monitors in my home studio?
You only need to have two plug cables. The ones you probably have sitting around will work just fine; once you have them, ensure that your monitors are turned off and plug them into your audio interface. Just be careful to plug your right line out to your right monitor, and the same goes for your left side.
Of course, there are many other ways to use them, but that’s just the easiest one. But, if you need to, you can have a console; this will help you be able to not only use your monitors when mixing but also to play with fellow musicians easily. You need to plug your phone’s output into your console and plug it’s main out to your monitors.
However, If your primary concern is mixing, keep it simple and don’t add too many different processes to the signal; that will work best.
As we discussed, monitors are essential when working in every studio, be it a pro one or a home studio. However, you need to keep your priorities straight. It’s like with microphones; you shouldn’t buy an excellent mic if you have a terrible audio interface.
With monitors, you should think just like that; there’s no point in getting a good set of monitors if your headphones are bad and you don’t have a treated room.
Even so, if you are slowly buying your first pieces of equipment and making your way towards a better-sounding room, you should consider getting some monitors. It will boost your mix’s quality, improve your workflow, and make it easier to work with multiple people in the same room.
Nicolas Rotondaro is proffesional bassist, producer and luthier based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He has a bachelor’s in arts and is currently finishing his studies on popular music in EMPA. With over 15 years since he started playing string instruments, he teaches, produces, and fixes instruments to request.