7 Mistakes Audio Engineers Make When Setting Up a Home Studio
If you’re reading this, you’re probably here for one of two reasons.
Either you’re getting ready to set up your first home studio, and you’re looking for advice on how to do it right.
Or you already have a studio, and you’re not happy with the sound of your recordings.
It’s OK; we’ve all been there.
If you want to create professional sounding recordings and mixes in your home studios, make sure you avoid these seven common mistakes.
1. Buying Over-Hyped Monitors
Studio monitors that improve the sound of your music may seem like a good idea at first, but you’ll quickly become frustrated when your tracks sound like garbage outside of the studio.
You want your monitors to have a flat frequency response and recreate your music as accurately as possible.
Some entry-level studio monitors attempt to make your music sound better with bass-heavy frequency response curves. This can cause you to think your music has more low-end than it really does. To compensate, you EQ out the low-end, making your track sound weak and thin when you listen outside of the studio.
Instead of buying over-hyped monitors, purchase a more balanced pair and take some time to acclimate yourself to the way they sound in your room. Check out some of these great suggestions for quality monitors that won’t break your budget.
2. Placing Monitors Up Against The Wall
Most home studios have pretty limited space. To create more room, you may be tempted to place your monitors right up against the wall—or even worse, in the corner of your room.
Placing your monitors near a reflective surface causes the sound to bounce back, which smears your perception. The closer your monitors are to the wall, the less effective they become—especially when it comes to bass frequencies.
While it may improve the aesthetic of your studio, placing your monitors against a wall makes it harder to make critical mix decisions.
Instead, place your speakers a few feet from the back wall—roughly 1/3 of the length of the room.
For instance, if your studio is in a spare bedroom that’s 9’x12’ you should place your speakers roughly 4’ from the back wall.
3. Neglecting The Sweet Spot
No, this has nothing to do with your secret candy stash (although that’s another great tip).
The “sweet spot” is the ideal listening posting in your studio. It’s where the frequency response is most balanced, and where you should sit when listening critically.
If your speakers are at odd angles, the sweet spot will be tiny, and the sound will change as you move around in your seat. To make the sweet spot as big as possible, you need to align your speakers with some simple geometry.
Angle your speakers so they create an equilateral triangle between your head and the monitors.
A good rule of thumb is to place your monitors roughly 3’ from your ears and 3’ from each other. There should be a ~ 60° angle between each speaker, and a ~ 30° angle between the speakers and you.
4. Little Or No Acoustic Treatment
The most significant difference between a home studio and a pro studio is the room itself.
Professional studios feature rooms with high ceilings, floated floors, and no parallel walls. Designers, acousticians and professional installation specialist work together for months to ensure that these studios are acoustically pleasing.
It’s going to take more than some egg cartons on the walls to be able to create professional sounding records in your home studio.
You’re going to need some professional acoustic treatment to eliminate the problems your room is creating. No carpet on the walls. No foam on the ceiling. No blankets draped around the studio. Go for the good stuff—like mineral wool, rock wool, and fiberglass.
The biggest acoustical problems most home studios face are caused by bass frequencies getting trapped in the corners. Start by placing bass traps in the upper corners of your room behind your desk. Continue adding bass traps in all eight corners (on the ceiling and the floor) until your low-end is under control.
Next, focus on the first reflection points. When music comes out of your monitors, it bounces off of the walls in your studio, which can cause acoustical problems like flutter echo and comb filtering.
To identify the reflections points, you’re going to need some help. Start by sitting in the sweet spot and have a friend hold a mirror against one of the walls at your side. Have them move the mirror along the wall and make them stop anytime you can see the reflection of your studio monitors. Mark these areas with a pencil and make sure you cover them with acoustic treatment.
For best results, add treatment on the wall behind you, as well as the wall behind the speakers. Invest in a lush studio rug to soak up reflections on the floor. For maximum isolation, place a few acoustic panels on the ceiling just above your head.
Just be careful not to turn your room into a scene from a psych ward—too much acoustic treatment can suck the life out of your room.
5. Using TS Instead of TRS Cables
Setting up a studio can be expensive. All too often, engineers blow their entire budget on gear and forget to buy cables to hook it all up.
While TS cables are often cheaper than TRS cables, they’re designed for unbalanced signals like electric guitars. Using TS cables to hook up your studio monitors will cause interference that makes your monitors hiss and hum. For best results, always use TRS cables for balanced signals.
6. No Speaker Isolation
Speakers create sound using a piece of plastic that vibrates back and forth with an incredible amount of detail. The only difference between jazz and heavy metal is how accurately your speakers vibrate.
Any physical interference to your speakers can significantly affect the sound. Simply placing them on your desk with the rest of your equipment can create acoustic problems.
Monitor isolation pads are a great way to absorb some of the vibrations from your desk and avoid “sympathetic resonance,” which is a fancy way of saying unwanted noise.
For best results, place your monitors on monitor stands behind your desk. And for maximum isolation, use monitor stands and isolation pads.
7. Mixing with a Subwoofer
It may sound good to get the bass bumping, but using a subwoofer in your home studio usually causes more harm than good. Especially if you have neighbors…
Seriously though, bass frequencies are the toughest to control in small home studios, and using a subwoofer can make your lack of low-end turn into an abundance of bass in a matter of seconds.
If you do have a subwoofer installed in your studio, use it sparingly. Turn it on every once in a while to check how the low-end is sitting, but don’t leave it on all the time.
Plus, your listeners are probably listening on earbuds or iPhones, which produce little to no bass. It’s more important that your mix sounds good on small speakers than a full-blown hi-fi system.
Follow these tips when setting up your studio and you’ll have everything you need to start making professional-sounding records right from your own home!
Brad Pack is an award-winning audio engineer and writer based in Chicago, IL. He currently owns and operates Punchy Kick, a professional mixing and mastering studio that specializes in pop punk, emo, punk, grunge, and alternative music.
He has been helping artists connect with fans through emotionally resonant mixes, cohesive masters, and insightful guidance for over 10 years. Check out his website PunchyKick.com or say hi on Instagram @PunchyKick