These days, any musician or producer is offered the tools they need to make good audio mixes. Audio interfaces sound more impressive than ever, recording software has never been so extensive, and a solid set of studio monitors has never cost less. But there might be one last thing missing: a great sounding listening and mixing room. Here, I’ll let you in on a few little secrets when it comes to acoustic treatment and where and why you should place any absorption panels and diffusion panels to improve the acoustics and perfectly neutralise the sweet spot. I’ll also explain the part that calibration software can play in setting you up with the perfect listening room.
If you still need to kit yourself out with some studio monitors, then you might want to take a look at our Studio Monitor Buyer’s Guide, and since where you put your monitors can make a world of difference when it comes to sound, once you’ve found the right set, this blog about where to place your monitors will definitely be a big help. Once that bit’s sorted, it’s a good idea to start thinking about acoustic treatment. And, another quick note before we go any further: this blog isn’t about optimising a recording space. Here, we’re focussing on getting the most neutral sound possible out of your monitors.
What is ‘Good Acoustics’?
When you reach the mixing and mastering stage, everything rests on what you hear through your speakers. If the room you’re mixing in has really strange acoustics, then the final mix is only likely to sound any good in that room. You could even say that your mix will end up mirroring the timbre of your listening room – so will give you a completely opposite audio image. For example, if you can hear heavy low-end resonance in your mix, then you’re likely to reach for a high-pass filter to cut it right down. What comes out the other end is a mix that, in any other room, is going to sound weak and thin. This is why it’s essential to make sure that your ‘sweet spot’ (the optimal listening position between your monitors) is as neutral as possible. This is done with smart monitor placement, some acoustic treatment, and some good calibration software. Here, we’ll cover the last two.
Absorption & Diffusion Panel Placement
Absorption panels have the greatest effect if you set them up to catch the first echoes. Just like light, sound travels in a straight line. So, if you were trying to absorb light, you could just use a mirror to figure out the perfect position for your panels, right? Luckily, you can do exactly the same thing with sound. Sit in your monitor sweet spot and ask a mate to hold a mirror flat to the wall on the left. Then, get your mate to shift the mirror along the wall until you can see the left speaker in the reflection. This is a good spot to mount your absorber panel. Repeat the same process for the wall on the right and (more awkwardly) the ceiling. The back wall is then the perfect place to mount your diffusers – just bear in mind that they do the best job when set up at least a metre away.
Bass Trap Placement
When it comes to high and mid-range frequencies, it’s best to leave a little natural ambience and echo in the room, otherwise, everything will start to sound dead and unnatural. However, low-frequency echoes are never helpful when it comes to mixing, so you can never have too many bass traps. The first place in need of bass traps is behind your speakers. Since the bass reproduction of any studio monitor tends to be omnidirectional, a set of bass traps mounted on the wall behind them will counter any immediate echoes. It’s a good idea to put some larger traps here without taking up too much floor space, but if you can spare the space, then placing traps in all four corners of the room (upper and lower) is also a good idea.
When you set up any absorbers, bass traps and diffusers, of course, the natural reverb-time of the room is going to get much shorter. This helps out the biggest peaks and valleys of the frequency response, but if you want the frequency response to be even flatter, then you can do it with the help of some calibration software. Calibration software is actually nothing more than a really advanced equaliser that’s able to compensate for all of the frequency spectrum irregularities caused by your room and/or speakers. While you can pick up software fairly cheaply, you can also do a little calibrating yourself by sounding off a reference note and running it through the entire frequency spectrum. Using an equaliser, you can then soften the frequencies that sound louder and boost the frequencies that sound quieter. Of course, if you use calibration software, the process is much faster and more accurate. Also, it’s worth noting that this software doesn’t actually remove any of the natural resonance from the room, so it can’t serve as a replacement for absorbers and diffusers.
How have you treated your listening room to counter bad acoustics and give it some life? Let us know in the comments!