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Studio layout for good acoustics

To achieve good acoustics in the recording studio control room, the equipment needs to be set out with regard to the propagation of sound waves.

Now we can think about putting some gear into the room, but we must start with the basics. The real fundamental factor is that you have to have two loudspeakers to hear the music in stereo, and you have to be there to do the listening. Too simple? Not really, because this is the foundation from which everything else will grow. Figure 3.3 shows the relative positioning. Remembering your school maths, you will recognise this as an equilateral triangle. This gives the best compromise between width of the stereo image and localisation of panned instruments. If you don’t believe me - and there is no written law to say that you have to have things this way - then try it out, preferably in your by now acoustically favourable room. The speakers will need to be positioned so that they sit symmetrically between the walls of the room, otherwise the stereo image will be distorted as I mentioned earlier. Normally they are positioned against one wall, but there is no reason why they couldn’t be on opposite sides of a diagonal in a square room - at the expense of some wasted space.

Speakers are sensitive to how close they are positioned to reflecting surfaces. The problem is that all loudspeakers tend to radiate sound in all directions - omnidirectionally - at low frequencies. This sound reflects from nearby boundaries and, if the boundary is within half a sound wavelength at some frequency in the audible range, then all frequencies lower than this will tend to be boosted. It may sound like a good thing to get some extra bass for nothing, but it usually has the result of making the speaker sound 'boomy’. You would tend to compensate for this by putting less bass on your recordings. Most hi-fi speakers and near field studio monitors are designed to operate best in 'free field’ conditions and need to be positioned as far away from walls as the available space will allow. Some studio monitors are designed to be mounted on a boundary, or inset into it. But not in the typical home or project studio price bracket. Some nearfield monitors are meant to be stood on top of a large mixing console, and they actually sound best that way.

The general conclusion on speaker positioning is mount them symmetrically as far away from the walls as space will allow. Don’t forget that the floor and the ceiling are boundaries too. Mount the speakers halfway between floor and ceiling pointing down at your ears for best results. When you have a paper design, go into the room with CD player, amp and speakers and try it out. It’s worth spending quite a bit of time getting the right speaker placement and the right listening position.

By David Mellor Tuesday February 1, 2000