I wrote this post for anyone looking at buying or upgrading to new studio monitors. As a mix engineer and avid reviewer of products in this field, I get a lot of questions about gear. By far the most frequent question I get is:
“What studio reference monitors should I buy?”
This is a big question, obviously, because studio monitors are usually the largest investment in most home project studios. But – and this is a BIG but (think Kim Kardashian big) – monitors are only part of what you hear in your studio!
There are other essential factors that I’m going to cover below. Acoustic treatment, monitor stands, and decoupling. Buying monitors before looking into these things is like going into a store to shop for shoes when you haven’t put on any pants. Don’t be that guy (or gal)! Read up below.
Everyone wants to spend big money on the monitors. Room treatment isn’t anywhere near as sexy. But guess what?
If you don’t do it, you won’t actually be listening to your fancy new monitors. You’ll instead be listening to a cacophony of echoes off of all the surfaces in your room. Without treatment to address primary reflections, flutter echo, boundary coupling, bass accumulation, and standing waves, you’re better off mixing in headphones. I know it’s not what you want to hear, but it’s the cold hard truth.
Don’t invest into fancy monitors (or any monitors) unless you FIRST invest a bit into room treatment. Room treatment is a wormhole of a topic, but I did an extensive free video series with one of the world leaders in acoustic treatment, Primacoustic. Watch the playlist below to quickly learn the basics of acoustic treatment from a pro.
I highly recommend acoustic treatment from Primacoustic. They’re one of the world leaders in this technology, they’re amazing innovators, and I’ve personally walked through their manufacturing facility, inspecting the materials they use and interviewing their CEO and product developers.
If you’re on a budget, the Primacoustic London 8 kit works great and it’s just over $200 USD.
For a bit more, you can get the Primacoustic London 10 kit.
What I Have in my Studio
The Stratus is a bit more because it has an aluminum frame around it, allowing you to attach multiple panels together. This means less holes in your ceiling. Otherwise the Stratus and Nimbus are identical.
DIY Acoustic Treatment
I see a lot of people trying to save money by rigging up cheap Do It Yourself acoustic treatment like egg cartons, foam, sheets, blankets etc. Can this be done? Occasionally, but with a big caveat.
You must do a ton of research to properly learn about room acoustics. Most people fail miserably at this and mess up their room worse than if there was no treatment at all. If you just put up foam, or random materials on your walls, they will absorb mid and high frequencies, but do nothing to address low frequencies. So you’ve basically put a huge lowpass filter on your room. Terrible idea. You need to address all the frequencies equally and ensure you aren’t creating more problems than you’re solving.
Personally, I leave this to the pros and use proper kit and I recommend you do the same unless you consult or become an acoustician.
Studio monitors are powerful. They will vibrate whatever they’re placed on, and effectively turn that surface into a really lame speaker. If you place them on your desk, they’ll vibrate it, and all the pristine, clean sound of the monitor will be obscured by the additional desk-rumble, muddying things up. All those vibrations reach your ear at roughly the same time, so you can’t tell them apart.
So, put them on foam right? If that’s what your buddy said, slap him right in the face. That’s a terrible idea.
Monitors are typically tested on a very hard, dense surface like a slab of granite. They need to be seated on something rock solid in order to deliver proper sub frequency response and punchy transients. Foam is like making the speaker run in quicksand. You have two far better options:
Option 1 (Preferred): Monitor Stands
In an ideal world, your monitors will be placed on specially designed stands behind your desk. This allows for them to be totally separate from your desk and reduces the possibility of direct reflections off your desk surface. Proper stands have a column for shot or sand to add weight to them and a column for cable management. They’ll also have a nice hard surface on top, usually with a bit of rubber to seat the monitor firmly so it doesn’t vibrate off.
If you’re going to buy stands, make sure they’re at the correct height to align the sweet-spot of the monitor with your ears at your mix position. If they’re too high or too low, you’ll be out of the sweet spot. My stands are 36” high and I find this is perfect. Some stands are as high as 45”, which would require downward angling of the monitors at the height my ears are at. But I’m like 5’9”, so if you were always picked first for the basketball team then you might need the 45” ones.
I like the Ultimate Support MS-90 Second Generation Column Studio Monitor Stands because they have internal channels you can fill with shot or sand to weight them down, plus 2 additional internal channels for cable management. Plus built-in decouplers on the top of the stands. Epic!
If you need something on a budget, try out the Auray LMS Monitor Stands. They’re okay, but just “okay”. They don’t decouple, they don’t angle, and they don’t weigh very much.
What I Have in my Studio
I personally use the Ultimate Support MS-90 Second Generation Column Studio Monitor Stands which I mentioned earlier. The black, 36” ones.
Option 2: Desk Mount & Angle
A lot of your home studios might be in bedrooms, offices or other tight spaces where space is at a premium. If you can’t place your monitors on stands behind your desk, all is not lost. You can use a decoupler.
Decoupling is basically adding something between the speaker and the desk (not foam!). Proper decouplers, like the Primacoustic Recoil Stabilizers, have a thick layer of steel on top, with neoprene to ensure the monitor stays seated securely and has a good footing. Then under the steel plate, they use heavy foam to cushion and isolate the vibrations.
Many users report noticeable improvements in bass and transient punch with these. Watch my full review on the Recoil Stabilizers here:
Some high-end monitors, such as those from Genelec, have built-in decouplers. In the past I’ve used Genelec 8040s that had them.
Primacoustic has special Recoil Stabilizers that allow you to angle your monitors correctly and fix this issue. They come in all shapes and sizes as well as versions that angle your monitors up and down or face them horizontally.
Another option is the IsoAcoustics Monitor Isolators. They came bundled with my current main studio monitors, the Dynaudio BM12mkIIIs, and I’ll have to say, they’re amazing! They do the job of decoupling, while also allowing you to angle the speaker quite substantially with two available degrees of tilt. You can tilt them up or down, allowing you the freedom to adapt them to almost any room. IsoAcoustics are also featured on special Argosy speaker stands with the isolators built right into the top of them.
I have used these ones in the past and they worked great!
What I Have in my Studio
I personally use the IsoAcoustics Monitor Isolators that came bundled with my Dynaudio BM12mkIII studio monitors.
So that wraps up this post. I hope you learned a few new things. The salient point here is that getting a great sounding, flat room requires a lot more than proper monitors. You’re better off to think of the monitors as only one component in a system. The other parts of the system are your room, acoustic treatment, stands, decouplers, and your ears.
So happy gear hunting! Best of luck with your studio. Cheers!