As more traditional studios close their doors more project and personal studios open theirs. As nice as some of these studios can be, there is a limit to how extensive the listening environment can be compared to a traditional studio.
Proper acoustic design and construction can be very expensive and take up a great amount of space. So as a studio owner you do what you can to have as accurate a room as you can. But there is a vast amount of ‘studios’ that have been set up wherever there is room, and often times the positioning of the speakers is less than ideal.
There are many places to find in-depth discussions of acoustics and how they relate to your room. We won’t go into that here, what we will talk about is how you can make do with what you have and allow you a chance to get a mix out of your studio that actually sounds like you intended.
We’ll assume you have a matching pair of speakers that are in good shape. The goal with these speakers is to have them in a place in your room where they will sound good. Having them on a sturdy set of stands or on a table is a good start. It’s important that they be at the same height and ideally the same distance from any walls. If they can be at ear level that helps a lot too.
If you have the luxury of setting up in an empty room audition the speakers in several locations. Play back some music you know intimately and you will have a good idea of where it sounds best. What I mean by ‘best’ is it will sound like the music you know and not some distorted (meaning ‘untrue’) version.
Once you find a place that sounds good, position they speakers so they are matched. Meaning don’t have one speaker in a corner and the other on a flat wall. The one in the corner’s bass response will be DOUBLE of the other speaker, therefore wiping out any chance of you accurately gauging your overall bass level. Get as picky as measuring the distance between each speaker cabinet and the adjacent wall. Get that distance as close to the same for each speaker as you can.
Once that is in place just listen to music you know and to tracks you’re working on. It can take a little while to “know” how your new setup translates in the room. Do some test mixes and listen in your car or any other place you know. You will hear right away if there are problems with the mix. I would recommend using some kind of speaker selector switch that allows you to have a second set of speakers and plug in any other kind of speaker as an alternate listening perspective.
When I am mastering I can always tell if the engineer mixed solely on one set of speakers. There are always issues that would have been caught if there an alternate listening choice is part of the equation. If you can’t set up another set, headphones can be a second choice. Either way, my mixes are always 100% better when I’ve switched between speakers.
I know my mix is “done” when my mix sounds the SAME on both sets of speakers. “But what if I have big studio monitors and little computer speakers for my alternate set?” What I mean by the “same” is the relationships will be retained from speaker to speaker. The volume of the snare drum compared to the lead vocal will be the same no matter what speaker you switch to if your mix is right. Or at least it will translate that way to the real world. And the real world is some one listening on a laptop from down the hall, distorted ear-buds, a car stereo, or a boom box playing low-res mp3’s.
One test I always do is step away from the speakers, walk down the hall, sit in the next room, etc. We as engineers are the only ones who will listen to your mix between two matching speakers AND be paying attention.