So you have some home studio equipment and you are ready to get started!
You ask yourself,
“How the hell do I connect all this equipment?”
“Where should I set up in my room?”
“How should I arrange my studio monitors?”
Well look no further, I will try to answer these questions and more in this post. After reading and if you still have some questions, leave a comment, and I will answer.
When we are setting up our home studio, one of the fundamentals we need to understand is signal flow. You need to be able to understand where your signal is going and how it is being affected by your hardware and software.
Here is a diagram that shows an example of how audio flows in a recording studio.
Studio Signal Flow
I know you are probably thinking…
“I don’t have all this hardware. This doesn’t apply to my small home studio.”
BUT it does!
The reason you don’t need all of this equipment is that a lot of this equipment has been consolidated into a single device.
Look at your basic home studio interface. It has all of this included with it:
- A/D converter (Analog to Digital)
- D/A converter (Digital to Analog)
- Plus others (headphone / monitor management)
Here is an example of a simplified version that has the same signal flow.
Basic Home Studio Signal Flow
So now we know how it flows…
We need to connect it now.
I will start from the beginning to make the explanation simple. I am going to explain the signal flow using the basic equipment that most beginning home studio will have. Once you understand this, you will better understand all the individual devices and how they work with just a little more research.
SETTING UP THE FLOW
Microphone —> Pre/Interface(Input)
The microphone is going to pick up the sound and convert it to an electrical mic level signal. Since this is a very low level signal we need a preamp to bring it up to line level.
Line level is the level at which your audio will be transmitted through your hardware.
** Remember these bolded terms.
You are going to need an XLR cable which looks like this.
This will connect to the INPUT of your interface.
**If you are using a condenser microphone you will need to turn on phantom power (48V). You should see a button on your interface.
Interface (Input) —> Computer / DAW
Computer / DAW —> Interface (Output)
The next step is connecting your interface to your computer. This will depend on your computer and interface, but these days most of them are either USB, Firewire, or Thunderbolt.
Check your interface to see what you have and make sure you have a way to connect it to your computer.
I am actually using a Firewire interface, but recently upgraded my computer and it does not some with firewire anymore, only thunderbolt. So I had to get an adapter.
This connection will service as the input and output.
Now it is time to get your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) setup. If you have your interface connected driver installed, you should see a new audio device in your DAW and Operating System. All you should have to do is switch over to that device in your DAW.
Pro Tools: To go Setup -> Playback Engine. Change it to your Interface.
Ableton: Preferences -> Change Input and Output Device to your Interface.
Other DAWs should follow the same principle.
Interface —> Monitors
Everything is ready now to to get your monitors connected.
To connect this I recommend a TRS cable. If you are going through balanced outputs and inputs, this will reduce the possibility of any RFI/EMI noise (simply electrical noise) getting into your system. An XLR cable can also be used if your monitors have the connection.
If you want more detail information about why to using a balanced signal is better. Check out this article, Balanced vs. Unbalanced.
So that should be it. Everything should be connected and set up to get audio running through it. If you have any problems or questions, leave some details and me or another reader will try and answer.
Getting The Location Right
Probably the most important part so you can get off to a good start
Room Placement technique to get the most out of your room
Frequency sweeping to help you learn your room some
Now that you know how to get everything connected and you can get some signal through your system. We need to find the best location in your room to set up your studio monitors.
This is very important because you don’t want to learn 6 months later the reason all your mixes suck is because you can’t accurately hear what is happening.
If you want to get really deep, acoustics can be a very complicated subject, but is is worth to to learn some of the basics. You can find some information here on standing waves and decibels.
Before we get into a permanent position for your desk and monitors I want you to do a little experiment that would help you understand what the sound is doing in your room. You are going to have to have everything connected because we are going to do a very slow sine wave sweep.
Hearing your room
This is a small experiment that you can do to understand what your room is doing to to the sound.
All we need is to have your speakers setup and a DAW with a sine wave generator.
What we are going to do is do a frequency sweep. In other words have your sine wave generator at 20 Hz and go up to around 500 Hz. The standing waves and reflects have the most impact on the low end so you will be able to easily hear volume fluctuations.
*Update: Here is an online signal generator http://www.szynalski.com/tone-generator/
Step 1: Set up your speakers in the room where you think you will be mixing. (This is just for testing, remember we haven’t decided the best place yet, this is just for the experiment.)
Step 2: Set the volume of the speakers at a normal listening level.
Step 3: Start your signal generator from 20Hz and slowly increase. You probably will not hear anything until you get up to around 40Hz a lot of speakers can’t go down that low, unless you have a sub.
Now due to how our ears function, as you sweep up, until around 400 -500hz, you should perceive it as getting gradually louder. It should sound smooth as you sweep up.
Your rooms is going to create resonances and dips (antinodes and nodes). As you sweep up this will make the volume level seem like it’s on a roller coaster going up and down.
For example, I did this in my room before getting acoustic treatment.
I can hear it from 40Hz to 75Hz gradually feeling louder, then BAM! At around 80Hz the volume takes a nosedive. It recovers and its back on its path going up….up and up..
Then at 135 to 147Hz the level (volume) feels like it is hiking over the Himalyas because there was such a dramatic boost in volume at those frequencies.
FREQUENCY AND ROLLER COASTER Picture
You may also start to feel and hear other things vibrating in your room. I had a table ringing very loudly at 190.
WARNING: Don’t leave the signal generator on for an extended period or on a signal frequency for very long, especially on higher frequencies as it can cause damage if it is too loud even though it doesn’t sound loud.
There are other factors involved in room acoustics such as decay time that this didn’t cover, but it should help you get an idea about your room.
Finding the best location in your room for monitoring
This technique is from JESCO LOHAN and more information can be found at FIXING THE LOW END IN YOUR STUDIO WITHOUT KNOWING ACOUSTICS
I will just summarize his technique here:
Choose a few songs that have different low end content.
Place one of your speakers in the corner of the room on the floor (near where you hope to have your setup will be)
- Sit in your chair and move in the center of the longest dimension in your room so that both walls are equal distance from you.
- Rolling slowly back and forth through the room listen to how your low end reacts.
- Listen to the low end and how the kick and bass change. Is there too much sub? Is it too punchy? Etc..
- After listening to each song multiple times find the place that you believe has the best compromise.
- Mark that position with tape. That will be your listening sweet spot.
- Now setup your speakers in this position.
He goes into more detail about this technique in the blog post and on his website, Acoustic Insider. Check it out!
How to setup your studio monitors
Once you have chosen the best location in your room, you need to setup your speakers in their permanent location. I did a little writeup on this on my other website. You can read it here at
Here are some of the main points:
- Setup your speakers in an equilateral triangle. That means the distance between the speakers and the distance between your head and the speakers should all be the same.
- Toe in the speakers. You should angle the speakers inward so that you can only see the front face of the speakers when you are in mixing position.
- Your speakers tweeters should be the same height as your ears when you are in mixing position
The next thing you need to need to setup that is just as important as your speakers, but often gets overlooked is your room treatment.
I will give you a brief rundown of the basic to get you setup for a better sounding room.
The most common room treatment that you see are poreus absorbers that use materials such as rock wool, and fiberglass to absorb the sound and transfer it to heat.
There are many places that will sell professional made panels that are effective in taming your room.
But you can fairly easily make your own panels if you are somewhat handy and have some time. This is probably the most cost effective method.
If you want to get result in the lower middle range frequencies, you are going to have to go with a thicker panel. I would recommend at least 6 inches for your first reflection areas.
Oh, did I not mention what the first reflection are?
First reflections are the first point of contact that the sound wave has from the speaker. You want to treat the first reflections that will reflect back to your listening position because these reflection are going to be the strongest and will alter the sound at your sweet spot.
So the areas that you need to treat the most are your corners and first reflections. First reflections include your side and back walls as well as the ceiling. Also your desk, but not much we can do about that.
I am glad that I can help you get your home studio setup and ready to record. I the next part of the series I am going to introduce basic mic’ing techniques and recording.
If you have any questions leave a comment!