How Important is a good monitoring environment?
Short answer – pretty important.
Sound energy can quickly build up around any room, and what you are hearing is not the full truth of the source. Therefore, absorption, diffusion, bass traps, etc … need to be added.
Why not just mix in headphones then? Take the environment out of the equation. Well, then you will have no idea how your mix will translate once played in a room. You will only know how the direct source sounds, and this will only work for a percentage of the listeners. This is especially important to consider for the lower (bass) frequencies.
Here’s a quick checklist what you will need to get started on attaining a good monitor set up:
- A good pair of monitors. I suggest 2 pairs for A/B. I also swear by a good pair of headphones to throw in the equation as well.
- Sound absorption. This will help dampen the room and cut down on reflections from the walls. Place a carpet on the floor as well if you are dealing with a hard surface.
- Diffusion. This will help scatter and disperse waves. Eliminating standing waves in the room. You can utilize this on a wall or a ceiling (don’t forget reflections from the ceiling!)
- Bass Traps. Place these in corners of a room (to start) since this is where most low frequency build up occurs.
- Pick your spot. The the best sitting position is equidistant in between two monitors. Meaning, whatever distance is between your two monitors, match that distance from each monitor directly in the center. Make sure your mixing desk is against a flat wall, with some distance between.
OK. What about sound proofing. Lot’s of folks get this confused with sound treatment (mentioned above). You don’t necessarily need sound proofing unless you have noise pollution interrupting your recording sessions, or if you have neighbors who don’t appreciate your work. This is a more expensive and time consuming endeavor. I would not recommend attempting this unless you’ve done your research or have hired a professional.
Pre Fab sound booths. I had one, I didn’t like it. I felt horrible putting a human being in that thing. It was unnatural and the recorded sound never translated how I wanted. It worked only for voice-over projects. I much prefer a nice sounding room over a “dead” sound. Plus, they are expensive.
Lastly, what I consider the most important note regarding this whole topic, is LEARN YOUR ENVIRONMENT. This is never discussed. You may not have pro monitors, and a few blankets hanging from the wall, but if you understand your environment and how to translate your mixes outside of your room, you don’t need anything else. Good gear and treatment helps, but if it’s out of reach it’s perfectly acceptable to improvise, practice, take your mixes out of the room to test translation, go back to fix mistakes and repeat. You’ll eventually learn the ins and outs of your room.