Setting up the perfect home studio requires making one critical decision – choosing the right size for your studio monitors.
The good (or bad?) news is that “use X monitors for X room size” is a myth.
The proper monitors just depend on how close you’re going to be to them, your budget, your space requirements, how loud you’re running them, whether you’re using a sub, etc.
A studio monitor differs from a guitar or bass cab, where you might want to push them to get that sound. If they’re decent, they generally maintain a relatively flat response, whatever the volume.
The prevailing opinion among my peers, when I studied acoustical design, was that a 6.5″ or larger bass driver is going to work fine for most purposes. Transitioning to 8″ monitors will expand the lower frequencies and slightly alter the midrange characteristics.
Anyway, I’ll give you a few straightforward guidelines that will help you make the right choice. Let’s get to it.
What Size Studio Monitor Is Best for Home Studio?
I’ll get straight to the point. Oversized monitors can result in excessive bass accumulation and a muddled low-frequency response. Unless you’re in a professionally treated or huge room, I’d always err on the small side.
8-inch monitors are too large for most home setups. Depending on room size, I recommend monitors somewhere between 4-6 inches for a typical bedroom studio.
I noticed a vast difference when switching from 8″ to 6″ in my studio, and I thought I had treated it pretty well. My room is about 120″ x 80″ x 80″. To be fair, the smaller monitors were also an upgrade — JBL LSR 8″ to KRK V6 Series 6″ (Amazon link). Still, the reasoning I’ve seen is better to hear too little of the bass and sub than too much because you can turn it up, get a subwoofer, and monitor on another bassier system. Still, if your bass response is messed up on your main setup, you will always make decisions in a suboptimal environment.
If you’re in a small room, around 50 cubic meters, it would be best to get slightly oversized monitors.
Bass frequencies are omnidirectional, so they will naturally excite a small room. Also, the smaller the room, the less likely it is to support the length of low-note waveforms. A smaller monitor will naturally not excite the room as much, implying the direct signal is less interfered with.
Get 6-inch ones and push them closer to the wall, ensuring you’re within the critical distance, but each driver’s sound is getting properly added together. Then, you’d bass trap the walls around them to kill SBIR response.
Unless you plan to invest a large sum in treating the room with bass traps/broadband absorbers, I’d stay away from anything larger than 6″, especially for the KRKs, which already have a hyped low-end.
Without a decent-sized room and an acceptable number of bass traps for the corners, you will get far too much bass build-up for your speakers to use in the low end, regardless of size. Going larger will just make things worse.
In a compact room, nothing will ever sound perfect
The way reflections combine makes acoustic issues more critical as the size of the room decreases. That’s why we use large rooms in mastering even though we don’t have a lot of equipment. The number differs depending on acousticians, but around 50 cubic meters (1800 cubic feet), with the shorter distance between any walls being bigger than 3m (10ft), is the minimum needed volume to be able to get an “ideal” sound.
In a small room, because room modes combine in clusters, you would need much more absorption than in a larger room, but you just don’t have the space to fit that much absorption. That’s why you can’t get a good response, which has nothing to do with the size of the speakers.
That being said, if the room is really tiny and the speakers are huge, you won’t be able to place them in a convenient spot, so obviously, there is a correlation to some extent.
Can Monitors Be Too Big for a Room?
The larger speaker surface pushes more air, which excites the room. You don’t want that in a small room. Many opinions about speaker design and room behavior don’t support your statement. In particular, these statements explain why certain rooms have specific modes, drop-dropouts, and augmentations, which are further affected by monitors’ size, design, and volume.
Large studio monitors can be too much for small rooms, leading to issues like excessive sound pressure, room resonances, and limited placement options, all of which can compromise sound quality and mixing accuracy.
The second to last paragraph of this Tom Hidley interview is very helpful.
He says that another rule of thumb is never to use monitors that are too big (low frequency-wise) for your room. Let’s say you put a monitor that goes down to 20Hz into a room with only 30 or 40Hz capability in wave distance. You will create a massive bump about an octave above the fundamental frequency the monitor’s producing.
You’ll always have that bump because you’re introducing something into that room that shouldn’t be there (wavelength physics). When constructing a compact control room, match the monitor’s low-frequency capability to your room’s dimensions! (half the wavelength of the room’s longest dimension corresponds to the maximum low-frequency output of your monitors). You can lower the frequency response of your monitor as long as the room’s dimensions can support it.
The speaker’s position, though, greatly influences how the room responds to the signal. That is what you should focus on, and it works regardless of the size of the speaker. In fact, Genelec (one of the best companies for professional studio monitors) recommends studio monitors based on typical listening distances and sound pressure levels.
For a more detailed explanation read our article about the room size-speakers correlation: Can Speakers Be Too Big for a Room?
5″ vs. 8″ Studio Monitors for Home Studio
Nearly always, for a precise mix, you’ll be much better with 5″ out of the choices. Low frequencies accumulate more energy in resonances within your room, and those resonances require more time to diminish compared to high frequencies.
Your low frequencies will exhibit considerable variability unless your room is impeccably arranged, with a strategically positioned speaker/listening spot, bass control like traps/thick curtains/furniture, and precise calibration. 8″ will have the capacity to generate notably more intense oscillations at the lowest frequencies when contrasted with a 5″ – suggesting that achieving precision in mixing on 8-inch monitors may be more challenging than on 5-inch ones for most amateur applications.
Recommendations for monitoring low frequencies when using 5″ monitors:
- Hold the woofer cone (gently). You will be able to feel the lower frequencies (and ‘feel’ represents a more relevant experience to a club setting, compared to sound anyway)
- Get a subpac and use headphones! I do this, and with a good set of cans, you can’t beat this setup outside of a Quality PA for bass mixing purposes.
Finally, your 5″ will still reproduce all the frequencies you need to hear; you’ll just need to adjust your ears. Twenty minutes of listening to tracks you know very well can help with this.
Which Ones to Buy?
There are so many options out there. It can be overwhelming. Your thought process should be:
- Decide budget
- Figure out any size constraints
- Choose woofer size
Even if you plan on getting a subwoofer, your monitors must be capable of faithfully reproducing as extensive a frequency range as possible. If you’re a beginner, choose something standard or “flat” to learn to make mixing choices as objectively as possible.
None of it matters if your room (or desk/equipment!) generates major acoustic issues. Often, that boils down to cutting down excessive reflections throughout the frequency spectrum and mitigating strong reflections from close surfaces using clever positioning, fewer surfaces in front of the monitors, etc.
All of these are great choices:
Besides Rokits, I love the HS8 (I had the old HS80m), but I would NOT recommend the smaller 5″ model – HS5 without a sub. The bass is really quiet when compared to the present mids and highs. The HS8 has the same mid/high character but with the bass genuinely balanced.
Correlation with the Genre of Music You Record
Your satisfaction with monitors may depend on the type of music you record and how much low bass it has.
That was my experience in an 11×12 room. When I started moving to electronica and using more synth bass, my old HS80-centric rig just couldn’t tell me what was happening at the bottom. I finally bucked up and bought a pair of KRKs. Things eased up considerably. I kept the HS80s for secondary reference use, of course.
Larger studio monitors can be helpful in genres that rely heavily on deep bass frequencies, such as electronic dance music (EDM) or hip-hop. These monitors are generally better at reproducing low-end frequencies accurately.
For genres where acoustic instruments, vocals, and intricate details take the spotlight – acoustic and vocal-driven genres (folk, jazz, classical), smaller studio monitors can be a proper choice. Smaller monitors excel in reproducing mid-range frequencies and offer a more focused sound.
Recommended: Can You DJ with Studio Monitors? (Pros, Cons, FAQ)
What Is the 38 Percent Rule for Studio Monitors?
The “38 percent rule” for studio monitors is often used in audio engineering and studio design to determine the ideal placement of studio monitors in a control room or mixing environment.
This rule suggests that the distance between the studio monitors (typically measured from the center of each speaker) should be around 38 percent of the total distance between the monitors and the listener’s primary listening position, known as the “sweet spot.”
Here’s how it works:
- Measure the distance between the two studio monitors (center to center).
- Measure the distance from the studio monitors to your primary listening position (where you sit or stand while mixing or recording).
- Calculate 38 percent of the total distance from step 2.
- Position the studio monitors so that the center-to-center distance between them matches the result from step 3.
This rule is based on creating an equilateral triangle between the listener and the two studio monitors, where each side of the triangle (the distance between the listener and each monitor) is equal. This configuration is believed to provide a more accurate and balanced stereo image.
The “38 percent rule” is a general guideline, and the ideal monitor placement can vary depending on the room’s acoustics, the type of monitors used, and personal preferences. Room treatment, monitor angle, and ear height relative to the tweeters all play roles in achieving optimal sound accuracy and balance.