Speaker placement in studios has always been a topic of much debate, so we invited a true expert, Carl Tatz, to offer us his thoughts on the matter.
What’s the most important element to consider when creating a control room? A console equipped with the latest features? As much outboard equipment as you can afford? In the mind of award-winning studio designer Carl Tatz, it’s accurate monitoring.
As well as building spaces for a variety of clients, the ex-engineer, producer and studio owner – he sold his facility to none other than Sheryl Crow in 2003 before heading into the design business – is the creator of the PhantomFocus System, a custom turnkey solution designed to offer high-level monitoring accuracy, no matter what the user’s choice of monitors may be. The system has been praised by renowned engineers Ken Scott (The Beatles), Elliot Scheiner (The Eagles) and many more.
He knows what he’s talking about then, so what are his main recommendations when it comes to setting up a monitoring system? Start off by working out the listening position and where the speakers should go, according to Tatz.
“You want to find a way of calculating the modes in your room (see diagram) and then catch the first reflections. When you decide where you want the listening position to be in your room the first consideration you want is symmetry – at least from the listening position forward – so whatever the right speakers sees, you want the left to see boundary-wise, otherwise they will react to the room differently,” he says.
“You can sit in the listening position and have someone go along the wall with a mirror and as you’re looking at the mirror when you see the speakers, that’s where you want to put some absorption. The back wall should also be absorptive. I know you see people use diffusers – I’m not a fan of that really, but it’s better than nothing.
“Back in the listening position, if you clap your hands and you hear a whole bunch of ambience coming back, that’s what you want to calm down with absorption because all you want to hear is what’s coming from the speaker forward.”
All About That Bass
So what else should we know? Some recording professionals regularly struggle with the low-end, and many will recall situations where a track has sounded perfect in the studio, but then listening back in an alternate setting has led to frustratingly different results. Why is that, first of all?
“At approximately 125Hz there is a huge 10-15dB dip and it doesn’t come back up until about 40, 60, 70, depending on your speakers and your room,” Tatz continues. “Between that 125 and 70Hz you’ve got what I call The Grand Canyon of missing information and that’s why, when people are mixing in any environment, they have a hard time with the low-end – it’s always the hardest thing to determine.
“There’s often that classic case where you’ve got the bass really punchy and how you want it to sound, and then you take it out some place and there’s way too much low-end. And that’s because you’re boosting ‘The Grand Canyon’. You might have that peak at 60, but you’re still missing all that low-end information.
But can anything be done about it?
“Well you can’t EQ that up as you’d blow the speakers, but if you get a subwoofer or two, cross it over and experiment then you can try and fill in that hole, and the PhantomFocus System is perfect for that,” Tatz continues.
“The alternative is to learn your speakers, so if the bass sounds shy then it’s just right or if it sounds just the way I want then that’s actually too much. You have to compensate or second-guess yourself, and that’s what people do all the time, whether it’s in a home studio or a professional space.
“You could learn to mix in an empty swimming pool – eventually your mind and ears figure it out.”
But surely going out and buying an expensive set of speakers would also help? The more you spend the more you get, right?
“It doesn’t matter how ‘good’ they are – and I’ve tuned so many different speakers – they all do the exact same thing. Over the years they’ve been getting better but it’s a slow process – it’s not like digital consoles where there have been quantum leaps,” remarks Tatz.
And those who spend countless hours ensuring their room sounds perfect from corner to corner are probably overcomplicating things.
“The only thing you really need to worry about is one position. People say you need to tune the room but you don’t tune the room; you tune the speakers. I’ve done rooms that are seven feet wide and nine feet deep and they sound as good as a million-dollar studio in that position, and that’s all you really want.”