Placing equipment at your home recording studio

Because the computer is the center of your musical operation, you might be tempted to place it front and center—say, within arm's reach of your right hand. But because a computer is noisy (due primarily to its cooling fans) and bulky, it's better to place it off of the desktop and out of the way. Keep just the monitor in a central location.

You will, of course, need access to the CPU periodically—when installing software or plugging in cables—but the most physical interaction many of us have with the computer box itself is pressing the power switch. After that, most of our activity is conducted via the mouse or the keyboard.

A good solution is to keep the computer on the floor under your desk. This not only keeps the desktop free and clear but allows the desktop surface itself to act as a sound barrier that somewhat inhibits the fan noise from hitting your ears directly.

If you have a thick carpet under the desk, place the computer on a thin, hard surface (such as a 1" x8" plank of wood) so that its feet keep the case from coming into direct contact with the carpet. And just because you place it under a desk doesn't mean that it should be stuffed into a corner, because this might promote heat buildup—a bad thing for computers. Also, keep in mind you will need access to its CD or DVD drives, and less frequently its rear-panel ports and connections. If your equipment is going inside existing furniture or against cabinetry, be sure to allow for holes (service loops) so that you can feed the cables through.

Monitor Placement

Although you can put your computer almost anywhere that's convenient, the placement of your monitor speakers is much more critical. The ideal position for studio monitors is in an equilateral triangle with your head, like it is shown in the below figure, when you assume your normal listening position for mixing. This means the distance between the speakers is the same as the distance from your head to either speaker. For most nearfield monitors, a distance of three to five feet is ideal.

monitor placement for home studio

You have three practical options for positioning the monitors in your home studio:

  1. On speaker stands that sit on the floor and raise the speakers four to five feet above the floor (at the same height as your head)
  2. On shelves mounted to the back wall
  3. On the desktop itself, raised to the appropriate height

Using speaker stands is the best solution, assuming you have room behind your desk, but this is also the most expensive. Shelves are fairly easy to construct, even for the most reluctant carpenter. Just be sure to use padding between the speaker bottoms and the shelf to prevent unwanted vibrations and rattling.

If you elect to put your speakers on the desk, you should isolate them from the desktop's surface to prevent the speakers from vibrating. Placing them first on a some sort of riser and then sticking a couple of neoprene rubber pads between the bottom of the speakers and the riser will help keep unwanted vibrations from influencing the sound, and prevent the speakers from walking.

Once you have your speakers in position and have staked out your listening position, it's time to place the rest of your gear around that area.

Sample Setups

Moving your gear around into the optimal working setup is kind of like a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle: You know there's probably one right way to organize your specific gear, but it's pretty hard to know what that is until you try placing the pieces together through trial and error. Sometimes measuring the units and experimenting with scale drawings (with graph paper or a computer drawing program) will help, but that really only helps to avoid the situations that clearly won't work.

Your particular setup will depend on the dimensions of your individual gear and the space you have available, but generally there are three approaches (in order of ascending desirability): the tier, the L, and the U. The L shape is popular because it needs less room than the U shape and is roomier than the tiered approach. The U shape is more „cockpit like“ and puts gear within easier reach, but it requires you to have three sides devoted to your music gear, something the standard home office or bedroom doesn't easily accommodate.

The Tier The below figure shows a tiered approach, where all the gear is set up along one wall. The piano keyboard can be put on a slide-out drawer or on a keyboard stand whose height can be adjusted precisely so that the top of the keyboard slips under the tabletop. Some people like to put their computer keyboard on a sliding d rawer because this puts the keyboard lower than the tabletop—a more comfortable position for marathon typing. But it's not that necessary for music production, because you won't be doing that much sustained typing on the computer keyboard.

tier studio setup

The L The L puts the piano keyboard on the side of the desktop, which is handy for overdubbing and other situations when you need constant access to your controller (see the below figure). It's a little more convenient to have the keyboard always out and ready rather than having to slide it in and out from underneath your desktop.

l-shaped studio setup

The U The U shape requires the most room because it has desktop surfaces on three sides, but it's a great way to make music. The primary advantage of the U is that it leaves a dedicated mixing region in the center of the area, the crossbar of the U (see the below figure). This is one of the hallmarks of a pro studio because critical listening tasks are performed here—and the more pristine that space is, the better.

u-shaped studio setup