Whether visiting an arena gig, club or a movie theatre, there’s nothing more impressive than feeling that low shaking sub bass rumble in the sound. When returning to a home studio using desk top or near-field monitors you may think that your mixes all sound a little thin and may want to try and reproduce that big system sound.
However tempting this may be, if you are not careful adding a sub to your home monitoring system may do more harm than good. Here are some things you need to consider if you are tempted to add a sub to your home monitor system.
The Size Of Your Room Matters
Many home studios are set-up in relatively small spare rooms, attics or basements, these are often no larger than 10’ x 10’. Now consider the following wavelengths of low frequencies shown below:
- 200Hz - 5.65’ or 1.72 meters
- 150Hz - 7.53’ or 2.29 meters
- 100Hz - 11.3’ or 3.34 meters
- 50Hz - 22.6’ or 6.88 meters
As you can see the wavelength gets longer the lower the sound goes and as this happens the ability to control these frequencies in small rooms is almost impossible, especially without treatment. To illustrate this point, have you ever been sat at traffic lights in your car and then suddenly felt the really low bass of music coming from a car five cars back in the queue? That’s a good illustration of how large the low frequency waves are and how far they travel each time the wave repeats. Put these low frequencies into a small room without careful thought and you start to get all sorts of issues.
The Shape Of Your Room Matters
An equally important consideration is the shape of your room, if your home studio is a small box room then introducing a sub may effectively make the entire room a speaker that you are sat inside of. There’s also a higher likelihood of standing waves occurring in a room with parallel walls, floor and ceiling. This means that the sound of your low end will effectively appear and disappear depending on where you are sat in the room, you can walk in and out of the bass - chances are that the hole may be where you are sat trying to mix.
Placement Makes A Huge Difference
Placing any speakers in a room requires some basic understanding of acoustics, even a simple stereo pair; too close together or too far apart, too high or low, too close or far away and the sound can change dramatically. Add a sub into the equation and the placement of speakers is even more essential to avoid phase and standing wave issues. Again a sub may lead you into thinking you are getting great sounding mixes, but if you don’t get the set-up right then the only place that the mix will sound good is in your room.
Professional Studios And Mastering Engineers Are Still Essential
The advent of home recording has led many to believe that the need for professional studios and mastering engineers is largely gone - this couldn’t be further from the truth. There has never been more need for both large professional studios and audio professionals such as recording and mastering engineers.
There’s only one way to get the sound of a drum kit in a large room and that’s to record a drum kit in a large room. Yes it is possible to emulate it through samplers and effects, but it’s not the same, the only people who will tell you it is are those who have never sat in a large studio and tracked a large kit in a live room and listened to it in a custom built large control room. For some the sampler will be enough, but for others spending a couple of days in a large studio tracking drums and backline is going to get a better result.
Mastering engineers are an essential part of getting your mix ready for commercial release. Yes you can buy plug-ins to emulate the hardware they use, but there’s no software to emulate their room, ears and experience.
Having so many factors affecting how you are hearing the sound in your home studio makes the role of a mastering engineer money well spent. For some just making home recordings for fun then it may not be necessary, but if you are thinking of putting your music out for general release then I can’t recommend professional mastering highly enough.
I’ve talked so far about music production, but having worked in post production too I know that to get sound ready for cinema release requires a room that will really show how the movie is going to sound in a theatre. Many professional post houses will offer a service to get both movies and commercials ready for cinema release, in fact, one of those I worked in did a lot of this kind of final post work.
Should you use a sub in your home studio? Possibly, but it’s worth considering all the factors before you simply buy a ‘plug and play’ sub solution - these rarely exist in reality.
Don’t get me wrong this article is not about small rooms versus big rooms, it’s about having a monitoring system to fit the space.
If you are serious about getting an accurate monitoring solution in a small space then get some professional advice from an audio design and acoustics specialist. Most stores do not have acoustic specialists of this type, they just don’t have the budget to have these staff on the team, although they may have specialists they can recommend, such as Andy Munro.
Adding a sub may make you feel like you are getting a great bass sound, but if you are not careful then you may end up with less, not more bass in your mixes.