Mastering The Mix

The Perfect Monitoring Levels For Your Home Studio

We hear frequencies differently at various volume levels. We hear less bass when it's quieter, and more bass when it's louder. In this post, I’ll walk you through 5 steps you can take to calibrate your speakers to a set monitoring level suited to your studio space. This will help you get the most accurate response from your monitors in your studio every time you go to mix or master a track. Your ears will become used to the level you set and you will intuitively recognize when your tonal balance is off or if the track is too loud or too quiet.

 

Home Studio Monitor Levels infographic

1. You first need to decide what digital level you want to mix to. If You’re mastering audio for streaming platforms you might calibrate to around -14LUFS. If you’re making club music you might choose a figure closer to -9LUFS.

 

2. Now you’ll need a pink noise file for the calibration. The pink noise file should match the level you chose in step 1. The pink noise produces an equal amount of noise across the frequency spectrum. If you have an untreated room, you can restrict the pink noise to 500Hz-2kHz to minimize low-frequency standing waves or reflections. Open up a test oscillator in your DAW and select the pink noise setting. You can use LEVELS to adjust the pink noise to the ideal LUFS value of your future music projects. In the example below, the test oscillator outputs audio at -9LUFS when the output is set to -3dB and -14LUFS when the output is set to -8dB.

 

Test Oscillator & LEVELS

 

3. An SPL meter is now needed to measure the acoustic sound-pressure level produced by your monitors. You’ll need an SPL meter with a C-weighted filter option, which is flatter than the A-weighted response which is commonly used for general measurements. The SPL meter will also need a ‘slow’ or ‘averaging’ mode. These can be picked up for around £15/$20 on Amazon. Some phone apps can also be surprisingly accurate.

 

4. Now you need to work out at what volume you want to listen to your audio in your studio. 85dB SPL used to be a common suggestion for monitoring levels, but this figure was intended for larger spaces such as a cinema. This level is close to the more flat portion of the equal loudness contours (a more accurate update of the Fletchure-Munson Curves). It was later discovered that the method used for measuring the pink noise signal was slightly inaccurate and the reference level for cinemas was changed to 83dB SPL. This level would be super loud and overwhelming in most home studios. Most home studios are smaller than 142 cubic meters, so 73-76dB SPL C is a more appropriate target. Below is a table created by Sound On Sound with recommendations based on room size.

 

Room Size

Reference Level

Cubic Metres (m³)

dB SPL (C)

> 566

83

284 - 566

80

143 - 283

78

42 - 142

76

< 42

74

Source

 

5. Now we bring everything together, play the pink noise file and adjust the monitors to match the ideal reference level for your studio. Let’s say you wanted to master audio to -14 LUFS and you had a small home studio between 42 and 142 m³. You would want the -14 LUFS pink noise file to sit at around 76dB SPL (C).

 

To take the measurement:

 

  • Place the SPL meter in the listening position. Most SPL meters are designed to have the microphone pointed to the ceiling rather than the source. Check the instructions to be sure.
  • Set your monitor volume to it’s lowest setting using your monitor controller or the actual volume on the monitors if you don’t have a controller. Make sure your output and master fader in your DAW are set to 0dBFS and play your pink noise audio.
  • Increase the volume of your monitors until your SPL meter reads 76dB SPL (C).
  • Make a note of the volume so you can quickly set the same monitor level in the future. It’s improbable that you will use this level 100% of the time. It’s always useful to hear your mix super quiet to make sure the right elements are poking through the mix. You also might want to play your music loud from time to time for fun or to impress your clients and friends.

 

You should now have monitors that are calibrated to a loudness that works with the size of your room and the loudness of the music you want to create. You’ll get a more balanced frequency response which will help you consistently dial in the right amount of bass to your mixes.

 

You can also use this new monitor level to help you find a similar level in your headphones. (It’s extremely difficult to accurately measure loudness on headphone at home.

 

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