So, there is no real right or wrong answer when configuring a monitoring setup for a home studio space. But, there are a number of guidelines that can help you find the best solution for your needs. And for anyone looking to monitor in a space that offers a little room to move, deciding on whether you should include a sub in your setup is going to drastically alter how you listen and what you hear.
THREE IS BETTER THAN TWO… SOMETIMES
Not every home studio space calls for the use of a sub in the monitoring system. Often there simply isn’t the room to have one incorporated into your listening, or you are monitoring in a very close proximity to the speakers and surrounding walls and it actually doesn’t benefit the overall aural image to incorporate additional low-end frequencies. But, there are a lot of people who are recording and mixing at home that are missing out on the benefits of mixing with a sub when they could very easily have one as part of their monitoring solution.
What I often find is that many home recording setups suffer from near field monitors that are just too big for the space and distance they are being used for. So often, people seem to go with the ‘bigger is better’ approach to studio monitors and end up sitting between two speaker drivers that are few too big for the application and deliver a false image of the low frequencies in the mix. I am always coming across people who think that they ‘need’ 8” drivers in their monitors to get enough low frequency in what they hear. This usually results in an unbalanced mix that sounds terrible when heard on any speaker system other than the one it was mixed on. Having large drivers that deliver excessive amount of low frequencies when working in smaller home studio environments is never ideal. Separating your sound with a sub is more often going to be the better choice for getting the right amount of bottom-end in your monitoring.
HEAR IT ALL, AND UNDERSTAND WHY
Of course, a simple pair of four or five inch drivers can usually leave you wondering what you are missing in the mix. They can seriously under deliver in the low frequencies, resulting in your mixes coming out bass heavy as you inadvertently compensate for the speakers. The opposite results when your monitors have too much low frequency punch, especially when they are up on a desk, against a wall, or in a corner where the low frequencies are going to be further accentuated. Having your signal split between two smaller drivers and a sub allows you to find the right balance for the space. Your signal will run from your DAW into the sub and then pass through the cross-overs so that only the mid and high frequencies get into your top speakers, achieving a subtle balance.
This means you can have five-inch drivers working effectively and delivering the frequency response that they were designed to reproduce, resulting is a clearer, more accurate sound. The sub can then fill out the remaining frequencies without assaulting your ears right from the desktop. The crazy thing is, this makes more sense than so many arguments for simply buying bigger speakers, yet the latter is so often the result. People seem to think it will save them money to just get two speakers, but by purchasing bigger and more powerful speakers, to fill out the low-end. The truth is, in most instances, your final mix is likely to benefit from having a third speaker in your studio responsible for handling your low frequencies.