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How To Connect Studio Monitors To An Audio Interface

You’ve spent all that hard-earned money on the latest DAW (Digital Audio Workstation), a powerful computer to run it on, some serious studio monitor speakers, and a kick-ass external audio interface (sound card); all you need to know now is how to connect studio monitors to an audio interface!

If it isn’t done correctly, to begin with, it will affect everything you create- meaning that whenever your music is played outside your home recording studio, there will be issues. So, go slow, get each step right and have a problem-free setup leaving you to concentrate on what’s important, actually making some music.

What You’ll Need

  • Audio Interface (AI)
  • Studio Monitors
  • Cable to link AI and computer – probably a USB
  • Cables to connect your AI to your studio monitors – TRS, XLR, RCA, or Optical Cables

Cable Types

The outputs will dictate the cable you use from your AI and your monitor inputs. If your AI and monitors don’t have matching inputs and outputs, it’s fairly easy to pick up cables with different ends.

Balanced vs. Unbalanced Cables

Whereas unbalanced cables only send one signal (unbalanced signal), balanced cables send two copies of the same signal (balanced signal), meaning, through the magic of science, there is less distortion when it gets to its output so that you can have longer cables with a less distorted output at the end.

TRS Cable

Like the classic guitar cable (technically known as a TS cable), the TRS (Tip, Ring, Sleeve) is a balanced cable that is one industry standard. High quality, affordable, and easy to get your hands on

TRS Cable 15-01-21

XLR Cable

A balanced cable you’ve probably seen plugged into the back of a microphone. It usually has three pins.

XLR Cable - 15-01-21

RCA Cable

An unbalanced cable is usually paired as white/red or white/black, or if combined, is yellow. This has been the go-to cable for home stereos for years.

RCA Cable - 15-01-21

Optical Cable

A red light (hence ‘optical’) is fired down a glass cable. High quality but easily damaged if bent and generally not over 5-10m long.

Optical Cable - 15-01-21

AI Outputs and What You Should Be Using

Although there are some exceptions, the standard AI output fits the TRS jack. However, my preference is the XLR connector as it’s balanced and secure, making it difficult to pull out accidentally. So, as long as my monitors have an XLR input, I’ll always choose TRS to XLR if given a choice.

How to Connect Studio Monitors to an Audio Interface (Step by Step Guide)

How to Connect Studio Monitors to an Audio Interface (Step by Step Guide)

  • Step 1: Decide where you will place everything, as this is potentially the most important aspect when setting up. I’ve included some advice at the bottom of this article about monitor speaker placement. It would help if you also considered where your AI goes, as you will need easy access to it as you will continue turning the volume up and down.
  • Step 2: Make sure the computer drivers for your AI are installed and up to date. You can do this by checking your audio interface manufacturer’s website, as they may have a newer update specifically for your model.

Even if you’re confident, double-check anyway as your AI won’t work without up-to-date drivers and you may end up down a rabbit hole of resoldering and replacing cables when all you need to do is press ‘Update Drivers’ in your settings (trust me, I speak from experience here).

  • Step 3: Connect the AI to your computer. You are probably using a mini-USB to USB cable. This cable should come in the box along with your AI.
  • Step 4: Turn down the volume on your AI to zero
  • Step 5: Turn down the volume on your studio monitors to zero
  • Step 6: Use your TRX, RCA, or XLR cables to plug the AI into your studio monitors
  • Step 7: Double-check you have everything turned to zero!
  • Step 8: Plug-in and power on your monitors
  • Step 9: Turn your monitors to +/- 0db if you have that option. If your monitors don’t have this setting (usually a small knob on the back), turn the volume to a low/medium setting.
  • Step 10: If you have the option turn your High Frequency (HF) and Low Frequency (LF) level to +/- 0db
  • Step 11: Turn the volume on your monitors to about 50%
  • Step 12: Press Play on some music on your computer and slowly turn up the volume on your AI. If you get to about 25% and don’t hear anything, STOP. Turn the volume down to zero and unplug the USB connection to the AI. When the AI is disconnected, check there is audio output from your computer either by playing through the inbuilt speakers or plugging in some headphones or speakers you know work.

If there isn’t any audio output, get that working before going any further. What we want to avoid is turning the volume up to 100% on your AI before you press unmute and blow your nice new monitors as well as your eardrums.

Monitor Placement

An ideal room set up for music production is rectangular, with the monitors set up against one of the short walls. Having a ‘long throw,’ i.e., a long distance from the monitors to the opposite wall, will minimize reflections.

This is particularly helpful with the low-end frequencies that have a longer wavelength and need more space to develop (these longer wavelengths were the reason for the Grateful Dead’s infamous ‘Wall Of Sound,’ which was designed to allow the long bass frequencies space to develop)

Set Up Your Monitors Symmetrically and the Same Distance from Your Seat.

Ideally, there would be a perfect equilateral triangle shape between you and each of your monitors. For example, if you have a much larger space between the left monitor and the wall than the right, the reflections will be inconsistent, and you run the risk of the frequencies canceling one another out.

Triangle Speaker Placement

Horizontal Or Vertical?

Check the manufacturer’s instructions to see if your monitors should be set up horizontally or vertically. Most monitors are designed to be placed vertically, but it’s worth double-checking. Ideally, the tweeter (the smaller cone responsible for high frequencies) should be at ear level. These higher frequencies can have a very narrow band of directional focus, so small changes in height and angle can make a big difference.

Studio monitors on their side - 15-01-21

Use Monitor Stand

Desks, especially wooden desks and even more so when there are two monitors on a single piece of furniture, will resonate at certain frequencies and interfere with the audio. Although monitor stands still resonate a little (everything does), they are lighter and usually made of metal and plastic specifically designed to minimize resonation.

But wherever you put your monitors, try to get yourself some acoustic isolation pads to sit between your monitor and whatever it’s placed on. These aren’t too expensive and will help minimize any resonances that are being created.

Acoustic Isolation Pads - 15-01-21

38% Studio Guide

Try and position yourself at 38% of the distance from your back wall. For example, if you have a room with a long throw of 10 meters, you measure 38% of that distance, i.e., 3.8m, and put your monitors there. But experiment and try different things.

The key thing to do is experiment, especially if you have a room that isn’t rectangular and perfectly symmetrical. Windows, doors, couches, and even your own body will reflect the sound in different ways, so try moving your monitors around and finding the placement that works best for you and the space you’re in.

38% Studio Guide - HomeMusicMaker.com

Final Thoughts

It is worth spending the time to get your studio monitors set up correctly to get the best sound quality possible. This will enable you to hear a much truer representation of the sounds you have created.

Hopefully, this guide has helped you get your audio interface and monitors playing nicely together and positioned just right. Now it’s time to make some music!