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Currently I attempt to mix my music in an untreated living room, going back and forth between a pair of headphones and a sizable desktop speaker system. I'd like to improve the situation with some basic reference monitors, but I'm tight on space so my desk is up against a wall.

This immediately rules out any back-ported speakers, since the bass response will be boomy and unreliable that close to the wall. However, I have heard that front-ported speakers (such as KRK's Rokit speakers) can be placed close to a rear surface without trouble. In fact, it's written right on the Rokit 5 G2's box.

Is this true, or just advertising? For amateur mixing and reference situations, can front-ported monitor speakers be placed close to walls or other surfaces?

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2 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Close proximity to a wall, ceiling or floor will reinforce the bass due to reflecting sound waves regardless of the speaker type. The room layout, the exact speaker placement as well as the material of the wall, ceiling, floor etc. all affect and color the sound produced by the speakers.

This coloration can both be a disadvantage, especially if you are not conscious about the effect, but can also sometimes be used positively to deliberately boost the low end.

Very few people have completely neutral speakers set in an acoustically ideal room--this is true even for professional studios with otherwise state-of-the-art equipment. It's much more important that you know the effect the speakers and the room have on the sound. Of course you want to get rid of pronounced artifacts caused by standing waves, but beyond that you can create stellar mixes in many environments as long as you know how the speakers and the room color the sound.

For example, the venerable Yamaha NS-10 has been a long-time near-field monitor favorite in many studios despite a reputation for a sound that people either love or hate, but nobody would claim to be neutral.

I use a set of reference CDs with a sound that I am intimately familiar with and that I trust is sonically well-balanced. I know how my reference songs sound in a wide variety of settings ranging from crappy mono transistor radios to my beloved studio monitors and I play these songs a lot on my studio monitors as a way to reset my ears.

TL;DR

As long as the placement and the room doesn't result in standing waves and other problems that completely masks other detail in the sound, then you will probably be fine as long as you know how the placement colors the sound.

Buy the speakers at a place that'll let you return them if you don't like them and see if it works for you.

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saying that the proximity "will reinforce the bass" is a bit too broad of a statement, in reality some frequencies will be re-inforced to the point of dominating the room, while others will be attenuated into non-existence. It would be more accurate to say that the proximity will cause the "bass" to be dreadfully un-even with huge peaks and troughs in the frequency response. –  Shane Kilkelly Jun 11 '11 at 17:10
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While it's true that front-ported monitors are preferable in that situation, the fact is that being so close to a wall will never be "without trouble", especially in an un-treated room. In other words, the front ports aren't going to magically cure all problems related to being close to a wall in an untreated room.

having said that, a set of decent front-ported monitors is still your best bet for a usable setup, and will likely be substantially more reliable than either headphones or normal "desktop speakers".

I say go for it, but just be aware that the front ports are not a magic-bullet solution.

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