Monitor isolation pads are a small but important addition to any home studio arrangement. In this article we’ll look at what they are, whether they’re 100% necessary, and how you might make some of your own!
What are monitor isolation pads?
Companies design studio reference monitors to play back material as accurately as possible. There’s a lot riding on this beyond the speakers themselves, such as the room they’re in, their placement in the room, and whether the environment has acoustic treatment.
Then comes the actual surface the speakers sit on. Many of us in smaller rooms will likely place our monitors on whichever desk we have, whether it’s a two-tier studio-style desk, or a simpler flat tabletop. In either case, we don’t want our monitors to rest directly on the desktop itself. Here’s why:
When the monitors play back, their casing will vibrate with the desk, creating unwanted resonances which reduce the speakers’ accuracy. It’s a huge low-end build-up which makes it hard to judge what the actual low-end is doing. Since the transmission is a two-way street between the monitors and the surface, they should be decoupled from one another. This is why we use monitor isolation pads.
I’ve heard the analogy comparing isolation pads to the shocks on a car, which is a pretty clever way to think of it. We don’t want to feel every bump in the road, nor do we want to hear every thump, buzz, or rumble in our audio.
- Related: Best Home Studio Monitors
Are monitor isolation pads necessary?
In short, yes. If you want the most accurate representation of your mix, it’s best to do whatever you can to make that happen. Monitor isolation pads are a very simple and affordable way of ensuring you’re getting the best from your speakers.
Apart from room acoustics and other problems you’d run into in a home listening environment, you can at least be sure you aren’t adding any crazy low-end rumble from your monitors and desk vibrating together. You’d even reduce the risk of having your speakers literally rumble off the desk if you’re listening loud, as well. Somewhat unlikely, but possible!
The only situation where you may not need monitor isolation pads is if you’re using speaker stands. Most of the popular options come with a thin layer of rubberized material built straight into the stand’s surface. Plop your monitors down, and you’re good to go.
How to use isolation pads
It’s honestly pretty self-explanatory. Depending on the style you go for, you’ll end up with several thick chunks of foam, or maybe a pair of large rubberized pads.
One of the most popular styles is the MoPAD by Auralex. They come with 2 pads per monitor, which you can adjust independently for the size of the monitors. Position those how you want, set the monitors on them, and that’s that…
Something else certain monitor isolation pads offer is tilt adjustment as well. Again, very self-explanatory, but you’re able to tilt monitors either forward, backward, or leave them flat depending on your listening position and preference.
DIY monitor isolation pads
You can very easily do your own homemade monitor isolation pads. Any absorptive material will do: foam, rubber, neoprene, elastomer, etc.
For example, you can buy 1/4″ thick sheets of neoprene by the square foot at Home Depot. A couple square feet would suit most pairs of monitors — you can trim off any excess on the sides so that the monitor sits neatly on it with nothing hanging over the edges.
You could even use thick cymbal felts. They’re $3.95 for a four-pack; 2 packs would do for one under each corner of the monitors. Along those lines, you could also try using furniture pads. You know, those little felt discs you put on the leg of each chair in the dining room. You can get them by the hundred for about $10!
Monitor isolation pads are possibly one of the least significant investments you’ll make in your home studio. That said, they play a significant role in how your low-end translates. Remember, the key is to decouple your speakers from whichever surface they’re sitting on!