One thing frequently overlooked by most recording studio owners (from the smallest home studio to the largest multi-room facility) is how the monitors are positioned. This can make an enormous difference in the frequency balance and stereo field and although it should be the first thing addressed before you get into any serious listening, it's usually left until later when something doesn't sound right. Here are a few things to experiment with that will lead to the exact right placement for your room. Don't be surprised to find that those speakers that you didn't think sounded very good before suddenly come to life.
A. Check the distance between the monitors.
If the monitors are too close together, the stereo field will be smeared with no clear spatial definition. If the monitors are too far apart, the focal point or “sweet spot” will be too far behind you and you'll hear the left or the right side but not both together. A rule of thumb is that the speakers should be as far apart as the distance from the listening position. That is, if you are 4 feet away from the monitors, then start by moving them 4 feet apart. You can adjust them either in or out from there.
B. Check the angle of the monitors.
Improper angling will once again cause smearing of the stereo field, which ultimately means you'll hear a the lack of instrument definition. The correct angle is determined strictly by taste, with some mixers preferring the monitors to be angled directly at their mixing position while others prefer the focal point (the point where the sound from the tweeters converges) anywhere from three to twelve inches behind them to eliminate some of the “hype” of the speakers (if they have any).
C. Check how the monitors are mounted.
Monitors that are mounted directly on top of a meter bridge of a console or on a computer desk without any decoupling are subject to comb filter effects, especially in the low end. That is, the sound travels through the console or desk, then through the floor, and reaches your ears before the direct sound from the monitors through the air (because it is denser material and travels faster), causing phase cancellation. This can be more or less severe depending upon if the speakers are mounted directly on the metal meter bridge or desk, or mounted on a piece of carpet or similar material covering the metal meter bridge (very popular). The best way to de-couple the monitors is to use the same method used when soffit mounting your main monitors. Set the near fields on a 1/2 or 3/4″ piece of open cell neoprene (soft rubber) and de-coupling will no longer be an issue.
D. Check the position of the tweeters.
Most mixers prefer that the tweeters of a two or three way system be on the outside, thereby widening the stereo field. Occasionally, tweeters to the inside work but usually results in smearing of the stereo image. Experiment with both, however, because you never know.
E. Check the desk or console itself.
The angle of the desk or console, type of materials used for the panels, knobs, keyboards and switches, the type of paint and the size and composition of the armrest all make a difference in the sound due to reflections causing phase cancellation. If the sound of the near-fields on top of the desk or meter bridge is unacceptable, then try moving them towards you with extenders or put them on stands behind the desk or console (don't forget to de-couple them).
A near-field monitor can sometimes get an unjustified bad rap due to any of the above issues. A little experimentation is in order before you can say that a particular monitor doesn't work for you. You'll be surprised what a difference an inch can sometimes make.