I have an arch nemesis.

(You do, too.)

He was a bigger threat when I was first starting out with recording, but he still rears his ugly head.

His name? My car. (If you must know, my car’s name is “Franc.”)

I hate the sound system in my car. Great mixes sound “okay” on it. Bad mixes sound awful. I bet you can relate, no?

So here’s the deal.

I finished up a mix last week. Throughout the entire mix process I only listened to the mix through my nice studio monitors and headphones.

You see, I came down with a small case of overconfidence.

Because the mix was “working” for me, I didn’t see a reason to listen to it elsewhere. Perhaps it’s arrogance. Or maybe stupidity?

Either way, I waited way too long to listen to the mix in my car.


It made me sad. πŸ™

The balance between tracks was off. The lead vocal and snare drum were too loud, and there was a general harshness in the upper midrange.

So here’s what I did.

I went back to my studio, and fired up my “crappy speaker.” This is a single speaker I set up a few weeks ago. I use my mixer to send the mix in mono to this cheap little powered speaker I bought years ago.

What’s so awesome about this crappy speaker? It has a 3-inch woofer on it. It’s teeny tiny compared to most studio monitors. It doesn’t have much definition, especially in the low end, and it really emphasizes the mid-range of the audio passing through it.

In short, it sounds like a car stereo speaker, in all of it’s hideous glory.

And you know what? When I play some of my favorite albums through this speaker, they STILL sound great.

When I played my unfinished mix through it, the problems IMMEDIATELY jumped out. I mixed for a while through this crappy speaker until things were sounding good again.

Then I flipped back to my main studio monitors, and…

Yay! It sounded great.

No more mysterious trips to the car.

No more guessing what my mix sounds like in a crappy car stereo.

I brought the crappy car stereo INTO my studio.

And you know what?

I think it’s my favorite thing to mix on right now.

Who’da thunkit?

Regardless of how great or crappy your speakers are, you need to know how to manipulate your mix to sound top notch, and it all starts with a crazy little thing called EQ:


Joe Gilder

21 Responses to “And…Crappy Speaker for the Win!”

  1. John Walker

    Can you list what the make and model of this particular crappy speaker that you’re using is? πŸ™‚

  2. David

    I have been mixing primarily on “average” home speakers for 25+ years. Let’s face it, very few people will be listening on high end studio monitors anyway. I will turn up the bigs to clearly hear intricate details, but then go right back to my average Joe Sonys. I also keep a set of computer speakers hooked up to listen to a mix just to see how it sounds. Another trick I learned many years ago from Alan Parsons is to go out into the hall and listen to your mix. If it sounds good on all these, chances are it will sound good on anything.


  3. Armando

    haha this was great… i have great Bose speakers in my car and they are super CLEAR. I totally understand but at what point can we stop. i mean should one mix on little speakers to avoid these undesired effects or just stick to 5 inchers?..

  4. Xan

    Yes, that’s a very good plan! I seem to remember suggesting setting up a single speaker for mono listening a few dozen posts ago…!

    I guess you have taken it one step further and made it a shitty one as well.

    The only danger I foresee with this is that if you start to depend on it too much, because it is highly coloured you will begin to create mixes that are anything but “portable”.

    But still it’s a great idea and it saves having to tramp mixes out to the car all the time.

    Just remember though, that a car is a different environment and that is something that is important too.

    Nevertheless you have inspired me & I’m gonna go & set up my “crappy speaker” right now. And I have the perfect unit. It’s one that I’ve had since childhood. The cabinet was made by my “Electronics Mentor” … πŸ™‚

    • Xan

      And I would further suggest that it’s probably a good idea to just use it for MIXES, never when setting up the sounds ov individual instruments.

  5. Andrew

    Crappy speakers are the best! (never thought I would say that LOL)

    Best way to learn EQ in my experience.

  6. Jeremy Peyton

    Yup. Just used this on a recent project and glad I inspired you, Joe. The free speakers that come with most computers are a great choice since most people probably have some sitting around anyways. I also checked my master on stock iPod earbuds.

    You know what my overly excited client did with her first album after I put it in her hands? Popped it in her car first thing, went home, put it into her computer and listened to it on stock (crappy) speakers while she ripped the tracks to transfer to her iPod. Hmm. You know what my clients usually DON’T do? Wait until they get to their studios (if they had one, they probably wouldn’t come to me!) and listen to the mix on nice studio monitors. If my mixes don’t sound good in typical (crappy) arenas, then my studio mix doesn’t really count.

    • Xan

      In fact I reckon an important place to check mixes on now is a laptop with it’s internal speakers. With most things being initially heard online, that’s one ov the first places someone will hear something.

      If it sounds ok on laptop speaker it should sound a bit better on a desktop equipped with cheap little speakers.

      But if you deliberately mixed for it to sound really good in this environment it would probably quite awful on a half decent system. i.e. one with some bass response.

  7. Smurf

    This is the reason I am looking at the new Behringer C5A & C50A. The C5A has a response closer to the original Auratone with a frequency range of 150 – 15k, while the C50A ranges from 90 to 17k. Like most Berry stuff the reviews range from great to so-so.

    I have been using a Mono source for about 6 months and I have to say that it has helped my mixes a ton, even tho it is just a 4″ powered older-than-dirt Altec computer speaker.

    • Jason

      Funny thing…would u only grab just one of those “Behritones” then? Thats kinda what I was thinking. Thats you’re mono and your “crappy” speaker sound right there lol.

  8. Jonathan

    This is a great post, Joe. People always tell me to test my mixes in the car, and this might be stingy buuuut….I seriously don’t want to have to burn a cd every single time I want to test a mix, ya know? I’m already broke enough as is πŸ™‚ The crappy speaker option is a much better idea!!

    • Smurf

      Some car players will play back RW (re-writeable) CD’s. This is what I do & it saves a ton of money, just erase it & burn the next project!

      • Xan

        Our car is equipped with a mini-disc player as well as a CD. I’m gonna start using mini-discs to test the mixes on when I want to do a “car check” just case they are so retro, as well as being reusable ov course.. πŸ™‚

    • Bob Sorace

      I agree about burning cd’s, I got tired of buying them, so I just stopped doing it! But one thing I just thought of is my car has a aux in for an iPod, so I could just put it on the iPod and take it out to the car. I also have my two old crappy computer speakers that I could use, I’d just have to crawl under the desk and hook them up again.

    • Jason

      Yeah iPod FTW…my deck has the digital connect for ipod, aux in, and a thumb drive usb slot lol. Kinda overboard.

      The biggest advantage is burn times and ease of use. I just bring my ipod into the studio, export tracks when Im done working on em for the day, import to itunes, drag to an ipod playlist, and disconnect. A lot of times I’ll have 3-4 diff tracks to listen to at the end of a long mixing session…4 new songs to listen to/critique in the car…takes like 1 min to do.

  9. jerry

    quick question i was looking into getting a nice set of crappy speakers what is the one you have that one looks like a great set

    • Jason

      LOL @ “nice pair of crappy speakers”.

      I was kinda wondering the same thing. I have some Bose bookshelf speakers plugged into a generic receiver but I dont trust it. My only spare outputs are headphone outs on a Presonus HP4 monitor controller and I have to convert that to RCA to plug into the receiver. The sound quality is decent when it works, but it cuts out all the time and haven’t deduced where/why.

      So I’d be looking at trying to find a powered speaker thing with a 1/4″ or 1/8″ input….just some computer speakers maybe?

    • Joe Gilder

      HA! You’re asking the wrong question. Just find a set of crappy speakers. It really doesn’t matter what they are or how they sound, as long as they can reproduce the sound, you’re good. Something with a 3″ woofer would probably be good, just so it has SOME low end.

      Otherwise, just go for something, anything really.

      • Xan

        Another idea is one ov those crappy “consumer” plastic stereo systems like an old AIWA etc. Something that has one ov those ridiculous bass boost functions.

        Then you can use this set up to check for bottom end buildup as well, if your’re mainly referencing on small near-field monitors.


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