Right now I’m sitting in my studio. Later this afternoon I need to do a final mix-down on a song. Everything is pretty close to where it needs to be. Now it just comes down to the final tweaks, automation moves, etc.

However, before I can smile and say, “Done!” I need to check my mix on as many systems as I can. You can never check your mixes enough.

Before I go any further, check out this picture. I’ve got a few different monitoring options. How many do you see? We’ll see if you’re right at the end of this article.

Why You Need to Check Your Mixes

Who cares what the mix sounds like through the boombox or in the car? As long as it sounds good in the studio we’re done, right? Wrong.

Your studio is unique. It’s like a snowflake, or a fingerprint. You’ve got a specific, one-of-a-kind combination of studio monitors, room dimensions, and acoustic treatment (or lack thereof). If you play the exact same mix in 100 different home studios, it will sound different in each one. Your job as a mix engineer is to predict these differences and accommodate for them as best you can.

The problem is that your room could be lying to you. Let’s say your mix has a HUGE, annoying build-up at 100 Hz. However, let’s also say the dimensions and acoustics of your room are causing a huge dip at 100 Hz in your room’s frequency response.

(Ideally your room’s frequency response would be perfectly flat. Sadly, that’s really never the case. Even high-end facilities have certain problem frequencies.)

So, you’ve got a mix coming out of Pro Tools with a huge boost at 100 Hz. When this mix is played in your room with a huge dip at 100 Hz, everything sounds fine. Your room is behaving like an EQ. Sound great, right? It’s not. Like I mentioned before, your room is lying to you.

You’ll bounce this mix, take it out to your car, and BOOM!…all you hear is 100 Hz. The acoustics of car are different than your studio, and you can hear that 100 Hz loud and clear…and the headache ensues.

Do you get what happened? The 100 Hz was ALWAYS there, you just couldn’t hear it because your room was getting rid of it.

This same scenario can happen ALL across the frequency spectrum. What sounds smooth in your studio sounds harsh in your living room but boomy in your car, etc. etc.

There are more than acoustics at play here. Keep in mind that every speaker/headphone system reproduces sound differently. If your speakers don’t reach down to 40 Hz, you need to listen to your mixes on something that does, just to make sure that there’s not a lot of craziness going on down there.

Needless to say, to do all of your mixing without ever listening on another system is simply unwise.

How to Check Your Mixes

This really isn’t a secret or anything profound.

First of all, in the studio, try to use as many different speakers and headphones as you can. How many do I use? Four. Here are the answers from the picture at the top of this post:

  1. M-Audio EX66 – my main studio monitors
  2. Roland speakers – I don’t even remember the model number, but these are cheap secondary speakers. They give me an idea of what my mix will sound like on bookshelf speakers.
  3. HD280 Pro – My headphones of choice.
  4. Apple earbuds – Obviously we want to know what our mix will sound like through these.

With my 003, I’m able to monitor all of these independently, without needing to plug/unplug anything. It’s pretty nice.

As far as checking your mix outside the studio, you simply burn it to a CD or upload it to your iPod and hit the town. Take note of the differences you hear and try to come back to your mix and adjust accordingly.

Got any tips of your own? Leave a comment!

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  • Mario

    there is another method to check the mixes, this method was invented by me, (I think) very simple but very very effective.
    during the mix, compare your work with “” PINK NOISE “”.
    1) You must set the same volume level,
    2) listen to “” PINK NOISE “” for 30 sec.
    3) switching sources, you will hear what is wrong with the mix immediately

    • What do you mean by “you will hear what is wrong with the mix immediately”? Are you saying any big imbalances in the mix will be more obvious after listening to pink noise?

      Very interesting…

      • Eyad Haddad

        Interesting !! i will try it

        • Mario

          I got the idea when I heard some stories about the sound engineer, whose ears were so tired that he could not work, but had to finish mixing. So he listened as the water flows into the sink, after a few minutes he could continue to working , because his hearing was reset .

          a person can hear the correct proportions, only for a while, for instance after a few hours, even minutes, you are not able to recognize what is good and what is bad because hearing is very unreliable,
          very important in this method is the correct setting of the volume ratio between the “” PINK NOISE “and the music, unfortunately, no meter can help you, but I frequently use the spectrum analyzer, it helps.
          You can say that the spectrum analyzer shows you what happens with sound, so what, if you see but you can not hear it.
          It is very simple and effective method, and everyone can try it for free

          • Eyad Haddad

            Thanks Mario 😉

          • Mario

            try it on headphones, you will be surprised

          • So you set the volume of the pink noise to roughly the same level as the track?

            I’ll have to give it a shot.

            • Mario

              yes, the same level, but as I wrote earlier, none of the meters will show you a good volume, peak meter shows only a momentary level,
              you can try the RMS, your ears are the best judge

              • Mario

                you can compare the traks as well, the whole MIx

                • Mario

                  but best results are on the whole mix

  • EYAD HADDAD

    the ARC System( http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/ARC/ ) will save time and effort to check your mix every where, it will tune your room and Monitors to make them flat and reel . it is Amazing!!!!!!

  • CMF

    I love those monitors.

    A lot of producers I know only check mixes on 1 other source like a friends studio, I find that the pros relly more on good monitors and good acoustic treatment.

  • ariel

    Thanks for this post. I have to travel by train each and every day to get to my office. 2×1 hour trip daily. What I normally do is I bring my laptop and 2 earphones a (small and a larger one), and listen my mixes. My biggest problem is, most of the times (when I finally get back home) I forget what to do… 🙂

    • 🙂 I can’t help you with the forgetting part.

  • When you’re listening to your mix on a less-familiar monitor, don’t forget to to put on your reference track! I used the stock Apple earbuds for the first time in a while, and I thought my mix was really ‘buzzy’, but it turned out a lot of professional stuff had that issue too.

  • This is very good advice, I have a fairly poor monitors but I make up for it by A) Knowing them well and B) Testing on them, IE30 earbuds, Sony MDR V700 headphones, the living room hifi, kitchen multimedia 2.1 setup. And between all of that I can get quite a good mix that translates quite well other systems.

    One thing that has been driving me CRAZY is the sound of a mix from my mac internal sound card sounds quite diffrent then my ipod (same ear buds) Seems like the ipod has some kind of DSP?

  • Erez

    Good advice Joe, thanks.
    I used to be very lazy when it came to testing on other speakers, not anymore though XD
    I just got a Logitech Z-5500, hope it’ll do the trick.

  • Tim

    What’s a 003?

    • Digidesign 003 – It’s a firewire audio interface/control surface for Pro Tools.

  • I see 4 Joe (i jumped to the end to comment, but I see now you mention 4).

    I would suggest to everyone the ARC system by IK Multimedia. I am in no way affiliated with IK, but I am a happy customer, and that product has really made all the difference in my studio.

    Great post.

  • Dave O.

    I think Joe mentioned this before, but it’s not a bad idea to pop the CD into a system with subwoofers. I know I got an unpleasant surprise when my wife played my CD in our home theater system. The mix was extremely muddy!

    • This happened to me, too. I was mixing on 5″ speakers. Everything sounded great. I finished mixing, submitted it for the album…then I played it for my in-laws on their home theater system. BOOM! The sub revealed a TON of low end that I had no idea was there.

      Lesson learned.

  • This is the step that absolutely drives me crazy! You adjust for one thing and then it throws something else off. It’s always hard to find where to settle.

    • Yup. I think you end up having to compromise and settle for the least common denominator.

  • Daniel

    I actually listened to a recording we did to help a friend finish a recording project for school a couple years ago. The mix sounded pretty darned good at the schools studio… but I just happened to pop in that CD to my Macbook speakers and the percussion was way high and vocals were way low and the whole mix just sounded off. We never referenced the project outside of the studio monitors.

    PS. Just got me a set of those HD280s a couple weeks ago from GC and I love those things!

  • Such crucial advice. Can make or break all the hard work you put into your mix! Thanks Joe!