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:
- M-Audio EX66 – my main studio monitors
- 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.
- HD280 Pro – My headphones of choice.
- 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!