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Troubleshooting Mixing Environment Calibration

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Troubleshooting Mixing Environment Calibration

Postby cyberdaniel82 » Thu Jan 31, 2019 8:02 am

Hi guys! My mixing environment seems to be ruining my mixes, and it’s driving me crazy.
I spend hours mixing a track through my Yamaha HS8s (with accompanying sub) in a very quiet, reasonably-shaped room with some treatment. It’s not a professional-grade set-up, but it’s probably more conducive to accurate monitoring than your average home studio. (Or at least it should be in theory).

I tinker with a mix until it sounds great in my studio. I burn a copy to test out in other listening environments, such as my car. In those other environments, though, my carefully-crafted mix sounds absolutely terrible – nothing like it does through my monitors. It’s a disheartening feeling.

And this is what’s confusing: commercial mixes sound similarly good through my studio monitors – more clear than they do anywhere else. But… they also sound excellent in my car. And excellent on my office computer. And excellent through a stereo system. The mixes I make ONLY sound great in one place: my studio. Elsewhere, they’re muddy and lifeless.

Clearly I’m missing something very fundamental. I find myself using my car as the ultimate reference point for making EQ adjustments, wishing that I could mix through my lousy car speakers instead of in my dedicated monitoring space. And no one should ever feel that way. I know I’m never going to produce good-sounding tracks until I can cultivate a listening/mixing experience that translates similarly across a variety of listening environments.

I’ve been tempted to put a temporary EQ on my master bus that is configured to simulate how lifeless my mixes sound elsewhere. (The idea being that the EQ will trick me into making a mix that sounds sonically pleasing elsewhere.) That’s how desperate I am.
I’ve never used a spectrum analyzer, and I wonder if it might be insightful to compare the frequency ranges of my mixes with commercial tracks that sound good across all platforms.

Do you guys have any tips for calibrating my mixing space so that my mixes will translate nicely everywhere? And might you have a theory as to what’s going wrong for me currently? Another data point: I can hear reverb nuances much better through my headphones than through my monitors, which may or may not be typical. Anyway, thanks a lot for the help!

- Daniel
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Re: Troubleshooting Mixing Environment Calibration

Postby Martin Walker » Thu Jan 31, 2019 12:50 pm

Hi cyberdaniel82, and welcome to the SOS Forums! 8-)

Your plight is I suspect one that's plagued most of us at one time or another in our musical careers. The most obvious culprit is indeed the acoustics of your mixing room.

You say you have 'some treatment', but can you expand on this a little, and give us the basic dimensions of your room?

Sometimes even rearranging your gear so that the loudspeakers fire down the long dimensions of your room rather than the short one can make a big improvement to room acoustics, as can making sure your gear is symmetrically arranged about the room's central line, while placing your listening point 38% from the front wall is an oft-quoted choice that places your ears in the most-balanced position avoiding room mode problems.

Beyond these basics, having traps at the two side wall mirror points and a ceiling trap should clear up your stereo image no end, but then it's the bass trapping that will make all the difference - both the amount of trapping you can fit in, and where it's placed, and to do that in a controlled manner you really ought to investigate a freeware software utility like Room EQ Wizard, since this (along with an omnidirectional microphone) will provide you with visual results of your room acoustics so you know exactly what the problems are.

As you have headphones, listening through those will reveal the sound of your mixes without the room component. Some of use with small or cube-shaped rooms simply don't ave enough space to fit enough bass trapping to completely deal with troublesome room modes, but instead rely on our headphones. However, you'll need a pair with a decently flat frequency response if you're making critical mixing decisions through them.

Hope this helps a little!


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Re: Troubleshooting Mixing Environment Calibration

Postby Tim Gillett » Thu Jan 31, 2019 1:16 pm

You don't mention other people. What do others think of how your mixes sound in these different settings?
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Re: Troubleshooting Mixing Environment Calibration

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Thu Jan 31, 2019 1:50 pm

As Martin says, this is something that we have probably all struggled with at one time or another. I usually comes down to a combination of factors including the room's acoustic treatment, speaker placement, subwoofer balance, and general experience and critical listening skills.

But fundamentally, I suspect you are mixing to compensate for maladies in your room acoustics, and those mix decisions are then being revealed when listening in other spaces which don't suffer those specific room problems -- like your car!

It's quite common, for example, for a small squarish room -- such as the spare bedroom in a typical UK home -- to have a significant lack of upper-bass/low mid audible at the usual listening position (which is typically almost exactly in the middle of the room's three dimensions).

If this is not fully appreciated, it is easy to dial EQ in the spectral region to try and make things sound balanced and punchy in that room... only to find the tracks sound muddy when auditioned elsewhere.

Your mention of a subwoofer also rings alarm bells because many folk in exactly that situation think they need to add a sub to balance out the bass in the room... but in that kind of situation it actually makes matters worse, not better! I'd recommend turning the sub off and working without it at all for a while, using good quality headphones to assess the quality and balance of the low end of your mixes, instead.

Your comment about hearing reverb character more easily on headphones is also quite common. Our ears/brain process sounds and work in a different way when the acoustic crosstalk between the ears (which is present with speaker listening) is removed (by using headphones). But it also suggests that your room may well have a confusion of early reflected sound when using your monitors.

So overall, I think the most likely way of making a radical improvement in the quality of your mixes is to address the acoustics of your room. Broadband absorbers on the mirror points (and possibly in a ceiling cloud) are a first priority, followed by the wall behind the speakers and possibly also on the rear wall. Next, effective bass trapping will be needed and you can't add too much (unless it stops you opening the door to get in/out! ;-)! ).

And then work on honing your listening skills to recognise what needs to be tweaked and what doesn't -- applying EQ because the source/mix needs it, and not because the room does.

And lastly, don't get despondent. It's a learning process and with a combination of physical improvements and skills development you will get there. And enjoy the process!

H
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Re: Troubleshooting Mixing Environment Calibration

Postby CS70 » Thu Jan 31, 2019 2:58 pm

Unless you're blessed with a very well built ad-hoc room, it's almost inevitable to have to test on different systems to make sure the sound is preserved.

I second what all others have said - get rid of the woofer, talk about your studio layout and move things around - so my suggestion is more on the method and some preconceptions that may contribute to your disheartening feeling (also, the usual suggestion applies: mix at low volume, so low that you can have a conversation over the music. Make only the occasional check at blast levels).

First of all, the preconceptions: you already kinda say it, but it's important to be aware that the perceived sound of a mix is always different with different systems/rooms. Yet as you say good mixes sound "the same". What "the same" means is that they sound equally good - managing to give to you - the listener - the same emotional payback everywhere: you perceive them just as exciting, or saddening, or romantic etc on a phone speaker or a high-end hi-fi room. Mixing is an exercise in inducing emotions in other people, and the key to a good mix is to identify what parts are contributing the most to generating these emotions and make sure they survive as much as possible everywhere. So your objective is not to achieve the same sound but to keep the balance between elements which produce the emotions intact across different systems.

For each one of these elements, each room/system tells you something different, usually complementary. So a good method to create a "good" mix is to take a reference (say your studio monitor) and the systematically try the same mix on two or three environments with vastly different properties, concentrate on one "emotional element" at a time, and tweak the timbres which generate it so you get the same feel without removing it from the previous systems

For example, I use a mono phone speaker, headphones, a car system and a full range PA. In a song I recently did, there is a bass line coming in at a certain point which generates tension and excitement and expectation. It sounded lovely in my room, but to get it out on the phone, I had to excite it so that it got preserved even with a 300hz hi pass. I did it just enough that the sound didn't change much on the studio speakers.
Then I hi passed the bass a little, since the lows were sticking too much on a couple of headphones - again, ensuring the change weren't really perceptible on my monitors and the phone as net emotional effect.
Finally, the car test revealed a certain low muddiness which was easy to remove with a bell cut at a low frequency - without affecting at all the feel on studio monitors, headphones and phone.
By the time I got to the PA, the bass sounded perfect! I could blast it on every system and it gave me and my friends the same feel, regardless. The same process went on for guitars, vocals, reverbs etc. - and the mastering engineer even commented on it himself.

Obviously sorting your studio will give you a better "starting reference" and so less need for tweaks, but do expect to have to do the "progressive tweaking" job regardless. It's more work, but you're rewarded with a mix that plays well everywhere.
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Re: Troubleshooting Mixing Environment Calibration

Postby Still Vibrations » Thu Jan 31, 2019 3:17 pm

I have to work in a less than perfect room. To compare my mixes to others I listen to all music through the system I use to produce music, therefore my ears get accustomed to the sound. When I have finished a mix I take it to a specialist mastering engineer to check everything and to apply any additional reverb, eq and valve compression. This also gives me an accurate idea of the sound my studio produces.
Please Martin and Hugh correct this if it is wrong but I have the speakers quite close together and sit near them - a small equilateral triangle - as I believe that helps reduce the room sound.
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Re: Troubleshooting Mixing Environment Calibration

Postby Mike Stranks » Thu Jan 31, 2019 4:33 pm

Still Vibrations wrote:Please Martin and Hugh correct this if it is wrong but I have the speakers quite close together and sit near them - a small equilateral triangle - as I believe that helps reduce the room sound.

If someone else might comment...? My equilateral has side dimensions of just under a metre and a slight toe-in on each speaker. My speakers are reasonably respectable 4" woofers. Nevertheless and despite a fair amount of room treatment I check mixes on decent open-back headphones because of the dreaded nodes! My mixes generally transfer well although I'm not often producing popular mainstream stuff.
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Re: Troubleshooting Mixing Environment Calibration

Postby blinddrew » Thu Jan 31, 2019 5:14 pm

Just to echo Tim's point above, probably the single most useful thing I can bring to bear on my mixes is another pair of ears. I have a few people I regularly call on, either online or directly, who can give me an informed and insightful opinion. Because I'm generally performing, recording and mixing my own stuff, it's really easy to lose perspective, even when referencing other tracks on a regular basis.
Obviously this is in addition to all the other expert advice above. :)
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Re: Troubleshooting Mixing Environment Calibration

Postby Still Vibrations » Thu Jan 31, 2019 7:10 pm

Mike Stranks wrote:
If someone else might comment...?

Sorry Mike, it wasn't personal - just that Martin and Hugh went into detail about room problems before I posted.
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Re: Troubleshooting Mixing Environment Calibration

Postby Mike Stranks » Thu Jan 31, 2019 9:04 pm

Still Vibrations wrote:
Mike Stranks wrote:
If someone else might comment...?

Sorry Mike, it wasn't personal - just that Martin and Hugh went into detail about room problems before I posted.

No worries whatsoever! I was just trying to be polite! :D
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Re: Troubleshooting Mixing Environment Calibration

Postby Martin Walker » Fri Feb 01, 2019 12:44 pm

As always, and we love you for it Mike ;)
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Re: Troubleshooting Mixing Environment Calibration

Postby cyberdaniel82 » Fri Feb 08, 2019 6:44 am

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https://static.wixstatic.com/media/9d1d ... bp?retry=1

Thank you all for chiming in with information and suggestions! I’ve posted a couple of photos of my room for you to pick apart (and likely be mortified by, haha). It’s an elongated space at least, which is a plus. A few aspects I suspect might be problematic:

1. I don’t have any bass traps.
2. I don’t have a panel overhead.
3. My monitors (mostly out of necessity) are located closer to the back wall than would be ideal. The monitors do feature a setting that supposedly helps in circumstances where they are positioned close to a back wall; I have this engaged.

Presently I’ve just lined the upper walls with giant panels of Owens Corning, roughly 1.5” thick and covered with green fabric.

I’ll turn off the subwoofer for mixing purposes from now on. Perhaps I’ll also acquire a single speaker and mix predominantly in mono until I’m ready for panning. It sounds like a lot of cross-platform testing goes into making a mix balance well. I have one friend whose input I trust, as he’s candid, has good ears, and shares my taste in music. He agrees that my mixes aren’t translating well from the studio into other environments. With the wisdom of this forum, I hope to slowly change that!
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Re: Troubleshooting Mixing Environment Calibration

Postby blinddrew » Sat Feb 09, 2019 10:33 am

Sounds like you're on the right track Daniel, could be time to start planning a build-your-own-bass-traps project. :)
It looks like you've got quite a bit of treatment around the mixing area that's only going to be affecting the high end, so you'll need to be careful that things aren't coming out too bright on other systems.
But in the meantime headphones and plenty of referencing in mixed environments should see you right.

Nice set up by the way. :)
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Re: Troubleshooting Mixing Environment Calibration

Postby cyberdaniel82 » Sun Feb 10, 2019 8:00 am

Thanks blinddrew! I'm definitely going to bite the bullet and build at least two nice bass traps for the corners nearest to my chair.
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