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Does a Sound Designer making SFX need accurate monitoring?

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Does a Sound Designer making SFX need accurate monitoring?

Postby YourTransistor » Thu Feb 08, 2018 1:33 am

Hey guys!

This question I've been wrestling with for a while and have been tossing it around to everyone I know. For more info on this question, my career goal is to be a top-tier sound designer. Right now I'm focused on game audio but the reality is that I'd enjoy working for linear media (I have an audio drama I'm designing for). The biggest difference with games is the technical implementation, but as far as sound goes, audio is audio amiright?? :thumbup:

Here goes:

As a sound designer making sound effects, how necessary is it to have a transparent (accurate) monitoring environment? Would this allow a beginner to improve faster, do better work sooner, and as a consequence get paid work sooner? A friend posed this idea to me, but he is a recent graduate from university so I’m taking it with a grain of salt and I think that he’s coming from the perspective of a mix engineer. I’ve been following Bob Katz and his opinion is that mix engineers should start with a $3-5k investment in monitors alone and that you should do whatever you can to invest at that level for your monitoring environment. I just don't know if this applies to SFX creation. Like, do the top sound designers in the world do that?

I have the money and would invest it this way only if I was convinced that it would significantly cut the time it takes to become a top-level professional in sound effects, getting better clients, and earning more money.

Thoughts?
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Re: Does a Sound Designer making SFX need accurate monitoring?

Postby resistorman » Thu Feb 08, 2018 2:37 am

Yes. However, the consensus around here is that room treatment is the first thing that you need to do. Sending unbalanced work off is never a good idea, even if it's "just" efx. Making people up the chain work harder to make your stuff fit in won't get you the nod. I'd say making the bass frequencies robust and impactful with no mud is particularly important in sound design, and you need a professional listening environment for that.
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Re: Does a Sound Designer making SFX need accurate monitoring?

Postby Sam Spoons » Thu Feb 08, 2018 9:27 am

Gut feeling? If you can't hear it properly how are you going to design it? Isn't it a bit like a blind artist trying to paint portraits?

SFX possibly even more than musical sound design needs to sound realistic, particularly for film and theatre, thunder really has to sound like thunder these days and a 1950's Norton soundtrack over film of a Yamaha R1........
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Re: Does a Sound Designer making SFX need accurate monitoring?

Postby ef37a » Thu Feb 08, 2018 10:05 am

To modify your analogy Sam?

The 'Print Shop' in the factory I was slung out of had very special, very expensive lighting so that colour rendering was accurate.

Surely your speakers should also "shine" without 'colour' whatever you are listening to?

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Re: Does a Sound Designer making SFX need accurate monitoring?

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Thu Feb 08, 2018 10:27 am

YourTransistor wrote:I have the money and would invest it this way only if I was convinced that it would significantly cut the time it takes to become a top-level professional in sound effects, getting better clients, and earning more money.

Thoughts?

The main points have already been said by others.

No one can guarantee whether you have the talent, skills, drive, and personality to become a top-level professional. And buying high-end monitors won't change that.

But one thing is obvious: if you can't hear every detail of what you have recorded, or how some signal processing is altering the sounds, you have little chance of optimising the results for your client.

It's like asking, 'should I clear the snow off the whole windscreen before driving the car, or would clearing a little patch in the middle suffice?' :headbang:

So there is a strong argument for purchasing a set of really good monitor speakers.

Moreover, there's no doubt in my mind that high-quality monitoring (in a good room) results in better and faster work because it's easier to hear what you're doing and thus arrive at the goal more quickly.

However, good monitors on their own won't guarantee good sound either. The sound you hear results from the combination of speakers interacting with the room, and the room usually has the dominant effect. So good speakers are only ever as good as the room allows, and great speakers in a bad room will always give a bad sound -- it's that simple.

So before blowing $3k or more on monitor speakers, you first need to find a decent room with the appropriate dimensions and construction to give you a good starting basis, and then treat the acoustics properly, with careful attention to the low end room modes.

Doing this right could potentially cost nearly as much as the speakers and you should be prepared to invest that amount if you serious about this. (Usually, it costs a lot less, but until you investigate the issues of a specific room it's impossible to say).

The alternative, if you don't have access to a decent room and are reluctant to sort out the room acoustics, is to invest in some really good headphones. You'll get something excellent for much less than $1k and they will let you hear the full bandwidth without any room interactions. And because your ears/brain work in a different way when listening on headphones, you will often hear things that go unnoticed when auditioned on speakers.

So I'd actually start with some great headphones, and when you realise from those what the current speakers aren't telling you, look into buying better speakers AND upgrading your room acoustics.

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Re: Does a Sound Designer making SFX need accurate monitoring?

Postby Sam Spoons » Thu Feb 08, 2018 10:38 am

Hugh makes a very good point regarding (I paraphrase) "educating your ears", or developing your listening skills. It's something I'm trying to do myself now I finally have a half decent room. I will be buying a decent pair of open back headphones soon as my room is small and the low end is, inevitably, going to be compromised.
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Re: Does a Sound Designer making SFX need accurate monitoring?

Postby blinddrew » Thu Feb 08, 2018 10:48 am

Martin Walker will probably be along soon to give some first hand advice, but what I would say is (as other people have alluded to above) 'monitoring' is not just the speakers.
You need to consider your whole monitoring environment. That means room treatment, probably multiple listening options (grot box, headphones, mid-range-focused monitor), and calibration.
You'll get more consistent results from good monitors in a well treated room than from great monitors in an untreated room.

[EDIT - Hugh has jumped in already!]
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Re: Does a Sound Designer making SFX need accurate monitoring?

Postby YourTransistor » Thu Feb 08, 2018 12:02 pm

First off I want to say how great the SOS forums are, and thanks to everyone who took the time to reply.

I believe I have all the intrinsic qualities to become great that money can't buy and I understand that I can't buy greatness. I have been very bothered by the idea that I'm not hearing accurately and spending that large sum of money is very scary especially since I have yet to make -any- money from sound work. I feel like I'm doing my due diligence to be 100% sure and I appreciate all the responses here especially considering the length of my post.

Just to make sure I understand I'll recap what I've read here.

1. Hugh suggests that I start off with high quality headphones. I have the Sennheiser HD 280 Pro, had them for about a year. I'll need to look for a better pair that will work for my needs.

2. Next is getting a good room. Right now my listening environment is small oddly shaped room approx 10' x 11' with one corner being a large bevel at 3.5'. There is a large window on one of the 10' walls and a closet (2' x 5') on the other 10' wall. I sleep here too on a bed of rolls like a hobo would make. There's music instruments in here and a bookshelf.

There is a co-working space in my city with office rooms that may be a better studio room. I don't know what the cost would be, maybe $500 a month. I have a fear though that if I accept a job that requires a relocation that I would be forced to move into a room that I can't optimize with the gear I purchased. I think this is most likely a risk that everyone takes.

3. Room treatment. Might have to compromise and treat my bedroom for now. If there is a way to treat the room in a mobile/portable way that would be ideal. So if/when I get a better room I can just pick up/peel off the sound treatments and have them be sized in a way where they are flexible enough to arrange in another room.

4. Monitors. I have Behringer Truth B2031's so it's an obvious need for an upgrade as these are cheaper monitors.

For what it's worth I train every day with TrainYourEars EQ edition on my HD 280s depending on the exercise I get around 80-90% correct but these are the easy exercises I think.

Thanks again for reading and replying!

PS. Been listening to Dan's tracks on his website Future26 while I've been reading and replying to these posts. Very relaxing! Thanks Dan!
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Re: Does a Sound Designer making SFX need accurate monitoring?

Postby YourTransistor » Thu Feb 08, 2018 12:24 pm

Also, does anyone have a suggestion on entry point price level that I would need to spend for upgrading headphones for my needs?
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Re: Does a Sound Designer making SFX need accurate monitoring?

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Thu Feb 08, 2018 12:25 pm

YourTransistor wrote:I have been very bothered by the idea that I'm not hearing accurately and spending that large sum of money is very scary especially since I have yet to make -any- money from sound work.

Yes, it's a common dilemma. It obviously makes more commercial sense to be earning from your audio work before making a major outlay on treating your room acoustics and buying high-end speakers.

But it can be done in stages. I'd start with really good headphones, then start treating your rooms acoustics -- which will allow your existing speakers to deliver the best they can --
and then invest in better speakers as and when you have the budget and experience to appreciate what they can tell you.

I have the Sennheiser HD 280 Pro, had them for about a year. I'll need to look for a better pair that will work for my needs.

The HD280s are fine for what they are, but open-backed headphones are generally better for for critical listening. If you like the Sennheiser presentation I'd suggest the HD600 or HD650 models as common industry references, with the HD700 or HD800s being better if you can stretch that far.

Personally, I prefer the sound of AKGs and would recommend the K701/702* as the standard models, with the K712 or K812 as the more desirable high end. But others here swear by the products of other manufacturers including Audeze, Shure, and Beyer.

*(The 702 has a detachable cable and is slightly cheaper, bizarrely, but the 701/702 models are otherwise identical AFAIK.)

They all have slightly different tonalities and the comfort when wearing varies considerably with head size and shape, so people naturally have different preferences. Try before you buy if possible.

Right now my listening environment is small oddly shaped room approx 10' x 11' with one corner being a large bevel at 3.5'.

...and it's probably about 10 feet high making it pretty close to a cube which is the worst possible shape of room for audio purposes. You will inevitably find very strong resonant modes, and there will be very little bass audible when you're sat at your desk near the middle of the room.

There's very little you can do with a room like that I'm afraid. Headphones will be your best friend!

If there is a way to treat the room in a mobile/portable way that would be ideal. So if/when I get a better room I can just pick up/peel off the sound treatments and have them be sized in a way where they are flexible enough to arrange in another room.

Have a read of the regular Studio SOS articles in the SOS archives. Removable/portable acoustic treatments come up often.

I have Behringer Truth B2031's so it's an obvious need for an upgrade as these are cheaper monitors.

Given your room, I'd suggest the most sensible upgrade would be to something like Neumann KH120s, or the smaller and newer KH80s. These are very revealing monitors that punch well above their price points and will serve you well for a long time, but they won't over-excite the low-end problems of your room. I'm sure others will have alternative recommendations for monitors too. Again, try before you buy if possible.

For what it's worth I train every day with TrainYourEars EQ edition

It's a good start, but so much of 'ear training' comes down to experience, and that inevitably takes time.

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Re: Does a Sound Designer making SFX need accurate monitoring?

Postby Martin Walker » Thu Feb 08, 2018 2:26 pm

blinddrew wrote:Martin Walker will probably be along soon to give some first hand advice, but what I would say is (as other people have alluded to above) 'monitoring' is not just the speakers.
You need to consider your whole monitoring environment. That means room treatment, probably multiple listening options (grot box, headphones, mid-range-focused monitor), and calibration.

A bit late, but here I am all the same ;)

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

I would follow Hugh-s advice to invest in some better quality headphones first of all, since for me a lot of the joy of sound design is in all the small details that may miss on budget loudspeakers, but which will be heard over good quality monitoring, whether loudspeakers or headphones.

I have a pair of Sennheiser HD650 phones, which sound very detailed and are pretty 'flat', but I later on invested in a pair of AKG K712 (highly recommended by various people here for their 'more powerful and realistic' bass end, and I use those via the amazing Sonarworks Reference 3 plug-in that flattens out their otherwise spiky response above around 3kHz.

Yes, I also have a small pair of ATC monitor speakers, and a fairly well acoustically treated room, but I suspect yours (being almost square at 10' by 11') will be difficult to treat adequately, so headphones are definitely the approach at the moment until you can find another room that's less square.

Hope this helps!


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Re: Does a Sound Designer making SFX need accurate monitoring?

Postby YourTransistor » Thu Feb 08, 2018 6:27 pm

Yes all this advice definitely helps! I'm going to look for some place, a store where I can try out the headphones if possible and then look to purchase some used like through Reverb.com :bouncy: :bouncy: :bouncy:
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Re: Does a Sound Designer making SFX need accurate monitoring?

Postby Martin Walker » Thu Feb 08, 2018 6:55 pm

YourTransistor wrote:Yes all this advice definitely helps! I'm going to look for some place, a store where I can try out the headphones if possible and then look to purchase some used like through Reverb.com :bouncy: :bouncy: :bouncy:

Just be aware that AKG headphones are well known to have a 'breaking-in period' where they tend to sound rather brittle until played for several dozen hours, so don't judge shop phones if they have just come new out of the box.

Sennheiser phones on the other hand ten not to change significantly over time.

Good luck!


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Re: Does a Sound Designer making SFX need accurate monitoring?

Postby Sam Spoons » Thu Feb 08, 2018 7:16 pm

So, play music throughout them for a couple of days at normal listening levels or is pink noise better? I plan to buy a pair of K702s to complement my HD25s (also bought after recommendations on here, and very good they are too) as soon as my pension lands.
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Re: Does a Sound Designer making SFX need accurate monitoring?

Postby Martin Walker » Thu Feb 08, 2018 7:37 pm

Sam Spoons wrote:So, play music throughout them for a couple of days at normal listening levels or is pink noise better? I plan to buy a pair of K702s to complement my HD25s (also bought after recommendations on here, and very good they are too) as soon as my pension lands.

I doubt that it really matters Sam - just something to loosen the mechanical side of things up a little. I put a CD on loop play with my K712 headphones inside their box, to minimise the annoyance value ;)


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Re: Does a Sound Designer making SFX need accurate monitoring?

Postby YourTransistor » Thu Feb 08, 2018 7:40 pm

Martin, thanks for the heads up. I didn't know that about headphones. :thumbup:
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Re: Does a Sound Designer making SFX need accurate monitoring?

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Thu Feb 08, 2018 8:06 pm

I connected them to a feed of BBC Radio 2 for a couple of days, and shut them in a cupboard! ;-)
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Re: Does a Sound Designer making SFX need accurate monitoring?

Postby blinddrew » Thu Feb 08, 2018 8:22 pm

Is that your normal approach to things playing radio 2? ;)
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Re: Does a Sound Designer making SFX need accurate monitoring?

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Thu Feb 08, 2018 8:39 pm

Yes! It's my normal approach to shut radio 2 in a cupboard whenever possible. ;-)
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Re: Does a Sound Designer making SFX need accurate monitoring?

Postby ConcertinaChap » Thu Feb 08, 2018 8:54 pm

It's comments like that make me love this place. :)

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