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Can you set levels to pink noise with headphones on?

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Can you set levels to pink noise with headphones on?

Postby conew1987 » Mon Sep 24, 2018 5:23 pm

Basically what it says on the tin:

When setting up initial levels to pink noise, can that be done with headphones? Or does it give you a false response? Thoughts?

Thanks in advance!
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Re: Can you set levels to pink noise with headphones on?

Postby ef37a » Mon Sep 24, 2018 10:31 pm

Do you mean you want to calibrate the headphones (to say 85dBc SPL) ?

If so, a bit tricky I would say. You could hang a true rms* AC meter on the headphone feed and set the level with reference to the manfctrs specification but that data is often confusing, poorly presented or not even given!

Perhaps setup the pink noise on monitors at the required level, feed same to cans then keep adjusting, whipping off/on until the levels match?

BTW, have you seen the excellent feature on headphones in the current issue? I do hope there is a similarly deep follow up about headphone amplifiers?

*won't be very "true". Unless it is a very expensive meter the response dives off a cliff past about 2kHz. They are only true rms for power line frequencies.

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Re: Can you set levels to pink noise with headphones on?

Postby Wonks » Tue Sep 25, 2018 8:02 am

It's all about relative loudness, so if the levels balance on headphones they should still balance as if you were using speakers. At this stage you should have everything panned centrally, with no effects, so it's all mono. It's all about setting up a good initial balance, after which you can then make musical decisions about relative levels.

The only drawback to the pink noise method is if your high frequency hearing limit is quite low (like me), when things like cymbals and hi-hats become very difficult to balance as they contain a lot of noise-like sound anyway and everything merges into a single sound. Here I find it's easier to set their levels by ear as normal once the other instrument levels have been set.
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Re: Can you set levels to pink noise with headphones on?

Postby ef37a » Tue Sep 25, 2018 8:26 am

Hi Wonks.
Another problem has come to me about comparing speakers and cans with noise?

That October article pointed out how difficult it was to get a subjectively flat frequency response or one that agreed with any given set of monitors? Add the personal "head fit" situation and wide band noise could make it difficult to get a meaningful judgement?

Maybe just a "chunk" of noise, band limited to 400-1,000Hz would be better? Or just 400Hz sine?

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Re: Can you set levels to pink noise with headphones on?

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Tue Sep 25, 2018 8:35 am

conew1987 wrote:When setting up initial levels to pink noise, can that be done with headphones? Or does it give you a false response? Thoughts?

Yes it can. The balance might be slightly different from that done using speakers, though, especially if you're working in stereo with lots of extreme panning, just because the ears/brain work in a slightly different way when different sounds are heard in different ears (which can't happen when using speakers). Consequently, you might be better off working in mono to set your initial pink-noise-balanced levels, and only then develop the stereo panning as you polish the mix.

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Re: Can you set levels to pink noise with headphones on?

Postby Wonks » Tue Sep 25, 2018 8:36 am

Dave, this is not about calibrating the headphones. This is about the Eddie Bazil/Zukan method of setting a balance for your instruments and vocals against a constant level pink noise source.

The beauty of it is that as long as the pink noise source in your DAW is a true one, then it almost doesn't matter what you are listening on. Any peaks or dips in the frequency response of the monitors or headphones will affect the level of the pink noise at those frequencies just as much as they affect the sound you are setting the level for, so matching the level of sound to the pink noise should be easy.

Easy except for those sounds with a lot of noise in themselves, where level matching then becomes a lot harder.
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Re: Can you set levels to pink noise with headphones on?

Postby ef37a » Tue Sep 25, 2018 10:45 am

Wonks wrote:Dave, this is not about calibrating the headphones. This is about the Eddie Bazil/Zukan method of setting a balance for your instruments and vocals against a constant level pink noise source.

The beauty of it is that as long as the pink noise source in your DAW is a true one, then it almost doesn't matter what you are listening on. Any peaks or dips in the frequency response of the monitors or headphones will affect the level of the pink noise at those frequencies just as much as they affect the sound you are setting the level for, so matching the level of sound to the pink noise should be easy.

Easy except for those sounds with a lot of noise in themselves, where level matching then becomes a lot harder.

Oh! I'll get me coat....

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Re: Can you set levels to pink noise with headphones on?

Postby Martin Walker » Tue Sep 25, 2018 2:36 pm

No worries Dave ;)

Another vote for pink noise mixing under headphones - I do it all the time with good results.

Kick drums and bass synths can sometimes be tricky to balance up with the pink noise signal, which is why I'm so pleased with the extended low end response of my AKG K712 Pro headphones (which makes this easier).

I also find balancing really high sounds (hi-hats, cymbals and so on) easier under headphones, as you're bypassing the audible changes of moving your head about, which can result in quite big changes at these frequencies if you're not careful, especially if your room acoustic isn't spot on.

The other thing that's worth pointing out is that whether you are pink noise mixing with loudspeakers or headphones, the actual playback level isn't critical - I started off at normal monitoring levels, which can be wearing on the ears when you're listening through continuous pink noise, but subsequently found that even at fairly low playback levels you're likely to achieve the same balance (in other words, you can forget about Fletcher-Munson effects, as you're listening to the 'difference' in volume between the pink noise and each of your playback tracks).


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Re: Can you set levels to pink noise with headphones on?

Postby Zukan » Thu Sep 27, 2018 8:01 am

I always mix to noise using headphones for the same reasons Martin has outlined.

The process is actually really useful in getting your level and pan mixes in the general ballpark. It is also a great technique for managing the headroom as you are forced to attenuate rather than boost when using pink noise referencing.
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Re: Can you set levels to pink noise with headphones on?

Postby ManFromGlass » Tue Oct 16, 2018 12:56 am

So when you are doing this under headphones are any of you using the Sonarworks program for headphones? Or could that defeat the purpose? (I can't imagine how but I'm asking anyway)
Logically using the Sonarworks could mean easier balancing of the low end but I've discovered my sense of logic sometimes is wrong!
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