You are here

Q. Does it matter which ‘version’ of a reference track I use?

By Mike Senior

When trawling through your music collection for reference tracks, does it matter which version of a track you use? In a word, no.When trawling through your music collection for reference tracks, does it matter which version of a track you use? In a word, no.I’ve been reading up about reference tracks for mixing and mastering, and I want to increase both the amount and range of material I’m using. There’s stuff I personally think is recorded very well, but having read through various threads on the subject there are certainly a fair few albums and artists that crop up all the time, so I plan to get some of those. The thing I wondered is how mindful of release versions I need to be? Obviously some releases specifically state that they are the remastered (or even remixed) versions. But what about those releases that aren’t re-anything’ed? Should they then all be the same sonically, or will there still be differences?

SOS Forum post

Mike Senior replies: Although I’m delighted that you’re clearly taking the idea of referencing seriously, I’m not sure you’re approaching it with quite the right mindset. The process of selecting mix references is the process of defining your own tastes regarding how records should sound — whether from a mixing or a mastering perspective. There are no ‘gold standard’ productions that everyone in the industry agrees sound best, and sonic fashions are always changing, so it’s an essential part of establishing your professional personality as an engineer to decide for yourself which productions you aspire to emulate.

There’s nothing wrong with taking listening suggestions from other engineers (particularly those you respect), because they’re more likely to be worth auditioning than records selected at random, but you still have to draw your own conclusions about what those records sound like compared with your own favourites. If they don’t stack up for you, then be prepared to jettison them. And the same principle applies to different re-releases of the same classic record. You can leave the purists to argue late into the night about which version best represents the artist’s vision, or which one is cleanest, or which has the greatest dynamic range — the bottom line is that the version you like listening to most is the one you should choose. End of story.

Published June 2016