This month, we’re going to take a look at how
important an accurate mixing environment is
to proper track reproduction. Simply put, it
means making sure what you hear out of your
studio monitors translates to the iPods, MP3
downloads and desktop speakers of the world.
Take the time to really sit back and examine
the signal path of your system. After you’ve
recorded your guitar parts and are done with
the basic tracks, how do you hear it back for
mixdown? Do you have a mixing console or
are you strictly in the box? Either way, make
sure you use decent cables (and the correct
ones!) to get into your monitors. That’s one
small but important aspect of the chain.
Another is your actual monitors themselves. Try
not to have them sitting on a shelf, which will
resonate with the speakers and create unwanted frequencies. It’s important that the speakers
be isolated and separated from whatever they
are resting on. Technically, this is called decoupling, and it can be accomplished with inexpensive pads, rubber or cones.
The optimal listening position is believed to
be where the tweeters are at the same height
as your ears, while in a comfortable sitting
position at your desk. Also, they should sit
equidistant from your ears to each speaker.
A simple trick is to take a piece of string and
have a friend or assistant stretch it from one
ear out to the tweeter. Repeat on both sides
and then make sure the speakers are that
exact distance from each other as well. In
other words, an equilateral triangle forms with
your ears and the speakers. While I realize
that’s not always possible in bedroom studios,
do your best to make sure you’re not too
close, or too far, from your monitors. This will
help you hear true stereo reproduction.
One of the more challenging things to get
right is the actual acoustic environment that
you listen in. Even those rooms that were
custom built from the ground up don’t always
reproduce sound properly. It’s a matter or testing, experience and some science.
After making sure you’re familiar with the true
sound of your monitors, playback some well
recorded music through them. Try not to use
MP3 or AAC files since they are compressed
and not full range. If you hear too much hi-end,
or too much bass, you can most likely point to
the room as the problem. At that point, put on
a pair of quality headphones. If it sounds good
in there, well, you’ve proved my point—your
room isn’t working.
So what can you do about it? The first thing to
do is some research into acoustical products.
There’s a ton of great information online
about treating problem rooms, and many
of the companies who sell such products
have excellent info on their sites. Check out
readyacoustics.com, Real Traps.com, Auralex.
Bass Traps, SpaceArray and SpaceCoupler in Tozzoli’s studio
com, and atsacoustics.com for a start. Sure, you
can try the old egg crates or DIY methods, but
custom panels are widely available and not too
expensive. Hey, they look cool too!
I happen to live in a condo with concrete ceilings, and since I do a lot of stereo and 5. 1
surround mixing, I had to make sure my room
was as tuned as possible. To do this, I first did
my research, and then consulted with Vincent
Miraglia of Analog Design Group, and Russ
Berger Designs to optimize the layout and
treatment of my environment.
After running some acoustics measurement
tests, we determined that putting bass traps
in each corner would tighten up the low end.
To eliminate excess flutter echoes and to clean
up and redirect both acoustic absorption and
diffusion, we hung four Auralex pArtScience
SpaceCouplers above my mix position, and
four Auralex SpaceArray diffusors on my rear
wall. With a few additional absorption panels, I
had a nice sounding room. At one point, I had
too many panels up, and it became too dead.
By removing a few, I found the right balance,
creating a nice, accurate environment to mix
in. This I can tell, because when I’m lucky
enough to work at good mastering houses
such as Sterling or Gateway, the overall frequency range of the mixes translate properly.
This brings up another important point. If your
mixes are correct in your studio, but don’t
sound right on other systems, try taking them
to a nearby mastering house for a listening.
Many reputable mastering engineers would
love to develop relationships with new clients,
and a listening can certainly be arranged inexpensively, if not gratis. If there is no mastering
house near you, get on the phone and see if
you can send some files.
However you go about it, think carefully about
your listening and mixing environment. Through
research, asking questions, experimentation,
and plain old trial and error, you can get your
room tuned up and ready to rock.
Rich is a producer, engineer and mixer who has worked
with artists ranging from Al DiMeola to David Bowie . A
life-long guitarist, he’s also the auther of Pro Tools Surround
Sound Mixing and composes for such networks as Discovery
Channel, Nickelodeon and National Geographic.