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Problem: Control Room, Ears or Brain?

Discussion in 'Recording' started by Dave_D, Aug 17, 2009.

  1. Dave_D

    Dave_D Active Member

    Hi all,

    Mixes produced in my home studio don't translate well. Always boomy and with a touch of transparent listening fatigue - IOW, it feels "good" when the song ends.

    But here's my concern: commercial CDs sound very different from my own mixes when played in my control room. On my Mackie HR824s, my tracks sound present, airy and punchy. But then, when I pop in a commercial CD, it sounds more "comfortable," with more mid-range. Every commercial CD has the same quality, so I clearly have a problem.

    Is it my room, my ears or my brain? If the commercial CDs sound better than my own mixes in my control room, why don't my ears and brain take me in that direction naturally? Why do I always gravitate towards the highs and away from the mids? If I tune my room, will it fix the problem? Is this a natural tendency that mixers learn to compensate for, or do they leave it for the mastering engineer to fix? Or, should I insert an EQ in the monitoring stage to artificially nudge me in the right direction?

    Any help is greatly, GREATLY appreciated.
  2. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    You're experiencing a pretty darn common problem.

    1st - you're not accustomed to your monitors. You need to spend more time listening - truly listening - to your monitors. Use a LOT of reference material. Know how your monitors sound. Know their strengths and weaknesses.

    2nd - You're second-guessing your monitors. You're making judgements in your mix based on what you *think* your monitors are doing instead of truly knowing.

    Many people advocate checking mixes on multiple monitors for both of the above reasons.

    On the other hand, I tend to think that double checking mixes is a waste of time that is not only unecessary, but detrimental in comparison to mixing on a great pair of monitors that you know well.

    Oh...and yes, the room is a significant and important part of your monitoring chain. However, (a word of caution here - don't discount the room acoustics based on the following statement, just understand the deductive reasoning behind it), if your mixes sound bad in comparison to commercial mixes, the room acoustics aren't the source of this trouble; it's answers 1 and 2 above.

  3. MadMax

    MadMax Well-Known Member

    I'll subjectively disagree in a sideways fashion, J... (kind of a thingy that's based on point of view)


    IMHO, you're your own undoing in a coupla' ways...

    The reality is, that the commercial CD's are what you want your stuff to sound like. e.g., if your stuff sounds like the commercial CD's that you're listening to, then you've probably got it mixed about right.

    Your room's acoustics are probably responsible for the lopsided mixes... up to a point.

    The first thing to do is to get a response curve of your room. Once you have that, you can do what it takes to get the room in order... which will likely be a good amount of additional bass trapping, moving your mix and monitor position and maybe adding some diffusion and/or possibly a cloud over the mix position.

    Once you get your room sussed, you should also accept the fact that commercial CD's, even though mastered, are your "target" sound.

    Getting your room response under control will be the telling point. If you are STILL creating lopsided mixes, then it could be your hearing. Since "commercial CD's sound better than my own mixes" (sound), then you gravitating to brittle highs and woofy lows is potentially indicative of you having hearing problems.

    Not trying to burst your bubble, but for some folks, mixing is just beyond their abilities. Some, with a lot of listening and trial and error, can eventually "learn" what a mix should sound like.... and others just never "get it". Just like an auto mechanic... some have the ability, and others (like myself) have no business working on a car other than to put gas and oil in it.

    Hopefully, you can get your room squared away, and it will take care of your issues and your mixes will start to come around.
  4. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    Really makes you appreciate a good 'Mastering" job doesnt it.

    Heres my suggestion. Find a reputable Mastering house in your area. One you can access their room and gear with. Take your very best song and mix and have it mastered. Take it back to your room and compare to commercially released CD's.

    Thats when you'll know for sure.

    Its a lot cheaper to do this FIRST rather than throw a bunch of money at something that may not be an issue.
  5. Dave_D

    Dave_D Active Member

    Thank you, both!

    Regarding the room, over the past few days, I've generated a rough plot of frequency response at the mixing position (all I really need - no producer's desk or couch to worry about), using a dB reader (C weighted), test tones and Excel. Crude as it is, at an average 85 dB, I clearly have a -10 dB dip at 60-80 Hz and a -7 dB dip at 500 Hz. I'm thinking of throwing ARC or a similar program at the problem, but only if it is likely to help.

    I like your 1st recommendation, Cucco. I just popped into Guitar Center to ask for some mixing/ear training materials and the sales rep's first question was how often do I listen to my reference tracks in the control room? I replied, "almost never; only when I'm comparing my completed mixes." He recommended that I familiarize myself with that sound so my brain better remembers what is "good." So, I'm gonna kick back and listen, just as you recommended. Still, it would help me remember "good" if I understood the science/philosophy behind it.

    He also recommended something intriguing: put an EQ on the studio monitor bus and insert an EQ. Then tweak the EQ on my commercial CD reference tracks so that they sound like what I would've created had I been in the studio with Tears for Fears, for example. Then, when I mix down (without the EQ curve), the DAW will automatically compensate. Of course, I'd rather train my ears to do things right everywhere, but if it's a tried-and-true method that'll save me some hair-pulling, why not?

    Not to sound defensive or anything, but I'm too close to the mark to not "get it." I'd say I'm 80% there. For example, I had to play things twice for my wife yesterday before she finally understood what I was talking about. "Sounds great to me" were her first words, but then she knows that this problem (and all my cussing) has an identifiable cost associated with fixing it. :wink: Finally, after a quality Depeche Mode interlude, she relented, "yeah, it's boomy" and "how do we fix it?" God love her.

    Again, thank you. All of your advice is very helpful and very, very much appreciated!
  6. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    Blood, Sweat, & Tears.

    (Once I met the Devil....he was mighty slick....)
  7. MadMax

    MadMax Well-Known Member

    DO NOT put an EQ or other insert of equalization on your 2-bus for anything other than an affect!

    DON'T put it on your monitoring 2-bus either!!

    Unless you have SERIOUS dollars for an EQ that doesn't introduce phase issues... like $5k-$6k... you will end up with a lot of anomalies in the upper mids and lower high frequencies! This is VORBOTEN!

    The goober who told you that, isn't qualified to sell a mic cable if he doesn't know this, and is a load of BS.

    You want your 2-bus as cleanly straight forward on the frequency response as it gets. You get your room as flat as you PRACTICALLY can, and then learn your room. At one point, I stuck a note in the remote rig reminding me to gas 350-400Hz, until I started to work through knowing that bump was there, and not to cut it.

    You say you're 3/4 of the way there with your mixes, and balls to think so... GOOD. That's a good sign! It's probably just a coupla' things with your room and getting used to your monitors.

    It's good to know that you've started to verify that you've got a hole at 80-ish. That means that you're probably sitting in a null, and you'll likely be able to find a "fix".

    OK... 20 questions....

    1. L,H and W of your room?
    2. Orientation of the room - Where's everything at?
    3. Position of your ears in the room?
    4. Position of the speakers in the room?
    5. Any acoustic treatment? (If so, what and where)

    Let's get that room sussed first and foremost with at least finding out if you're causing yourself any issues, then you can determine if anything further in the form of treatment, position or otherwise is in order.
  8. Codemonkey

    Codemonkey Well-Known Member

    Dang, I nearly said what Max just said, earlier. Then I had doubts, remembered that I was using a "LinearPhaseEQ" plugin while mixing some junk earlier on, concluded that I am still a hack and decided to withhold my post.

    Monkey says, monkey doesn't do.
  9. Dave_D

    Dave_D Active Member

    Room dimensions? You're kind to ask. For your convenience, here's a blueprint I threw together in Corel.

    And, for clarity, here's my latest plots of frequencies, taken at the mix position.

    As for treatments, the west wall is mostly plantation shudders (closed). The other walls (and floor) are covered in 1/2" padded carpet. I was led to believe, many years ago, that for near-field monitoring, it's best to limit reflections rather than go for natural room ambience. For certain, it deadens the room. FWIW.

    I know, I know. It's off center. The office furniture is super-nice but doesn't fit this application perfectly. FWIW, I've had no problem with L/R balance in my mixes. Not shown are flat-screen monitors in hutch and two between monitors.

    No doubt, this layout is dumb on many levels. Commence flaming criticism. I do appreciate any and all advice.
  10. Link555

    Link555 Well-Known Member

    First let me say, I am really enjoying this topic. Thanks for posting all of your work to fix the problem. I have no doubt, if your willing to put in this kind of effort, you get over these final hurdles.

    I just wanted to say, while I agree 100% with what Max said:

    It does not hurt to try new ideas. When you try it you will hear alot more noise coming from your monitors if EQ is "a real Value" ;)

    But it will give you some idea into how your ear works.

    It sounds like, to me, that you like use your eyes and as well ears to mix. If thats true having a visual clue into your ears preference is not a bad thing.

    Now that you have done your room sweep with a sound pressure meter, try this test and compare the results.

    Hook up a frequency generator to your monitors through your normal monitoring path.

    Set the amplitude of the frequency generator such that a 1kHz the output level is ~ 85dB (if this is not too painful )

    Now make sure that the frequency generators output amplitude does not swell or sag as you sweep from 20hz to 20kHz. Use a scope on the frequency generator output.

    Now sweep the frequencies and note on a realtive scale the aperant loudness(use a simple 1 to 10 scale). For example:
    At 1k it was ~5 units loud but at 100hz it was only ~1.

    Then graph your results and compare the results to sound level meter sweep. The difference should highlight the effect your ears and brain have on the room. In a crude and simple way.
  11. Codemonkey

    Codemonkey Well-Known Member

    Hang on - got a VST someplace.
    You have to download the whole package unfortunately, but you only need to use TestTone.

    Sweeps and doesn't sag (drag the mode dial around, it does sine, pink noise, white noise, log and linear sweeps) - you can fix the output amplitude to whatever.
  12. Link555

    Link555 Well-Known Member

    Cool! I still like to get the scope out and geek out, but thats just me ;)

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