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ear fatigue

Hey everyone. I'm currently working on a mastering project, and everything's sounding pretty good so far. Before I get too far into it, I wanted to consult with the mastering squad here about ear fatigue.

My last mastering project with this type of music (rock/screamo) turned out bad. It was too loud for its own good and caused a lot of ear fatigue (i daresay some multiband compression was involved :'( bad idea). You really couldn't get more than two or three songs into the cd without having to pause it and rest your ears, it was that painful! I know of bands that push the 7-8 RMS level for an entire song, but don't really wear the ear down, so to speak.

I don't want to make the same mistake again, so I'm wondering besides using my ears to detect when this is happening, where should I look to correct it? I've heard this type of ear fatigue sits around a certain band of frequencies. Should I try to find them and cut them with an EQ?

Thank you greatly for your input, and I apologize in advance if this is one of those, "send it to someone who knows what they're doing" questions.



Michael Fossenkemper Fri, 09/01/2006 - 07:00
First, turn down the volume of you monitors. if you are fatigued by the second or 3rd song, then you are listening too loud. Distortion is also fatiguing. depending on the mix, it can sit in a lot of places. How you process the mix could also be adding more to the equation. Balancing frequency wise will help reduce the effects of distortion in a mix. won't take it away but it will seem less harsh.

Cucco Fri, 09/01/2006 - 10:11
spinchris wrote: Thanks for the tips, Michael. I should have clarified that i'm trying to reduce fatigue more for my listeners once everything has been bounced and burned. I'll keep searching the tracks for distortion. Thanks again.

A couple things -

1 - there's no way you can minimize ear fatigue for your listeners. Each person experiences ear fatigue for different reasons. In women, high-frequency content is often the culprit as they are more predisposed to an accute sense of high-frequency sensitivity. Also, someone using metal dome tweeters is likely to experience fatigue before someone using silk dome tweeters.

The best you can strive for is a good all around sound which is not too loud (which could be taken as "turn your own volume knob down" or "turn down the limiting - too much of the mix is getting sucked out and only the HF remains due to over processing" - setting limiters to go too fast will suck the bass and mids right out of a mix.)

2 - I dare say, if you haven't identified the source of distortion on the first listen, you won't likely find it on listen 6 or 7 either. You can't easily identify distortion on most visual displays within a DAW, they're simply not accurate enough.

Think of the ear (specifically the tympanic membrane) as a muscle, though it isn't - it still functions similarly. When barraged with nothing but constant loud, it's akin to an isometric exercise (for example - isometric exercises would be - holding a 10 lb dumb bell with your arm extended.) With isometrics, your muscles quickly tire. They're not designed to perform in this manner. The same is true with the ear drum. It is not designed to have constant sound on it. It needs extension - that is dynamic range - to feel comfortable.

If you're pushing the mix to the -7, -8 dBFS RMS scale, I dare say that's where a giant portion of the problem lies.

Just my $.02 worth.


Zilla Fri, 09/01/2006 - 11:14
There is no reason that anybody should be fatigued after three songs. Without full details I would guess that...

1. You monitor system is not tuned correctly. Incorrect frequency response and decay times will cause one to turn the volume up louder than is needed to get the perceived correct f-m balance. But in reality some offending frequencies will be pounding the ear.


2. Your eq/processing as applied is not well balanced.

Member Fri, 09/01/2006 - 20:31

I use this small trick in my mastering chain, before using any multiband compression I take a 2 band stereo eq, then I take the first band and turn up the gain with a high Q factor and search around 2K-2.5KHz for that exact frequency that's most disturbing, when you find it you'll know, it'll make your ears bleed, then of course you turn the gain down to about -2 or -3dB depending on the loudness in that particular frequency. Then you take the second band and turn up the gain with a low Q factor and search around 100-200Hz for that frequency that makes everything fall into a mush of low end sound and do the same thing. You'll see that in the end, your mix will be a whole lot less tireing and it will distort less when you use your limiter

Massive Mastering Fri, 09/01/2006 - 21:49
I'm assuming the problem (as you explain it) is that the project is simply too loud - That is, too much loudeness. It's going to be fatiguing at *any* volume if it's pushed too hard beyond where it "wants' to be.

Unfortunately, that's just part of the "volume wars."

I don't think I've ever heard a recording much hotter than around -14dBRMS that wasn't at least somewhat fatiguing over time. This -11 and -10dBRMS crap is pretty much impossible to make "pleasant" sounding.

Don't get me wrong - I'm as guilty of it as the next guy - under protest - and I protest - Ask *any* of my clients that want "sheer volume" over sound quality.

But at that point, I'm very straight with them - "This recording is worse sounding at this volume than it was at the volume I had it at before."

"That's great - Go for it!"


JoeH Wed, 09/27/2006 - 21:11
But at that point, I'm very straight with them - "This recording is worse sounding at this volume than it was at the volume I had it at before."

"That's great - Go for it!"

Yep. I had the exact same thing happen here about a month ago, almost verbatim. Played the client some GOOD stuff, toggled back and forth with his over-processed/crunched stuff, and he STILL wanted the louder version. Can't win. Almost didn't put my name on it, it was that bad. :roll: