Track sounds great everywhere but car stereos. Please Help

Submitted by JimmyYO on Wed, 04/09/2014 - 13:37

So I've been working on some tracks for awhile now and I was kind of baffled by this. What causes a track to sound crisp and professional on computer speakers/headphones/ipod players/etc and terrible on every car stereo?

To be more specific the vocals are up front but everything else is very far. It's not a volume issue as the sound itself is very distant as if the car stereo doesn't detect all the midi effects correctly or something.

Any idea what could cause this?


Thomas W. Bethel, post: 413549, member: 4527 wrote: Or maybe your car stereo speakers are wired out of phase??? It does happen more than anyone would like to think.

You bet it does.

Most of the time, this happens as a result of someone installing their own stereo system, and they wire it wrong. But it can happen to new cars too.

15 years ago I bought a Saturn, brand new off the show room floor, and its "stock" audio system was wired wrong.

Is this happening in only one car? Or in every car you play your mixes in?

If its happening in every car, as PC mentioned, the first thing I would do would be to go back and check your mix in mono. If you hear stuff disappearing or highly attenuated, you've got a phase problem somewhere.

As an end note, and to echo what Kurt said, NS10's or Aura (Ava) Tones are great for referencing for car audio. You'll find either - or both - in every professional studio; as well as in mid-level project studios.

I still have - and use - my NS10's... I bought them over 20 years ago, and while I don't mix exclusively with them, you can bet that I do reference all my mixes through them at some point.

Thanks for the replies!

To answer some questions. It sounds off in every car, also every CD sounds fine in my car, just not mine. I only do home recording, is there a VST that simulates AuraTones for a DAW? If I do discover it's a phasing issue what can I do to correct it without compromising the quality of the effect? I also read somewhere else that using heavy compression can cause this in car stereos(which I use) is that true?

Edit: I spun off a mix in Mono and many of the keyboard parts do indeed become attenuated. Any advice of where to go from here?

Good suggestion from Josh, start over your mix no stereo enhancer.

Every instruments recorded with more than one mic may suffer from phase problems. Put the tracks all centered, use the reverse polarity option in your DAW to check if the sound is loosing power/frequencies or if it makes it better. I'd say go back to recording and move those mics until the phase issue is gone, but if you can't there is some alignment plugins to help you but I rather not use them if I can. You can also manually align the tracks. (

Also, some mastering softwares have phase correlation displays (t-racks and ozone have it and many others) you can check them while mixing to avoid problems

Yea I think Josh is right, PC... the OP mentioned he was using a lot of VSTi's... (keyboards were one of the main problems)...

Jimmy, when you were mixing (rendering) these tracks down ITB, did you actually render the audio outs of the various synths to discreet audio tracks first? Or did you rely on the "virtual" synth audio outs during the rendering?

Did you use any stereo "enhancement" plugs on individual tracks or on the 2-Bus? These would be plug-ins designed to "widen" the stereo image... If you did, go back and disable them wherever you used them.
They are notorious for causing exactly what you are dealing with..

Other things...

Are you using large amounts of time based effects on the tracks? Different reverbs and/or delays with different settings of decay, feedback, etc.?

You didn't by chance "re-effect" an effect, did you? This happens when you put an effect on the effect of the track, subgroup or master bus. I'm only asking because I've seen this happen before.

It definitely sounds like you need to go back to square one, Jimmy. As PC and Josh mentioned above, sometimes you just gotta knock it all down and rebuild from the foundation up.
Start over and re-evaluate how much processing you are using... start out as dry as you can, mix that version, and then play it back on several different mediums, and if you can hear everything ok, you know that the problem is in your processing. ;)

I'm not trying to offend you by asking these questions, or insinuate that you don't know what you are doing.... we're all just trying to find out as much as we can so that we can help you as much as we can...

Can you post a sample?


You are describing a typical case of folks who only mix on headphones. The stuff on your car stereo sounds like dreck, muddy, nondescript. Because it was a headphone mix/recording.

What translates great to headphones doesn't translate great to speakers. This is why we carefully choose our control room monitors. Which are frequently more than a single pair of speakers/control room monitors. The headphones, unless you're particularly intimate with your reference pair, versus recording/mixing with speakers usually renders much more adequate results.

Phase problems? We don't have phase problems when all the microphone cables have been properly wired. Phase issues can come from microphones being too close to one another. How to deal with that after the fact? No problem. Noise gates. Noise gates on drums and do some remarkable things. Ya don't need to gate the overheads, which may or may not be highly compressed. You can though, if you want to but that's more gobbledygook that isn't necessary.

There will usually be some kind of phase issues on the drums. If you gate your bass drum, snare drum and tom-toms, without gating the overheads, it will tighten up, the sound, of the entire drum set. It will reduce nasty sounding room resonances. In short, it'll work miracles. But you shouldn't be having any phase issues that require you to invert the phase of any microphones on the drum set, other than the bass drum. The bass drum microphone is inside the drum, therefore, it is out of phase to all of the other drum microphones. Flip that phase but only that one. And you'd be surprised, how much better many of the drums can sound if you simply high pass filter them. Crazy wack EQ and gobs of plug-ins, don't make for good sounding anything, generally speaking. It's the challenge of doing the least to obtain the best sound. Not how much you can stack up and slather down. No, yuck. It's how ya can get clean and tight sounding sans booming bass. While still having huge sounding bass drums and bass guitars. That's your core.

Now you can also add some compression/limiting of the drums, along with the gating. This turns a wimpy drum set into a SUPERSET. Once you've gotten your drums tightened up, you can then go after the bass guitar. Then your vocals. Then your guitars and keyboards.

And you high pass your vocals, your guitars, your keyboards, your drums. I want my mixes to be as TIGHT, as a virgin. So should you. No petite woman wants a 350 pound dude on top of her. And likely, that's the way your current mixes sound? So it ain't about the EQ, plug-ins, dynamics, as much as it is your balancing act. In Great Britain, they're not called recording engineers they're called " Balance Engineers ". The British have such an eloquent way about going about their audio. And that is a much more apt description of what we really do. It's the balance. It's always the balance, first and foremost. Then you can mess around with some EQ after you have attained your initial balance, sans EQ and plug-in gobbledygook. It's not about how many plug-ins you can play with.

No gates? You can draw your own in any compressor GUI, on the graph that shows time versus gain reduction and whether you're dynamics have a hard knee or soft knee attack time. Though there are some much better gate plug-ins than there were in recent years. I just don't see any need for those as stock dynamics GUI's, in programs like Adobe Audition, can do it just fine from its stock on board, dynamics compressor/limiter GUI. And ya get your choice of hard knee or soft knee, easy over, peak or RMS sensing, even for gating.

Now, the gating can, in and by itself, sound rather awkward when used on vocals. So you don't gate the vocals, no. What ya do is simply add some downward expansion as opposed to gating. It's all done from the same GUI. So you don't gate the vocals. You do however set the threshold carefully so that the vocal is merely expanded downwardly by no more than say, 10 db. Then it's always there without being slammed off. But the background garbage will have been highly reduced, also tightening up the vocal sound. It eliminates a lot of crappy room tone and resonances without slamming a gate closed. These are tricks of the trade, tricks of technique. There is nothing natural about electrical recording. Always treating it naturally, in an unnatural way, usually results in poor quality recordings. Just like you are experiencing.

So if your stuff sounds muddy and nondescript in comparison to other commercial CD releases? It's not a problem of your equipment or software. The problem lies solely,, upon you. If this was easy? We'd all have multiple gold records and major awards. I'll just have to be happy with my 4 major award nominations. It's still quite the honor. I didn't go to school for this. In fact I hardly went to school at all. My school are the two things on either side of my head & the partial brain connected between them. If something doesn't sound right? You scratch your ass like it itches. Then you move the right knob or left knob. You put the equalizer in. You take equalizer out. You shake it all about. That's what it's all about. There is nothing hokey pokey about this process... I don't think?

So yeah, keep using the car stereo as your master Mix, reference. That's why God created an app for your iPhone, for that. Or some other geek? Then you can use a low-power FM transmitter, available at Radio Shaft for around $20. You connect the output of your computer audio interface to that. Then you can sit in your car with your iPhone/iPad, doing your mix via WiFi to your DAW workstation. That should solve all your problems.

Or you can just get a pair of speakers and stick those in your bedroom control room. Don't use computer speakers. Get yourself a small set/pair of KRK, JBL, Mackie, Tannoy, any o' them. Listen to the commercial CDs through those. Then you start to mix and make your mix sound like those mixes. It's simple. You can do it. I know you can. You're learning the trials and tribulations of audio engineering-dom.

Okay now... take two... you're rolling.
Mx. Remy Ann David

Sorry trying to address every response as best I can:)

I couldn't afford anyone else to Mix and Master for me so been trying to learn over the past few years. Excuse me if I sound a bit amateur.

Firstly I mix 99% of the time from computer speakers so I guess getting some stereo speakers would be a good idea? Secondly I can't avoid using alot of these effects as my music is Techno/Trance. I use plugin's; such as, Waves EQ 6, Sylenth, Trueverb, etc. Then I master it in Soundforge with slight compression. I don't add anything that doesn't make the track sound better(imo) I just can't get it all to carry over to the car stereo properly. I use a lot of Midi keyboards with a few loops and live recordings.

Anytime a plugin was used it was used on an individual track, not the entire mix(with the exception of light compression). I'm pretty sure i have no "re-effects" but yes lots of reverbs, delays, distortion, etc. And even though I'm using a lot of effects on both midi and audio tracks, only the midi's become attenuated.

It's not a multiple mic or cable issue as I only have one and it's been tested elsewhere, plus everything I use the mic on isn't attenuated.

JimmyYO, post: 413580, member: 47991 wrote: Thanks for the replies!
I spun off a mix in Mono and many of the keyboard parts do indeed become attenuated. Any advice of where to go from here?

You've got a part of the answer : remove all effects, put the mix in mono and activate them one by one, I'm sure you'll find where it doesn't add up.

Thomas W. Bethel, post: 413549, member: 4527 wrote: Or maybe your car stereo speakers are wired out of phase??? It does happen more than anyone would like to think.

That would just make center panned things sound a bit diffuse rather than solidly centered. The problem is in his mix.

JimmyYO, post: 413715, member: 47991 wrote: Sorry trying to address every response as best I can:)

Firstly I mix 99% of the time from computer speakers so I guess getting some stereo speakers would be a good idea?


What you want are actual studio monitors
...nearfields. Something within your budget that present as flat of a sound across the spectrum as possible. You don't want any presence boosts or low end hype.

Unless you are very familiar with a particular pair of stereo speakers that you know you can trust, a set that has consistently turned out mixes that translate well to other playback systems, then it's not much better than what you are using now.
In fact, it could be worse.

Stereo speakers that come from the big box stores... those that come with home theater systems or audio systems, are generally very colored.

For example, many are built with bass reflex design, made to increase low end. This will give you a false impression of your lows. In short, these speakers will lie to you. You'll think you have enough low end, or that you even need to maybe turn down the low end, when what you are actually hearing is the way the stereo speakers are presenting the sound... and it's not always accurate. In fact, it hardly ever is.

So your best bet is a pair of studio monitors... and they run a very broad range in price. You can find them for as low as a few hundred, and you can find them for a few thousand. You can even find them for a few thousand each.

But now, you're also getting into acoustic treatment of your environment, in order for the monitors to do their job accurately.

If your room has standing low end waves, or suffers from flutter echo, or any myriad of other acoustical issues, then you are still being lied to, only this time it's by the room that you are mixing in.
And... those 1" auralex or sonex panels that you see everywhere? From TV sound stages to recording studios to commercial audiophile equipment dealers?
They won't do a thing for frequencies below 1k, so don't even bother using them for low end or even low-mid treatment.

There's no way to determine what treatment you need... or, if you need much treatment at all. You'd have to give us dimensions, materials used, room shapes, etc.

But I suppose that's for another thread. ;)

Then your issue is blatantly simple to fix. You already know what you're doing. You're obviously quite competent. You know and understand all of your software. And all the stuff you're doing in the computer is absolutely positively cool. And the only issue is your monitoring.

So all you need to do is get yourself a pair of small KRK's. I prefer those. Great bang for the buck. They hit me in a similar way to my JBL's, I've been using since 1973. And still use, today.

RP-5's, are cheap. Don't bother with the subwoofer. You've already got those, in your car. And you only need to develop a nice tight sounding mix on those KRK's. To get the boom boom from your sub sub woofers, just just, right right. And left. If ya keep it tight on the KRK's the boom on your car stereo will be like all of your inspirational folks you look up to. You don't make your mix go boom boom. No. You make your mix go bang bang, pow pow, smack smack. The car speakers take care of the boom boom.

You can probably find a used pair for 150 bucks?
Mx. Remy Ann David