3 Reasons To Mix At Lower Levels

For me, mixing at Low Levels is a basic strategy in mixing, but I thought it was crazy too when I first heard the idea over 20 years ago. Thats why I want to give you MY top 3 reasons for mixing at lower levels.


  1. Because everything sounds good loud– If you can make your mix sound good, punchy and balanced at a low volume, chances are it’s going to sound GREAT when you turn it up.
  2. You can mix longer– As I have covered in some of my “Mix Like A Pro” classes, part of the reasons that professionals are professionals is they deliver on time!  Their mixes are also (for the most part) consistent.   If your ears get fatigued after a couple of songs, how are you going to mix the rest of the record?… Will it be consistent with the first song?
  3. Your ears will thank you– Are you in this for the long-haul or not?  If you listen to music everyday, or several times a week, you need to save your ears as much as you can.  I could think of nothing more frightening than to work hard learning your craft and gain your clients trust only to find out that your ears are fried from mixing so darn loud!

Below, I’d like for you to tell ME more reasons we should mix at a lower volumes?  How do YOU mix?

38 comments

  1. Kevin,
    I read about doing this in another blog a few months ago. I’ve been doing ever since! Everything you said is so true. I can hear things in my mixes with the lower level that I’d probably wouldn’t pay too much attention at “full blast!”

    1. Here’s another reason I thought of (especially if clients are there)… Only turn it up to impress them… It’s kinda of like “not showing your hand”… If you wait til you KNOW it sounds good, then when you “blast it”, it sounds really good!

      Thanks guys for commenting.

      Kevin

    2. Dar,

      When you combine being able to hear things at a low level in your mix and being able to hear for a longer span of your life, it’s kindof a “no-brainer”, huh… lol

  2. Personally, I can hear everything really well when the playback is at higher volumes, but I have a harder time listening (i.e. making critical decisions). It could be my inexperience “tweaking the knobs,” but it’s like trying to make choices driving at 75 mph vs. 45 mph.

  3. I always have tough that 85db it’s a low volume but even at that level my ears get tired after a while , I’m not so sure if 85db it’s considered low , anyway always it’s good to try different ways

      1. Totally love the discussions going on here!

        Mixing at low volumes is HUGE. You can better mix all of the elements to sit in the right volume pocket.

        To answer a question that was posed, the rule of thumb for how “loud” is “loud”… for long listening periods (and anything really) 85dB is LOUD. It’s definitely as loud as you need to go. I’ll link a chart, but basically @ 85dB you can listen to music constantly for 8 hours without HEARING LOSS. However, you add only 3dB the time to hearing loss is cut in half.

        Sick, I know. So now at only 91dB you only get 4 hrs till hearing loss. then again @ 94dB you only get 2 hrs.

        http://www.dangerousdecibels.org/education/information-center/decibel-exposure-time-guidelines/

        My main point is that low volumes not only help you make critical choices and overall better mixes, but it’s also SAFER for your ears. Very few things scare me more than the words, “Hearing Loss”.

        – Jon

  4. Hey guys… first of all I’m from Slovenia so sorry for my spelling mistakes 🙂

    How loud is lower volume? :)… and how loud full blast?
    I think that everyone should drive speakers that they accurately project themselves… to reveal details… how loud is it?
    I listen to my mixes on at least 5 sets of speakers, headphones, earphones and on PA.
    All the way the mixing proces I’m changing volume levels…
    4 drums I usually crank it up to see how close mics are dealing with body of drums and low end…
    Is snare too fat when you turn it up all the way? It usually depends on type of song and style how I approach mixing.
    R&B, RAP, HIP HOP, POP… are pretty easy to do something fast and good and be consistent… it’s mostly programmed and samples are more or less cleaned…
    I have around 84 db in control room.

    When it comes to ROCK, CLASSICAL LIVE RECORDED orchestras or BRASS bands and especially METAL (which I do the most) I just can’t afford to stay at lower levels…
    Most of musicians overgain their amps… live drums in metal are hell(drummers mostly do their 150%) :)…

    I just have to find the right volume level to hear what I’m searching for… to hear it all.
    It can be quiet but it can also be loud.

    ROCK and METAL are LOUD and fans listen to it loud. And you can’t afford to hear any of your mixes when played on PA too thin, too fat or teared apart.

    I really love to mix quieter… but 4 me it just won’t work every time. When I find sweet spot of the song and start dancing around the mixing console that’s the right amount of dbs 🙂

    1. Hey Luka. Thanks for writing all the way from Slovenia. Your English is very good!

      Personally, I’ve never analyzed how loud LOUD is… is it 90db?… I don’t know. When I speak of mixing at a lower volume, the volume would be a volume that is equal to or even lower than a regular conversation. I think that’s the sweet spot for hearing blend and not letting your room dictate the frequency spectrum.

      Don’t get me wrong. I like to listen loud too, but only for short bursts of time… never for longer than a few minutes.

      Kevin

  5. Hello!

    Although I mix metal material, I do it on a quiet level (in Ardour/Mixbus). To check the general loudness level I use jkmeter:

    http://kokkinizita.linuxaudio.org/linuxaudio/downloads/

    I try to keep the average volume (depicted by jkmeter) around 0 – 3 db on the master track, with occasional peaks up to 5 or 6 db.

    Once everything’s fine, I export the audio into a wav file, and next run JAMin over it for the final processing (EQ, compressing) along with drastic volume and boost increase (reaching real 0 db level; jkmeter depicts 14-15 db then).

    Tomek

  6. I mix at low volumes so my wife doesn’t know I’m working on music instead of cleaning the bathroom. And, I can get a way better balance between my tracks.

  7. I like to listen to a mix via my laptop’s speakers, it’s low SPL and the most important parts have to be heard this way.

  8. A main and also problematic aspect is the frequency response of the hearing system which shows a non-linear behavior. If you look at the Fletcher-Munson graph you will find, that higher overall levels will result in subjectively bigger bass and highs compared to the mids. This effect can be crucial if you just mix without referencing back and forth. Some say 85dB of SPL is a good pressure level to mix but I find that to be too much and to easily fatiguing. I guess the trick is to find your volume and reference every now and then.. because a track that was mixed at too little volume might have its low and high band overemphasized..

    1. If I mixed at 85 db all day, I’d cry :-).. thanks Michael.

      by the way, thanks for the relative example of what 85 db is.. I actually know people who can carry on a conversation at 85 db then.. lol

  9. It actually IS a big help to mix at lower volumes when you are at home in a “not well acoustically treated” room, seems to me that at lower volumes you will get a less acoustic colouring to your ears, this is my example.

    My edit – mix room is relatively new and i cannot afford a good acoustic treat yet, hopefully sooner than later… and my room is very squared, practically a cube so there are some frequencies that tend to sound TOO BIG the more i turn the volume up, around 83dB is waayyy too bassy can’t even understand mids, so when i turn it down i can actually hear a much linear response coming directly from the speakers and much less coloured by the parallel walls….

    Thats at least my theory about it… if you think i’m wrong please let me know, i’m also trying to improve my mixing method.

    1. hey Felix. I think you are on the right track. I’d mix low and then when you listen loud, be sure an make changes based on what a “known good” mix fares at that level int THAT room.

      Thanks for the comment.

      KEvin

  10. Great topic. I don’t know how loud “LOUD” is either… but one thing I’d like to point out is that sound itself acts differently at different volume levels due to how the speaker re-creates the sound. Ive noticed many times that my event 20-20s have a max out point where I lose a lot of clarity and nothing really sounds as good – usually at around 75%… which is really freakin loud…. =-) I like to mix at 20-25 percent…. which is where most of the world will most likely hear the mix.

    1. Thanks David. I know. I have 20-20’s myself. I’ve been pretty happy lately with my NS-10s and a good pair of headphones. Low levels 95% of the time. When a client comes in to hear, I turn it up just a bit, but I go into another room and listen from a different perspective. Seems to work.

  11. I couldn’t agree more with this…I am a bit older than most here…I’ve played drums live and in the studio for about 50 years…most of that music was loud playing with high output Marshal guitar rigs…THIS HAS SADLY…AND…MOST DEFINATELY EFFECTED MY HEARING…ESPECIALLY IN THE UPPER AUDIO SPECTRUM…!!!…So, I always mix at levels that are as low as possible but still get all the audio…!…I also mix in mono until I have everything in the mix before I spoil my self with stereo…!!!

    So…take it from me…save your ears…keep the volume where it works best but is still low enough to NOT adversely effect your hearing over the short…and most importantly…long term…!!!

  12. I have gotten used to mixing a low volumes consistently, started when we rented a small apartment in our home and didn’t want to offend our tenants. I can tell you that the mix balance is surely better, they sound tighter now than when I was mixing a louder volumes. I try to keep it so I can hear my wife talking to me from across the room. Good Wisdom Maybe? 🙂

  13. Hi friends, this is a very interesting topic. Even though loudness or otherwise is a relative term, I have experienced mixing at LOUD levels and at LOW levels too. The health benefits is enough motivation for me. Imagine losing your sense of hearing as an engineer. But i couldn’t agree with you more, Kevin, on the point that when the client is around some amount of loudness “good sound” will do. hehe! Great topic.

  14. Absolutely correct, to hear your balance properly and to
    minimise the room influence on your mix always balance your mix at
    a low level, it’s a good idea to also listen in mono.

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