How bad speakers can make your mix sound better [reader Question]

The other day, I sent out an email asking what questions I could answer from my subscribers.

Here’s one question that I answered that I think will help more people:

The Question-(Used by permission)

Well, currently, my guitars are sounding wider in the stereo space than my drums. I use Reason 4.0 to program my drums. I’ve tweaked the samples myself but my drums in Reason never match up to the drums on cd’s I listen to. They aren’t as big and powerful and they are kind of stuck in the middle of the stereo field. I use a 20ms delay on my guitars to create their space but they end up wider than my drums. My drums sound very weak and are usually out powered by other elements of the mix.

I’m also having a really hard time getting my guitars to sound right as well. It’s difficult to get them wide enough, present enough and yet not overpowering. I love rock music and heavy metal so distorted guitars are where it’s at for me. I’m mostly concerned with distorted guitars vs. clean guitars. I’m recording guitars directly from my Boss GT-8 for now because I absolutely cannot get a great sound from the SM57 I’m using.
I get very discouraged when my mix sounds good on my studio speakers (KRK Rokit 5’s), it’s nice and sits well in the speakers, then I’ll take the song out to the car and the mix falls apart. It’s not nearly as powerful and present. It doesn’t sound as wide. It doesn’t sound as full. The vocals sound extremely thin and get covered up.

Another thing to think about is getting valid, useful, insightful, trustworthy advice from recording professionals. When I’m searching for answers it’s somewhat hard to find the correct information. That’s why I really appreciate guys like yourself! You’ve help me a lot and I haven’t paid a dime! haha. I’m grateful for your free help!!

– Andrew Lawrence



and my answer:


Hey Andrew. I know we’ve talked about this before (probably)… but are you comparing your mixes to mixes like the Breaking Benjamin stuff we talked about on YouTube?… I mean REally comparing..

I usually put my reference song on another track and flip between them to see what the difference is.

Your ears have a VERY short memory… and not very reliable. That’s why finding away to “bounce” between the 2 sources (theirs and your mix) is critical… I did it yesterday and it completely changed how my mix came out.

One more tip I can give you is to find a set of speakers that YOUR mix sounds bad and the other mix sounds good on… could be headphones, computer speakers, radio shack speakers… just find SOMETHING that your mix sucks on while the other one sounds GREAT or just good on…

You’ll be on the right track.

 

 

 

Kevin

Question:  What speakers have you found that good mixes sound really good and bad mixes sound really bad?  Computer speakers? I’m listening.

14 comments

  1. Another tip: IR is not only for making hefty reverbs or doing modelling of amps and instruments; you can use convolution for emulation of car stereo, ipods, another monitors and almost whatever. As a Linux user, I have no idea of how you do this on OSX and MS Windows, but in Linux you can use convolution before sending the audio out anywhere in the computer’s audio chain, I’m sure this can be done in OSX and MS Windows too.

    One more tip: If you have done the accoustic treatment (basstraps, diffusion and so on) to the maximum in your room, but still want to have it even better, you can also take measurements in your own mixing room and correct the room with convolution.

      1. Speaking as another Linux user (Ardour & MixBus), I second the idea of a good convolution reverb to simulate different environments. The best one for Linux is the jconv engine (there is an LV2 plugin called IR that uses the same engine and it is fantastic).

        One issue I hear a lot with recorders using sequenced drums is that they tend to all get recorded onto a single track, and it’s hard to manipulate them in the mix. I always track each drum type onto a different track (sanre, kick, toms, cymbals), and some drum engines like BFD2 even have ambience and room mikes on separate tracks, so when you record, you can get all of these on separate tracks and adjust as needed when you mix, you can even adjust for bleed and such, almost like mixing real drums!

        1. Good advice! I’ve been using XLN Addictive Drums and it is very easy to use and sounds very realistic! It also has it’s own mixer as well as leakage control, room & overheads tracks etc.
          And… really easy to set the output of individual parts for printing on their own tracks…

          1. I was an early user of BFD and then a few weeks ago, bought Superior Drummer. It’s awesome. With the right programming, it’s hard for even me to tell that it’s from a plugin.

            the room mics are the key.

            Kevin

      2. I’ve not started using much IR for reverberation yet – I really like the artificial plates, rooms and halls coming from my ordinary plugins, but there is one I like very much for adding some ambience for vocals on acoustic music, that is “M7, Djangos Room” (links below) and I use the IR LV2 Convolution Reverb plugin (based upon the jconv engine mentioned in Brett’s posting on this page) and this can be found here: http://factorial.hu/plugins/lv2/ir

        “M7, Djangos Room” and loads of other great sounding IRs can be found here:
        http://rhythminmind.net/1313/?cat=182
        and other good ones can be found here:
        http://www.echochamber.ch/index.php/impulseresponses

        The last link is in German so you might let Google translate it for you.
        You will need “True Stereo” plugins for many of this IRs, but I think several free and commercials can be found anywhere for any platform.

  2. Hello Andrew,

    A couple of things you might want to try…

    -Are you panning your drums at all? You might want to picture yourself as the listener either in front of the drum kit or as the drummer right behind the kit, and pan each drum accordingly to create a sense of space to start with. Usually Kick, Snare in panned to center, then toms and cymbals according to your chosen perspective from L to R.

    -Then, in order to get the ‘big’ drums sound your shooting for, you’ll need to find a way to either simulate a ‘room track’ or use parallel compression. You can create a room track by sending all your drum parts to an aux track, filter out some low end and add some reverb. Most basic reverb plugins will have ‘room’ presets you can start with.
    For the parallel compression option, just like mentioned above, route your drum parts to an aux track, use a compressor with a fast attack and fast release and get some good amount of gain reduction.
    Use one or both methods and mix to taste with your ‘normal’ drum stereo mix.

    -As of your guitars sounding too wide or wider than the drums, I believe you are setting your delay time a little too high. The best approach in my opinion, is to double (not duplicate) your guitar parts rather than using delay to ‘stereorize’ your gtr… Then pan them so they can find their own space which will depend on your song’s instrumentation and/or the effect you’re after.
    You can still utilize the delay effect approach if doubling parts isn’t effective for you. However, try to use a stereo delay, and set the delay in one side to zero and then try 1ms in the other side and see what it sounds like. Then adjust until you find the sweet spot in your stereo field. Sometimes lower time settings create a very subtle effect but it could have a huge impact in your entire mix. Never try doing this approach while listening to your track in solo mode; rather apply it in context…

    As of your mixes not translating well through different playback sources, I think you need to assess your speakers position and your room in general. There are countless of topics all over the web regarding speaker calibration, room acoustics etc…

    I find it very difficult and pricey to get the perfect room and perfect speakers in order to get our mixes to translate well. While there is some debate between engineers against mixing on headphones and those that believe there are some advantages I found for myself that using a good pair of headphones with a flat response and a good wide frequency response (like the AKG K702) is far more efficient than a great pair of reference monitors in a less than perfect room. I build my mixes on my AKG K702 (Eq, compression, reverb, etc) and then towards the end I double check on my Mackie MR8s just to ensure my stereo image is good. 99% of the time I’ll take it to the car, boombox, ipod and I’ll be pretty happy with the results. Even if there was something to tweak, it would be minor.

    By the way, answering Kevin’s question, K702’s is where good mixes sound really good and bad mixes sound really bad for me;-)
    And best of all, I can take them with me and mix anywhere I go!

    I apologize if this is too long. I thought it was ok to share a little bit of my experience which as a matter of fact I have gain mostly through my learning journey with Kevin and MixCoach!!!

    God bless everyone!
    Luis

  3. Correction: In my comment above, towards the end, I meant:
    …good pair of headphones with a flat response and a ‘wide frequency range’ NOT ‘wide frequency response’. Sorry!

  4. Thanks to everyone for the advice! I’ve never even heard of convolution reverb so I’ve been twirling around on the internet trying to find out information on it. I’ve listened to some .wav IR’s that supposedly emulate some in the studio sound and another iPod one. They’re interesting but I think a lot of my problem stems from several things. I don’t have a full range system. My KRK 5’s only go down to 53 Hz and I don’t have a studio sub. I do have a sub but it’s a Klipsch home entertainment computer speaker one seems to do a lot of cleaning up without me knowing. So, accuracy is one part. Also, my room acoustics are terrible. I can hear flutter echos, the bass response is significantly different even within 5 ft in the room. The room has plain walls that are parallel and all the same length so it’s a big box for sound to go wild in. Lastly, I’m an amateur without the experience of knowing how to change the knobs to get the sound I want. Just today, I compared the guitar of a NIN track (Hand That Feeds) to my own guitar sound and while using the paragraphic equalizer in Ozone 4 I noticed that my EQ curve was way different. My ears and eyes were backwards. My ears were telling me to add mids and lows to give the guitars “balls” while my eyes (and Ozone) told me that I needed to cut mids WAY back. I cut out a LOT of junk and my guitars have never sounded better. My double tracked guitars finally sounded legit and I didn’t need to use the milliseconds trick. So, with the help of everyone (especially Kevin!) I’m slowly realizing that my ears aren’t critical enough and that I need to approach things differently.

    Luiz, especially, thanks for all of the advice. Thanks to everyone!

    1. Hey Andrew,

      Regarding your monitoring situation… 53 Hz is pretty low. You will probably be fine to filter most everything below that.. especially on guitars. I don’t think you’d ever need anything below that for electric guitars. I’d leave all that magic for Kick drum and maybe bass guitar.

      I understand the room situation, but if you KNOW to roll out low end, monitor and make calls on a good set of headphones, and mic your guitars close, you should be a rock star.

      Kevin

  5. ok guys this is getting confusing . i m a newbie starting
    to make locals music i got the same problem . mix your music in krk
    rokit 5 yeah it sounds good . then play it n regular speaker sounds
    crappy as hell . so was wondering maybe you guys can help me out
    with it . and please just use regular newbie words because i really
    cant follow what you guys talking about

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