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Q) Would you recommend one of those isolation booths (e.g. for mixing in? I'm thinking that this would help keep sounds out/in, while "tightening up" the overall sound at the mix position. -Jeff

In terms of a room-inside-a-room, it's a cool way to go if you don't own your digs... that way you can take it with you at move-out time. You'll get less noise from the outside (good for concentration), and less sound going out into other rooms, but the stock interior acoustics aren't ideal.

The product made by Vocalbooth appears to be all foam inside, which is far too absorptive, even for vocals. If I purchased the box for mixing, I would be installing wood over 50 to 60% of the inside surfaces, distributed all around. For vocals, I'd add about 20% more reflective stuff inside the box... and I'd be sure that LOTS of cool air could get in there.

I'm also not totally sure that bottom end for mixing would be optimum in the vocalbooth room because the panels are made with material that isn't super dense - so bottom escapes. This is fine for vocals, percussion or guitars, but not best for mixing. The boundary for good bottom end depends on lots of density, namely drywall, plywood, or concrete board to keep the low end in the room. With good density (which also helps keeps lows from traveling into the next room) and good trapping, you'll get a tighter sound.

If I was going to spend $7,400 (suggested price for their 8 x 12 Producers Special) on your mixing room, I would just go to standard framing/drywall techniques and then trap the room. Start by putting up a layer of 1/2" or thicker plywood first, nailed to the wall studs. After that, you can put up drywall or anything else and nail anywhere into the plywood. If you're renting or leasing, be sure it's ok with the landlord or home association. Have liability insurance if you're hiring construction help, allow for overages in budget and timetables. Going over budget is normal.

If your conditions are livable as-is and you have that extra $7,400, my vote is still to get a high-end audiophile listening system, get your console 4 - 8' back from the speakers, and do some basic trapping in the room. $10,000 worth of construction and so-so monitors can still give you potential mix headaches.

Q) Why do some of my studio clients tell me that my Pro Tools mixes are too hot? -Tom

Boy is this a good question. I have gotten stuff from Pro Tools that people said looked fine on the computer, and showed up WAY too hot.... in fact, when transferring their cd into the Sonic, there were digital overs all over the place, and that would mean a good chance that the cd plant would reject their cdr if left uncorrected. So, yes, I agree, there are some meter discrepancies out there.

I use vu meters to really gauge what's going on. It's very important... much more than digital peak meters. I've found the Sonic Solution meters to be right on target for peaks, but there is just nothing like vu's which match the musical volume level...

2) You seemed to make a remark somewhere on your site that I took as a shot to powered speakers like the Genelecs. I must say, I had a pair of the smaller ones, the 1030s, and they were the best speaker I ever mixed on.

Gens are pretty nice I agree - they are closer to the audiophile sound I like. Not everyone can afford Gens, so my comment was aimed slightly more toward some of the cheaper models. Even then, I had a client who had state of the art gear including Gelelecs.... and there were mid-range anomalies that created big problems. Was it the monitor's fault? I doubt it. This guy was a talented musician, but he just overlooked a monitoring issue that was blatant to me. Heck, I did a session with engineers (from one of the world's top corporate cartoon production companies) who couldn't hear that they had hooked up the speakers out of phase!

Powered speakers also have one problem as I see it... the power amp's electronics are being bombarded by vibration every minute they're in use. I've done listening tests to power amps, and they sound better if they are isolated off the floor away from any vibrations. Same thing with cd players. You might want to try getting 3 little "squished glass marbles"... ya know, like the ones you see in the bottom of vases used as weight or in fish tanks... and set them underneath your speakers (assuming they're on stands or a table) and listen to the clarity that occurs when the speaker is isolated from the stands. Perhaps you've seen speaker isolators like this at audiophile stores that get the subs off the ground. I have some that use concrete, granite and rubber to isolate the speakers... and I love the results.

It's a case of whatever works for you. Some people get great results mixing on NS10's, which have never worked for me. If you're getting the results you want, that's the most important thing. I come from a background of classical violin, and I've played everywhere from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in LA to the sleaziest night clubs you can imagine when I was in a rock band. I've just always looked for that clear audio experience coming from a speaker, and after using the audiophile stuff, I just hear certain things like the "panel" in a sofit-mounted speaker, and the "cone" in some other brands, and "ringing" and "false peaks" in other systems, and slowness in others.

I'm a former audiophile too (used to have Levinson and Audio Research stuff, Quads, Martin Logans, the whole bit.)

I used Quads for a while, and they couldn't handle the power, but I did get good results... Martin Logans I heard at the time needed a better sub, and I used Dahlquist in the studio for years and loved them... I like the bottom on the Mirage's, and after some time I'm sure I'll be getting something more exotic and more expensive!

Bottom line... do what works! There are no rules. If the customer's happy, and you give them lots of info for how to evaluate what they've got, things should be cool.

Q) If I have a subwoofer, isn't that going to make me think I have more bass on the mix than I really have?

Moderation is the key. Some car subwoofers knock down buildings. That's not the effect we're looking for here. We want to reveal the low frequency information that's there in as correct as possible proportions. The sub isn't supposed to enlarge the bass, it's supposed to balance it so that big lows sound big, and tight lows sound tight, and tubby lows sound tubby. It's supposed to be a better "lens". If your speakers don't reveal 32hz, how are you supposed to know if there's too much or too little going on down there?

How many people in their cars, or at home, are listening with subs??

Some... however, there is more and more hype (both in the high's and the lows) in boom boxes, "mega bass" headphones, "can crushers" (that's what I call the cars with 6 woofers and a 2,000 watt amp in the trunk)... and living rooms can have big standing waves without even trying.

Corner placement also is a low-end horn technique that is often used by unknowing consumers. Hey, it can sound good. Also, couches and things that suck up highs actually seem to add to the low end without a sub being there, so to some extent, we must allow for these cases. I do that by having subs, and then listening to a lot of different CDs to tune the room so that I hear all the differences that I know are there. Also, if there is non-usable low end information that will occupy some of the home speaker's energy, it's best to roll that off so that more efficiency is available to the component.

Regardless of your monitors or room acoustics, having a top-notch monitor controller or analog summing mixer that has level-matching A-B capabilities can help improve your mixes. I've said it over and over on this site, but whenever you really listen to commercial CDs (the level-matching keeps it from becoming a volume contest) next to your mix, you'll get insights that can make a huge difference in the way your sound translates to consumer systems. Give it a real try!

See John's previous recording studio and news bits:

Trianon Recording
Trianon B
Pro Sound News
Eq Magazine
R.E.P Magazine
No Cover Magazine

Date created: 3/8/00 • Last modified: 3/29/02
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Anything But Monday

Anything But Monday