You work and slave
over a hot console, you tell your
significant other that you'll be home by midnight, it's 2 am, and you
proudly head out to the car with your cassette or CDR, and then,
Where'd the guitars go? How come it sounds dull? Why is the vocal thin?
The bass is out of control! You go back in the studio, you plug in two
more sets of speakers, and on each system, it sounds different. You are
stressed out in the Twilight Zone experiencing Studio Monitor
Listen to lots of CDs in your control
room. You want to really really like the
sound of the
hot-sounding commercial CDs you're listening to so you can compare their
sound with your
sound. Years ago it was rare to see a turntable
in a control room, and that was a mistake. Now days, people have CD
players in their control rooms because of the convenience, and because
CDRs are commonly the "cassette copy" of today.
put a Kleenex over the tweeter of the white-coned ones, the big
ones mounted in the walls make your ears bleed, the cool powered-ones
have great low end if you're sitting back in the corner of the control
room...it just goes on...
start with the basics. In a mixdown, the
sound travels down two paths.
(1) is the electronic path to the
mixdown machine. The other (2) is the acoustic path to your ears. The
treatment you apply to the mixdown path is determined by what you hear
via the acoustic path. The mistake is when we think the two paths are
one-in-the-same. They're not.
speakers are in a tonal enclosure, the mixdown machine (or file)
gets a direct signal. The speakers are in a second enclosure, namely
the control room. The control room enclosure has numerous surfaces
around them (console, rental gear, couches, walls, windows, engineer's
head, etc.) With a high-sound pressure level (SPL) mix, your ears may
start to lose high end after a while, but the mixdown machine continues
to get direct sound down the wires. No reflections. No Kleenex. No
The studio environment is sometimes
different from the home environment. But shouldn't those cool
wall-mounted speakers in the big studios be great? First of all, how
many people do you know with home systems where the speakers are
mounted in the wall? But the monitors I bought have "flat" specs! Yes
but they are tested "flat" in anechoic chambers. How many people do you
know listen to music in an anechoic chamber? But the studio hired Ed
Gearmax to "tune" the room! And how many people have bass trapping, RPG
panels, compression ceilings and such in their homes? No wonder it's
such a common practice to take mixes out on a cassette and listen in
the CAR (if one's available)!
If your mixes sound
bottom-heavy in the real world, your monitors don't have enough bottom.
If your mixes are dull at home or in the car, your monitors are too
bright. The monitors are adding highs to the sound which are not added
in the mixdown path.
your mixes are lacking punch, you're mixing on overly-punchy
monitors (like the ones in the walls - which are no longer "flat"
because they're mounted in non-factory designed enclosures). If the
vocals or middle instruments sound thin in the car, there's probably a
"bump" in the midrange in your studio. If the panning seems different
or you're just having a hard time "seeing" your exact sound field,
there's probably some reflections off the board or other gear that's
blurring your monitor imaging. But there's more.
Power amplifiers, speaker cable and monitor preamplifiers are
significant in accurate monitor sound.
"But my power amp is flat
from 20 to 20K." You have to use your ears when judging a power amp.
They're all "flat", but some are dull sounding, some are harsh
sounding, some are mushy sounding, some collapse the image, etc. I
generally do not recommend typical studio power amps. Like Bob
Ludwig and Steve Marcussen, I prefer audiophile
gear from one of those expensive home-theatre audio-fanatic stores (not
your typical Circuit City home stereo store). Stereophile
is a good
place to start getting info.
preamplifiers (usually chips located inside your console, sound
card or A-D breakout box) are another critical point. Years ago when I
got my Inward Connection Discrete Switching Matrix, I about flipped
when I heard the difference compared to my Hafler pre-amp. Hafler is no
sleazy company, folks, but the difference between chips and discrete
circuitry is astounding. One of the primary things I heard was that the
image was wider,and the front-to-back depth increased dramatically.
This is because the phase of each channel is very in-sync compared to
about it. If the mid to high frequencies positioned in the center
of your mix (like on vocals, kic drum, etc.) are not perfectly in
phase, what happens? The image is smeared or rendered less precise. The
subtle stuff like real room sound loses the exactness of the locations
of the room reflections, and the image collapses slightly. And chips
can sound anywhere from dull to harsh.
chips are pretty good, but nothing compares to discrete
(individual) components for smooth, even, revealing sound. To change
this in your board will require a tech getting in there to do a mod, or
patching out of your stereo buss into an outboard monitor matrix. What
kind of pre-amp should you get? Again, a stereophile store, or your
favorite gear mart that sells discrete products.
to do about it.
getting all new gear, there are things you can do now with
what you have:
• Separate your speakers from whatever
platform they are now sitting on.
Whether on floor stands or
sitting on your console, go to your local fish store or craft store and
buy a $5.00 bag of those flattened out glass marbles that are made to
put in fish tanks (or made to add weight to flower vases). Any
color.... Set 3 of them flat-side-up (2 in front one in back) where
your speakers normally sit, then put your speakers back on top of the
marbles. This will raise them up about a half inch, and it will help
isolate them from transferring vibration into the surface they were
just sitting on.
your speaker cabinets are sitting on something, part of their
energy is dissipated into whatever they are coupled (or connected) to.
The energy that is vibrating that surface takes away from the potential
energy and coherence of the speaker. When the speaker is de-coupled
from the surface, all of its energy is focused into the projection of
the waveform you're sending it. It's actually closer to the way it was
originally designed and tested in the first place.
vibration isolators include actual stands that have concrete,
granite and rubber sandwiched into a heavy platform that provides even
better de-coupling. It's like focusing the audio "lens" you're
• Get a subwoofer. Once I did a
mixdown at a semipro studio, and I immediately found that there was no
low end. The studio owner had nothing to offer other than some old JBL
4311's and some funky close-up speakers. I postponed the session till I
could bring in some mid-sized audiophile speakers. He didn't have
access to subwoofers, so I took his 4311's and set them on the ground
face down on the floor (plugged in along with the audiophile speakers).
listened to my favorite CDs (as well as some in the same category of
the music I was mixing) and I gradually... inch by inch... lowered the
4311's till the bottom coming out of them balanced the other speakers.
How far were the 4311's off the ground? The distance of the thin side
of a cassette box... placed under one edge of each 4311! This may seem
funky, but it worked, and in mastering, it was one of the client's
favorite mixes needing very little in the way of eq.
• Next, get the best speaker
wire and line
wire (from your
console to the power amp) that you can afford. It
makes a huge difference in the accuracy of your system.
Monstercable at the least, and get better if possible - and yes better
power cords make a difference! If you are using digital cable to your
breakout box, get some purple Apogee digital cables. They are great,
cost effective and sound wonderful. A $100 Apogee cable will make as
much difference as a $3,000 D-A converter.
• Now, set your console back from your
monitors so the low end has a chance to develop.
consist of longer waves, and at 3 feet from the speaker you are mostly
hearing low bottom that is reflected back to you from the room. You
will find that the bottom end changes in your room from place to place,
so you'll need to do some CD listening tests as you move your mixing
You will get a better
sense of what's really happening in the bottom if you are in a place
where the full spectrum of sound gets directly to you. Plus, people
often listen to their home systems with more distance between them and
the speakers. Adding distance will enhance your objectivity.
the same volume level, compare your mixes to the 1/4 million-dollar
productions. Do this even when your clients are there. I know. At first
it might sound like the commercial CDs sound better. But keep
listening, and let your client chime in with ideas about what they
hear. It takes guts
to compare your studio with the biggies.
Your clients will respect
your willingness to stand next to the
giants. Your clients will respect your commitment to achieving a great
standard for them.
It's important that you
notice that CDs all sound quite different. Your system should reveal
how different CDs sound. Otherwise, what's happening is that there is a
common element to your system that is masking the differences. This
masking problem greatly contributes to studio monitor madness. Room
reverberation (in all frequencies) adds to this masking.
• Do some acoustic treatment to your
Here's a can of worms for ya. For starters, do not
just put up a lot of carpet and foam on the walls. In the real world,
there are a certain amount of reflections coming from walls and tables
and stuff. People don't live in rooms with carpeted walls... usually.
you don't want is high end slap-back in the room. Diffuse the high
end either with some pro-gear-store diffusers or something simple like
1"-wide wood protruding from the walls at varying distances. One person
I knew had his fireplace behind his speakers system, and the solid, yet
diffused sound was fantastic. Also, use some soft materials like carpet
around the room too - just don't get things too dead sounding. (Here's a peek at my old control room.)
stuff only attenuates highs, and does nothing to treat the low
end build up (and it does nothing to keep the low end from visiting
your next door neighbor, either). Parallel walls reflect the sound back
and forth like mirrors reflect light. Face two mirrors toward each
other with a light bulb in the middle, and look how many light bulbs
you'll see! The same things happens with low-mid to low frequencies
between parallel walls. The sound reflects and builds up creating sound
that arrives at your ears that doesn't exist on tape (...er, on your
• Low frequencies must be changed into heat.
Since low end has so much more energy to it, you must actually give it
something to vibrate in order to "trap" or "absorb" it. Mounting
4-foot-by-8-foot (or 2' X 4') open-ended panels of 1/4" or 1/2" plywood
in corners at an angle can help control the lows. Put lots of
fiberglass or other fuzzy stuff (like used carpet padding) behind the
wood. Hopefully somebody's dog didn't relieve itself on the carpet (and
padding) you're about to put back there...
frequencies cause the wood to move when it vibrates. The motion
causes the molecules in the wood to get hotter (think physics.com), and
so the sound energy is converted into heat energy. Thus the lows don't
continue to reflect, and this tightens up the sound in your room. You
can use anything that vibrates - cardboard boxes (like the ones your
rack gear comes in); 12" diameter pressed Quick-Tube building forms are
available in those big home improvement warehouse stores (stuffed with
insulation or carpet padding); all the way to expensive trap systems.
far as isolating one room from another, the only thing that keeps
lows from bleeding into places you don't want... is density - like
drywall, plywood, backer board. Low end goes right through carpet or
foam rubber. Isolation is only as good as how dense and how air tight a
wall is made - a crack or separation in the wall lets in as much sound
as the entire wall does. Putting fuzzy stuff on a door does nothing to
keep the low end from going into the next room. Solid core doors that
seal around the edges is more like it. Air tight
is sound tight.
way to gauge your room is to listen to a lot of CDs, and get the
system so that you hear lows, highs, mids... all differently on
different CDs. Our list of commercial CDs
givers you an idea of the range of music I listen to when tuning my
• Spend some time at an audiophile store
listening to high-end full-range speakers.
Then go to your
favorite pro-sound gear store and listen to what they have. Then... go
back to the audiophile store. Get a sense of the clarity, definition,
realism, warmth, smoothness and presence in a fine home speaker system.
Take your mixes along on CDR and compare. You'll find it very
eye-opening. It's important to audition lots of systems, so you can
gauge their differences.
Your product can sound great.
takes time and effort and a willingness to try, try, and try again.
When you cut tracks, listen to commercial CDs. When you mix, listen to
CDs. When you book your mastering session, bring along CDs that you
feel sound the best, so that you can convey what your preferences are.
Ask questions - find out what's possible - get the best you can afford.
is the best way to
have the best options when it's time to master your project.) Even if
your monitors aren't the best money can buy, expert mastering is a
powerful tool to bring out the best in your mixes.
I'm planning to get some
Clearview speaker cables and power amp weights -- and some Virtual
Dynamics power cords for my monitor setup. Will this help my
monitors be more accurate? -Kenny
- to me - means I can make sonic judgments that translate to
real world. Some people need a little time to understand the
my room because it's not a typical "studio" room with tight, pounding
speakers. My room is open, experiential and revealing, but if you
measured the room
it might not show to be "accurate" because it's not "flat." Flat
don't always make correct sound for the car or home system, so everyone
has a different idea about what's accurate. Certainly no home
stereo or car stereo is "flat."
items you're speaking about will reveal more in your sound.
hear better, more detail. Scott Gordon, engineer for Alanis
Morrisett, Ringo, Aerosmith and more was shocked
when he could
hear that a different power cord changed the sound of his Mackie
monitors. He couldn't go back to his old power cords!
need to buy a few weights for the amps. I had a few on the
and it helped, but as I added more, it got even better..... up to a
point..... .where more weights took some life out of the amp. You
to "tune" the amp with the weights, and you'll want someone to help
add/remove them so you can listen carefully. Start with the
cables so the difference in the amps is easier to hear. Bad
mask the true sound. The weights are just as good as the power
maybe better! It's an adventure, and worth the try. Be sure
you have music you are
very familiar with, and use short passages of music to A/B the sound so
you can hear right away what changes.