Updated: Apr 3
What is Mixing Anyway?
It may seem unnecessary to say, but a lot of people get confused about what the purpose of mixing is, and a lot of online mixing advice has nothing to do with actual mixing. A mix is the final 2 track form of a production that presents the left and right channel from a recording of a musical performance. A great mix is one that brings a great song arrangement and performance to its fullest potential, made to connect with the listener which conveys an emotional reaction designed to provide a the listener with a desired experience. An important distinction for anyone attempting to to mix their own song is to not get stuck on just ‘listening to the sound.” A successful mix starts with a great song, which is then arranged well and ideally recorded well, making the possibility of a great mix possible.
In order to pull off a great or even good mix you have to make decisions that enhance the material in a way that brings the listener’s focus to elements of the song and provides interest and movement as the song progresses. Making these mixing decisions is only possible if you have the right space and monitors to hear the material properly. These decisions not only have to sound good on your set up but everywhere else. How your mix sounds outside of your room is called translation, and your mix should translate on as many playback systems as possible.
Balancing the bass and giving it the right energy means you should mix at higher volumes to help you make better decisions when dealing with the low end. Try mixing your low end at 85 dB for brief periods of time. Our hearing is relatively flat at this level and you can listen at this level for some time without causing damage to your hearing. Make sure to not exceed 100 dB and definitely don’t listen at these volumes all day. Monitoring at different levels is very beneficial for translation, even more-so than referencing on different monitors once you’re experienced enough and know how your monitors translate. If you’re just starting out, using multiple monitors will greatly help your decision making and allow you to reference your mix translation quickly and efficiently without leaving your room. Low end and high end frequencies respond differently at different volumes, and it’s important to adjust your monitoring level to best present the material you’re focusing on to make your mix decisions.
Translation: From Your Room to the Outside World
If your mix doesn’t translate well to other systems it may be because your room is interfering with your ability to hear properly, thereby affecting your ability to make good mix decisions. How your room is set up is just as important as your equipment, and will greatly impact your abilities as a mixer. If your room has too much bass when listening in the mixer’s position, your mix will have too little bass when played back on other systems. The effect your room has during monitoring will have an equally opposite effect on your mix during translation. A room with little to no acoustic treatment will interfere with your ability to make mix decisions that will translate well outside of your room.
There are lots of information online regarding room treatment, and a lot of it is nonsense. Do some research and look online at professional rooms for ideas on how to treat your room, and find inexpensive alternatives for materials and design. Stay away from egg cartons and anything that looks like them. For a reliable source of information on home studio building and acoustic treatments check out Home Recording Studio: Build It Like the Pros by Rod Gervais
Monitors come in 3 different styles, with some designs being a hybrid between two styles. They’re called Big, Midfield and Near field monitors. With each style, there are either active or passive monitors. The active monitors are self-powered and come with an amplifier that’s specifically matched to the speakers and the best option for home studios. Passive monitors allow the buyer the option of selecting their own amplifier, making it easier for a big studio to tweak their system
The big monitors are the soffit mounted ones that you see in studio control rooms that cost as much as a used car. A large build out is required for these monitors, as they’re flush mounted inside the wall on either side of the mixing desk. If you have to ask, they’re out of reach for most of us and that’s ok… they’re not necessary for home mixing.
Midfield monitors are, as the name suggests, between the bigs and near field monitors, usually having a 10” to15” woofer to represent the low end. They’re designed to be placed 6 to 8 feet from your listening position, allowing for the larger sound waves in the low end to develop.
Near field monitors are the smallest of the three and are the best option when you’re just starting out. Many near field designs offer a flat response that will allow you to accurately listen in a well treated room. Near fields are typically built with 6” to 8” woofers and are designed to sit on the bridge of your console (who are we kidding??) or desk. Near field monitors are known for accentuating the midrange because of their lack of low end, allowing you to critically hear what’s working in your mix as well as where there are problems.
Yamaha NS10s were industry standard near field monitors for decades because of their reliable sound, and many professionals swore by them. If you could get a mix sounding good on NS10s, odds are your mix would sound good anywhere. There are many better options than the discontinued NS10s today and at various price ranges. It’s worth buying the best monitors you can afford at the time, but never miss meals just to buy something that’s out of reach. Starving isn’t sexy and doesn’t promote good creative habits when you’re worried about where your next meal is coming from.
Top Entry Level Near Field Monitors for 2023
There is no way to suggest the best monitors for your budget and room configuration, but the following is a shortlist of noteworthy near and mid field monitors:
Yamaha HS8 - Small but powerful active near field monitors with a flat response between 38 Hz - 30kHz, and include a 8” woofer. These monitors are capable of producing fairly low frequencies, providing you a full picture of all frequencies without the need for an additional sub woofer. They’re pricey at $459 US each, but an excellent investment that will help you grow quickly as a mixer and with enough use.
KRK RP8 Rokit 8 G4 - These entry level active monitors have been around for years and are very popular as home studio monitors, providing good performance for the price. These 3-way monitors are capable of delivering frequencies between 36Hz - 40 kHz, and provide a balanced listening experience from the ported enclosure. At $308 US each, they’re a very good option for the price.
Adam Audio T8V - Adam monitors are well designed and provide the listener an accurate playback experience, and are capable of producing frequencies between 33 Hz - 25 kHz. These small speakers pack a punch with a peak volume of 118 db. At $310 US each, they provide excellent value for the money.
Neumann KH 80 DSP - These 2-Way professional active studio monitors sound fantastic for their size, but are not big in the low end. Consider these if you’re looking for professional monitors that deliver a clean and faithful image of your mix between 50 Hz - 20 kHz. You may want to add a subwoofer to cover the missing low frequencies, especially if you’re making bass heavy music. Priced at $568 US each, they’re not cheap but will give you the ability to make mix decisions with their clean sound.
A rule of thumb is your monitors should be as far apart as the distance from the listening position. So, if you’re 4 feet back from the monitors start with the monitors 4 feet apart, making an equilateral triangle between you and each monitor. If the monitors are too close together the stereo image will be smeared, and if they’re too far apart you won’t have a sweet spot at your listening position.
Try placing your monitors 67 1/2” apart from tweeter to tweeter, pointing the speakers just behind your head so the bass frequencies have a chance to unfold.
Place the tweeter in line with your ears using isolating pads or legs if extra height is needed. These will help to de-couple your monitors from your work surface and prevent unwanted vibrations.
Make sure the correct angle is set, again so that the speakers are pointing to just behind your head in listening position. This will increase the definition between instruments and reduce smearing of the stereo field as well. The angle can be adjusted to taste, pointing either directly at the listener or further back. Some mixers like the sound of the monitors pointing 1-4 feet behind them to reduce the hype of the sweet spot on louder monitoring systems (mid fields and bigs).
Monitors are designed to be used in their upright position during playback. This hasn’t stopped people from turning monitors on their sides for playback. If you’re using monitors on their sides, have the tweeter on the outside, making the stereo field wider than if the tweeter is on the inside, causing smearing again.
Monitoring PRO TIPS
Work at a variety of levels when mixing, putting the level up to check out the low end, mid-level when checking EQs and effects, and doing the final balancing quietly.
Start your mix by finding the 4-5 focal tracks, listening at a decent level so you get excited by the energy and feel of the tracks, and then lower the volume to a quieter working level to bring the other tracks up to a balanced volume, keeping the focal tracks louder and predominant in the mix. Balance these remaining tracks around your selected focal point tracks.
Your working level should allow you to have a normal conversation without straining to talk over the music. It’s at this speaking level that we can hear most articulately, a feature of hundreds of thousands of years of evolution as a language based animal.
Checking the low end at higher volumes will prevent you from adding too much bass, as over-compensation tends to happen at lower listening levels.
If you balance your levels at a low volume they’ll be more evenly balanced when you turn up the volume to check the low end and to balance the kick and bass.
Try checking your mix by walking outside the room. If you can hear all the parts and they sound balanced you’re in the ball park. It’s much easier to listen critically when you’re away from the listening position and meters. Be sure to do this while listening at different volumes.
You’ll know you’re almost done a mix when you can’t sit still and you start to dance in the chair. I use this as a guide every time.
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