Ever put the finishing touches on a mix that just blew you away on your studio monitors, only to play it back on your phone or car stereo and find it… lacking? Welcome to the club.
This is a common battle every home producer fights – making our mixes sound equally phenomenal on every speaker. It’s a bit like trying to hit a moving target while blindfolded. Pouring hours into a mix, only for it not to translate well across different listening environments, can be a serious blow.
But don’t lose heart, my friend. There are some clever strategies that can help you nail that elusive mix that sounds brilliant on any and all speakers. Whether you’re mixing for yourself or a client, the goal is always the same: create a mix that shines professionally on any playback system.
I’m going to share some of the best practices for getting your mix to sound consistent and impressive across all speakers. So, let’s dive in and start making some magic!
Tip 1: Use Reference Tracks
One of the most straightforward and impactful ways to level up your mixes is to use reference tracks. As renowned mixing engineer Dave Pensado once said, “A reference is the reality check. The thing that keeps you honest.”
Reference tracks are songs in your genre and style that have already made their mark. They’ve been professionally mixed and mastered and have proven they can impress on a variety of speakers.
By referencing these tracks, you can line your mix up against the pros and pinpoint any weaknesses or areas where you could improve. It’s like having a mixing mentor whispering in your ear, guiding your decisions.
To use reference tracks, pick a few songs that resonate with you and align with your vision for your mix. Then, use a dedicated plugin like Metric AB or Reference 4 to load them into your DAW. Now you can hop back and forth between your mix and the reference tracks, comparing elements like frequency balance, dynamics, stereo width, and depth.
As Chris Lord-Alge, another titan of mixing, recommends, “Always be comparing. A-B against reference tracks. Make sure yours kicks as much ass.”
So, use reference tracks to check everything from whether your mix has enough bass, to if your vocals are in the sweet spot, to whether your drums deliver that punch you’re after.
Tip 2: Place Your Speakers Wisely
The way your mix sounds on different speakers can be heavily influenced by where your studio monitors are placed. If your monitors are in the wrong spot, you might not be getting an accurate representation of your mix, leading to misguided mixing decisions.
The perfect spot for your studio monitors will depend on your room’s size and shape, but here are some general guidelines to steer you in the right direction:
- Place your monitors at ear level and equal distance from each other and you, forming an equilateral triangle.
- Angle your monitors slightly towards you, so the tweeters point at your ears. This allows you to hear the high frequencies clearly.
- Be mindful of how close your monitors are to the walls. This can cause unwanted reflections and resonances that muddle the low frequencies.
- Keep your monitors away from windows, doors, corners, or other objects that could interfere with sound waves. This reduces the risk of phase cancellation and comb filtering.
By placing your monitors correctly, you’ll improve the sound quality and accuracy of your listening environment, leading to more informed mixing decisions.
Tip 3: Invest in Acoustic Treatment
Even the best studio monitors and perfectly placed speakers won’t save your mix if your room isn’t acoustically treated. Acoustic treatment is all about refining a room’s acoustics using materials that absorb or diffuse sound waves.
This magic process can help you minimize unwanted reflections, reverberations, echoes, standing waves, and other acoustic issues that might muddy your mix. As mix engineer Manny Marroquin says, “A good room is where it’s at… You can have the greatest gear in the world, but if the acoustics of your room aren’t right, it’s not going to sound good.”
You have a variety of acoustic treatment materials at your disposal:
- Bass traps: Thick panels placed in the corners of the room to absorb low frequencies.
- Acoustic panels: Thin panels placed on the walls or ceiling to absorb mid and high frequencies.
- Diffusers: Irregular-shaped panels placed on the walls or ceiling to scatter sound waves in different directions.
Yes, acoustic treatment can be a bit costly and time-consuming, but trust me, it’s worth every penny and minute. If you’re serious about elevating your mixing skills, investing in acoustic treatment is a non-negotiable.
Tip 4: Use Headphones as a Secondary Reference Point
Studio headphones are a fantastic tool for making your mix sound good on all speakers. They help you catch those tiny details and nuances in your mix that might slip past you on studio monitors. Plus, they give you an idea of how your mix sounds on one of the most common playback devices around.
However, don’t let headphones be your main mixing reference. They come with their own drawbacks:
- Headphones create an artificial stereo image that doesn’t mirror how we hear sound in the real world.
- They isolate us from ambient noise, causing us to perceive our mix as louder than it really is.
- Different headphones have different frequency responses and characteristics, which can skew your perception of your mix.
So, use headphones as a supplemental reference point for mixing. Use them to confirm and refine what you’re hearing on your studio monitors.
What can you check with headphones?
- The balance and panning of individual elements in your mix
- The clarity and intelligibility of vocals and other crucial parts
- The presence and quality of reverb and other effects
- The consistency of your mix in mono
Tip 5: Let Someone Else Master Your Track
The final tip for ensuring your mix sounds great on all speakers is to hand the mastering reins over to someone else.
As Grammy-nominated mastering engineer Emily Lazar says, “The mastering process is the last creative step and the first step of manufacturing. It’s the last opportunity to listen, enhance, or even repair problems in the audio.”
When you’ve been deeply involved in a track, it’s hard to maintain an objective perspective. Bringing in a professional mastering engineer can provide fresh ears, a different skill set, and a new approach. It’s like having a trusted ally on your side to spot any issues and bring out the best in your mix.
A professional mastering engineer can:
- Identify and rectify any issues in your mix
- Balance your track’s frequency spectrum
- Control your track’s dynamic range
- Add desired qualities to your track like warmth, depth, punch, or sparkle
- Optimize your track’s loudness without sacrificing dynamics
- Ensure your track sounds fantastic on all speakers
Making your mix sound good on all speakers is not an easy task. It requires a lot of attention to detail, trial and error, feedback, and revision.
However, it is not impossible either. By following these tips and techniques, you can improve your mixing skills and achieve a mix that sounds good on everything.
I hope these tips have helped you make better sounding mixes that impress everyone who listens to them. Now it’s time for you to try them out on your own tracks!
Share them with us in the comments below or on social media!