Balancing your mix across speakers (aka why does Sonos hate my music?)

Balancing your mix across speakers (aka why does Sonos hate my music?)
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#1

Howdy howdy,

I’ve been spending more hours than I can count building a mix that sounds decent on different types of speakers and earbuds/headphones and frankly, I’ve found the experience pretty tedious and discouraging at times.

Most recently, I thought I’d arrived to a pretty good point but when I test my mix on my Sonos system, the mix seems to be falling apart (which is a bummer because that’s what I use to listen to music at home). The bass is overpowering, but I’m worried about cutting more/too much low end as I don’t want it to disappear from other, less bassy speakers and headphones. Seems like a dilemma (for a beginner like me).

Just curious to hear from your experience striving for the right balance. I’m curious to hear about your struggles, favorite tactics and small (or big) victories…


#2

I wish i had victories to share. I do think though that it is important to remember

it is about progress not perfection.


#3

I’ve got one Sonos speaker… the Play3 I think. I was finding the same thing, that the low end was always really overpowering. The only thing I can suggest is spending more time with reference mixes. I’ll take my references and isolate the low end and compare it to my mix (MetricAB from Plugin Alliance is awesome for this). It helps me hear how clear the low end is compared to the reference, plus the relative level. If you have too much low end or you find it muddy as compared to your references, go back to the instruments that occupy that space and start sculpting. Find instruments that shouldn’t be occupying that space and EQ them so they don’t (for me, guitars are often a source of mud). Try to avoid just EQ’ing the 2-bus and sort it out at the source… I did that for the longest time because I thought it was a short-cut but it can cause problems once you start revising your mix.

EDIT: Also make sure you reference not just on your main monitors/cans but on as many sources as you can… Sonos, bass-heavy headphones, car speakers, shitty earbuds etc…


#4

Thanks @blairhall1974. I definitely try to test across different speakers/sets. I’ll follow your advice and go back to the likely cultprits with more EQ sculpting. Also going to check out MetricAB.

For me at this stage, one of the hardest thing is to cut judiciously without gutting an instrument… but practice is key…

I’m curious, did you have any aha moment that made you realize you were doing it wrong or was that all progressive?


#5

Kudos to you for listening on different systems in the first place. One time I didn’t (I knew better, but was just being lazy,) and the kick is absolutely thunderous. (It’s also my most popular song by far on Spotify, haha go figure.)

Yeah this is a really big struggle for me, mostly with the bass. I have a 2.1 system that we have hooked up to the TV upstairs which I test on. I figure that if it sounds good on my mixing headphones, the speakers upstairs, and earbuds, then I call it good. It can be a pain to get that to work, but reference mixes help. It also helps to go back to your mix with the overpowering bass in mind, and teach yourself, “okay when the bass sounds like this on my monitoring system, it’s too much.” And you can sort of get used to that over time. One of the biggest things for me has been figuring out how much low-mid range to scoop out of my vocal. There’s this wooly quality that sticks out on a bassier system and I’m pretty good at hearing/feeling it on my mixing headphones now.

Good luck! It can be a pretty frustrating kind of thing but you’ll get better at it.


#6

Definitely progressive and comes with experience. But I will say, don’t think necessarily about gutting an instrument… make moves that suit the overall mix. Being a guitar player, I used to always make sure I had a nice big thick wall of guitars in mixes… only to wind up high-passing them and letting the bass fill in the lower end. In solo they’ll sound a bit thin, but in the mix they still sound huge. Try to avoid doing a lot of EQ’ing in solo… not saying that I think you are, but one of the AHA’s for me was just that… less in solo and more in context… and paying close attention to the frequencies that allow for a good separation of instruments.


#7

I hear this a lot. How often do you find yourself EQ’ing in solo?


#8

Less now, used to be all the time. I’d bring up a track and get it sounding great in solo, then wonder why it didn’t sit properly in the mix. Now, I’ll do surgical EQ in solo, like removing nasty ringy overtones from snares for example… then when it comes to shaping the sound to sit in the mix, I’ll generally do it with everything else and occasionally check it in solo to see if I added anything unwanted. Although depending on where I am in the mix that can be flexible. i.e. starting with drums, usually the first few tracks get EQ’d in solo, then I’ll revisit them once more instruments are added.

So now that I type all that, I realize there’s still a fair bit of working in solo, but I think the important takeaway (for me anyways) is to save some decisions for the broader context of the mix.


#9

The important thing to do when referencing your mix on different systems is to compare your mix with commercial mixes you know on those systems.

Just playing your mix on one system & thinking “that sounds bad” and then adjusting it to sound better on that one system is self-defeating. The reason being, if you really compare your mix with the commercial mix - volume-matched on that same system - you may actually find that commercial mixes may sound just as bad - or at least worse than you imagined - on that same system (be that bassy, honky, tinny, piercing, muddy, or whatever tendency the system has).

That is why much is made of trying to aim for as linear response from your original monitoring environment as possible - That isn’t just home studio folklore - its repeated for a very good reason. Realistically though, this “flat response” ideal is somewhat of a unicorn for most of us. The trick is to get your monitoring system as flat as you can, and then get to know the weaknesses of your own environment through practice and comparison with cause & effect between a few different systems. Referencing commercial material you know is a BIG part of that.


#10

I would go further than that. I would say make sure your mixes are flat on a spectrum analyser then learn what that actually sounds like on your system. As Andrew alludes, no system is flat anyway, so learning what your system sounds like is more important than spending thousands of hours and dollars on trying to achieve flat perfection.

I used to listen to my mixes in the car, on earbuds etc. but I realised that I was carving up perfectly good mixes just to make them sound better on random pieces of domestic equipment. I mean, there are millions of such pieces of equipment globally, you can’t check them all.

I mix on my system only - after all, that’s what the system is for. If the mix doesn’t sound so good in the car or wherever, compare it to commercial material also in the car or wherever. You’ll find it sounds just as crap. (Providing your mix is of a comparable quality).

As Andrew says, use a reference, and A/B often between the reference and your mix, especially to check levels.


#11

I’ve actually had this experience while mixing @BigAlRocks song for the mixing contest. I had a really nice sounding mix on my monitors, that I thought ticked all the right boxes. Took it downstairs to my computer speakers and it sounded good. Played it through my Apple TV and some great bookshelf speakers and I could hear the over emphasis of the high end.

I usually cycle to work, so I threw it on my iPhone and listened to it on a loop for the entire 25 minute journey on ear buds.

Finally I gave it a thorough listening in my car (which has a great sound system in it).

Whereas previously I hated this process, I now really like doing this. I think the difference is the mentality that I approach this with now. For me, listening on all these different speakers is a process of revealing all the different things I haven’t done yet, or for want of a better word, mistakes that I might have made when carving out eqs.

I find ear buds will over emphasise bass, while bookshelf speakers will emphasise high end. The car is my favourite, because to my ears, it seems that my car takes all the major frequency bands and shows me where all the overlaps are occurring.

I’m not losing heart though. I realise that my reference tracks such as Steely Dan’s Peg or Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” sound great on any device, but they also sound different too. On some the bass is super heavy while others the percussion sounds more crispy. But there’s enough separation to make sure that you can hear everything that’s going on in the song.


#12

Basic question but curious what do you mean by that?


#13

Whatever you are using for monitoring while you mix, whether it be speakers or headphones, needs to be as close to a flat frequency response from 20hz to 20khz as possible.

For example, here is a comparison chart showing the frequency response of 4 types of high-ish end headphones:

If you are monitoring on studio monitors, not only do you have the inconsistencies of the response of the speakers themselves, but of far greater importance is the way the room your monitors are in skews the frequency response even further. A poor room can can create HUGE "peaks"and “nulls” of sometimes 20dB or more.

What that means in practical terms is that (for example) if your room creates a null of 10db at 100Hz you will probably compensate by adding 10dB of 100hz so that it sounds good in your room, but when you take it out to other systems it sounds way too brassy and boomy.

…So, as I said, the ideal is to avoid listening in a situation where your hearing is subject to be “tricked” by those peaks and nulls in the frequency response.

I hope that explains it.


#14

Thanks @ColdRoomStudio, That’s very helpful.


#15

Have any of you experience with multiple of these programs that sort of eq your Freq-response, and which one’s do you think was most legit ? :slight_smile:
I tried the sonar one’s, but I was even more noob back then, so I can’t build on that experience atm :slight_smile: It was on cans.


#16

I had a great colleague back in the day who told me I needed to spend 100 hours in front of monitors to “hear” them properly. I think this was the best advice I ever got. You’ll never get a perfectly flat response, but you will be able to make sensible decisions if you know your monitors and your room.

Once I got rid of my horrendous 100hz problems, my perceived bass levels dropped to almost inaudible. That was because I was compensating for a dip in bass response from my listening position. Hence everything I touched had the bass turned up, sometimes by 6-10 decibels so that I could hear it in my room. As soon as I took a mix down to my sound system it was horiffic. I swear, my neighbours must have thought I was running regular raves in my house when they heard those bass lines!

I also tried a demo of then EQ flattener / compensation. Didn’t like it, possibly because I was up to about 500 hours of listening in that room and could, with some degree of confidence, judge the levels of different instruments in songs.


#17

Were you eqing your 100hz problems as a fix ? Even very narrow Q digital eqs do not work well as a solution to get rid of AC line hum.

What did you do to finally get rid of your 100hz (ground loop - I’m guessing) problem ?


#18

I should have been much clearer. Luckily I have no problems with my electricity or interference with my power in my room. The 100hz refers to some hideous standing waves that were forming in my room. From my mixing position I would mix, and then put the bass to a level I could hear it in the mix. But checking on other speakers (in other rooms) the bass would be so over the top loud it was ridiculous.

Back in the room one day, I had a bass line solo’d and I dropped a plectrum on the floor. As I leaned down to pick it up my head moved from an area of cancelled waves to a area of extremely loud bass. So I played a 100hz tone on my monitors and walked around my room. There were spots I couldn’t actually tell the tone was playing to spots where my face was melting. It was that bad! I tried a number of tones, but the 100hz to 120hz was a disaster in my room.

I immediately built four bass traps / absorbers followed soon after by another 4. I also moved my mixing desk and made some other modifications to my room.