How do you judge the quality of a recording?

I know that I’m not doing an ideal job when it comes to recording tracks, but I realize that I’m not even sure what I’m aiming for. What does a good recorded track sound like? How can you tell a good recording from a bad one? For me, I only record acoustic guitar and vocals, but I guess the question can apply to anything.

For example I’ve learned that background noise might not be audible when I’m recording a track, but when I go to compress it or EQ it, suddenly that background noise is noticeable and unwanted. And I’m lost on hearing anything having to do with reflections. I guess it would be obvious if a room were very echo-y, but I have a feeling it’s rather subtle. Are there any tricks for that?

Like, imagine someone gives you some tracks. Vocals, acoustic guitar, whatever, and asked you to rate the quality; what criteria would you use and how would you test for it? I’m curious about how other people approach this. It’s easy to hear a ton of awesome reference mixes, (well, masters, but close enough.) But what about recordings? How do I know if I’ve got something good to begin with, before I even start mixing?


I was going to dig into answering this a bit, but for some reason I keep thinking that @ColdRoomStudio has done some killer articles in the past on this topic. Am I correct?

I think one of the basic answers that I have for your question (from my experience) was that I did a lot of very short test recordings with different sources (ie, acoustic guitar, vocal, etc) from different mics, mic positions, different places in the same room(s). Once you have several recordings of the same source, you’ll find it is quite a bit easier to hear how the other variables impact that source. It was a lot of trial and error and repeat for me :wink:


That could get pretty subjective, especially if you take the recording (multiple tracks) as a whole. There are lots of elements you can look at. First, I say trust your ears because you’re a musician and songwriter and you wouldn’t be to this point if your ears and tastes weren’t capable of reaching that level. Sometimes the Inner Critic is our worst enemy. :thinking: You may want to listen back several times and over several days so you can use “fresh ears” for evaluation, but try to not overthink too much and go with feel. Maybe write down what could be better, and then judge whether that’s realistic at this point.

Do some critical thinking though with methodology. Listen to each track in Solo mode, understand its strengths and weaknesses. Listen for noise and space/reflections, and for the feel of the performance. Is the timing and tempo pretty good? But be careful not to take a Solo track too much to heart on its own, because what matters is how it sounds in the mix. Switch between soloing tracks to listen and then the whole mix. Don’t get stuck on one thing or it’s easy to overthink it. You’d be surprised how many “pro” tracks might have noise or are even a little sloppy when solo’d, but in the mix you don’t notice it at all (except in squint mode).

When you use processing it’s quite easy to introduce extra noise. Some plugins add noise, or if you are boosting the gain with that plugin that can do it also. If you boost an EQ band right where the most noise in the track is - more noise. Compression can bring up low noise - as compression squashes the loud parts it also brings up (increases loudness of) the soft parts. Consider using a noise gate or expander before the other processing if that seems to give you problems, but make sure your EQ and compression is sensible and not overcooked first.

Getting rid of reflections can be your friend. You can add space back in later with reverb or delay processing. Treat your room acoustically to minimize reflections and use bass traps in the corners if necessary. There’s lots of DIY info out there on this. You can also set up moving blankets and such around microphones to block the reflections from the wall bouncing back. Record as dry of a track as possible, then play with a reverb plugin at different settings to learn what ‘space’ sounds like. Toggle off (Bypass) and on quickly and notice the difference. Train your ears.

I think you have to be fairly happy with the performances and overall sound of each track. But then you need to be like a sculptor and see the potential sculpture that lies inside the hunk of stone. A vision of where the song will be - or can be - when you have trimmed and chiseled, enhanced, and sanded and polished. This all comes out of experience and learning. There’s no substitute for that. The more you do the more you’ll learn, and it’s always a work in progress.


Great topic!

I agree with Stan about making the effort to treat your recording space to absorb reflections as much as you can manage. The goal is to get the primary recording as defect-free as possible. If you have a decent guitar, a decent mic, a decent interface/preamp, and space that doesn’t have reflections flying all over the place, your primary recordings will be of good quality. This assumes you have the mic placed reasonably-- that it’s not behind you or some other silly thing-- and that there aren’t pets squabbling in the background and so on.

Another crucial ingredient is to get other ears listening to your tracks, and that’s where we come in! Learning to listen critically here in the Bash This section is absolutely invaluable, as well as all the other technical discussions. I have learned SO much from my time in this community, and it all starts with simply getting practice and experience both in listening and hearing others’ work and getting feedback on your own. You clearly have made a good start on that already, judging by the comments I’ve seen you make.

Some of the obvious stuff to look for in any basic recording is that the main thrust of the instrument or component is not being stepped on by something else in the mix. A very common issue is low-frequency junk interfering with the instruments that live down there. This is why most people high-pass filter on just about every basic track, especially guitars and vocals, because there is nothing of use from those components in the sub-100 to 150ish Hz range. That’s always one of the very first things I do. Even for a voice in your register, it doesn’t hurt to have a HPF on there just to make sure there is no unwanted subbiness.

Another red flag is evident distortion where it’s not wanted. If your levels are too high you can get oversaturated sounds. Sometimes that’s the intent, but from hearing your work I would guess that such is rarely the case for you.

It takes time, and effort; but so worth it. So treat that space, and keep on posting and bashing-- before you know it you’ll get to where it is nearly second nature to “know” when your basic tracks are ready to go.


From a technical point of view, eliminate as much of the room as possible. You have to spend a lot of money to get a room that actually sounds good, so assuming you haven’t done that, then get rid of the room as much as you can. Throw a duvet over head while you’re recording if all else fails.

Other than that a good recording is mainly about the performance. I’d rather be working with a poorly recorded jaw-dropping performance than a well-recorded average performance.


Hi @Cristina…I think you’re asking a lot of the right questions here!

We tend to mix in the way we idealize our music, so to some extent its subjective. There are some fundamentals that apply universally, but there really aren’t any clear cut rules that would separate a good one from a very good one. If it really exceptionally flawed, your ears will let you know. Trust them :smiley:

Have you tried using a gate? That’s what these things do. If that doesn’t work, can you describe some specific examples, or better yet post them? Upload the unprocessed clip, then upload the compressed/eq’d clip, then lets see if we can help you figure out what the problem actually is.

Use a plugin that removes the echo.

Balance, energy, clarity, and does the tracking/mixing job jive and mesh with the vibe and overall essence of the song. A rock track will sound like shit if you mix is like a jazz combo or orchestra. A highly compressed, wide-as-fuck, with saturated ping-pong dotted eight delay tails may sound cool on Lady Gaga, but would suck ass on an opera singer. Those are extreme examples, but the techniques used in the mix down have to match the genera of music.

In your example, acoustic tracks often need extra low end to compensate the absence of bass and kick. But if you thicken up the low mids in a band context, they can clash with electric guitars. On ‘organic’ or acoustic tracks, I use gentle fast compressors in front of the EQ, and slower aggressive compressors after the EQ. On acoustic tracks, I use a lot of saturation and transient tools, but err on the side of transparency vs warmth.

If your track is clean and clear you’re automatically a step ahead. Next, you want to make sure its in time, and the vocal work is lifelike and expressive. Don’t worry about the polish and the shine. That comes later. If everything is accurate, clear, in time, and on key (unless you deliberately want some notes flat or sharp for the sake of expression), you’re probably good to go.


for me, a track is “bad” when I find myself trying to use other tracks to mask the issues in that track. Or sometimes I find myself holding back on certain effects because the bring out the bad in a track. It’s not that the track is bad, it’s that it’s limiting.

If adding compression that a vocal needs brings out bad artifacts, then I have fewer options on how I can treat that track. It doesn’t mean the final recording will sound bad, it just means that it won’t sound the way I originally hoped it would, or that I have to rethink the way I’m going to process it. Maybe I’ll get to the same end product, it will just take a little longer and it will be a little more work. Or maybe I’ll have to do something completely different.

Whether it’s the room, or sibilants, or kids yelling in the background, or out of tune vocals, you have to make decisions on how that track is going to be used in the song.

For me, the trick is to recognize when I’m in damage control mode, and then decide whether it’s worth fighting through the damage control, or retracting, or just leaving the track out altogether. There are plenty of things that can put me into damage control mode, and it’s not always “quality.” Sometimes it’s timing issues, sometimes it’s arrangement issues, sometimes the song is so dumb no amount of quality will get me out of damage control mode, and sometimes it’s noise or bad frequency response.

That’s how I judge the quality of a recording.


Hi Cristina,

Awesome questions here! I have a few ideas for you to consider. They will go against the grain on some of the replies you have received so far, but there are several ways to skin the cat. :slight_smile:

Excellent question! The only way to answer this, is to have lots of listening under your belt. Over time, you just know when something is right. However, there are quite a few things that can play into this that make it more difficult.

Your monitoring environment is HUGE. For example, if you have monitors that may color things in a bad way, you will never know what you’re really listening to. Granted, having the money to have good monitors with flat response can get a bit pricey, but the problem with this recording hobby we have is…and this is a commandment of mine in my recording school…“thou shall not second guess.” What that means is…having good monitors, good placement, a decent room for your little project studio can cut down on the time it takes to do things. Not only that, but when you listen to something, you know if it’s good or bad because the coloration is not boosting or taking away.

For example, let’s say I’m teaching you about recording, and I come to your house and listen to a few tracks on your gear. Let’s say there is low end mud or too much bass push in your monitors. Right there, you are at a disadvantage. To YOUR ears, you feel you have too much bass in your guitars. So you cut the bass out. We mix the song and take it out to a car or we go back to my studio and find that the bass you took out, was actually too much so now we are stuck with a guitar sound that is thin, and bass light.

If we had correction on the monitors, it would have curbed the bass in a GOOD way so you wouldn’t have taken so much out, understand? We can say the same for monitors that may push high end. If the high end is harsh or too sizzly, the first thing you are going to do is take out the highs, right? But because the monitors are giving you false representation, it’s hard to know what to remove. So you may go out to your car, listen…take notes, and then go back to your studio and try to compensate based on something you heard in your car that you do NOT hear when you listen on your monitors, understand? The hardest thing about the recording field in my opinion, is hearing the right stuff at all times. If you can’t listen to something and know if it is true or not, how can you ever know what is or isn’t a good sound?

That said, let’s say you get your monitors all set for flat response. We still sometimes need a push to know what constitutes a good sound. However, that said…“sound” and even recording and mixing, can be VERY subjective. I no longer compare to others…I compare to me and mix for the song as well as what sounds good to me on that song or album. Some mixes today from great engineers sounds bad…but to THEM…it was their best work. But we can actually be shown what to listen for also. I was actually taught by someone on how to listen to sounds. It was amazing and something I teach in my lessons to others here.

Some of the things that may help you in sound identification:

Distortion: Sometimes we want a little drive, other times we don’t. But there are good distorted sounds and of course, bad ones. The bad ones usually resemble something that doesn’t sound very good where you just know the sound is not supposed to be like that. Others, like say in your case of acoustic guitar, sometimes you may want a little pre-amp dirt to drive your acoustic. This doesn’t mean drive like a distorted rock or metal guitar sound, but a bit of push that adds a good drive or a sustain, if you will.

Bass: Low end is the killer in everything recording. Why you may ask? It’s cool because it rumbles and seems to fill everything out. But in certain instruments, it can be the death of that instrument. Guitars with too much bass, will get lost in a mix because they will frequency mask with bass guitars and kick drums. Bass guitars can mask with kick drums because they share like frequencies…so when you have issues turning up a kick fader, and then the bass, and then the kick…there are like-frequencies cancelling each other out.

Bass is especially bad in acoustic guitars because it can make the sound a bit too low mid congested, which will make the instrument sometimes a challenge along with other instruments. It’s easier to control an acoustic guitar with less bass than it is to control one with too much. All too often we try to make guitars sound good on their own. This is the biggest mistake. Any instrument you make sound good by itself (like if you solo it up) will most likely have issues in a mix with other instruments.

We can use starting points to get instruments “along the lines” of what we want, but you won’t be able to really dial them in until you have the rest of the rhythm section in at least. But, since you’re not dealing with that right now…I’ll try to gear things more towards your acoustic and vocal performances. I just wanted to give you a general idea as to what some of us may go through. The more instruments you add, the more you can encounter stuff like this.

For you, with just a guitar and a voice…your biggest issue would be mid range. Too much mid range can congest (make the two sounds sound like there is a build-up of too much mid-range energy) your vocals and your guitar to where it is hard to distinguish them. Or, in other words, it can give the instruments a lack of identity. Having an identity in your instruments is of the utmost importance because this allows them to shine through without walking on each other.

What makes this a little more challenging when you’re not quite sure how to deal with this stuff is, most guitar/vocal performances run right down the middle in the pan field unless you are using a stereo guitar sound. Now, you CAN pan the voice and the guitar slightly outward and away from each other to help keep the instruments out of each others way.

However, this can also disconnect the performance. If we went to see an artist sing and play guitar, we wouldn’t hear the guitar come out of the left side and her voice come out of the other. BUT…you can use a very slight pan of say guitar 10% to the left, voice 10% to the right just to try it. I tend to record my voice and acoustic guitar performances mono, but add in stereo effects after to give my sounds a little more sound size and dimension.

First thing there…the background noise has to be gone. Whatever is causing it, you have to remove it because you will continue to get the artifacts you are hearing once you eq and compress. When you eq, it eq’s the noise as well. When you compress, it brings the noise up louder to the threshold you put in the compressor. So in reality, you are making the noise more apparent. A subtle room echo isn’t a bad thing. To stop that, sing closer to your mic. The further away from your mic, the more room you pick up. The same with your guitar. Mic it as close as you can. I like to start where the neck meets the body or at the 12th fret going as close to the guitar as I can without touching. That should take and bad rooms out of the equation.

I wish I could give you a definite answer here. From doing this for so long and knowing sounds, you just know. I can listen to something and know in 10 seconds or less whether instruments should be re-recorded or they can be salvaged. There is a certain quality that just tells you “it’s right.” For example, some home recording guys are limited with gear. They may not have the best gear…and sometimes you do not need the best gear. But, sometimes mediocre gear brings on sounds that just fall short. Now, there are times when I will hear something and think…"ok, let’s work with it for a bit and see if it’s salvageable. Sometimes I can save the sound, sometimes I can re-amp it, other times, after about 20 minutes…it’s safe to say it needs to be re-recorded.

One of the cool things about this field is…you can record a bunch of instruments that sound good right from the beginning…and not need much processing to make them sound good. This is where all of us want to be. For myself, I never run into any issues because my sounds are meticulously chosen before I record and I may even run a few tests before. So when I record a song using my own personal stuff, I don’t need much eq…other than maybe a high pass or low pass or a little seasoning in the mids…I don’t need much compression and I don’t have to go crazy with anything. This is the way it should be for everyone. You don’t press that little record button unless the sounds can stand on their own.

If you find yourself mixing and mixing and eqing like mad, chances are you either:

a) don’t know what to listen for or how to fix it
b) are having monitor calibration issues like I mentioned earlier
c) are just using a sound that is not a good candidate to record

Time and experience are what gets you to this place as well as those who are more advanced than you lending a helping hand. Another thing you can maybe do is, try to download some free multi-tracks. Some of them have some really well recorded instruments that you may be able to compare to your own. When you hear it on your gear, in your realm and can A/B next to your stuff, you know in a few seconds if it’s good or bad. But unfortunately, unless you take a class or have someone show you examples of bad instruments, only time and experience (as well as asking others) can help. The other side of the coin is…to some engineers, a bad sound to them, may not be a bad sound to another engineer who may know how to salvage that particular sound. The other biggest issue in the recording field…subjectivity. That part may be the most difficult to swallow I’m afraid because it’s also part “art”.

So though this is a loaded question that I’ve already typed a novel on for you, I’ve barely scratched the surface as to what else you can do in this situation. Hopefully this gives you some sort of idea what you may be able to try and I hope it didn’t intimidate you. Some of this of course wouldn’t apply to you in what you are doing right now…but you don’t know where you may be in the future. Best of luck!



Wow, thanks everybody for the thoughtful replies!! I feel like I have a number of things to try out. :slight_smile: Great info.

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As for monitoring, you can solve most of the issues by using a decent par of cans. I used to avoid mixing on cans because the Interweb generally advised against it, but now I do most of my (personal) mixing on cans, because the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. You can always check the mix on other stuff like your car or earbuds later if you’re concerned about it translating.

With cans you can mix anywhere, any time, and it will always sound the same with no room reflections to worry about (circum-aural, closed back cans). Use reference tracks to help ‘learn’ your cans, it really doesn’t take long.


I actually mix on headphones for that reason. (Sennheiser HD 598. They are so comfortable. There’s some bass response, but I do also test in my car and in on consumer grade 2.1 speaker system to check it.) I use Waves Nx along with them, and turn that plugin on/off during the mixing process and make sure that the mix sounds good both ways. I considered getting Sonorworks to make them more flat, but the whole “flat” thing doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. I think it’s more important to learn what music should sound like on your particular monitoring system by listening to well-made songs rather than trying to get something totally flat. As long as it’s not way off, I think it should be fine. Consumers aren’t listening on flat systems; and in a way, flat is as relative as anything else.


Yes, exactly right, and if you tie that in with frequent reference to a spectrum analyser you can get pretty close to the finished product in my experience.

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I use the Sennheiser HD 280 Pro cans. Love 'em.

I have those too! That’s the first pair I bought, back in college. I don’t use them anymore though because my headache situation has gotten worse over the years, and I can’t take the clamping. These new ones are just so lightweight and gentle. :slight_smile:

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I may try the pair you referenced above. The HD280s definitely grab your skull. lol

Understood, but you were asking about how to properly judge music. Headphones are a reference point. Very few people have incredible results using headphones and again, you are listening to colored sound. I’m trying to help you, honest. When you sit in front of a monitoring environment that instantly allows you to be aware of what sound is, your entire world changes.

Learning music on your monitor system is second guessing. You shouldn’t have to learn. You listen, and you make the changes. “Accustomed” to your monitors…yes, but to “learn” what music sounds like isn’t how this field works. I’m talking to you as a professional.

Flat doesn’t make sense to you? I’ll try to explain it though in your response, it doesn’t seem as though you care or really want to learn. If you have the answers, why ask the questions? I’m beginning to believe there are quite a few people that don’t want to learn at all around here. They ask a question, and then totally disregard the possible answer.

Colored sound means you will make changes that are not really there. Flat means, when you make a change, you are making the right change. Your music isn’t flat, your monitors are not coloring the sound, therefor, YOU color the sound and make it what you want without second guessing. You are somewhat of an engineer if you are recording, right? People listening to music are not listening on flat systems…you are correct, but they are not recording and engineering anything.

If you mix with too much bass because of your colored system, you put too much bass into their world. Flat allows for all the right stuff to be in the mix. Sure, they can still mess with their own external eq, but the less you add that is incorrect, the better the mix will sound.

Let me ask you…how do you know you’re not far off? Your asking questions about judging sounds correctly and I’m giving you information on how to do that. Why would you just discount what I’m saying here? I’m a professional engineer…I’m here to help you. I’m here to spare you the grief some of us had to go through because there weren’t people offering to speak the truth. Quite a few of us have struggled over the years because of the lack of information. Why would you not embrace that? I guess I simply don’t belong here or get this place…

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Hi Danny, I think I understand why you’re upset. You gave a lot of information about why it’s important to have a flat system, and then I said that I don’t think it’s important. I apologize. I should have probably chosen my words more carefully.

It is not within my means to have a great listening environment. I’m recording and mixing in the basement of my house. Sometimes the laundry machine is running, or people are making noise upstairs. The room is not treated. (That’s something I’m going to look into doing a better job at, but have not yet. Plus, I move around a lot so it’s not necessarily feasible to treat a room I won’t be in for very long.) Therefore, I choose to use headphones. They are not ideal. Rather than give up, I’m working with less than ideal monitoring.

I would also like to point out that during the learning process, one must have an opinion while at the same time being open to being wrong, and to changing that opinion. It is my opinion, given the information that I have acquired thus far, that not having a flat response can be accounted for given that you listen to music on that non-ideal system and learn what it’s supposed to sound like. My theory is that perhaps “flat” is sort of relative. (Not scientifically, but practically.) If someone only ever heard music on a very bass-heavy system, and they went to mix a song on a flat system, they might put as much bass into the song as they are used to hearing. Then, when they listened on their usual system, the bass would be off the charts. In their case, it would have been better to use something they were used to. That’s what I think anyway. And I think that our ears get used to hearing sounds a certain way, and that we can adapt to listening on monitors or headphones that aren’t totally flat.

To answer your question, I didn’t say that I wasn’t way off. I said that, “as long as it’s not way off,” meaning the frequency response curve of the headphones. I don’t think it’s way off because music doesn’t sound very strange to me when I listen to it there. I have not discounted what you’re saying. I will admit though that when I read the information you gave about getting a perfect monitoring system, I did think to myself, “this doesn’t apply to me.” I believe you that it’s very important, but it’s not something I can afford. So instead, I have often heard advice that you can learn how your equipment sounds and then go based off of that. Do you think that is impossible? Or it it just not ideal?


First off, everything Danny said is 100% correct, and he is very good at what he does. I also understand your side of things, so let’s say that Danny’s approach is what you should strive for. I have spent hours mixing on good headhones, and I know what they sound like, but upon listening on my monitors I basically had to throw the mix away and start over. That being said, since you are recording natural instruments like acoustic guitar and voice, you have a true reference point to evaluate.
This means that you know what your guitar sounds like in bigger and smaller rooms, and you could try to set up your mics in a way that emulated what you heard in your head when you decided to record that particular song. The long and short of it is to capture good sound and performance, and also decide if the space you are using is getting in the way. If that’s the case, you can drag stuff into the room and create a temporary vocal booth and close mic the guitar to optimize your situation temporarily until you can treat a room properly, and you’re using a reliable monitoring system.
If you were going to send tracks to someone else, the key at that point would be to record noiseless well mic’ed tracks with no processing, with no peaks causing distortion, so the person mixing can spend time creating a mix rather than hiding faults in the tracks. It is really that simple, capture a well played,in tune, and in time performance. The engineer will take it from there.
Lastly, sorry for writing another novel, but doing all this the way Danny described will save you years of frustration, and your curve on getting where you want to be will be sped up exponentially.


Hi Cristina,

All good, no need to apologize, and thank you for the in depth message. I’ll explain a few things for you. :slight_smile: I take this stuff VERY seriously and have been on a mission for many years to help as many people as possible. The reason being? I was in a very bad place years ago as an engineer…or what you may call “wish-a-be-engineer”. I built a really nice studio, had all good stuff and always wondered why my mixes really never came out good. I really put in the time as well as reading, learning, paying for some lessons and eventually a little schooling.

What sucked was, everything I heard was inaccurate. I was so upset I remember praying to God and saying “Lord, if you ever help me to be decent at this, I promise you I will do everything in my power to share whatever I can to help others that may be struggling like me.”

And so here I am. :slight_smile: As I started to get better at this, I found that my monitors just weren’t helping me. No matter what I did, I just couldn’t make my NS-10’s, Tannoy, or my Tascam monitors help me mix my songs. Do a mix, out to the car, write things down only to come in and try to fix things I couldn’t hear. Work on the mix some more…go to bed, get up for work, as I’m driving, listen to 15 seconds and Frisbee the disc out the window at the same tree as always. It was rare I got past 15 seconds without nearly puking in my own mouth. LOL!

By this time, I’m mixing for weeks on a single song. It was taxing on me and I thought of quitting several times. So, one day I bought a set of AKG headphones. They were about $200. One of the best moves I ever made…or so I thought. Yes, my mixes started to sound better…yes, I felt a little better about myself…but I was falling WAY short of what I considered “good quality”. That said, I’d make it to about 40 seconds or a whole song…so I had to stop by my favorite tree and pick up the 300 discs I’d thrown there. LOL! I’m seriously not kidding!

Long story short…the coloration (or lack thereof in my monitors) was killing me. Sure, you can learn your cans and develop that way. But what I was trying to tell you was, it’s not the right way. When real guys go into studio’s and do this stuff…they listen, and in an instant, they know what to do. Most real world engineers can do a mix that ends up on radio or an album, in 6-8 hours. That’s the sort of thing I can do now, thank God!

But for about 15 years, I struggled hard. I did good work…but guess what, it wasn’t that I was a bad engineer. My monitor environment was just so wrong, there was no way I could make the right calls. I remember going into a real studio and bringing a disc of songs I had done. The engineer listened to 10 seconds, stopped the playback, told me to sit in his chair, threw a pad and pen at me, and told me to take notes and tell him what was wrong with my mixes.

The astonishing thing…I heard everything, and my accuracy as to what was wrong, was spot on. My issue? Monitors that were not calibrated for flat…and no sub to push the right low end. The room being an issue…now, some will impale me for this…though it’s important, I have mixed in some of the worst rooms imaginable. When I worked for a few million dollar studio’s, there were times we were over-booked and I’d track and mix some of the bands in a storage facility. As long as we calibrated the monitors for flat, I really never had a problem. So in my opinion…it is the very best investment you can make.

The object with this field is to NOT second guess or have to “learn” monitors or headphones. The big guys that do this stuff enjoy it so much because it’s super easy when you can do 3 important things we learned in school. “Listen, decide, and deploy.” There’s no learning…no compensating, no out to the car to take notes…what you hear on your monitors should be a happy medium of how your mix sounds everywhere. Ever since I have been using calibrated monitors, everything I mix sounds the same everywhere. Sure, sometimes certain systems may accentuate a little more bass…or a little less bass…but the mix never changes. You still hear everything audibly. That’s what we need.

Headphones are awesome. And I totally understand your situation and agree with your decision. I was just trying to point out that, the first way to answer the questions you asked here…would be to listen to music/instruments etc, on a listening environment that is as true as you can afford. I do job screenings for all my clients. Meaning, before I do a job (i.e. mastering) I have to listen to their material to see if mastering will actually help them. I’m too honest to take a paycheck for the sake of one. But when I listen, I have to listen on the monitors that tell me the truth.

It’s funny, as I was typing my reply to you before, my fiance’ was sitting next to me in the studio listening to music with me with our monitor calibration turned off and on. She’s really good at this stuff too…but I was trying to show her where I was going with my reply to you. It’s amazing…even with my studio rig here of incredible monitors, subs for each set, near perfect room built for recording…turning off the monitor calibration totally made her and I cringe. There’s no way I could mix my way out of a wet paper bag even with a monitor rig of a combined speaker set up of nearly $10k.

In some, the bass was too much…to where if a bass guitar was in question, I might think the instrument was just bad. Or…if I mixed, I’d definitely cut out low end. My old NS-10’s…ugh, the worst without a sub or monitor calibration. Hideous…garbage, useless! LOL! I’d mix with a load of bass if they weren’t corrected as they sound as horrible as they did when I was struggling with them years ago. I even have a consumer Logitech system here that is also calibrated. They were so bass heavy due to being video game monitors…mixing on them would be a horrible mistake. Turn on the calibration…all the black clouds go away.

As for opinions…on certain things, I’m horribly opinionated. But only because I have struggled so bad and really do have answers to fix certain things. They start to not be opinion anymore because when someone tries what I say, 8 out of 10 times they too have success and if they fail, we find out what may have gone wrong. Like brother Styles mentioned…what we’re talking about here is truly paramount and the ONLY answer to your questions that will make a true difference. When pro engineers listen to instruments, they reference on cans…they usually don’t make decisions with them…unless they are Dr. Dre. :wink:

Another thing to be careful of…analyzers. Though they can help, reading them correctly is where people seem to mess up. Just because we see a peak in an area doesn’t mean it is trouble. You may have one spot in a song where a frequency raises itself. Some people see a peak hold and bang…they are on that frequency lowering it instantly. We have to know when to use these tools as a guide and when we have a real problem. So though analyzers can help, they can hurt us too.

And you are correct…some of this probably doesn’t apply to you. But…all of it applies to the questions you asked. :wink: I can give you the generic, one line sentence…or you can read a novel with several pieces that may put you on the right path. I choose to always type a novel so that no stone ever goes unturned. And of course as you can also see, brevity is not a strong point of mine. Mostly because I interact with so many people that WANT me to go in depth, I’d rather go out knowing I’ve explained in full over just posting and running.

To answer your last question…yes, learning your gear for now is all you can do. Headphones are great for reference, apartments where neighbors will hate your music, and if you’re Boz. That dude is one of the only guys I know that mixes killer in cans. LOL! But yeah, you can do it…but it will always sort of keep you on the outside. If you really want results and are really into this field to get the best out of your music, definitely spend a little money when you can and go the monitor route. Even if you get something decent with a sub and some calibration software. I use ARC by IK Multimedia and praise it for one of the reason’s I have a successful business.

For what you’re doing right now with acoustic and voice, sure, learn your headphones and do what is needed for you at THIS time. But if you ever decide to really step it up and grow, as well as always knowing what you are really getting by listening instead of “learning”, what I and Styles have shared is honestly, and factually the absolute best route to take. I wish you all the best and if you made it this far, thanks for reading and understanding. :slight_smile:


Thanks for sharing your story! (I did make it to the end, haha.) So you’re saying that having monitors calibrated (with something like Sonorworks?) is even more important than having a great room? Do you think that would also apply to headphones? I actually downloaded the free trial of Sonorworks not too long ago, but haven’t tried it out yet. From what I understand, the headphones vs. monitors thing is mostly down to hearing the mix in a room vs not. And when I use Waves Nx, sometimes I get confused because I think the sound is coming out of speakers, so I figure it must be at least half-way decent. So maybe calibrating my headphones would actually go a long way.