How to test a mix to know if it will translate well?

How to test a mix to know if it will translate well?
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I tried to mix some soundtracks with my akg head set. I mixed in mono and, to control some dinamics, i used reference, from sonar, so i would have a flat signal. However, when i listened to the mix in my phone, it sucked a lot. I also listened to my reference track with my phone just to know if the problem was the speaker, but it was not.

So, what do you guys do to test your mixes and what can i do to have a mix that translate well?

When you say you mixed in mono, I assume you meant that you checked your mix in mono before switching back to stereo, right? Not that it would make any difference on a phone, but just checking.

There is no fast track to reaching the stage where you can nail a mix right from the first attempt so that it translates well everywhere. But I think the main ingredients are:

  • Experience, by far the most important. The more you mix, the better you get at anticipating how every single action you take will influence the final result.

  • A decent listening environment: a room that has a largely uneven frequency response will make your life as a mixer really difficult and frustrating. Think room first and monitors second. Checking with headphones is a good idea when you have a poor sounding room, however you can’t rely solely on them.

  • Referencing: you seem to be doing that already, keep going. Also compare your final mix to the rough mix that was provided to you, sometimes that will make you realise that while you have improved a lot of things, you might also have messed up a few things.

Getting a mix to translate well is primarily a mastering task, however it can only be done right if the mix is decent at minimum so trying to get better at this is a good idea indeed.

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Good question. There’s really no substitute for simply trying things then making notes on what didn’t translate where. This teaches you a lot super fast. It’s really about learning your monitors and your environment. It helps a ton to have as good of a listening environment as you’re able to, but I realize this is a luxury not everyone can afford. Practice. Just practice.

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I wouldn’t assume that you can get something to translate well without testing it on a variety of speakers. Part of the process should be to listen to your mix on those other speakers and take notes to come back and fix later. It gets easier the more you do it, and you tend to know what to look out for, but I think it’s just a step in the process.

For example, I work primarily in Sennheiser HD 600 headphones. I have Sonarworks and sometimes use Waves Nx, but inevitably the bottom end of my mix is a mess when I first go to test it on my 2.1 speakers. So I just know that’s a step in the process, to clean up my low end. And I know that often the vocals will be too loud, or high end bits will pop out too much when I listen on my laptop speakers or in earbuds. So that’s another thing I look out for and test. It never seems to be catastrophic to the mix, to fix those small problems. Tends to be EQ or volume adjustments here or there. It’ll never sound 100% on all your systems, but it’s about striking a balance to where it sounds reasonably good on all of them.

Anyway, I hope that helps. Embrace the process! :slight_smile:

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Echo all of the above. I’d emphasize what Lophophoria said about referencing. Reference, reference, reference. That’s the biggest thing for me.

A decent set of headphones, together with the plugins Christina mentioned, should help as well. Also, Mastering The Mix has several plugs that should help: I have their reference plugin which is awesome, but is a major CPU hog. I’ve heard particularly good things about BassRoom for pulling together a solid low end (which is often the biggest culprit in transferability). Levels seems to get good reviews as well, but I’ve never used it.

Thanks for the great question! Testing a mix is exactly that-- play it with every device you can and listen, as folks have said above. Mike Senior has long recommended getting a pair of the crappiest speakers you can find – he calls them “grotbox” speakers generically – and be sure to include them in your range of test gear. For me, the grotboxes are the speakers I use on my main (non-music) computer.

My standard procedure is to listen on five things: my studio monitors; studio headphones; main computer grotboxes; my car stereo; and the home theater setup. Each reveals different things with their various strengths and weaknesses. If I can get a particular mix to sound OK on all of those, I figure I’m in decent shape.

(And hi @Cristina, good to see you!)

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I think a lot of it is knowing your speakers. A good room helps a lot too
Izotope tone balance control is pretty good in helping too

I guess I’m the heretic here but:

I don’t see the value of checking that your mix ‘translates’ (whatever that means).

Your mix could be played on literally millions of differing speaker/amplifier combinations, not to mention consumer-level EQ settings. Let’s say you get your mix to sound great in your studio, and also great in your car. How do you think it will sound in MY car? You don’t know! You have no idea! It could sound dreadful!

I don’t see the value of checking in mono either, I never have. I’m mixing in stereo, frankly I don’t care what it sounds like in mono. I also don’t care what it sounds like on computer and phone speakers - mainly because there is fuck all that I can do about it. If people want to play my stonking mix on a pair of shitty computer speakers, well, that’s people for you. What am I going to do about it? Nothing!

So my advice is: make sure you have a setup that you know and trust. Try to learn exactly what your reference tracks sound like in your setup, then spend all of your valuable time trying to emulate the reference tracks in your set up, and nowhere else.

One thing you should NOT do IMO is compromise your mix in any way - even slightly - just to make it ‘translate’ to some other flaky sub-standard device. I mean, if you’re going to play a mix in your car, then actually change that mix so that it sounds better in your car, what is the point in having any sort of studio set up at all? Just mix in your car and forget buying decent monitors and treating your room.

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Totally agree with this. It has worked well for me…

…with the caveat that your listening setup has to have some degree of fidelity across the frequency spectrum to give you enough information (ie your main monitoring setup isn’t your phone or laptop speaker, for example). But I think that probably goes without saying.

and nowhere else.

This is the part I disagree with. I’ve personally found other monitoring environment comparisons can be valuable. However, to be valuable, you need to apply the same baseline comparisons that you do in your main monitoring environment, namely:

Try to learn exactly what your reference tracks sound like in your setup

I’ve learned by this process that there definitely are some “blind spots” in my main monitoring environment. These are little areas in the low end that don’t show up so clearly on my main system, but are very quick to diagnose and correct with a check on a secondary system.

Doing this doesn’t at all compromise the mix on my main system, btw…and to be clear, I’m not talking about mixing for laptop or phone speakers.

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I agree, but this secondary system is clearly part of your setup. My main point was that you should not to become a slave to multiple playback environments when you have a system that is set up specifically to give optimal results. If you are not going to rely solely on that system, and instead pander to the vagaries if inferior ones, why bother with one in the first place?

Yes, i agree. But in my case my mix sounded bad in ANY small speaker (even had huge distortion). Plus, the reference track i used nailed every small speaker i have tested. So, i guess I did some mistake, because it sounded different than what i wanted. And not everyone have big speakers (wich my track sounded good in all the ones i have tested)

Yes, I agree with you. But it seems you forgot something: some people mix music for games. I myself do that. And, as a matter of fact, the game I am working on will be for pc AND phones. So I’m really worried. Do you know the last time I saw someone playing a game with big speakers plugged to the pc? Not even i do that.

I agree in that anyone who listens to music on a shitty pair of speakers probably isn’t concerned about sound quality and why should anyone spend time making a mix translate.

I do test my mix in mono only to see if I have done something wonky with phasing or delays that can be detected better in mono.

I did a little research and found a breakdown on what devices people listen to music on.
This data was based on UK listeners in 2015 and is probably representative of a lot of countries.

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Hm,m. I actually do think that listening on different systems and types of devices is helpful. I’m thinking it’s not fair to say that cuz someone’s listening on, say, crappy headphones or a cruddy boombox, it’s on them and is not a reflection of the mix.

If I’m listening on cheap speakers, it sounds cheap cuz my speakers are cheap and I know that; however, my ears can adapt to crappy speakers and if it’s a good mix it can still sound good in my head. A buddy years ago told me that our ears are the most perfect sound system, cuz they adapt. That said, the raw mix still has to be good. When I listen to stuff that’s mixed by professionals who know what they’re doing (well, I’m not suggesting that all professionals know what they’re doing OR that only professionals know what they’re doing. But you know what I mean!), the “mix” still sounds good on my crappy headphones. The headphones sound crappy, but the mix sounds great. When I mix my stuff, if the mix is off, I can listen on those same headphones and what I experience is that not only are my headphones crappy, but my mix is crappy too. My ears as a sound system can’t adapt to that. It’s just a crappy mix, and I couldn’t hear it on my monitors. A good mix should hold it’s own (for the most part) even if heard on inferior systems. A good mix should generalize to a wide array of listening environments; after all, most people will not be listening to my mix on my monitors in my studio. If they were, yowza, I’d be golden! :slight_smile:

But what do I know?

Anyway, on another note, there are some plugins and impulses out there that allow you to listen to your mix “kind of” as if it were on another system. Heck that’s what Abbey Roads Studio and the NX stuff does. Here’s an impulse of an auratone that’s actually pretty cool. Not perfect, of course, but helpful, I think.

Simulate a mix through an Auratone speaker

Here’s a link from Cambridge music that has another link to an auratone impulse, along with other recommendations. It also has a few comments on the shortcomings of the auratone impulse thing. Good stuff.

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@takka360 posted elsewhere about Tonebooster’s Morphit. Seems fittin’ to mention it here. i just downloaded the demo. Not bad at all. I like it.

The main thing it does, like Sonarworks’ Reference 4, is that it corrects the EQ on your headphones to compensate for any EQ characteristics of your phones that would over or under-exaggerate various frequencies. It makes for a flatter EQ curve, which in and of itself should (theoretically) make for better transferability of your mixes. (note that Sonarworks has a headphone-only edition as well as a room edition; Morphit is headphones only).

Another cool feature that Morphit has though is that after you load the profile for your phones and flatten your EQ curve, you can then “sample” what your mix would sound like in other cans (AKG phones, Apple earbuds, Skull Candy, Beats, Beyerdynamic, Sony, etc., etc.). Good way to test what your mix would sound like when heard through other commonly used cans or buds.

IDK if they do that with only EQ curves or if they also use impulses as well. No info on their website that I can find.

You do need to have one of the headphones in their list of supported cans. But the idea is to see how your mix translates.

Cost is $43 US. Demo is full-featured and doesn’t seem to expire. Only limitation is that you cannot save custom settings; however, IDK that I’ll use custom settings anyway. It seems as though it does save my headphone choice.

FYI :slight_smile:

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The first four devices add up to 200%, so presumably most people use more than one device, which renders the graphic useless. (i.e. someone might answer both hi-fi system and laptop, but they might listen to their hi-fi system 90% of the time).

That, I suggest is your problem, and you are underlining my point. If you need to listen on crappy systems in order to identify that your mix is crappy, what is the point of your monitors in the first place? Learn to use your monitors, then you will not need to use the dubious qualities of crappy headphones.

Ah well, all bets are off in those instances. What I know about games you could write on the back of a postage stamp.

Yea, I was unable to derive any useful information from the graphic, so that’s why I included it.

I totally agree with this.

Back before the dinosaurs, real studios were set up with real monitors that the engineer and producer trusted, as well as a set of Auratones to simulate a car radio.
Now that everyone and their Aunt Millie is recording in their bedroom, there are no real standards for monitors, or the scientifically termed “garbage can effect” the untreated room will have on them. In simplistic terms, if you’re changing your mix to make it “translate” to your car system or computer speakers, you are second guessing your monitor system. For most of us, this is an unfortunate fact of life; I simply can’t change my 10x12 bedroom into an acoustic Garden of Eden. It just boils down to knowing your room and your monitors and refining the process. From there all you can do is hope your stuff will be played on something at least as good as your monitors once in a while and stop worrying about crappy playback systems.

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