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Getting Your Mixes to Translate February 9, 2009

Posted by ConnorSmith in : Mixing, Project Studio, Troubleshooting , trackback

We’ve all been here –

It’s the end of a long mixing day, and the mix is sounding awesome in the control room.  We burn off a quick mix and take in the car on a CD for the drive home…

YUCK! It sounds terrible!  Why does it sound bad in the car (or in headphones/boombox/etc) but awesome in the control room??

Here are some tips and techniques to help improve your mix translation.

Take Breaks

Yes, the first suggestion has nothing to do with fancy gear, extra speakers, or even mixing experience (but it is definitely one of the most important!).  As you listen through the course of the day, a few things happen.  For starters, your ears begin to tire, which can affect (especially high) frequency response.  The longer you are working, the greater the chance your ears will not be responding as you’d ideally like.

Additionally, without breaks, your ears will get used to the sound of certain elements (even if they are “wrong”).  The longer you listen to that overly-bright snare drum, the more your ears will get used to it.  By taking a break, you give your ears a chance to remember what “normal” is.  Grab some food, ride your bike, go for a walk… just get out of the control room and clear your head/ears.

Listen through multiple speakers/headphones

As you progress in your mixes, switch to another set of speakers or headphones.  Think of someone in a studio switching down to NS10s from the big (SLS, custom, etc.)  mains).  In this case, the NS10s are obviously not nearly as accurate as the mains, but they give the mixing engineer a new perspective.  While the kick drum may sound awesome through the 15″ drivers of large speakers, it is causing the NS10s (with their much smaller drivers, narrower frequency response, and smaller power handling capabilities) to distort.

Obviously your studio monitors are going to be where you do the majority of your mixing, but switching to another pair, headphones, or running it out to your car can be a great idea.  (Personally, I like running it out to my car, because then I get a break out of it too, giving my ears a chance to reset).

Learn Your Gear!

Spend some time listening to commerical mixes on your system.  (Not passive listening while you are browsing the web/shopping/etc…)  Grab some CDs (not compressed formats!!! no mp3, AAC, etc…) and pop in some of your favorite tunes.  Listen to the relationships between the bass and kick drum, the vocals and guitars, etc.  Hear what these mixes sound like so that you have a reference point when doing your mixes.  If you know what great (commerical) music sounds like with your gear in your room, you can use it as a comparison (even dragging it into your session for direct A/B comparison while mixing).  While all rooms can’t be as accurate as the best pro rooms, by listening to these “pro mixes” in your environment, you can learn a lot about the sound of your space.

There are lots of other tricks that mix engineers swear by.  For me , I like running a mix out to my car.  I also like walking out of my control room, half closing the door, and listening to the balances from a distance.  Feel free to experiment, just find something that puts your listening environment in a new context.  Another great thing to do is to send mixes to friends (even non-musicians/non-engineers) and ask for their opinions.

(As a side note, always feel free to send me an mp3 via email for some feedback)


The Studio Files


1. Joe Chase - March 7, 2009

You are preaching the truth here. I know that my home studio colors the sound far differently than my car, office stereo etc. I always bounce down a mix to carry around in my car for a few days before I do my final mix. This also helps me rediscover any junk that I missed from hearing it too often.

Great Tips!

2. Randy - November 12, 2012

Hello, i have a Pro Tools M-audio and having trouble with file formats. After saving and bouncing file, when i reload file back into m-audio at a later time m-audio won’t recognize file. something like not recognizing old file format. what are the file foemats for M-Audio,Producer USB. please help! thanks

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