Kim Lajoie's blog

Does your music sounds good on all systems?

by Kim Lajoie on May 2, 2011

It seems a common problem people have with their mixes is translation. That is, their mixes don’t translate well between different playback systems. A mix might sound great on one system, but awful on another. Just because your mix sounds great in your studio doesn’t mean it’ll sound great everywhere!

Often, people are advised to overcome this by listening to their mixes on a variety of playback systems – in the studio, in the home cinema, on the bedroom alarm clock, in the car, at the club, etc. This can be useful, but it’s quite time-intensive. You have to render the mix and put it on an iPod or CD and take notes on what you think might need fixing. And you need to keep repeating the process until either you get the mix right, you can’t figure out what else is wrong or you get tired of listening to your crappy mix over and over again.

Another approach you might want to consider is to focus on your own monitoring environment. This requires two activities: improving your monitoring environment, and knowing your monitoring environment.

If you’re serious about mixing, you need to be serious about your monitoring environment. You need to understand that your monitoring environment is more than just your speakers and that improving it is more than just buying better speakers. Your monitoring environment consists of all your playback devices and their acoustic surroundings. For a studio, this will consist of the space, speakers and headphones. Improving the monitoring environment doesn’t necessarily mean getting better versions of what you already have. It might mean adding a second (or third) pair of speakers. Or adding some good headphones. Or investing in acoustic treatment. To make these kinds of decisions, however, requires that you understand your monitoring environment and appreciate the way the different components interact.

Having a great monitoring environment is necessary, but not sufficient. To use it effectively, you need to know what it does to music. You need to know how to use it. Doing this is easy – simply listen to a lot of music! Listen through your full-range speakers. Listen through your small speakers. Listen through your headphones. Listen in different positions in your room. Listen to different artists, different styles, different sounds. The more you do this, the better you’ll be at gaining an intuitive sense for what ‘sounds right’ in the space. It is this intuitive sense that will guide you in your own mixes.

I’ll leave you with one question: Does your music really need to sound good everywhere? What are some circumstances where it might not need to sound good everywhere?

-Kim.

6 thoughts on “Does your music sounds good on all systems?

  1. Thomas Mrak says:

    Hi Kim!

    Great post as usual.

    I ordered a Macbook Pro recently, so I’ve been researching different ways of monitoring on headphones. There are some cool alternatives, but they won’t totally replace a good set of monitors.

    Wouldn’t mind sharing with your readers.

  2. Kim Lajoie says:

    @Thomas Mrak
    Please do share!

    -Kim.

  3. Shelby says:

    I used to obsess over this a bit (which is probably necessary for a time), and now I try to remember also that, if you’re mix sounds truly great on your system, it will probably at least be good enough on others. I guess you just have to know what ‘truly great’ sounds like.

  4. Kim Lajoie says:

    @Shelby
    That’s right – the real trick is knowing what sounds ‘right’.

    -Kim.

  5. Sparqee says:

    I have three sets of speakers in my studio and it’s amazing how different they sound when I switch quickly between them. One set sounds very neutral while another is slightly hyped in the highs and lows and then the third set has an awful midrange and boomy low end. The funny thing is, if I sit down with fresh ears and listen to some familiar commercial recordings on this last set of speakers it doesn’t sound half bad. They only sound bad when directly compared with the other speakers. I’m still learning how to best use this set up but honestly my real acid test is how a mix sounds in my iPod headphones because I have more time logged listening to music through them. I wouldn’t mix with them but they do tell me when something is sticking out or not present enough in a mix.

  6. Kim Lajoie says:

    Thanks for comment, Sparqee. It goes to show how difficult it can be to really hear the subtleties in our sounds. If our hearing adjusts and compensates so easily to vastly different speakers, how will we notice the subtle differences in our mixes? It takes very careful attention and a lot of experience!

    -Kim.

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