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DAW mixing question

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I just finished overdubs on one track and just need some editing on another before they're ready for mixdown. I'm using Live 7 with my laptop.


What are your thoughts on whether to do the mixing with Sennheiser headphones (can sit on my couch or wherever) versus sitting at my workstation over my reference monitors and sub?


Are there any gotchas or pitfalls with doing the mix one way or the other?



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I like to use headphones for the bulk of the work, but use nearfields for final tweaking.


BUT, if you're going to try your final mix through a variety of players (car, hi-fi, computer, TV, etc.) then you can use your headphones. Just plan on some trial and error, especially re: bass levels.


The problem I still have is with sub-bass levels. What sounds like a good bass balance through my monitors (no sub) sounds like bass-overload when played through a system with a sub-bass.

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The conventional wisdom is to use speakers, no question. The stereo image produced by headphones is very different from that produced by speakers. A good speaker mix generally sounds find in headphones, but the reverse isn't necessarily so, unless you've done both for enough years to know what the differences are and compensate.


However, there's another approach to consider. A good stereo mix should also sound good in mono (with notable exceptions for special cases, as with any rule of thumb). Furthermore, the frequency response and accuracy of good headphones is usually quite a bit better than speakers.


Mixing in mono is *harder* than mixing in stereo. With stereo, it's a lot easier to get definition between instruments, using stereo cues. But I feel that this difficulty forces you to do important things as needed to define and clarify each instrument in the mix. When you add stereo imaging later, as long as you avoid fx that cause problems mixing to mono, you'll retain the clarity of your mono mix and only add to the image, separation, and clarity.


So, consider doing a lot of the initial mixing in mono, using headphones. Once you feel you have a good mono mix, change to speakers and add the stereo imaging.


A few words of caution to a newbie at mixing: be aware of ear fatique. It creeps in steadily and stealthily, and what sounds good to you with fatiqued ears will sound horrendous with fresh ones.


Prepare your ears by listening to your favorite commercial mixes in your genre, using the exact same gear you plan to mix with. (Ideally, you should listen to your favorite music lots on your mixdown setup, to help calibrate your mind.)


Avoid mixing at high volumes. Ideally, 87dB SPL© where your head is. I have no idea how to measure this for headphones, other than to measure it for speakers and then don the headphones and adjust the volume to sound about the same. Or use my method: mix at the lowest volume you can manage. The lower the level, the longer before ear fatique sits in. Also, the less likely you'll mix in an important part that's easy to hear at high levels but which gets buried at low levels. Learn about Fletcher Munson effect and how to compensate for it (or mix at 87dBSPL).


It's fine to occasionally crank it up, sometimes to hear subtleties that are being lost at low volumes (often, problems), and sometimes for the sheer thrill of it. But avoid doing this for long.


Take periodic quiet breaks, and avoid long sessions. This is the hardest rule to follow, but it's the most important.


When dialling up EQ or FX, *always* do it listening to the whole mix. The *only* time to listen to one track is when trying to identify problem issues, or when trying to learn what a new FX does. Never solo a track when adjusting it for a mix.


And pull those near-field monitors the hell away from that wall. If your monitors are within a couple feet of a wall, you're not actually doing near-field monitoring. A speaker should be much closer to your ears than to any wall (ideally at least twice as close).

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I like to use headphones for the bulk of the work, but use nearfields for final tweaking.


BUT, if you're going to try your final mix through a variety of players (car, hi-fi, computer, TV, etc.) then you can use your headphones. Just plan on some trial and error, especially re: bass levels.



+1 trillion. :thu: Trying it out on a variety of systems has taught me more than anything else.

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this is a ton of great info, thanks!


Learjeff, my Tannoys are about five feet from the walls, on chest-high stands with iso pads. The sub is a little closer to the wall, maybe two feet, on its own iso pad.


BTW - The other reason why I really want to mix on my laptop/phones is because the rehearsal space is really noisy and it's like the inside of a smokestack from the neighboring rooms. So I seriously doubt I'd be able to get any kind of reliable mix done in that environment, I'd constantly be filtering out the noise coming from the other rooms. Good enough for the basic recording.


I usually try to stay under 85 dB so that sounds almost ideal, that's good to know.


Nuther question I couldn't find the answer for in the manual or online: I recorded the audio through my MOTU 24io via AudioWire into my Creation Station. In the CueMix software I've got my channel pairs panned about 75%. I'm not sure if that panning gets sent to Live, or does each input channel get sent intact to the DAW?


Obviously if I want to move the panning for different parts around during mixdown, if it's already been panned 75% before it even gets into Live I'll be limited in how much I can move each part around. But if the CueMix panning is just for the monitoring (which I mute while I'm using Live anyway), I can route stuff wherever I like in the mix.


During playback I can see both of the "meter bars" for each track going up and down, but I don't know how to equate that with any specific panning level, the meters don't seem granular enough to really tell more than the channel is getting audio at some level.


Thanks again, this is a huge help!

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Good point about reverb: since there's no natural room reverb using headphones, it's easy to overdo it.


Cue mix only affects the monitor output and analog output channels on your MOTU. It does not affect what gets sent via Firewire to the DAW.


A noisy studio is a problem. If you do end up mixing stereo fx in headphones (not recommended) note that you'll hear more separation in headphones than on speakers. The real difference is actually more complex. With speakers, each ear hears a fair amount of the opposite side, and hears the opposite side delayed and colored by the shape of your head. With headphones each ear hears only one side, and with no filtering based on the shape of your head. (Google HRTF for more info on this, but from the opposite viewpoint.)


That makes the image considerably different between speakers and headphones. If you're going for image realism, it's almost impossible to do using headphones. However, if you just want a tasty lively image, you can do it. It will sound more subtle through speakers.

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  • 2 weeks later...

There is an excellent plug-in that psycho-acoustically approximates the stereo field of near-field monitors using delays and such. I tried the demo and bought it before the demo even expired! It won't timbrally change your mix, so it seems transparent and invisible, but your "head" just feels more like it's in 3D space, so you know the plug-in is working.


It's called Redline Monitor, from a company named 112 dB:




I'll try to revisit this thread later to address some of the other points, but am in quick-catchup mode right now after a month of internet cold turkey (things are EXTREMELY busy, but at least it's in a good way!).


BTW, a friend suggested leaving this headphone-monitoring plug-in active during bounce of a final mix that is destined for MP3, as that's how most people listen to MP3's and it will enhance their experience. Leave it off for a separate bounce that gets mastered to WAV though!

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