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What constitutes a good Mix ?


Theo Verelst
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In terms of audio quality, preferred properties for listening at home or in a car or on ear-buds. Maybe per given type of music, like a Kraftwerk mix for headphones may well have very different characteristics from a Kraftwerk mix for a party.

 

People have personal preferences, and I suppose with a high degree of certainty, here they are connected with the actually abilities of the equipment and software and for playing the required parts and of the actual person you ask. Also, live mixing is very different, because of the added restraints of the real-time delivery, feedback, and adaptations to the acoustics and preparations for a good sound throughout hopefully most of the audience, as well as loudness control as a primary necessity.

 

Anyhow, I was recently questioning my own abilities as a good mix-engineer (if such job exists at all). Not in general, I suppose as a non-pro mixer in the sense of not making my living of it, I compare with most in terms of the more mundane general knowledge and taste. More as in the philosophical point of view, like "what is a real good mix" if we aren't distracted by the time spirit or greed for being the loudest or the coolest, etc.

 

So given that some of my sound tools are rapidly becoming way more capable than any given software or workstation audio path can deliver, and the sounds can become more dazzling and sizzling and broad AND cool than needed for an average mix job, I got to wonder what, if you were hindered less by technological constraints, would be part of the perfect mix ?

 

Theo V.

 

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Not sure I followed all of that :) but in my long-ago days as an engineer I learned to: 1) reference against known material--granted, it's difficult to compare mastered vs raw tracks, but it does keep you in the ballpark frequency-wise. 2) mix on different speakers. Typical setup was small ones like auratones, medium ones like NS-10s and some larger ones. Granted, I never did much with hip-hop or other genres where sub-bass frequencies figure prominently.

 

The other thing I learned is not to try to "fix" mixes after a certain point...ear fatigue sets in and your mix is only going to get worse the more you mess with it :D

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Not sure I followed all of that :) but in my long-ago days as an engineer I learned to: 1) reference against known material--granted, it's difficult to compare mastered vs raw tracks, but it does keep you in the ballpark frequency-wise. 2) mix on different speakers. Typical setup was small ones like auratones, medium ones like NS-10s and some larger ones. Granted, I never did much with hip-hop or other genres where sub-bass frequencies figure prominently.

 

The other thing I learned is not to try to "fix" mixes after a certain point...ear fatigue sets in and your mix is only going to get worse the more you mess with it :D

 

Big tips there ^

 

I'll add that a good mix should sound good at both loud and soft volumes.

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Listen to the "Come Together" from the Beatles LP "Abbey Road", released in 1969. That's a great mix.

 

Getting a good clean capture is still the most important thing. If someone uses an 8 track recorder, uses good mics, and knows where to put them (especially for the drums), they will produce a better result than someone else who has the latest software based recording and mixing software.

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From a technical perspective, I suppose a good mix is one that sounds roughly the same on any sound system.

 

Absolutely

and when you play your mix on different systems I do it to hear what sounds bad

Each different type of system will shine a light on different problems

2.1 comp, laptop, car, stereo, headphones

 

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From a technical perspective, I suppose a good mix is one that sounds roughly the same on any sound system.

Absolutely. :thu:

 

Back in the day, mixing on Yamaha NS10s was popular because a great mix on those monitors translated to crappy radios and audiophile stereo systems.

 

Nowadays, we have a wider variety of recording formats. Yet, the adages of good mixing remain the same.

 

A good mix begins and ends with some combination of great talent, sounds (tone), musicianship and songs. :cool:

PD

 

"The greatest thing you'll ever learn, is just to love and be loved in return."--E. Ahbez "Nature Boy"

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From a technical perspective, I suppose a good mix is one that sounds roughly the same on any sound system.

Yup.

 

Other than that, the definition is all over the place. Mixes can be pristine and balanced, but lifeless...and vice versa. Some mixers strive to capture the sound of the band. Some want to BE a part of the band/sound of the record. Some love clarity, others trend towards warmth and (the good kind of) distortion. Not sure any of them are more "right" than any others.

 

dB

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From a technical perspective, I suppose a good mix is one that sounds roughly the same on any sound system.

Definitely agree. I was sitting in a crowded mall food court the other day and a Steely Dan song was playing on the overhead pa. I thought to myself how amazing the mix was to be able to pretty clearly hear all of the essential elements of the song despite the unbelievably bad listening conditions.

J a z z P i a n o 8 8

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Yamaha C7D

Montage8 | CP300 | CP4 | SK1-73 | OB-6 | Seven

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Donald Fagens The Nightfly.

 

I remember my "recording mentor" going on at length about how I.G.Y. was recorded...something about a pink/white noise triggered by the snare to give it extra pop is one thing I remember. That is an incredible pristine sound on that whole album, especially considering when it was done. Fagen was known for being a perfectionist :)

 

My favorite reference mix from the time I was recording was Bob Clearmountain's mix on Woman in Chains by Tears to Fears. I'd say listen to it but just don't do it on youtube...it's a mix that screams for really good speakers/headphones and top quality. Passion from Peter Gabriel also used to blow me away.

 

That is a very good tip about "any volume". One "trick" is to turn down to almost nothing on each pair of speakers--what do you hear? It should probably be the vocals and maybe a bit of snare (though I'm hardly an expert so grain of salt!!!)

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Also back in the day, mix to cassette, worry about adding Dolby noise reduction or not, slap on too much Barcus-Berry BBE at 5AM after your ears are totally shot, play on car player, play on kids boombox, get disgusted, rinse and repeat.

 

Take to Songwriter's Expo and take your chances that it will even be played. Get ecstatic that producers select your tune. Then never hear from them again. When album comes out, notice crappy songs written by artist family members.

 

Glad those days are over, but I learned a lot.

Barry

 

Home: Steinway L, Montage 8

 

Gigs: Yamaha CP88, Crumar Mojo 61, A&H SQ5 mixer, ME1 IEM, MiPro 909 IEMs

 

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While the Steely Dan stuff was state of the art at the time and it still sounds great now, I would not pick that as a benchmark today.

 

I think Serban Ghenea's work on Bruno Mars' 24KMagic album is probably where it's at right now. That thing just sounds amazing everywhere.

 

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To some degree a good mix is subjective. If it sounds exactly the way you wanted it to sound when you're done, it's a good mix. That doesn't guarantee that it'll be a "popular" mix, but that's a different thing.

 

Also this...

 

From a technical perspective, I suppose a good mix is one that sounds roughly the same on any sound system.

Yup.

 

Other than that, the definition is all over the place. Mixes can be pristine and balanced, but lifeless...and vice versa. Some mixers strive to capture the sound of the band. Some want to BE a part of the band/sound of the record. Some love clarity, others trend towards warmth and (the good kind of) distortion. Not sure any of them are more "right" than any others.

 

dB

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Wow, many good answers. I made a list of actual qualitative considerations, but it's hard to communicate a number of them. Also, it might not be interesting in every sense. As a kid I made my first little mixer circuits and I was sometimes fascinated by playing my own DJ like I heard on the radio, which I though was mainly about an art form, related to timing, feelings in the announcing voice and a good choice of records. Later, like many, I was sure High Fidelity was big part of the party, of course since R&R long before I was born, there were a boatload of consideration that was included on top of all that.

 

For me, there's a number of top considerations which are mostly preceded by the, for musicians, obvious main issues such as the music and instruments must be good in the first place, the recordings up to spec, and the ratio of the instruments and the added effects tasteful! Of course, some people have other preferences, but technically I suppose I had at the very least these considerations in mind.

 

Especially when a "mix" result is digital, there must be agreement between the chosen form and the audio player such that the digital distortions are not too intruding. That's hard because the way I feel it, almost nobody can "forget" the digital aspect which is all over the place.

 

There's the consideration about "loudness": how loud can you play a mix ? It would surprise me if most modern mixes can easily be played back at more than, say, 60dBSpl, without, to me at least, sounding little short of horrifying. That has to do with the "wave" and "frequency" elements the DAC reconstruction filter are bound to generate as part of their imperfections/limitations, and which elements are pretty darn hard to eliminate or even tame. A lot of modern mixes try to make those digital bugs into features and that to me doesn't make for good mixes.

 

I like those mixes which, like it was mentioned, sound good soft and loud, but which add more warmth and interest when played loud, as in the control over the Equal Loudness curve perception. For the reason above: hard to do digital (for many here that might be Lexicon domain).

 

Like I said initially, if I can help it (I'm working on it...) I largely prefer mixes that work good at all listening positions that are more than say a meter or a meter and a half (3 to 5 feet) away from the stereo speakers. So the music consumer can sit anywhere in their listening room and not feel horrible imbalances in the binoral sound components, for instance.

 

Prevention of consumer's hearing damage. Any fool can buy a 1000Watts stereo for little money, so there is that, but the music can indicate what is a reasonable maximum volume level, and prevent wrong wave patterns (especially blare) at that volume.

 

I prefer the stereo and suggested audio wave shapes to be pleasant and under some control, which includes the notion that all compression and limiting establishes signal distortion that needs to be under control to generate the right enchantment which rhythmically and harmonically must come out right. A good organ player can easily do that with a decent organ, yet most modern mixes I heard do not even generate acknowledgement of the concept, which I find terribly ugly. Also hard to do digital...

 

T.

 

 

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Besides balancing the individual instruments, the processing plays an important part in a good mix.

 

Ambience, compression, EQ, delay, etc. For OTB, I can't stress enough that certain brands work really well and many others don't. I started out with the cheaper brands and once I played with better ones I learned that you get what you pay for. Many people use plugins - I would encourage you to get some hands-on experience with OTB processors - good quality ones - and compare to your ITB tools. More often than not, I find that plugins do a better job of looking like the real thing.

 

The permutations of processors is endless (and maddening at times). Especially compressors. No single compressor works for everything, different ones work best with different instruments.

 

Digital reverbs are easily overused, even with the best ones. In my mixes I seldom use long reverb tails, short rooms and ambiences go a long way to a good mix. In my experience, not many digital reverbs provide a good room reverb. It's hard to beat the Eventide 2016, the Bricasti, and the heritage Lexicons (PCM81 and earlier). I haven't heard a plugin that sounds as good as those. I tried to make the cheaper digital reverbs measure up to the expensive stuff, but no go.

 

Get a good foundation on the architectures of delay processing - echoes, slaps, haas processing, tapped delay, modulated delays (chorus, flanging), stereo processing. Even a simple delay that isn't the greatest fidelity can be useful.

 

Combinations can open up some worlds. A decent cost-effective digital delay is the old Lexicon PCM60. It is a crippled touring version of the big studio boxes and while the algorithms are very good the PCM60 isn't very flexible. Using a digital delay to apply haas processing to the reverb outputs can give these old PCM60s a new life. Modulated delays such as chorus can be more effective by restricting the bandwidth of the delay processing using EQ or filters.

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For my cover band's live performances, the biggest lesson we learned was ensuring the vocals were really prominent. It is really what everyone in the audience is most focused on (which I know is a bummer in a way as instrumentalist). We have it dialed in now but in the past had a lot of gigs where audience members kept complaining they couldn't hear the vocals. This may be too simple a piece of advice for this audience but was all I could think to contribute.

Korg CX-3 (vintage), Casio Privia PX-5S, Lester K, Behringer Powerplay P2, Shure 215s

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I am not an expert but between The Mixing Engineers Handbook and iZotope Tools like Neutron 2 I do a whole lot better now than I ever have. The book opened my eyes about a lot things I was missing. Especially EQ! I have read it cover to cover several times now. I also like the presets in Neutron 2, generally use them as starting point for each of my tracks.

 

For live, I agree wholeheartedly with Bob L. I cannot count how many otherwise good bands drown out the vocals. If the guitar is louder than both the drums & vocals I walk out!

Boards: Kurzweil SP-6, Roland FA-08, VR-09, DeepMind 12

Modules: Korg Radias, Roland D-05, Bk7-m & Sonic Cell

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I have major issues with pretty much all of the software being used often, because it doesn't sound right, and from the interaction with a few of the software makers and influencers I have the impression they aren't very fundamentally schooled about some of the main subjects, which is regrettable. Those modern sounds often aren't impressing me at all, but if people like their mixes, fine, not problem with me.

 

T.

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If the guitar is louder than both the drums & vocals I walk out!

Completely agree. But there's the moral dilemma of walking out when on stage ... :(

 

Funny, but in the olden days we used to walk out of the mixing room and into an adjacent room (lounge, etc) and half-listen to a mix in the background. If the good parts cut through or sat where they were supposed to, we'd got it right.

____________________________________
Rod

victoria bc

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Funny, but in the olden days we used to walk out of the mixing room and into an adjacent room (lounge, etc) and half-listen to a mix in the background. If the good parts cut through or sat where they were supposed to, we'd got it right.

 

There is a lot to be said for standing down the hallway and walking into the room. It gives an initial perspective towards the various elements.

Things you get use to and fatigued into thinking is good, can become very obvious a room away.

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