Like many people, I had been mixing my own music for years before I came across the idea of special speakers for mixing with. When I was growing up I just figured a good pair of hi-fi speakers would do the job, so I used a pair of Wharfedale Diamond 7.1s to mix my band’s home-made recordings.
Needless to say, I was often disappointed with the results. I’d start off pretty darn pleased with myself, but as soon as I took the mix to play it to another band member or friend, it became obvious that it wasn’t quite the hit record I’d heard in the comfort of my own room. Why was it that it sounded great to me through my Wharfedales, but really drained of bass on my friend’s hi-fi?
The answer, I have since learned, is that not all speakers are created equal. You see, hi-fi speakers are designed to flatter music; to make it sound good. That means that if your speakers, like my Wharfedales, were kicking out a lot of bass, that you may very well end up not mixing enough bass into your track. The result is that when you listen to the track on another set of spoeakers that don’t emphasise the bass in the same way, that the recording sounds like it is lacking in bass. Why do professional mixes sound good on just about any set of speakers? Because they’re professional mixes! And the speakers that they used to mix on were flat, in terms of their frequency response. That means the engineer could trust what he/she was hearing was accurate and the song would end up sounding a lot better on different speakers.
So what can the average dude do when he’s mixing on his favourite hi-fi speakers? He has to do what even engineers do – they ‘learn’ their speakers. Even the flat response of monitor speakers aren’t truly flat – there’ll be a subtle emphasis at 2Khz and maybe a bit of a shelf at 8Khz (for example). So you kinda need to know what your speakers do in order to compensate for them. This is much more important for hi-fi speakers since the emphasis on various frequency bands will be so much more pronounced.
Whilst there are ways to learn what your speakers do, it’s probably a lot simpler to buy a set of fit-for-purpose monitors which will definitely help you get better results much faster. But if you are going to stick with what you’ve got, try downloading a frequency chart for your speakers from the manufacturer or contacting them if you can’t find one online. If you’re a total audio-geek, you could always use a reference mic and a test tone to profile your speakers but I’m guessing most of us would rather do things more simply! Of course, you can always learn your speakers the hard way – by just using them and comparing them against a second (or even third) set of speakers.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the huge effect that your room has on your mixing. In fact, some would say if your room is colouring your sound, then it doesn’t matter how good your monitor speakers are. So I’ll go on to talk about room acoustics in another post, but for now at least some of you will be a step closer to getting better mixes at home.