January 4, 2013 6:39 PM

here's a mixing question ...

i am listening to a rough on headsets then onboard mac speakers.

in the headsets: the vocals seem really 'back' and i am wishing for them to be louder.

on the speakers, not so much.

wha gives? you don't have to explain it like i'm a five year old. but maybe, thirteen.

much thx
posted by Rube R. Nekker (8 comments total)

Headphones lie.
I hate mixing but the theory goes that you should never mix on headphones; you should mix on monitors that have a really flat response (so not computer speakers either). Monitors that sound neutral or true (or shitty, to your headphone-conditioned ears). If it sounds good on those, the theory goes, it will sound good anywhere.
Alternatively, you can drive yourself mad listening to your mix on your computer, your headphones, your car, your stereo, your iPod, your friends' stereos, your friends' cars, ad nausea until you are never happy.
posted by chococat at 8:52 PM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Agree with all of choco's comments - borne of bitter experience! Would add though that even mixing on monitors can be problematic. Unless you treat the room itself you can end up EQ-ing it rather than the track.

My current crackpot theory is that because most people nowadays listen to stuff on cans (or earbuds) if you get a really good pair of headphones - I have some AKG K701 reference headphones (expensive but worth it imho) - you won't go too far wrong. Then again.......
posted by MajorDundee at 2:15 AM on January 5, 2013

Yep, in fact I think it's probably better to mix with a good set of reference headphones than monitors in an untreated room. If you're unaware that your room is bassy or trebly, you'll end up rolling those frequencies off the mix and then wonder why it sounds crappy anywhere but that room.

I usually mix with headphones, then check it on a decent component stereo and a stock car CD player. That covers the majority of relevant playback situations IMO. I never use the builtin Mac speakers. They're too small and cheap to have any bottom end or even low mids (which is likely why your vocals seem more present on the speakers).

It helps to play some familiar, similar songs through your system before you mix, so you know what a professionally mixed and mastered recording sounds like through your setup and give your ears a place to start.
posted by scottandrew at 2:48 AM on January 5, 2013

Seconding scottandrew, especially the part about built-in computer speakers being too small to be a useful reference.
posted by soundguy99 at 9:06 AM on January 5, 2013

The frequency range of the vocals on your recording is being reproduced differently between the monitors and the headphones. Your headphones are reproducing the vocal frequency at a smaller amplitude than your speakers. As an exercise, try listening to the other instruments in your recording, and see if you can find other frequency ranges that seem to change amplitude between the two listening environments (bass frequencies are a good place to start).

That is the nature of different listening environments, they all have different frequency responses. That's why a flat frequency response is desirable for mixing, because in some sense it allows you to create a mix that sounds the least distinct in subsequent listening environments.
posted by grog at 5:14 PM on January 5, 2013

The built-in Mac speakers are more midrange and high-mid pronounced than many headphones. I think this is intentional, maybe to make speech more intelligible?
posted by dubold at 4:15 AM on January 7, 2013

I would have to disagree that headphones can be a substitute for good monitors. There is something unnatural about having sound blasted directly and separately into each ear that is completely unlike any other listening environment.

But seconding chococat et al., it’s really helpful to listen to mixes in many different ways, including headphones, car stereos, small crappy cd players, etc. In my experience it’s far too easy to create something that sounds good in one place, but whose interesting or charming aspects are completely erased by a small difference in overall frequency response. (And even the best studio monitors lie, if you’re listening to subtle details and expecting everyone to hear them.)
posted by mubba at 6:36 PM on January 7, 2013

Different speakers are stronger at different frequencies.
For this reason it's important to listen on various sets of speakers when mastering.

The speakers are probably stronger on the mids/highs, thus causing the vocals to sound more forward. I would trust headphones over laptop speakers, but you'll of course want laptop speakers to sound good because, unfortunately, many people will hear your music this way.
posted by dacre at 4:14 PM on January 15, 2013

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