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What monitor should I trust?

posted on #1
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I've had trouble getting the tracks I post well balanced. With guitar, I'm usually adding a layer on templates that are already two or three tracks deep. I started in Wikiloops with a pair of Alesis monitors and a cheaper pair of Sony headphones. I trusted those monitors more than the headphones, but I was never certain that what I hear is what everyone else hears.

So this year I upgraded to a pair of Mackie monitors and AKG monitor headphones. Now I'm more confused, because the difference in balance is considerable between the speakers and the phones. The speakers deliver far more bass.

I balance the feed from the computer with FXSound software and configure that to give a fairly even signal. So without going to extreme high-end equipment, is there a rule of thumb or do you folks have tips I can use to balance the tracks so that others hear them pretty much as I do?

Thanks in advance for your help. -- Dave
posted on #2
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I trust "Sennheiser HD 560 Ovation II" open stereo - high-impedance - ear phones, I am totally in love with them. Really old, really constantly delivering best frequencies (all sorts of, very nicely ballanced) ;) for me it is important: high impedance, less bass emphasis.
Edited by hartmut on October 30 2020 02:03
posted on #3
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Hey Dave,
hey Hartmut,

a very good technical question which shows that you care for your audience and work, or even for us other 'loopsies who might not hear what you're hearing.

I thought the same like you (and Hartmut), got some nice Sennheiser headphones (HD598SE open, HD569 closed) and a set of small Genelec studio monitors. Our daughter is using AKG K141-2, and then there are our Nubert stereo speakers. All are good - and all are very different.

So in the end I took Sonarworks for a try, and loved it. I mean I was shocked first, this didn't make the sound any 'prettier' - but I think that's exactly how it should be - it should be as neutral as possible, and using Sonarworks (headphone edition only for the moment), our headphones all give more or less the same results.

For Windows and the Mac they offer some 'systemwide' plugin so that you can also hear Youtube and everything else corrected. In Linux that didn't/doesn't exist (yet), so I've made it myself, and wrote about that in my blog article in https://wolfgang.lonien.de/2020/05/how-to-make-a-systemwide-sonarworks-on-linux-the-easy-way/ - with a few screenshots and tips on how to do it.

Sonarworks takes a bit of resources on my older (and self-built) 4th gen Core i5 machine, but it is what it is - I am using it ever since...

There might be other products like it but I don't know them (yet). Now my mixes are quite ok even in the car and on others' systems I think. At least it gives some peace of mind, and trust.

Edit: just don't forget to take Sonarworks out of the signal chain when exporting your final mix/master - you don't want to 'correct' that mix, only that what you hear. I have a separate monitoring channel for that but still switch off anything when rendering the final mixes.

Hope that helps,
and cheers,
Wolfgang
Edited by wjl on October 30 2020 06:22
posted on #4
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This is very interesting, my next purchase for the home studio would have been a pair of monitors. Maybe I would be better with headphones , what do you think guys. I have a set of really nice Kef Q speakers so everything sounds fantastic when I mix it here but I have had some comments on some of my mixes. Do you mix using the monitors and then try out the sound on ordinary speakers and other devices? Any recommendations on in expensive monitors. Thanks
Zoot
posted on #5
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I believe there are two approaches to choosing a good monitoring setup which you should consider:
- Some believe it is possible to buy a setup of monitors that is so "neutral" that anything that sounds well balanced on those speakers will sound good on any kind of speaker
vs.
- Some believe that mixes generally sound different on different speakers, and adding a "neutral" setup to the variety of choices has rather little benefit - in any case you will need a feeling of "if it sounds like this on my monitors (be them neutral or not), it's probably going to sound like that on bass-heavy car speakers". So, the focus of the second approach is knowing your monitors, and taking their sound into account.

The latter approach doesn't come with a huge financial investment, and it lets go of the idea of an ideal mix that is going to sound the same everywhere, which is why I personally favor that approach over the quest for a technical solution.
Music sounds different on iPods compared to a good HiFi Homesystem or a decent PA, or a cheap boomy car system with a way too powerful subwoofer.
To mix well doesn't mean you will overcome those differences, it means that your mix will not sound really bad on any of these speakers.
I'd say it is legitimate to have a mix that doesn't really sound great in a car (because the car system is just no audiophile gear), but it certainly is not legitimate if your mix will blow out the cars windows because you forgot to think of people who have a bass-heavy sound system and cranked up the bass to sound warm on your neutral monitors...

I rather think a good mix is a range, or a middle way on which one should stay (not too much bass so the subwoofer folks are happy, not too little bass so the no-subwoofer/laptop speaker listeners still hear something on the low end), and I can get there by knowing my owns systems strengths and weaknesses.
Needless to say, your monitors should be on that middle path, but they don't need to be on the exact "neutral" line for that IMO.

Just my 2 cent - if you go for the neutral concept, don't be surprised: neutral doesn't really sound good (warm), so its kind of hard to be happy with a mix on neutral speakers.
It will work well everywhere, but it will sound less satisfying as you sit and mix.
That's why people buy HiFi-Systems which add to their personals ears preferences: One buys a bass heavy speaker, others focus on enhanced high frequency playback... in my experience neutral just don't sound good to most, its a tool to work, not a beauty to enjoy.
posted on #6
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Dick has a point there.

I've worked in studios when I was much younger, both as a musician as well as a technician, and we've had all kinds of stuff there, from big JBLs and Tannoy systems to K&H (Klein & Hummel, now Neumann) to whatever...

... and the most difficult (and costly) part still isn't the speakers but the room itself. That's why I only use corrected headphones, and no corrected speakers...

So if you have some nice ones (I love Focal for instance, very nice, but that's personal preference), just get used to them and know how they sound, that helps a lot. The ones I wanted were too big for my desk, and for my small corner of the room, so I got some small Genelecs. Nice but as expensive as some bigger ones.

And yes, neutral doesn't sound 'pretty' - that's not the point. But I got used to hearing neutral now, for me it's ok :)
posted on #7
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Thanks for the input guys this is really interesting. I am not mixing commercially but would like it to be as good as it can be. I have a pair of noise reduction sony headphones and the KEF speakers I mentioned and my mixes sound different on both. I guess I am adopting Dicks philosophy as if I can get a balance between the two generally I have been happy. Should I stick with this system or buy the mon itors/ headphones? Probably it is only for me to decide:)
Zoot
posted on #8
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Thanks everyone for all the tips. I took a step back this morning and started by listening to a variety of home and professional recordings, comparing the speakers with the headphones. I also loaded a trial version of Sonarworks, which is designed for this issue, but without a calibration mike I found it somewhat limited as far as getting a profile on the speakers. Sonarworks does have a built-in profile for my AKG k371 headphones, and shows their response as being equal across the frequencies. But nevertheless, listening to professionally recorded music, I find the headphone response low on the low end. (At least to my prefernce!) Likewise, the Mackie speakers have a definite bass bias, to the point of getting muddy on some tracks. So to compensate, I've created two profiles with the FxSound tool -- one that brings the bass down for the speakers and the second to give it a boost for the headphones. This gives me a new starting point, from which I can adjust going forward.
Edited by Woxbox on October 30 2020 19:34
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