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A common question that people ask me when I begin mixing their music (I mainly deal with drumsets), is something like, "Where will you mix my music? Will you use more than one device to listen?"

Now, assuming that there are good machines and sound devices, and infinite possibilities, "How important is it for a good mix to use multiple devices for listening? Which one do you suggest to be mandatory?"

The question, although becomes slightly different, can also be expressed in non-mixing terms: "Is it important to hear music from different sources to understand it?"

  • Are you asking about studio monitors? Headphones? – Tim Nov 28 '16 at 17:38
  • Both, actually. Even car speakers, and other types of sources – smndpln Nov 28 '16 at 17:44
  • I've found that it can be very easy to get lazy with your levels when listening on studio monitors or headphones. Things that seem audible enough/not too loud can be revealed as very wrong on worse speakers. That's not to say you should mix in your car, but it's worthwhile to check for compatibility and see if it reveals issues. – Linuxios Jan 8 '17 at 22:10
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You should at least use (good) headphones and a standard stereo arrangement (speakers with several meters distance apart, and the listener at a similar distance from their middle). Be sure to use suitable speakers: live monitors tend to cut out a whole lot of bass since its direction can't be focused away from the audience and would interfere with the PA.

The listening experience of headphones and stereo speakers is quite different. You don't get an "inside head location" problem with stereo speakers. Mix intransparency is less of a problem with headphones.

Of course, with enough experience you know how to distribute instrument microphones for the basic panning work (most relevant for the speaker mix) and a stereo pair for the ambient capture (relevant for the headphones) and what delays to employ to blend their effects well.

Once you got your basic procedures pat, you'll be able to do most of your work with just headphones, and the speaker mix will end up fine.

I am not convinced one also needs a "sucky smartphone mix" but there obviously is a sizable market for that as well by now. When working with your DAW on a laptop, the builtin speakers might be a good approximation.

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I think it's most important to get really familiar with the sound of good music on whatever devices you do the bulk of your mixing work. Make sure to know, or find out, what sonic weaknesses each one has, and use other devices to fill in the gaps to check your mix and fix those areas. If the end product will be used in a specific listening environment, it might be a good idea to check your mixes in an environment as close to that as you can reasonably replicate.

If you mix mostly on headphones, check out Inner Fidelity's headphone measurements to see a graph of the frequency response for the make/model of headphones you have -- this will help identify potential problem areas.

There are also plugins out there designed to cancel the frequency response curve of various models of headphones, so that what you end up hearing is completely flat. (Once you have the frequency response graph, you can try doing this manually with an EQ as well.) I haven't tried any of these solutions, but some people swear by them. My biggest issue with this type of system is that music you listen to normally (without the plugin) would sound different, and so you wouldn't really "learn your headphones." There are advantages and disadvantages.

I think learning a good pair of headphones is mandatory. Headphones remove almost all the variables associated with the (usually poor) sonic characteristics of the room in which you're working, and also gives you a consistent sound no matter where you are. What if you like to travel and have to do work on the road? What if you move to a different house/apartment? It's basically impossible to take the sound of a room along with you.

For checking mixes on small speakers, I've found that a good substitute is to put a high-pass filter on the master fader at around 115 Hz (add this to your mixing template so it's right there to be turned on/off when needed), and then listen to make sure elements such as the kick drum and bass can still be heard from only their mid and high frequency content.

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An experienced mixer can use studio monitors in a well-treated room to make mixes that sound good on anything from a hi-fi to an iPod. (Maybe an alternative mix for tracks destined to be pushed through a bass-heavy club system.) He got to BE experienced by checking his work on anything and everything from a boom-box to a car radio to a domestic hi-fi. A good trick is to listen from the room NEXT to your studio with the door half-closed - a too-heavy or too-light bass balance can be very apparent.

And even the most experienced mixer still runs their work in the car now and again, just to keep 'tuned in'.

But you know all this already, as a mixer for hire!

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