In a recent Google Hangout I got together a bunch of experienced and talented audio engineers to help bridge the gap between what you are hearing as an engineer and how the room is causing that problem. We tried to cut through some of the confusion between “mix sound” and “room sound”. The following video and transcript comes from one particular section where we addressed the issue “Why Getting Your Driver Size to Room Size Is So Important”. If you would like to see the full hour and a half discussion you can see the video further down the page.
Joshua Wilson (JW): I have the Solo 6, that’s what I mix on. I think this is like what Dennis said too, with the diameter of the speaker, cause I’ve had for the Focals I was using Emario VX8A’s and I was getting great sound out of them but what got me to focus on the room I think a lot more is that I’ve had three different room set-ups. I had two different studio set-ups in England and then I’ve come here and had another different set-up and I could not, like these, the monitors that I’ve been always using and getting great mixes on like I couldn’t use it in this room because they were 8-inch drivers and just like coming down even though the Focals are more expensive I think it was more the driver size that made it work actually.
When I start mixing in this room, after I got used to what the monitors were doing then that’s what brought back the issue of what was still happening in the room. I couldn’t actually mix on the other ones because just the bass was to the point where I couldn’t compensate. I couldn’t adjust myself to those speakers in this room.
Joseph Baffy (JB): So the 8-inch drivers then would that be over pressuring your room?
Joshua Wilson (JW): Yes definitely, there’s a lot of bass man, so much bass.
Joseph Baffy (JB): Dennis do you have any quarrel and issues between room size and driver size?
Dennis Foley (DF): Yeah we do. I put together a chart for Ali he can get it to you guys. It’s just for low-frequency response in a room.
Here’s a question that just came to my mind. If you take an amplifier and it produces a frequency response of 20 to 20,000 and it’s nice and smooth and that amplifier costs $250 and then you take an amplifier that costs $25,000 and it produces the same frequency response, what’s the difference in sound?
JW: I think it’s the quality of the components. It may be producing the same signal; one of them is going to represent that signal a lot better than the other one.
DF: Is it transient coverage? Is it attack and decay? It’s a whole litany of issues isn’t it?
JW: Yeah, Definitely
JB: Yeah it is and it’s the longevity of the equipment
DF: Well yeah obviously we want it to last but the two weakest links in the whole recording process and chain is the speaker and the room. Those are the two weakest links. Electronics, amplifiers and gear have come a long way but speaker technology I mean we’re still using crossovers that will tell you how difficult it is for an engineer who designs a speaker to get a coherent sound because he has to break the frequency range up into different areas and then correlate that with different size drivers.
So the speaker and the room are the two weakest links in the whole process that we all have to deal with and when you take the room out of the equation those differences in price points become less of an issue. My hats-off to the speaker manufacturers cause they’ve really done a good job of convincing people that you need to spend a lot of money to get good sound.
JB: Right, yeah, you know I definitely, you’ve definitely brought a valid point there.
DF: Yeah it’s just, it’s so skewed, the room sound and the speaker sound is so, the valley between those two areas is so skewed and the misperceptions are so great. Like I said I wish everyone could come here and my $25 speakers in my room.
JB: Yeah I’d love to. I would absolutely love to experience that
JW: It may be difficult to mix anywhere else after that
BP: You’ve spoiled me. It’s been rather destructive for me.
BP: Oh, Dennis maybe you can find a way to just kind of like package that up and ship it up?
DF: Well I wish I could Brad, I’d beat my head against the wall all the time. I understand what you guys do and I hear everything that you do and I hear all the nuances and the subtleties and all the cool stuff that you guys do. But it takes a room like I have to do that in so if my room is an absolute and you guys your engineering rooms and your mixing rooms are the source, there’s a big difference between the source and the absolute and I guess that’s the area and the range we all live in and work in and our goal is try to make that range in that domain a little bit smaller and more manageable for people. And yeah it’s not easy, is it? It’s not easy.
JB: No, I have to say you’re right about that but as Joshua said this is probably the best first step that could be taken to bring acoustics to front and center cause it really, absolutely is the truth. Go ahead.
DF: You think Joseph you think you’re upset about foam being labeled a ‘bass trap’? I was so pissed-off I went and spent 2 million dollars and created new technology, that’s how pissed-off I was.
JB: Yeah that’s pretty mad
DF: Yeah I was furious. I was furious you know. How do we get the absolute and the reality more close together? I don’t know, I don’t know if we’ve come up with the answer yet but I think we’re on the right track. I think there’s steps that we all can take, there’s ideas that we all can translate to actual methods that people can use and it’s a process. I mean we can sit here all day long and tell people the difference but if you come here to my studio and I press the play button I don’t know, Joshua can probably explain it better than I can but I don’t know if we have the words in the language that we have to work within to identify and communicate the issues to people. I don’t know if we have the vocabulary, I don’t know.
JB: You know when I emailed Ali and told him that as musicians you know I hear things like I want my vocal more upfront, I want to hear more smack in the snare. The high hat needs to have a little more top-end and you know I understand from experience that I can reach for 10k and make the high hat sound a little nicer but that’s not the fundamental of the high hat, that is way up there you know past the fundamental. The fundamental if I were to boost that, it wouldn’t work because it’s being covered up by so many other mid-range instruments and you know that’s where I kind of got myself you know a little discombobulated trying to draw a picture of frequency response and say “If okay you can’t hear a snare this is your problem. This is the frequency area that you need to address in your room. If you can’t hear your kick this is what’s going on” you know and it really, it was almost a futile exercise because it didn’t make any sense when I was done, I mean it made sense to me of course but I’m not sure it would’ve made sense with anyone else you know.
So I feel your frustration in trying to put words to something that we use so many different adjectives to try to describe, you know I hear the term color so many times I’m almost sick of it. You know a piece of equipment imparting color on to something and I get it, it’s cool. I don’t know how a lot of guys can hear color, I couldn’t hear color in the room I’m mixing in right now, I couldn’t hear color unless you blare it in my face because that’s how bad the acoustics are.
JW: That’s like what I was saying like you know we get this gear you know that’s like you know it was supposed to sound like this and then it didn’t sound like this so we end getting up another piece of those gear until we get something that we can hear, you know. I think an other thing is people need to understand when you’re mixing that like you, we from the standpoint of mixing you want things to be flat, you want your room to be flat and you want your speakers to be flat that’s the way you know what issues or how to properly EQ the source because if your room has a certain EQ and your speakers have a certain EQ and then like whatever your recording has a certain, you’re going to have a whole lot of problems. Right? I mean, so you know I mean?
Yeah so like that’s what I’m saying like I got the Focals and even the M-audio monitors because they have a flat response. That’s the same thing with your room. You don’t want your room to have any peaks like, apart from room I mean in a perfect technological world would be everything would be zero, you know I mean there would be no peaks or troughs or anything like that.
BP: In balance.
JW: Yeah I mean even you know it gets to the point where we can’t hear that difference you know I mean and we can’t hear those differences like in Dennis’ room. I’m sure his room is in that zero, it has some sound but we just can’t hear that sound and I mean just because we can’t hear we perceive it at zero that’s flat to us you know I mean. So you just got I mean just to the new guy you have to think about you know in your room is you got to get it to the point to where you’re hearing less and less and its getting closer to zero for you so that it’s flat and then you’re going to end up getting better mixes, you’re going to end up hearing things that you’re not used to hearing because it’s not covered up by anything.
Like it’s just like your room is just as big a part as your mix, as anything, any other instrument. You have to, if you have in mind like your mixes are muddy it’s because there’s something you can’t, unless your treat your room, your room is going to stay constant. So just like, say like things in the bass and vocals you know like you have to do things to like separate those you know I mean like the far is in EQ’ing so they sit together. Well if you don’t do anything to your room then your room is still going to be there. Something’s still going to be in the way of you hearing that clearly, you know I mean so you can’t accurately make an adjustment if your room is to that point to where you know you stop hearing differences in it.
DF: If we’re talking about mud in our mixes, is it safe to say that mud is room sound?
JB: I would think it’s safe to say that, mud comes from room sound, yes.
DF: Because it’s not in our gear, no manufacturer is going to build mud into his amplifier.
JB: There you go right there.
DF: They’re not going to build it into his speakers.
JB: That’s right.
DF: Yeah, I think there is a key issue maybe we need to look at. We all use these terms: mud, soup maybe it’s the slang terms that we use that we need to correlate to the technical quantifiable terms in acoustics.
JB: There we go
DF: Maybe that would be a discussion for another topic. Let me tell you guys the power of room acoustics. I’m working on a little experiment now; I’ve been doing it for the last week. A cymbal strike in the left channel, I can actually move it from the front of the room to the rear. You guys can’t have all the fun, you can grab a knob and move things around electronically, I can move things around acoustically.
DF: And that shows you the power of room acoustics.