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Standardising Speakers
Je Hones
post Nov 28 2011, 03:34
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I suppose what I want to ask is this:

Is there any way to standardise (in configuration, frequency levels, whatever) my computer speakers so that they might reflect a more universal and accurate representation of the audio playing? I don't know that they don't already, but I'm a musician so it's important I do. I'd like for my music to sound as I intend it to on all set-ups.

If it's relevant, I use Cubase SX3 with MIDI instruments and VSTS, and various live instruments and samples. I'm using a Line 6 Toneport UX1 soundcard with 5.1 Cambridge Soundworks speakers (they came with a Creative SB Live! soundcard years ago).

Cheers!


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AndyH-ha
post Nov 28 2011, 08:53
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Speakers are a high distortion devices, and the distortions are not consistent over the audio spectrum. They also generally have a rather uneven frequency response over that range. There is little of a practical nature you can do with the distortion. Good speakers are not comparable to mp3 players, that is, they cannot be built cheaply yet perform well.

It is possible to somewhat even out the frequency response but it isn't necessarily easy or very practical to carry the process very far. You would need to process your audio through a multi-band parametric equalizer. I doubt equalizers with enough bands to do the trick exist for many inexpensive speakers, but five to seven band equalizers do exist and could probably make a significant difference.

Then you come to am even more important component: the room in which you listen. For good response from even the best speakers, you need to physically tune the room. Getting a linear response from the speakers in an ideal environment is rather different than getting it in a practical environment. Doing so is a bit complicated; many publications dealing with it exist. Your best results are likely to come from leaving the electrical signal path alone, fixing the room, and positioning the speakers, and yourself, properly within it.

If you are creating and/or mixing music, the equalizer approach is likely to be very unsatisfactory for another reason. If your music is ever to be played/performed in another environment, you will find it has a very different sound than you were led to believe by working with all the "tuning" EQ. Getting the best room response is the normal process, but it is also the case that few serious people consider any "computer" speakers worth bothering with.
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DVDdoug
post Nov 29 2011, 01:48
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First, I agree with Andy... This should start with good monitors and good acoustics. If you start trying to EQ cheap speakers too much, you are going to end-up overdriving the amp & speakers at weak frequencies and you'll get distortion... There's no way a small woofer (or cheap subwoofer) is going to put-out smooth, accurate, deep bass. (You're likely to have trouble in other frequency bands too...)

OK - Traditionally, room/speaker correction was done with a pink noise generator (or sweep generator), a microphone, a spectrum analyzer (all used temporarily for measurement), and an equalizer (and acoustic room treatment) for the "permanent" corrections.

Some Vista & Win7 soundcard drivers come with room correction, and all you need is an instrumentation-measurement microphone (and a preamp to "adapt" the low-impedance-balanced mic to your computer).

JBL makes the MSC1 Monitor Controller that sells for about $300 USD including the mic. Very reasonable for this kind of equipment!

This post has been edited by DVDdoug: Nov 29 2011, 01:50
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Je Hones
post Nov 29 2011, 16:31
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Holy shit, I seem to have stepped into a black hole. Thanks for taking the time to reply so concisely anyway. Naively, I thought it would be a case of altering frequency levels, but I guess there are more frequencies than I can monitor with this setup.

Looks like I need to invest in some monitors, or that device you kindly linked me to. That might not be a problem, but I just bought Maschine. I guess I'll have to make do for now. Would paying for a mastering service on my music rectify any of these problems by the way? I'm working on an album and plan on doing that, but if my speaker set up is sort of insufficient, would the raw mixdown I'd send the mastering service be intrinsically limited/flawed? Is it also a case of the synthesis of the sounds I'm using being off as I record with them too (because it's unlikely I'm hearing them as they actually are)? So, say I was using NI's Massive and came up with a tone I liked, recorded with it, and then mixed it down with the rest of the track into WAV, would all of that WAV then be compromised? Is it a case of melding that WAV into something of higher technical quality, or is it something that has to be monitored throughout a composition? That brings me back to the mastering question, because if it was the latter, then it would render the WAV I'd send a mastering service compromised, right?

Another thing I was thinking of doing (if it was just a levels and frequency thing) was making use of my university's music studios and recording at home and mixing there; but if it's a case of having to constantly monitor the frequencies as I create my tones and compose the track, I'd have to compose everything there instead.

Failing any of that, is there anything I can do that's sort of, free? Anything that will help even a little, really. I do have two Celestion DL4 Series Two speakers (monitors?) that are hooked up to a preamp and my turntable, but not to the computer. They might be old and probably less sophisticated than their contemporary counterparts but would they improve my situation? Here's what they look like:



And here's their spec:

Frequency response 70Hz - 20kHz
Sensitivity 89dB SPL 1 Watt/1 metre
Power Handling 75 Watts programme
Drive Units 1 x Titanium dome tweeter 25mm, 1 x felted cone base unit 165mm.
Crossover 3.0 KHz
Impedance 8 Ohms
H 384mm, W 208mm, D 218mm
Weight 4.8Kg each

Cheers.


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DVDdoug
post Nov 29 2011, 19:56
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OK, I say it's better to jump-in and get started with the equipment & experience you have, rather than waiting 'till you collect all of the best equipment & software. wink.gif

QUOTE
I do have two Celestion DL4 Series Two speakers...
Good! One of the "tricks" pros use is to try-out the mix on several different systems... Headphones, earbuds, a boombox, their car, their home system, etc. You can do the same thing. It's just going to take a few more iterations than it takes a pro.

After a period of time, a professional mixing engineer has "learned his monitors" and he has a pretty good idea of how the sound will "translate" on various listener's systems. It's not going to sound "perfect" on all of these systems, but the idea is make sure it doesn't sound bad whatever it's played on.

Another trick is to "calibrate your ears" by listening to a reference track (a good-sounding professionally produced recording in the same genre). Beginners & amateurs need to do this frequently while mixing... An experienced pro might just compare his mix to a reference when he's making the final tweeks. Again, you should compare your mix to the reference on several different playback systems, especially when you are making your final adjustments.

And, it's important to "rest your ears"... Don't try to mix all day, or do it all in one day. You get used to what you're listening to, and when you come back in the morning with "fresh ears", it can sound different (or worse) than it did the night before.

QUOTE
...would the raw mixdown I'd send the mastering service be intrinsically limited/flawed?
Maybe, but a good mastering engineer should be willing to give you some feedback and suggest some changes to the mix before mastering if necessary. (Of course this will add to his time & cost, and I doubt you'll get much help from one of those economy mastering services.) For an interesting summary of a particular mastering job, check out post #8 from this discussion on the REAPER forum.
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Je Hones
post Nov 29 2011, 23:15
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That's all really good advice. Thanks a lot! I do some of it already actually; specifically, waiting until the next day to mix a track, and not letting myself commit to the end result of that until the day after (so, resting my ears). I also compare my mixes to professionally produced tracks. Typically Bonobo, actually. The problem with that is sometimes I feel ignorant to how they actually got the track that way. I can work with their relative levels as a guide, which I do, but at some point it usually occurs that I just don't know how they made something sound a certain way, or have it sit in the mix like it does. This is from a production, EQ, mastering and mixing standpoint, not a musical/instrumental one. I actually mean like, the texture of a sound. It's usually the unmusical aspects I get stuck with, but considerably bear on the overall quality of a track. It's the physical production of it, so stuff like compression techniques on individual tracks and complete mixdowns, or EQ-ing etc. and how all of those create a higher quality sound.

Something I've noticed that most differs between professionally produced tracks and my own is that mine are significantly quieter, even when the wave is big, or almost clipping. I read a little about it and figured out it's something to do with compression that enables a denser wave, yielding higher output relative to wave size, but as I say, I'm mostly ignorant in that area. I can only employ what knowledge I have and run with it.

In the past I have actually played my tracks through various devices, and the result has not been unacceptable, but I do notice the difference between them and professionally produced tracks, and I think I should endeavour to get mine sounding as professional as possible. They tend to be quieter, as I've said, but also less distinct with less clarity. I heavily layer in my music too, and it's often quite busy, which only adds to the complications I expect.

Do you think I should hook up the Celestion monitors/speakers (I don't know what constitutes either terms) to my computer and use those instead? They probably have a larger frequency range, which would only be a benefit, right?


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DVDdoug
post Nov 30 2011, 00:38
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QUOTE
Something I've noticed that most differs between professionally produced tracks and my own is that mine are significantly quieter, even when the wave is big, or almost clipping. I read a little about it and figured out it's something to do with compression that enables a denser wave
Right! Dynamic compression (not to be confused with file compression, like MP3 wink.gif ) and limiting can boost the quiet and medium-level parts without boosting/clipping/distorting the peaks. Its a way of boosting the average level to make it sound louder without boosting the peaks.

Making the final mix "louder" is generally part of the mastering process. But compression is often used on the individual tracks or on the master bus during mixing too.

The problem is... Music is supposed to have loud parts & quiet parts. It depends on what you want, but if you overdo compression for that modern constantly-loud sound, you'll destroy the dynamic contrast in the music, and it becomes boring. Although, I think the "intensity" often makes a good 1st impression. See The Loudness War.

There's a lot to this stuff... You can get books full of information on mixing and mastering. Or, you might want to get a subscription to Recoding Magazine and learn a little every month. I have a subscription, and I hardly ever do "live" recording or mixing! I've just been fooling around with audio for a long time and I enjoy reading about recording and about equpment & software that I can't afford (and don't need).

QUOTE
Do you think I should hook up the Celestion monitors/speakers (I don't know what constitutes either terms) to my computer and use those instead? They probably have a larger frequency range, which would only be a benefit, right?
Generally, you should use the best speakers you have as monitors. But, the bottom line is to use whichever speaker gives you the best results.

QUOTE
(I don't know what constitutes either terms)
There are some characteristics that make some speakers more suitable for monitoring, and speakers that are specifically made to be used for monitoring (studio or stage) are sold as "monitors".

But, it's mainly the application... If you are using the speakers to "monitor" your work during mixing, we call them monitors. (Although, someone might give you a hard time if you call your regular stereo speakers monitors. ohmy.gif )

"Stage Monitors" (or "Wedge Monitors") are used on stage so the band can hear themselves as a band (or they use "In-ear Monitors"). If we turn the speakers/monitors around toward the audience, we call them "speakers".

P.S.
Recording Magazine advises against using headphones as mixing-monitors:
QUOTE
As those of you who have followed this column for any length of time can attest, headphone mixing is one of the big no-no's around these parts. In our humble opinion, headphone mixes do not translate well in the real world, period, end of story.

Other than checking for balance issues and the occasional hunting down of little details, they are tools best left for the tracking process.


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Je Hones
post Nov 30 2011, 01:36
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Yeah, I'm familiar with The Loudness War. It was something outside of that though; I wanted for my mix to be louder, more concise and more professional, but retain its dynamics. Could you give me any suggestions or tips about compression methods in a non-mastering context? So, maybe some advice on compression within the composing and recording stage? Or do you think it's best I do some independent research? I just flicked through some compression settings in Audition on a raw track and honestly, I don't know what I'm doing, or what would need to be done. I can make a track sound how I like with levels and stuff, but that's biased to my system, and whether it's technically proficient and stands up on all systems is another matter. I feel like I can only make a track sound as good as I know how to, and that falls short at this. Another problem is that I don't know what would need to be done in a lot of cases, or even be able to identify some of the things that are technically wrong with it, or how to affect it even if I did. Get what I mean?

Cheers for the link to Recording Magazine; I just browsed their site and found an article on mastering that seems to go through a typical 16-track setup step by step. I'll be giving that a go soon.

Right, I see the distinction between "monitors" and "speakers" now. So do you think I should just keep doing what I'm doing but keep trying to assimilate some familiarity and awareness about it all, until I can afford some more sophisticated gear? There's still the issue of not really knowing what any of it means though :/


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MichaelW
post Nov 30 2011, 02:51
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I don't mean to be a smartarse, and I know nil about mastering, but welcome to the learning process. As people have said, get your feet wet, do what you can, experiment, learn when you can. A fault of the Western notion of learning is the belief that it can all be sequential, progressive, going from mastery of one stage to mastery of the next. But lots of things are too complicated for there really to be a beginning to start at. It is generally true that with skills, the important thing is to practice, practice, practice, and throw away the bad stuff.
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Je Hones
post Nov 30 2011, 04:02
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Yeah, definitely. I get that. I guess this thread is a part of that process, sort of actively learning and trying to assimilate knowledge from people potentially more familiar, and it has worked, because I now know more than I did coming in here. My only problem with just experimenting and figuring stuff out is that I could be doing it counter-productively, if you see what I mean? Like, I could learn everything about compression, EQ-ing, mixing etc. and what everything does, and what I like, but still not know what I should be doing. I feel like there have to be some constants in this somewhere, like some target standard, and what constitutes that standard.


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markanini
post Nov 30 2011, 10:17
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Get some proper near-field monitor else you'll be correcting deficiencies in your speakers rather than the production. As for getting mixes loud, that's opening a can of worms. If you're producing higly commerical music then it's probably fine to use any trick in the book, hard limiting, multiband compression, boosting high mids etc but if you are working with a something that's a bit more indie and with involved arrangements you'll be doing the artist and fans a favor in the long run by not trying to match the loudest commercial recordings. Use something like Dynamic Range Meter and listen to some compentporary recordings and take note of any correlation between the dynamic range measured and the overall sound, then do the same for your drafts.

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Je Hones
post Nov 30 2011, 15:35
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Thanks, downloading now. Yeah, I wasn't going for loudness specifically, just louder. I was comparing myself to people like Bonobo and The Cinematic Orchestra, and they definitely aren't on the obnoxious flat end of the Loudness War, but their music is still distinctly louder and clearer than mine.


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