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Db level for mixing

Jay Pilzer

I remember reading that a certain DB level for mixing was recommended, but cannot recall what that was. If anyone knows please post a reply. Thank you.
July 18, 2002 @12:30pm
MichaelS

I've always ass/u/med it was the db level your room was eq'd at using a spectrum analyzer. I did mine at 80db with a Rane RA-27 with the knob on 80db and all lights in the green. A bit loud I guess but works for me. Of course I could be WAY wrong here...and if so someone please correct me
July 18, 2002 @07:43pm
Diggety77

85 dB is what I've always heard. You ears perceive sound differently at different volumes, and at low volumes, you don't hear bass as well-hense the loudness button on your hi-fi to compensate for that at low listening volumes. At 85dB, the frequency response of your ears is about as flat as they're going to get, without being too loud and hurting your ears. But it's good to take breaks and come back and listen to it quietly as well to see if the mix works well there as well.
-Nate
July 19, 2002 @01:32am
Jay Pilzer

Thank you both for your expertise. Jay
July 19, 2002 @02:00am
David Klausner

I think it's useful to vary the volume when mixing. While 85 dB may be ideal for flat response, you have to make sure your music sounds good at all volumes. I often try to mix vocals while playback is very quiet - 50 - 60 dB or so. That is "conversational" volume, and often lets you get a vocal that sits well in a track. It's also good to occasionally pump up the volume (for short times, or your ears will get fatigued) to see how the bass response changes.
July 23, 2002 @10:56pm
Dix

Not only multiple volumes… but multiple monitors, multiple listening locations… vary everything as much as you have time for to make sure your mix sounds reasonable on everything at all volumes… well… without getting anal about it. :D
The studio I record at frequently has a real good monitor set up, real nice near-fields, a pair of real high performance numbers built into the wall, and a sub/satellite setup.
Of course, very few of those who will be hearing your masterpiece will have good equipment to hear it through. 95% (or more) of the time they will not be in the stereo “sweet spot” you mix from and it will be through crappy home stereos, car stereos with OEM speakers, or the boom-box at the beach. :D
I always bring two things with me… a pair of old Radio Shack Minimus-7 "bookshelf" speakers, and a semi-decent boom-box with an aux input.
While I probably do 80% of my mixing through the near-fields, I listen to the mix through everything in the room, at every level from low, to moderate, to loud. I’ll walk around the control room, I’ll leave the door to the control room open and listen while I’m at the water cooler in the hall… hell, maybe even while I’m in the can talking a leak. :D
The small speakers and/or the boom box will tell you immediately if you’ve got enough upper-mid attack on things like the toms/kick/bass guitar. I’ve seen guys do a great mix on the big monitors, burn a test CD, pop it into their car stereo to listen on the way home & find they have lost the kick and bass completely.
Walking around the control room at times will expose things like overdone panning. (Have you lost the guitar solo or the piano when you’re standing closer to the right channel then the left?)
While I’ve stumbled on the subject of “panning”… I do all “demos” mono… why? Simple really…
Mack Guitar Hero schleps into the bar & hops up on a stool to talk to Jack Greenback the club owner behind the bar about a gig… he mentions he’s got a demo CD… Jack takes the CD & pops it into the CD player. Where are the speakers in Jack’s bar… well… the right speaker is right there on the wall next to them… the left one however is at the other end of the place over the pool tables and isn’t even audible at the bar. So, when the guitar solo rolls around, which was panned hard right, Mack sounds real good… but what happened to the rhythm section? Oh, and personally I’d say that Mack should cough up the 5 bucks and the beer that the guy who lost the pool game had to fork over cause it was the vibration from the floor tom being panned hard left that shook the 8-ball in and not that slightly errant shot. But, neither Mack nor Jack heard that because they were over at the bar. :D
OK, so maybe the above little parable is a bit of an exaggeration… but you get the idea. :D
July 24, 2002 @03:55am
Ed Belknap

The general "rule of thumb" (if there is such a thing in studio parlance) is twofold:
1) by all means, listen at different volume levels, over different monitor systems, etc.; however,
2) make all your *final* decisions at a single reference level. And 85dB SPL is generally accepted as the best reference level for music destined for CD release.
So what this means is go ahead and check your mix on the tiny Auratones real quiet, and on the big UREI's real loud and everywhere in between...but when you think "hmm, I think I need a bit more level on the snare reverb return" or maybe "hmm, I think I need a bit less 3kHz on the lead vocal", set your monitoring volume to the reference level (85dB SPL) before commiting to that. Make all your final decisions based on that reference level.
July 26, 2002 @01:27am
TeeCee

I can't say that I've read a whole lot about mixing, and I've never read any books just covering mixing. But I can't recall ever reading a prefered SPL for mixing prior to reading this topic.
How about this, listen to your music at all levels but be sure that it sounds best at your targeted audience's general listening level. Consider whether or not it will mainly be heard in automobiles while driving (lots of background noise). And keep in mind what David said about vocals. If your music is vocal, you can bet that the vocalist thinks that's the most important part of the song. Hearing the vocals somewhat clearly at background music levels could be a strong consideration. This applies to whatever you or your customer regards as the most important part of your/their sound.
I make most final decisions when the windows are rattling. My stuff has to sound good loud. The tweaks to make something stand out at a moderate level might blow speakers and/or ear drums when music is cranked. Funny but not always fun.
So, what kind of music are you working on?
July 30, 2002 @05:53pm
Ed Belknap

Originally posted by TeeCee
I can't say that I've read a whole lot about mixing, and I've never read any books just covering mixing. But I can't recall ever reading a prefered SPL for mixing prior to reading this topic.

85dB SPL is the calibrated reference mix level used by the film industry. Lots of music engineers have adopted this standard because it yields the flattest response when processed through the Equal Loudness Contours that are an inescapable part of the human hearing mechanism. If you mix at a substantially higher or lower level you are in effect mixing through an equalizer! ...an equalizer that has no bypass switch (unless you put a bullet through your skull, I guess).


How about this, listen to your music at all levels but be sure that it sounds best at your targeted audience's general listening level.

By all means, listen at many different levels...but make your decisions based on a reference level that ensures your mix will translate accurately to all those many listening levels. The more "robust" your mix is (i.e., the better it holds up under a variety of listening environments) the less you have to be concerned with a narrow audience demographic, and the more universal your music will be.
July 31, 2002 @06:41pm
TeeCee

Ed Belknap said

85dB SPL is the calibrated reference mix level used by the film industry. Lots of music engineers have adopted this standard because it yields the flattest response when processed through the Equal Loudness Contours that are an inescapable part of the human hearing mechanism. If you mix at a substantially higher or lower level you are in effect mixing through an equalizer! ...an equalizer that has no bypass switch (unless you put a bullet through your skull, I guess).

You've got good answers. I've got more questions. How is the 85dB measured? Is this peak or RMS? Is it adjusted for quieter and louder parts of the music? Do they keep an SPL meter around all the time to verify this? Do they have their SPL meter calibrated at regular intervals? Do they really go through this much trouble?
July 31, 2002 @07:13pm
Ed Belknap

Originally posted by TeeCee

You've got good answers. I've got more questions. How is the 85dB measured? Is this peak or RMS? Is it adjusted for quieter and louder parts of the music? Do they keep an SPL meter around all the time to verify this? Do they have their SPL meter calibrated at regular intervals? Do they really go through this much trouble?

The film industry uses 85dB SPL, C-weighted, measured at the mix position with pink noise from one speaker only. This means it is essentially an "average" level (definitely not peak!), and that it doesn't take into effect LFE channels, subwoofers, or any deep bass to speak of. Al the music engineers I know who subscribe to this choose A-weighting, because deep bass is fairly critical to contemporary music. Generally an SPL meter is kept around until the monitor pot on the console can be calibrated to the reference level, after which it is the maintenance engineer's responsibility to ensure that nothing drifts. I bring a Radio Shack analog SPL meter with me when I'm engineering at someone else's studio, but I rarely whip it out at my home studio; I just know that when the main meters are hanging around +1 dBVU with full program material and the monitor pot is at about 10:30-11:00, I'm at 85dB SPL A-weighted.
I've never had my meter calibrated. It's a freakin' Radio Shack, they're disposable when they go out of alignment! Don't know whether the folks at Skywalker Sound use anything more sophisticated or how often they verify calibration.
"Do they really go through this much trouble?" How much trouble *won't* you go through to get a good mix? Anyone who has anally obsessed about automation moves of half a dB on the lead vocal is already going through way more trouble, and arguably for a much less tangible reward.
August 1, 2002 @07:59pm
TeeCee

Ed Belknap further clarified

The film industry uses 85dB SPL, C-weighted, measured at the mix position with pink noise from one speaker only.... I bring a Radio Shack analog SPL meter with me when I'm engineering at someone else's studio, but I rarely whip it out at my home studio; I just know that when the main meters are hanging around +1 dBVU with full program material and the monitor pot is at about 10:30-11:00, I'm at 85dB SPL A-weighted.

Ed, you are the man.

I've never had my meter calibrated. It's a freakin' Radio Shack, they're disposable when they go out of alignment! Don't know whether the folks at Skywalker Sound use anything more sophisticated or how often they verify calibration.

That was part of my point. The Radio Shack models are basically disposable, but how do you know when to dispose of them?

"Do they really go through this much trouble?" How much trouble *won't* you go through to get a good mix? Anyone who has anally obsessed about automation moves of half a dB on the lead vocal is already going through way more trouble, and arguably for a much less tangible reward.

All good information. I do still wonder what percent of pro studios stick to this and then what degree of "home studio" owners even know about this, especially when everyone always throws out, "your ears are the final judge." Are there nearly as many film industry studios as there are professional music studios? And I'm sure that *your* ears are your best friend as well.
August 1, 2002 @08:25pm