Balancing track levels in headphones

Discussions on sound production outside the synthesizer such as mixing, processing, recording, editing and mastering.
rickyd
Junior Member
Junior Member
Posts: 152
Joined: Sun Feb 08, 2009 8:35 pm

Balancing track levels in headphones

Post by rickyd » Wed Jul 11, 2012 7:32 am

Hey guys,

I have a newbie question and I'm looking for answers only from people who know what they are talking about.

I know it is widely said to never mix in headphones, which I agree with. However, what if you are just balancing track levels? Have any of you ever done this, making sure that all tracks peak the same level (watching the LED meters) and had the mix not translate well when checking on other sources?

User avatar
Stab Frenzy
Moderator
Moderator
Posts: 9723
Joined: Tue Jun 06, 2006 5:41 pm
Gear: Eurorack, RYTM, Ultranova, many FX
Location: monster island*
Contact:

Re: Balancing track levels in headphones

Post by Stab Frenzy » Wed Jul 11, 2012 8:42 am

rickyd wrote:making sure that all tracks peak the same level (watching the LED meters)
That's not how you balance levels. If it was, you wouldn't need headphones or speakers, you'd just do it by eye. In fact I'm sure that by now there would be a button you press in pro tools that said 'make all tracks peak at the same level' and people would press that instead of mixing. Oh wait, there is. It's called normalising, and it sounds bad. :D

Every part of mixing is adjusting volume. EQing is like adjusting volume faders for particular frequency ranges for each track. Compression is adjusting volume at different dynamic levels. Pan is adjusting the volume for the right channel mix and the left channel mix. All of these things are part of balancing track levels, and so you need to be able to hear things properly when you're doing it.

rickyd
Junior Member
Junior Member
Posts: 152
Joined: Sun Feb 08, 2009 8:35 pm

Re: Balancing track levels in headphones

Post by rickyd » Wed Jul 11, 2012 9:15 am

Thanks for pointing that out. I know that mixing just by the LED meters isn't all there is to it, and I meant to be more clear on that. However, I thought that they do help to tell when all of the track levels are even, just saying for example if you wanted a flat out even mix.

User avatar
madtheory
Supporting Member!
Supporting Member!
Posts: 5141
Joined: Mon May 01, 2006 12:45 pm
Real name: Tomas Mulcahy
Gear: Flangebeast Mk1, Plonkotron, Morovdis Arpeggiator, Maplin My First EQ, Jeff Wayne Thunderchild rack, Thermostat, Buck Owens' Moog.
Band: Minim
Location: Cork, Ireland
Contact:

Re: Balancing track levels in headphones

Post by madtheory » Wed Jul 11, 2012 11:06 am

The meters are there to warn you if the track is clipping, or if the level is too low and thereby close to the noise floor. In your DAW they are no use whatsoever for mixing. You have this idea of a "flat out even mix" that does not make any sense. The mix is balanced when it sounds good- that means you need to judge what level each element needs to be at. And that is why mixing is not easy. It's tied in with composing- you are the artist putting various bits together to make a track, so it's all down to your skill and judgement. No meter can do that for you.

Finally- mixing is balancing. In recording classical music, the person recording and mixing is called the balance engineer. I think you mean that "getting a balance" is a rough mix, right? Whatever- it's still mixing, and it is still the same process Stab and I already described.

georgemarauder
Junior Member
Junior Member
Posts: 210
Joined: Fri Oct 28, 2011 6:47 pm

Re: Balancing track levels in headphones

Post by georgemarauder » Wed Jul 11, 2012 3:59 pm

Dude, who cares if some so-called professionals say never to mix in headphones, what do they know really? Only God is an expert. I don't care for 90% of what people have to say about music, you do what works for you. I mix in headphones all the time. A good pair too, that cost me about $200. There is no reason at all you can't mix in headphones. You simply have to get a feel for how your mix translates to other sources, which is typical even if you're not mixing in headphones. I find that if I get my music to sound good in a nice set of headphones, it will sound good everywhere. Screw what the "professionals" say.

So my advice would be do what works for you. If you like adjusting track levels in headphones and it works for you, then do it. But I would recommend at least getting a professional studio pair of headphones, with good bass response and a wide frequency range. Then take some time to get used to how things sound in your new headphones and how the mix translates from your headphones to your stereo system. After awhile it will become second nature and you will be pumping out great mixes in your headphones alone :)

User avatar
CS_TBL
Synth Explorer
Synth Explorer
Posts: 1677
Joined: Wed Jul 12, 2006 3:47 pm
Gear: All "In-The-Box"
Mainly FM8
Location: NL
Contact:

Re: Balancing track levels in headphones

Post by CS_TBL » Wed Jul 11, 2012 5:59 pm

I mix with headphones regularly. Now, I've a Sennheiser of the comfy class, so I could wear 'm all day without even realizing I'm wearing them. The advantage of headphone mixing is that you won't have added acoustics of your room, and the difference between left and right is ever more clear using headphones. Often I use headphone mixing to iron out all the small details of a mix, the tiniest envelopes, the tiniest details. Now, I must add that whenever I'm mixing it's usually big (last few mixes all had 30 orchestral instruments, with on average some 15 of them playing at the same time always) with quite a large dynamic range between parts. So, tiny details do matter here.
"You know I love you, CS, but this is bullshit." (Automatic Gainsay)
s: VSL/FM8/EWQL/LASS h: DX7/FS1r/VL70/SY77/SN2r/JD800/JD990/XV88/Emu6400/Poly61/Amek35:12:2/genelec1030 r: Violin/AltoSax/TinWhistle c: i7-4770/RAM32GB/SSD
FM8 vids

rickyd
Junior Member
Junior Member
Posts: 152
Joined: Sun Feb 08, 2009 8:35 pm

Re: Balancing track levels in headphones

Post by rickyd » Wed Jul 11, 2012 7:43 pm

madtheory wrote:In your DAW they are no use whatsoever for mixing. You have this idea of a "flat out even mix" that does not make any sense. The mix is balanced when it sounds good
Let me be clear on this. When I said "flat out even mix", I meant the meters peaking at the same levels. I know that doesn't equate to all of the sounds being audibly even, though from what my ears tell me, it does for some sounds (Which you'll see why below). For the latter reason, I slightly disagree that the meters are no use for mixing in the DAW, but then again, I'm a newb.

To Stab, I have experienced a slightly different take on normalizing. My custom drum kit is composed of samples that I took from different sources over the years, and these sources had different volume levels. I had a friend come over and audition my drum kit to make some quick beats and he was complaining how dramatically low some of the sounds were compared to others. So one day I said the h**l with it and I decided to run the sounds through a program to peak normalize them (I can't remember the volume I set, but for sure was a good bit lower than 0db). When it came to mixing time, I found that a lot of the drums were pretty much already in balance and sounded good; I did not even have to touch the faders. As to be expected with normalizing, just a few other sounds were way too loud and had to be turned down. This is just MY experience.

PS: I didn't mean to make this turn into a normalizing topic

User avatar
madtheory
Supporting Member!
Supporting Member!
Posts: 5141
Joined: Mon May 01, 2006 12:45 pm
Real name: Tomas Mulcahy
Gear: Flangebeast Mk1, Plonkotron, Morovdis Arpeggiator, Maplin My First EQ, Jeff Wayne Thunderchild rack, Thermostat, Buck Owens' Moog.
Band: Minim
Location: Cork, Ireland
Contact:

Re: Balancing track levels in headphones

Post by madtheory » Wed Jul 11, 2012 10:56 pm

rickyd wrote:...I'm a newb.
Have you head of the Dunning-Kruger effect? You should look it up...

Anyway- the example you give of normalising is precisely how it is designed to be used. It's for making even multisamples.

Some trivia for you: normalising was a feature in Sound Designer, a Mac based editor made for the Emulator II sampler by a little company that later became Digidesign. They left in the normalising feature when Sound Designer became Pro Tools. All the other DAWs copied that. So now people get the wrong idea about what it's for.
Last edited by madtheory on Wed Jul 11, 2012 11:00 pm, edited 1 time in total.

dubold
Supporting Member!
Supporting Member!
Posts: 73
Joined: Fri Jan 09, 2009 4:40 am
Gear: sh-32, ms2000r, er-1mkii, laptop, various delays, wires, tubes
Location: nyc

Re: Balancing track levels in headphones

Post by dubold » Wed Jul 11, 2012 10:59 pm

just as a quick note: normalizing samples can be a good thing for your gain structure; ostensibly you'll pull down the level of them in the mix though.

Normalizing tracks is a different thing. Same term, same process, wildly different result. If you normalize all your tracks, first off, you're going to be clipping the mix buss. Try and get your peaks around -6 and your RMS levels between -12 and -18, otherwise you're just creating more work for yourself and annoying the mastering engineer later.
rickyd wrote: I know it is widely said to never mix in headphones, which I agree with.
As has been already pointed out, there are times when mixing in headphones is useful. I primarily use a pair of tannoys and a pair of headphones. I also check the mixes on other sources.

rickyd wrote:I know that doesn't equate to all of the sounds being audibly even, though from what my ears tell me, it does for some sounds (Which you'll see why below). For the latter reason, I slightly disagree that the meters are no use for mixing in the DAW, but then again, I'm a newb.
the meters are like the "check engine" light in your car. useful reminder, but won't tell you how to fix anything.

Put yourself in the listener's place. They're not going to have meters for every track; they just have their ears. So mix with that in mind.

rickyd
Junior Member
Junior Member
Posts: 152
Joined: Sun Feb 08, 2009 8:35 pm

Re: Balancing track levels in headphones

Post by rickyd » Wed Jul 11, 2012 11:02 pm

madtheory wrote:
rickyd wrote:...I'm a newb.
Have you head of the Dunning-Kruger effect? You should look it up....
Detecting some sarcasm

User avatar
madtheory
Supporting Member!
Supporting Member!
Posts: 5141
Joined: Mon May 01, 2006 12:45 pm
Real name: Tomas Mulcahy
Gear: Flangebeast Mk1, Plonkotron, Morovdis Arpeggiator, Maplin My First EQ, Jeff Wayne Thunderchild rack, Thermostat, Buck Owens' Moog.
Band: Minim
Location: Cork, Ireland
Contact:

Re: Balancing track levels in headphones

Post by madtheory » Wed Jul 11, 2012 11:11 pm

rickyd wrote:
madtheory wrote:
rickyd wrote:...I'm a newb.
Have you head of the Dunning-Kruger effect? You should look it up....
Detecting some sarcasm
It's more irony really, but it's a close call.

rickyd
Junior Member
Junior Member
Posts: 152
Joined: Sun Feb 08, 2009 8:35 pm

Re: Balancing track levels in headphones

Post by rickyd » Wed Jul 11, 2012 11:16 pm

Oh boy here we go. Seriously, this is the type of c**p why I hesitate to post to this forum sometimes because alot of you people get childish. I mean you cannot ask a simple question here without someone coming up sooner or later making j**k comments. If you can't answer anyone's question without having to resort to sarcasm, you don't need to be answering at all. It's pointless. If someone doesn't understand something, help them understand and leave it at that.

User avatar
Stab Frenzy
Moderator
Moderator
Posts: 9723
Joined: Tue Jun 06, 2006 5:41 pm
Gear: Eurorack, RYTM, Ultranova, many FX
Location: monster island*
Contact:

Re: Balancing track levels in headphones

Post by Stab Frenzy » Thu Jul 12, 2012 4:48 am

rickyd wrote:Oh boy here we go. Seriously, this is the type of c**p why I hesitate to post to this forum sometimes because alot of you people get childish. I mean you cannot ask a simple question here without someone coming up sooner or later making j**k comments. If you can't answer anyone's question without having to resort to sarcasm, you don't need to be answering at all. It's pointless. If someone doesn't understand something, help them understand and leave it at that.
You asked for advice, admitting you don't know anything about the subject, and then you start arguing against the knowledgable people who are helping you out? And you're the one who's getting upset about it? I'd say the Dunning-Kruger comment was spot on, you don't know much about the subject so you're overestimating what your limited knowledge is worth.

Normalising is a mathematical function, not a musical one. It matches the peak level of the highest peak of each sample, not the rms level which is what people detect as loudness. Sometimes there is a correlation, sometimes not.

rickyd
Junior Member
Junior Member
Posts: 152
Joined: Sun Feb 08, 2009 8:35 pm

Re: Balancing track levels in headphones

Post by rickyd » Thu Jul 12, 2012 5:19 am

Look, I did not come in and overestimate my knowledge on anything. Where in the world do you see that? Honestly, WHERE?

Just because I say I slightly and respectively disagree on something and just offered what I experienced, doesn't mean that I am over estimating my knowledge on anything, and even though you didn't mention this, I did not say that you guys were wrong at all. I told you from the beginning that this was a newbie question.

I came in knowing my knowledge about this was limited. THAT'S WHY I ASKED the questions, but this whole thing ended up getting taken totally out of context when it was totally unnecessary. I can see if I came in talking like I know all about something and saying that you guys don't, THEN I could see where you stand, but that's not the case. That's why I got upset.

User avatar
Stab Frenzy
Moderator
Moderator
Posts: 9723
Joined: Tue Jun 06, 2006 5:41 pm
Gear: Eurorack, RYTM, Ultranova, many FX
Location: monster island*
Contact:

Re: Balancing track levels in headphones

Post by Stab Frenzy » Thu Jul 12, 2012 6:13 am

rickyd wrote:Look, I did not come in and overestimate my knowledge on anything. Where in the world do you see that? Honestly, WHERE?
You think from your limited experience that matching peak levels leads to an even mix. It doesn't, even though maybe it almost did that one time you normalized your drum samples.

Locked