HELP! Getting balance right when recording - Headphones

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HELP! Getting balance right when recording - Headphones

Post by dawnmist studio » Sun Nov 29, 2015 8:12 pm


I have some technical questions about using headphones when recording on my synths...

Basically I am a bit treble deaf but hear a lot of bass. I have two pairs of Sennheiser headphones (in-ear and over-ear) The in-ear one's have little bass when using them and the over-ear one's have way too much. In fact when I listen to my synths through the over-ear headphones everything is so full of bass I think that all the factory sounds are set up wrong.

So when I am working on recording new songs I need to find a way to make sure that the music I am recording is the right sort of bass levels for other people around the world to hear. So what should I do???

I was thinking perhaps if I buy some of the kind that are termed on-ear then this might help as they would be middle between the two types I have.
Another idea I had was to have made a special box of tricks that adjusts the signal through a mini equalizer before it goes to my headphones, that way when I am recording I know I am recording the right amounts of bass and treble etc etc but this little box of tricks would adapt what I personally hear so that I can play properly.

Does anyone else here has similar problems and how do you get around this? Can anyone recommend which Sennheiser headphones I might like to try to get a good all round level.


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Re: HELP! Getting balance right when recording - Headphones

Post by Stab Frenzy » Mon Nov 30, 2015 12:07 am

Mixing on headphones is notoriously difficult to get right, if I were you I'd invest in some decent small monitors instead. Have a look at Yamaha MSP5s, Equator D5s or if you've got a bit more money to spend have a look at the smaller offerings from Adam or Dynaudio.

If for some reason you absolutely have to mix on headphones then you'll want very good quality open back or semi-open ones, I'd recommend the Beyer DT-990s or 880s. You'll also have to spend a lot of time doing critical listening on them of well mixed music so you can learn the balance of them and get used to the balance and level of detail you'll have to put into your mix.

Lastly you can easily ruin your ears by listening too loud for too long on headphones. Be careful with your levels.

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Re: HELP! Getting balance right when recording - Headphones

Post by meatballfulton » Mon Nov 30, 2015 12:56 pm

If you must use phones, spend some time listening to recordings you know well and note how they sound on different phones. If necessary, A/B your mixes to those recordings to listen for problems. In your case, I would always check mixes on both sets of phones plus some earbuds.

I often track on phones, but I know my phones are bottom heavy so I never make any kind of EQ decisions when wearing them. I use small monitors (not as good as the ones Stab suggested) but always double check mixes on hi-fi speakers (which have more bottom and less air in the highs) as well as an old mono cassette recorder used as a powered speaker.
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Re: HELP! Getting balance right when recording - Headphones

Post by thermite zapruder » Mon Nov 30, 2015 5:20 pm

Bass can be a tough thing for the small-studio recordist to get right. I used to have crappy 5" monitors and an untreated room, but a room filled with stuff (bookshelves, every *corner* jammed in one way or another)...and my mixes had a tough time translating to other systems. Among the problems were: too much bass, because I wasn't hearing it (see: 5" monitors). My solution was to check my mixes in my headphones, and to check them on my home stereo system and every other system I could (car stereo, friends' stereos, etc.). My findings were that I usually had to *continue* cutting bass.

Now I have excellent 5 1/4" monitors in a smaller room that I'm just beginning to treat...and bass is an even bigger problem--which I address in the same ways as before, with the same results (generally need to keep cutting bass).

The takeaways (much of it covered above) are:

-Headphones are tough to mix on, but can be useful for checking a mix if you know what to check (/where to check in the frequency spectrum), and *how* each part of the frequency spectrum sounds *in your headphones*.
-On small monitors, you are only able to hear--in an ideal room--the frequencies they are physically capable of reproducing. Below 50 Hz or so (obv. depending on the speakers) you may not hear much or anything. That doesn't mean that information is not there--and when played back on other systems, you will hear it--in the form of too much bass.
-To keep from running in circles, it helps to know the frequency response of your monitoring, whether headphones or speakers or both...and *how* that frequency response *sounds* through your monitoring. This can be achieved by listening to a lot of reference material you know well, and by hours of working, with careful listening (and checking on other systems), on your own music.
-A large room, if untreated, will likely give you problems. To address bass issues, bass traps (or improvised versions thereof) in the corners are at least a start.
-A small room, even if treated, will also give you problems, because bass waves are long and need space to develop. To address bass deficiencies, start with bass traps, but you may need to take additional measures.
-As I treat my room, I deal/have dealt with the issues in my monitoring and room by knowing what those deficiencies are and constant comparisons with playback in headphones and on other systems in other rooms.
-It is not necessarily an ideal solution, but one of the first things I tend to do when mixing is high-pass at some point below the frequency threshold of my monitors. I absolutely do this with acoustically mic'd material lacking in low fundamentals--like vocals--because there's very little useful sonic information there, and a high potential for low-frequency noise caused by coupling b/w the floor and mic (e.g., the vibrations caused by a passing truck). For lower-pitched program material--especially directly recorded material such as synths, where there's essentially no risk of low-frequency noise--I tend to use a low-shelf cut.
-If you're having trouble with accurate monitoring on playback, you can greatly reduce the work needed to get your mix right by deciding at the outset--even and perhaps especially at tracking--what track is meant to play what role in the overall mix: what track is meant to hold down the low end, which is meant to add high-end sparkle, which fills in the warm middle, etc.--even with thoroughly invented synth sounds, it can be very helpful to use whatever analogy is most meaningful to you: orchestra (double bass, vioilins/flutes, cellos/bassoons, etc.), rock band (bass, high-hat/cymbals, guitar), etc....and to make EQ cuts accordingly--ideally, at the source, with the cutoff frequency of the synth. One of great beauties of synth sounds--their potentially broad and rich frequency content--can also make them problematic to mix. When I spend a lot of time programming a particular sound, I'm often not content to "just" have it sound like, say, a flute--I'm also tempted add in a hint of low-end, maybe some movement in the mids, etc.--to get a sound that, by itself, sounds gorgeous and complex. "By itself" being the key--in a mix, more than one of these gorgeous, complex sounds, can often result in a muddy mess. Carving out specific frequency roles for your various tracks *in a mix*, at the outset, can make the job of sonic troubleshooting much easier.

What your room and monitoring lack is what you will hear more of when played on other systems; what your room and monitoring is giving you too much of is what you will hear less of when played on other systems and other rooms. If you can learn the specific shortcomings of your room and monitoring, you can at least manage workarounds.

Sorry this got so long-winded and probably redundant...

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