There are times when I feel lost as an engineer: not understanding why a mix is taking so long or not translating, why everything is bottom-heavy or ends up sounding trebly. Then sometimes it’s effortless, and the mix sounds great everywhere.
I’ve finally identified the circumstances in which my act just rocks — it’s when I can hear what I’m doing. It’s not that hard to make something sound compelling on the speakers you mix through. Yet we’re making recordings for the rest of the world to hear; translation is top priority after the performance itself. Does it translate to the back of the room, boom box, living room stereo, car, earbuds, your friend’s entertainment center, and computer speakers at the record label? It has to, and it’s not easy to accomplish. My mixes have greatly benefited from consulting alternate references such as the bookshelf system and the car, but I don’t want to spend unnecessary hours printing mix versions and going from place to place with a CD or iPod. I’m going to share my experience on how to get as close as you can to an ideal final mix without leaving your chair.
Finding an Ideal Monitor
I was compelled to write this article after two recent experiences: First, I mixed on the amazing Klein + Hummel O 300 D monitors, and second, I mixed in a particularly well-designed control room. I’m going to focus here on the first part of the equation, the monitors.
Isn’t there one best speaker for mixing? Why are there so many speakers out there to choose from? The way each of us hears sound is pretty different, and each speaker speaks to each of us differently. The market for studio monitors is like a big grocery store: There are a million choices to appeal to lots of tastes. Some of it is junk food: tastes great, but leaves one feeling tired and mushy. Hyped speakers are voiced to sell like a bag of Doritos. Speakers like this can attract us with scooped-out mids and exciting bass and treble, but yield dull mixes or require a long learning curve to get things to translate. Some monitors are marketed as good for you, but have additives and are overly processed, leading to confusion. Then there’s wild-caught salmon and organic broccoli that, when prepared right, taste delicious and give you energy, power, clarity, and contribute to good health. In my experience, the speaker closest to this kind of quality is the Klein + Hummel O 300.
I’ve owned or mixed extensively on Energy Pro 22, Yamaha NS-10M, Mackie HR 824, Genelec 1030A and 1031A, and M&K MPS-1611P speakers. After hearing the K+H O 300, I realize I’ve wasted time on those other speakers. The K+Hs are neutral and clear, spectrally flat, and don’t add any distortion or edginess. The bass is direct and defined. When EQing, the slightest frequency differences are distinguished. They are the least fatiguing speakers I’ve ever used. Whereas the excellent Barefoot MicroMain (MM27) monitor is, for example, sweet-sounding, the K+Hs don’t have “a sound” of their own.
The K+H speakers are not the only speakers in the world with these qualities, but they may be the most affordable ones. I now consider them the speakers at the entry level to greatness. You have to buy speakers of at least this quality in order to know the truth of what you’re hearing. I realize the preciousness to this perspective, and that amazing recordings I love have been made on myriad and cheaper speakers. Speakers like the K+Hs are an evolution in technology that will save you the time and trouble of having to interpret what you’re hearing.
Spending Serious Cash
In any economy it can be hard to justify a big expense. But when it comes to studio monitors, it doesn’t matter what you can afford, you’ve got to spend some serious cash.
Here’s why you should buy the most expensive, best speakers you can, right now: You will save countless hours by having more accurate information available to you at every moment; you will be less fatigued, making you more productive; you will be more confident, which is an advantageous state of mind when in process; and if you intend to be great at your craft and successful, your investment will pay for itself before you know it.
Alex Oana is a regular contributor to Pro Audio Review and can be found atwww.alexoana.com.