Tune Your Speakers With Reference Tracks

2013 Nov 18, 2013

One of the most helpful things you can do in your home studio is get your speakers setup to their full potential. The first question you have to ask is are your speakers where they belong. There are some simple things you can do to instantly reduce unbalanced reflections and unnecessary bass build up.

But let’s say you’ve done that and still need to take things a step further? One thing I’ve had to do over the years is tune my speakers using reference tracks.


Via Javier Aldana Flickr

What’s Wrong With This Pro Mix?

One thing many of us home studio owners don’t do enough of is listen to pro mixes on our studio monitors. We spend all of our time in the studio listening to OUR mixes. Big mistake.

The great thing about a pro mix is that, well, it’s a pro mix. In theory it’s been recorded by top engineers in a great sounding studio, mixed by a top engineer in a great sounding room, and mastered by a top engineer with careful attention to balance. In essence when listening to a pro mix you can be confident that it’s a good benchmark for quality sound.
So how does this apply to your speakers?

You should start listening back to some really pro mixes on your studio monitors and ask yourself one question: What is wrong with this pro mix? You “know” in your head that the mix should sound pretty darn close to perfect, so start listening to where your speakers (and their placement in the room) are actually making the mix worse.

Where Did The Bass Go?

Let me give you a real example. Last year my family moved into a new house. New house meant new studio for me. As I document in my series REthink Your Room I had to setup my speakers and acoustic treatment to get a flatter, more accurate sound out of my monitors.

But when listening to some great pro mixes out of the speakers I noticed one major trend: I never heard enough bass. Specifically it was in the low mid range where the bass guitar tends to live. I would say things, “Man, they should have turned up the bass in this mix.”

Uh oh, that’s a clue.

The pro mix isn’t wrong. My speakers are wrong. That “lack of bass” was a major indication that I had some more tuning to do on my speakers/room. I had two choices, either tweak my acoustic treatment some more (the hard way), or tweak my speakers EQ and placement (the easy way).

What To Adjust

If your monitors have some tone controls on the back (or room correction controls) then use them. Make some adjustments there, listen back to the pro mix, and see if you’ve made any “improvement” to the reference track.

If that still doesn’t cut it, try adjusting the position of the speakers. Pull them off the wall more if you have too much bass. Bring them closer to the wall if too little.

If after these tweaks, you still can’t get the reference mix to sound more balanced, you might consider some room correction tools like the ARC 2 from IK Multimedia. Just continue to check the results against the reference track.

The Reference Is Your Guide

The beauty of a reference pro track is that it will guide you. It will expose what is wrong with your room and speakers. Don’t freak out if it exposes a lot of problems. News flash, you’re in a home studio.

Simply use the pro mix to help you tune your speakers to a more optimal position or EQ curve. In the end it will help your mixes and recordings come together faster and translate better outside of your studio.

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