You Can't Trust Your Ears

2011 Nov 18, 2011

One of the absolute most frustrating things about recording music is that you simply can’t trust your ears. The human ear is not a very reliable tool for knowing if your tracks are sounding great or not, plain and simple. Our ears adjust, and our brains compensate for things we’re hearing and very quickly we lose perspective on just what exactly our audio is sounding like. Depressing I know.

But there is hope in all of this. For one, the fact that our ears aren’t very trustworthy means that no one truly has “golden ears”; you know those people who just can hear perfection and then translate that into award winning mixes? Yep, just isn’t true.

Now the pro engineers and mixers have developed their ears to be able to discern things that the newbie will simply miss, and this is not to be understated. But what I’m getting at it, is that by design none of us are immune to our ears tricking us into thinking we sound better than we do. So let’s look at how to compensate for this issue.


Via Alberto …. Flickr

Listen To Your Mixes On Different Speakers

One of the best things you can do to reset your ears is to play your mix through a very different set of speakers. If you primarily mix on near-field studio monitors, then try to run your mix through some cheap computer speakers. Within 10 seconds, your ears will perk back up and notice any glaring problems with the mix. Try it again with some headphones. Your ears will be fresh to the way your cans sound. But of course after a minute (or less) they will get used to that sound and you’ll lose some perspective.

You get the idea though, by switching speakers (even to cheap speakers) you force your ears to “wake up” and start paying close attention to the frequency balance. This state of resetting is so helpful in giving you information you need to make sure your mix is where you want it to be, and you don’t have to spend a lot of money either. Just listen to your mix on something other than your main speakers every now and then, and you’ll be better off for it!

Listen To Other Pro Mixes On Your Speakers

Another way we can’t trust our ears is when we isolate them from other pro mixes. If we only listen to how OUR mixes sound on our speakers and in our room, then we have to “standard” to which we can compare. The drums might sound big and huge to us, but what we’re hearing can easily be colored by our speakers, our room, and again our not-so-trusty ears. By simply opening up a pro mix and listening to that for a minute, we can quickly regain perspective on what DOES sound good and how a great EQ balance is represented on our system.

I like to listen to pro mixes here and there during the mixing process to make sure I’m not completely off with my tones and balances. What might sound crisp and bright to me, might actually turn out to be a bit too dull and flat when compared with a pro mix. I need to check in with something mixed outside of my room to give my ears a foundation for how to work inside my room.

Listen At Lower Volumes

One final way we can’t trust our ears is if we mix music too loud. By design, when we turn up audio our ears over emphasize the high and low frequencies, somewhat resembling what stereos do to make your music sound “better” and more “exciting.” That being said, it can be very misleading if you only mix at loud volumes. You think your mix is kicking serious butt, but when it’s played back at a moderate to quiet volume everything falls apart. No punch or power remains.

The solution is mix a much quieter volume. Practically, I like to mix at a volume quiet enough for me to have a normal conversation with someone in the room without having to raise my voice. This way my ears aren’t tricked into “over hyping” the sound, therefore forcing me to actually mix a punchier and more powerful track. Of course, it’s always good to play back your mixes at a few different volume levels to gain perspective (because remember, you can’t trust your ears), but in general keep it low when you mix.

Discover The 6 Steps for Creating a
Radio-Ready Song from Scratch"

Enter Your Email Below To Receive The Free 17-page PDF,
"6 Steps To A Radio-Ready Song"

We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.