One of the best investments you can make in your studio is a pair of super cheap, consumer grade computer speakers. That’s right, we’re talking those speakers that sometimes come free with your desktop computer. For some of you, this is easy, you already own crappy speakers. For the rest of you, I’m giving you permission to make a purchase. Just keep it under $100 will you?
Via William Hook Flickr
Uncovering Mix Problems
There’s a reason why a pair of cheap speakers (as a second set to your normal studio monitors) is crucial: they reveal hidden problems in your mix. This is the beginning of what I call the “cheap speaker test.” The biggest strength and weakness of cheap speakers is their over abundance of midrange frequencies. They have very little bass response and many times muted top end.What that leaves you is an exposed mid section (yikes!).
Listen to your mix for a minute and take note of any guitars, vocals, pianos, whatever that stick out in a bad way. Is there a frequency that is exaggerated on these speakers that you didn’t notice before? Try and sweep around on an EQ on your mix buss while listening to the midrangy mix. Once you find that frequency, you can dial it down a bit. More than likely you won’t notice anything missing on your better speakers. Problem solved. Now your mix sounds better everywhere.
Waking Up Your Sleepy Ears
The benefit of the “cheap speaker test” is that it can perk up your lazy ears. You see, after listening to your mix one set of speakers for a few hours, your ears adjust to that frequency response. They get lazy. This becomes a potential problem because they can compensate for what your speakers are telling you and you might know what’s really going on in your mix.
If you switch over to your cheap speakers for a few minutes, your ears will instantly be shocked out of sleep as it were and will be hearing your mix in a new light. I can’t explain the science behind it (I’m a musician people, what did you expect?) but I can tell you that my ears always respond to a different frequency response of some kind, especially cheap midrange dominant speakers. This works in your favor as it helps you discern what is needed in the mix and keeps you fresh.
Listening Like Your Audience
Much like the purpose of the iPod earbud test, listening to your mix on your cheap speakers is a practical way to know how your mix will actually sound to people in the real world. Most people don’t have nice hi-fi stereo systems in their homes anymore (just poll your non-audio engineer friends). They listen to music on consumer grade headphones and computer speakers.
A quick reference of your mix on theses same types of speakers will give you perspective, reminding you of what your audience will hear when they aren’t in your studio. For me this means I can sometimes stop over tweaking my mix because I can’t hear the difference on cheap speakers. Other times it means that I need to adjust some faders because what may sound sweet in the studio, doesn’t work in the real world.
And let’s be honest, at the end of the day all we want is our music to sound ridiculously amazing in the real world.