Is Your Room Really That Important?February 08, 2012
The Importance Of Your Mixing Room...
Your mixing room plays a very large part in the sound that you hear while in it. It is even safe to say that any environment that you are listening to music in has an effect on what you hear. Not convinced? Okay, try listening to a bit of your favorite music on the monitors in your studio. Now take that same bit of music and play it outdoors (weather permitting of course) in an open area. Chances are it sounds simply awful. This is because there isn't any walls or floors or furniture to have any effect on the sound.
To answer the question simply would be to say “yes”. Your mixing room is really important when it comes to recording, mixing, mastering or just listening to any type of music. But why? Well this week I will try to demystify the room as it relates to sound and give you a better understanding of why it is so important.
This article in no way, shape or form is meant to be an end all, be all article on the importance of mixing room treatments or anything like that. This article is meant to give you some basics and to get you to maybe start thinking about room treatment first before you go out and spend money on upgrading your monitoring because you don't like the sounds that you are getting from your mixing room.
This week we are going to learn:
The Basics of Sound Travel.
Noise Reduction vs. Noise Absorption
What Makes A Good Mixing Room?
A SOUND FOUNDATION – THE BASICS OF SOUND TRAVEL
What is sound and how does it work anyway? Well that is a very complex question that I will leave to the folks that have many more stamped documents on their wall then I do. But in simple terms, music is a form of energy. Just like all basic forms of energy it needs to move. Sound is movement.
For example, I am drinking a cup of coffee while I am writing this article. The hot cup of coffee I am drinking contains thermal energy. This is a result of the water molecules moving and vibrating as they are heated up. This movement creates energy and so it is also with sound.
See you hear in 20/20. Yep, just like your 20/20 vision, you also have 20/20 hearing. We humans perceive sounds from 20 Hz (cycles per sound) to 20 kHz (20,000 Hz). Each of those wavelengths can move a certain distance based on their frequency. Lower frequencies can move farther whereas high frequencies can only move short distances. For example a low frequency like 60 Hz can move a little over 20 feet or 6.1 meters in distance. So when you realize that every sound that we hear can move a certain distance you can begin to see how your mixing room can play a much bigger part in your music than you may have thought.
ALL AROUND THE SOUND
The sound that we hear coming from our speakers is either direct or indirect before it reaches us. Direct sound is sound coming from your monitors and directly to your ear. Indirect sound is coming from your monitors and then hitting your walls, ceilings, floor, furniture and everything else that is in your mixing room and then bouncing off (or absorbing which we will cover next) and then finally reaching your ears. This bouncing or reflection is what makes up part of the rooms acoustics and of course effects the way you hear sound that is played in it.
NOISE REDUCTION VS. NOISE ABSORPTION
It is very easy to get these two mixed up, but in reality they are very much different. Noise reduction is actually stopping, reducing and removing the noise, whereas noise absorption is not reducing the noise at all, but sucking it up if you will. Think of it this way. Let's say that you have spilled milk on your kitchen floor. Now if you use a sponge to clean up some of the milk it does not reduce the amount of milk that is present it is simply absorbing it. This becomes very evident if you squeeze all of the milk back into the floor from the sponge. Now if your cat came along and stopped the milk before it reached your expensive hard wood cabinets by licking it up, this would be much like what noise reduction does. It stops and removes the noise before it gets to your ears.
So we know that reflections are nothing more than the sound indirectly going somewhere else before it reaches our ears right? So the question is how do you control these reflections in your mixing room? As a matter of fact how do you control all the sound in your room? That is a great question for which there is no blanket answer. This is because the answer will change with each room that you encounter. However there are some basic sound tools that you will want to know about and apply as a start point before tackling your own mixing room.
First off not all reflections that you find in your mixing room are bad ones. Remember our example of playing music outside? Well no matter how bad your room is it will sound much better than the wide open outdoors. This is because the reflections of a room make your music sound fuller, louder and more alive.
The top three ways to control the issues in your mixing room are:
Absorption – We talked about this earlier so I won't go into too much detail here.
Diffusion - Diffusion keeps sound waves from grouping up. It can also make a small space seem large and a large space seem even larger.
Bass Traps – Bass traps are great for mixing rooms with low frequency issues. Most rooms are problematic in the corners when it comes to low end, so traps are a good fix.
WHAT MAKES A GOOD MIXING ROOM?
There are lots of things that can make up a good mixing room, but one that always comes to mind first for me is reverb. If the reverb is equal across the frequency spectrum in that room then chances are that is a good room. Now keep in mind that there are very few perfect rooms out there. Even major label professionals are often not working in a perfect environment. The key is that they know the limitations of their rooms and know how to compensate for it's short falls.
I can't tell you how to get a perfect sounding room, but I will tell you a few tips on how to improve yours and get closer to the perfect mixing room that you seek.
Move furniture away from the walls and more to the center of the room.
If you are working on bare floors then use throw rugs around the room for absorption.
Cover windows with drapes or blankets.
Try to have 25% to 40% of a room's surface area covered with something that does not reflect sound but instead absorbs it.
Room treatment is a very vast subject. The good thing is that there are plenty of books, videos and such on this subject. Also, you don't need to become a room expert before you decide to take the plunge into treating your room. Just like everything else it takes a little time and doing some fact finding, but it will be well worth it and your recordings and mixes will thank you for it. So will the new monitors that you buy AFTER you treat your mixing room.
We Recommend The Following Room Treatments:
Stay tuned for more weekly tips and tutorials every Wednesday.
Article written by Alex Butler
Alex is an audio engineer, studio producer and freelance writer based out of Seattle, WA.