Audio Monitoring and Levels


Well first of all this post is not for top-notch post facilities or audio studios. Its more for the one man shop or fellow that is just getting started with audio and/or video production at a home “office” or a smaller “simple” facility. So keep that in mind … I also will not go into room acoustic or Monitor placement (you can find some info in the KRK manual).

It really is more about how you can get the most out of an – maybe not so perfect – situation. Of course you also can translate this to any other “top-notch” post production situation. 😉

Lets get stated: Regardless if you have a 5000 bucks or a 200 bucks audio monitor system you have to get used to them. Listen to stuff you like, watch your favorite Movies/ TV Shows and whatnot, that should help a lot judging sound with your monitors in the room you work.  At the same time you also setup your “monitoring level” (volume/output levels of your workstation / your Audio-interface). That is an essential part you always should have the same monitoring level especially in a final mix situation. It has to be a comfortable loudness so to say. If your monitoring level is too quiet, you will miss things you will mix too loud so to speak. If you have your speakers on too much power (too loud) you will mess up the signal that you hear, frequencies will kinda get mixed up, cut out, stuff like that (so to say)

It really is important to have that (good) base level. Re-check every now and then, also re-check with some reference tracks so that your ears can “tune in” so to speak. Nothing is worse than questioning your monitoring situation / loudness like “is that too loud or what is going on…?!”

You can use headphone for editing (actually you can be more precise with them) but don’t use headphones for the final mix. The Stereo-filed is way bigger than with normal Speakers and you have a different much stronger (wrong) “feeling” of loudness with headphones because they are much closer to your ears and there is no room in which frequencies can reflect and stuff like that. Belief me your headphone mix will sound much less exciting and less powerful on speakers.

Try not to use your video editing app (NLE) for sound mixing. Editing (Interviews and stuff) might be ok, you also can “layout” / arrange sounds and music or even do a pre-mix for the rough cut but always use an audio software like ProTools, Nuendo, LogicPro or even SoundtrackPro or Adobe Audition for the finial mix. You have more options, better plugins, better precision, more quality in these apps. Play with EQ and Compressor or even with Reverb and stuff like that to make your mix more exciting but don’t overdo it ;). (more about plug-in’s and settings after NAB / end of this month) Yes AVID MC6 has pretty good audio options with great Plugins now but if you want the best possible outcome you should use a dedicated audio software.

Last essential part (for today’s post) are levels. That can be tricky if your audio interface doesn’t have any kind of level-meter like the RME DIGIcheck. But you also can use and trust the level meter plugins in your audio software like LogicPro or ProTools. (the level-meters in the channel strips are kinda unprecise). SoundtrackPro and Audition have pretty good built-in level meters. Now what dB range is the best? Well if you work for broadcast that can be tricky because every broadcaster has his own rules / requirement but usually -10dBfs is the most safe way to go (broadcast level) but you really have to check with the broadcaster. If you do stuff for web-delivery or client DVD’s you should go for 0dBfs (or -1 for safety haha) That said it should not peak at 0dB all the time. Make sure u have some dynamic left. (your level meters should be between -20 and 0db …that is fine ;)) On that note: Level-meters in NLE’s are not that reliable, even though they are good to make sure you don’t clip your audio master. For anything more than that I wouldn’t trust them.

On last thing: Try to check your mix not only with your Studio Monitors also check it on stuff like your MacBookPro/ Laptop or your TV/Stereo at home or – as many music fellows like to do – in your Car. These are all “listening-situations” you are kinda familiar with. So u can hear if your mix sounds good even there and you can make changes if for example the VO is getting lost in the music or the other way around (most common issue).

So that’s it. Most important get experience by doing stuff, test stuff, re-check with reference tracks. Keep in mind that all this is only some sort of guideline. I do this for a little over 13 years now and I still learn new stuff with every new project 😉

If something is unclear (might got lost in translation) or any questions are coming up please let me know and use the comments-section.

Oh, one little side note: Please don’t ask your audience to crank up the speakers or headphones … your mix should sound great no matter what 😉 (just saying)

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