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EQ and room acoustics: Is your room lying to you?

From: Foundations of Audio: EQ and Filters

Video: EQ and room acoustics: Is your room lying to you?

Have you ever done what you thought was a killer mix only to take your mix elsewhere and be utterly disappointed: what was the perfect amount of bass is now way too much in the car, or the chunky tone of your guitars ends up being hollow and thin on friend's speakers? Mix portability, or how a mix translates from room to room and speaker to speaker, has been toiled over by mixers of all skill levels for years. EQ is all about altering the frequency balance of a signal, adding or subtracting energy from a waveform's amplitude.

EQ and room acoustics: Is your room lying to you?

Have you ever done what you thought was a killer mix only to take your mix elsewhere and be utterly disappointed: what was the perfect amount of bass is now way too much in the car, or the chunky tone of your guitars ends up being hollow and thin on friend's speakers? Mix portability, or how a mix translates from room to room and speaker to speaker, has been toiled over by mixers of all skill levels for years. EQ is all about altering the frequency balance of a signal, adding or subtracting energy from a waveform's amplitude.

Rather than relying on a list of frequencies and recipes to cut or boost, seasoned engineers use their ears to apply EQ. What if your speakers and room are coloring the frequency response of your mix? In other words, what if the EQ adjustments you think are making your mix better are actually just a response to how your room's acoustics are shaping the sound coming from your speakers? Let's try an experiment. I'm going to play back a 100 hertz tone, and I want you to turn up your speakers and walk around your room as the tone plays back.

As you walk around, note any changes in the perceived level of the tone. If you're using headphones, this won't work, so come back to this example when you can listen on speakers. (Tone) Unless you're lucky enough to be in a perfectly tuned room, you probably noticed that the tone increased and decreased in level as you moved around the space, most likely building up in the corners of the room.

What you're experiencing is additive and subtractive phase cancellation of the 100 hertz sound wave bouncing off the walls and ceiling and recombining with the direct signal. These standing waves create pockets of build up where the waves combined constructively, a push added to a push, or destructively, a push added to a pull to create pockets of reduced level or near silence. The creation of these standing waves are based on a room's modes.

Room modes are a collection of resonances that are based on a room's dimensions, with small rooms exhibiting more aggressive modal resonance because physically larger lower frequencies have nowhere to go except to bounce around and overlap on themselves. Sitting at your mix position using your speakers, take a listen to this bass playing the chromatic scale. Note that each note is played at the same exact amplitude. (music playing) Did you notice any notes that seemed to stick out as if they were louder? If yes, then you're experiencing the effects of your room's modal response.

Try going back and playing the same example listening with headphones, and see if you notice a difference in the balance of the notes. Remember, each note is being played back at the same exact amplitude, so if you have a fairly balanced pair of headphones, you shouldn't notice much difference in the amplitude of each note. Now, imagine you're trying to find the perfect level and EQ for your bass guitar and the root node of the bass line sits at one of those frequencies that is either getting boosted or cut due to your room's modal response and standing waves.

You may be inclined to make an EQ or balance decision that has nothing to do with the actual signal itself, but only how that single is reacting to your speakers and room. It's like trying to paint accurate colors with sunglasses on. An exhausted review of acoustic principles, properties, and treatments is beyond the scope of this course, but all I want to do here is make you aware of the fact that your room is probably lying to you, and that the principles shown here bring to light one of the main reasons your EQ decisions might not translate from space to space.

So what can you do? Well, short of hiring an acoustician and building a new studio, you can start by learning more about acoustics and acoustic treatments. Take the time to learn your room and its shortcomings by listening to a lot of reference material. Learn and use a pair of favorite headphones as an additional reference, and listen your mixes in different environments to see how your EQ decisions transport from space to space. In all circumstances, use reference mixes that you know sound good out in the world and compare their frequency balance side by side to your mix.

Does your favorite mix sound like it has too much bass in your room, then you will likely have to make your mixes sound like they have too much bass in order to translate well to other playback systems. Bad rooms can screw up the best engineers and turn them upside down when trying to make EQ decisions. Know that even with treatment, it's almost impossible to completely fix a room, and even multimillion dollar studios have similar problems. In fact, I'd rather do a mix in a bad room that I'm intimately familiar with than in a tuned room with unfamiliar sonics.

After learning what your space sounds like, you'll be able to craft consistently strong mixes despite any shortcomings.

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This video is part of

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Foundations of Audio: EQ and Filters

36 video lessons · 12825 viewers

Brian Lee White
Author

 
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  1. 3m 28s
    1. Welcome
      1m 36s
    2. What you should know before watching this course
      35s
    3. Using the exercise files
      58s
    4. Using the "Get In the Mix" Pro Tools and Logic Pro session files
      19s
  2. 15m 46s
    1. What are frequency and amplitude?
      2m 27s
    2. Measuring frequency
      1m 48s
    3. Measuring amplitude
      1m 58s
    4. The perception of frequency and amplitude
      4m 18s
    5. Frequency and pitch
      5m 15s
  3. 36m 10s
    1. What is an equalizer?
      4m 14s
    2. Hardware and software EQ
      1m 58s
    3. Understanding frequency and gain EQ controls
      3m 41s
    4. Using the bandwidth, or Q, EQ control
      5m 35s
    5. Parametric equalizers
      2m 36s
    6. Shelving filters
      5m 11s
    7. High- and low-pass filters
      5m 42s
    8. Putting it all together with multiband EQ
      3m 43s
    9. Using graphic EQ
      3m 30s
  4. 46m 13s
    1. Creating focus
      3m 47s
    2. Get in the Mix: Using EQ to fix problems and place elements in the mix
      8m 30s
    3. Get in the Mix: Creating complementary EQ curves
      9m 7s
    4. Get in the Mix: Creative EQ with the telephone effect
      5m 30s
    5. Get in the Mix: Frequency bracketing with filters
      5m 44s
    6. Get in the Mix: Automating EQ
      6m 18s
    7. Learning to listen
      3m 10s
    8. Balancing expectations from the recording process
      4m 7s
  5. 41m 14s
    1. Get in the Mix: EQing FX returns
      4m 29s
    2. Using common vintage-modeled EQs
      5m 2s
    3. Using frequency analyzers
      3m 44s
    4. Using harmonic generators to excite frequency content
      5m 44s
    5. EQ or compression first?
      3m 3s
    6. EQ and room acoustics: Is your room lying to you?
      6m 15s
    7. Boost or cut? The relative nature of EQ and headroom
      4m 0s
    8. Building healthy EQ strategies
      8m 57s
  6. 19s
    1. What's next and EQ summary
      19s
  7. 5m 51s
    1. A session with Brian Lee White
      5m 51s

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