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Which speaker/headphone should I compose my music for?


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I notice that the piece I'm working on sounds very different depending on how I listen to it. With speakers and a subwoofer, the bass is much more enjoyable, but with headphones, the bass is much weaker and changes the whole feel of the song. My cheap headphones have virtually no bass at all. There are also other nuances with each format that are different.

What system should I optimize my music to? If there's no real answer, what way do most people listen to music?

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The pros and semi-pros use reference monitors to ensure they're hearing their stuff accurately. High quality headphones would be passable. Good studio monitors are very expensive, hundreds of dollars, though you can get some passable M-Audio ones for $200-300. I wish I had them, but I keep spending my paycheques on sample libraries instead of saving for some good monitors.....

I wouldn't get too caught up in it.....I went through this same thing and I was getting so paranoid about how my mixes sounded on headphones, so I altered it a bit then that made it sound bad on regular speakers so I....etc...

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It's a matter of practice. If you have very good ears, and you are willing to spend the time learning your setup, you can create a good mix on any monitoring system. I personally use a pair of cheap ($40 or so) headphones. I have learned the sound of the headphones so well that mixing for them is second nature. When I go and test my tracks on other sound systems - iPod headphones, home stereo systems, car stereo systems, cheap computer speakers, computer speakers w/ subwoofer, etc - they generally sound very good.

In short, the only honest advice I can offer is to get something you can be comfortable with, learn its sound, and go from there.

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hm... Well, what does my audience use?

It's really not a question you can answer. I mean I use some $65 logitech speakers, but then zircon above me uses cheap headphones. Mixes will sound different on both of ours. And then another person here might listen to music on his ipod. Again, I don't think you should get too caught up on how it sounds on other machines. What I do personally is listen to a lot of different music on my speakers that I've heard elsewhere, so you get used to the sound of your speakers.

Should I compose my music assuming my audience has decent bass?

No. Again, if you have lots of other songs in similar styles of yours, you can just compare your songs to theirs using your own speakers to guage what sounds "right" ( and again, listening to lots of songs will make this second nature)

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As they said it's not about the quality of the monitoring equipment you use, it's about knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your setup and having a good idea of how it will sound on a variety of speakers and headphones of differing quality.

Even so, you can't really go wrong with a good set of studio monitors...providing you have the cash. They certainly make some adjustments easier.

The bottom line is this though - once you find what works for you stick with it. Not that I'm well informed when it comes to the world of production however...;)

Oh and..

Post count +1

Level up!

Took me long enough...

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Get familiar with how a professional song with similar sounds in it as what you are working on sounds on your system and try to get close to that. I use headphones mainly because monitors aren't practical where I am set up, but I burn cd's a lot to go test out the bass on different systems like the car stereo and whatnot. Careful with headphones - bass is often hard to guage accurately.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Definitely don't assume your audience has good bass. People listening on a flat EQ (on their MP3 player or computer software, not on your mix) on an average pair of headphones won't have any bass boost. Mix the bass to where you want it to be, so the bass is balanced with the rest of the track. If someone has speakers or headphones or software with bass boost and wants to use it (or thinks that with bass boost on, there's too much bass), they can turn it on or off as they wish.

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Make your music sound good to you. Most people will ruin it with Winamps EQ anyway. The ones that dont EQ it and have a decent setup, will destroy your song for too much bass, lack of mids, a horse penis at 2:47 and whatever else. Take all the advice you've gotten, find the average of the comments, apply that to your mixing style.

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I don't think your sound should be crafted to match a certain style of headphone, or a certain home PC setup, etc. In the end though, you music doesn't have to be good for my setup; it just has to be good.

While you're learning, I think you should keep in mind how frequency response of songs you like sounds on (preferably) both of your systems, and try to match that. For example, if you're building a bass heavy beat, try and get the bass in your music to respond similarly to another bass heavy song from your collection. Professionally produced music should sound great on all systems, so mimicing that will help your sound as well.

In practice I've found that the largest difference in how a piece sounds between different systems depends on the subwoofer, i.e. whether they have one or not. Headphones (and many 2.0 systems) don't have a good low frequency response, cheap ones in particular, so it's key to not depend on anything below 80Hz for music you intend to share with the world.

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