Posted on Leave a comment

How to calibrate your studio monitors

Recording studio control room

Disclosure: Audio Hertz is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.


Monitoring is arguably the most important part of mixing. Without being able to hear the music properly, you won’t be able to mix it. Your monitors, room treatment and your positioning are all critical factors in ensuring you’re able to deliver mixes that translate to different speakers.

Calibrating your monitors helps your ears to become accustomed to a standard level of volume which enables you to listen to sound in your environment more accurately. It’s also another great way to preserve your hearing.

Since you’re listening to everything at the same SPL, your brain can judge the levels more accurately. You’ll become much faster at deciding when something isn’t leveled correctly which in turn will make your mixing decisions not only more accurate but also much easier.

Calibrating your monitors is the process of understanding and setting the level coming out of your DAW relative to the SPL that’s leaving the speaker. This lets you know that when your mixer is set to unity or your output level is at a marked spot (more on this later) that you’re able to hear the volume level your speakers are calibrated to.

You also have to make sure that both speakers are accurately reproducing the same level of audio. No two pieces of electronics are the same so just setting the two volume controls to the same level isn’t enough to ensure consistency between both speakers.

In order to calibrate we’ll need to use pink noise. Pink noise is a tone that consists of every frequency band at exactly the same level. This makes it the ideal tool for many types of acoustic measurements including speaker and room calibration.

To calibrate your speakers,

  1. Turn the independent level controls on the back of each of your studio monitors all the way down.
  2. Set your interface output to unity if there is one. If it doesn’t have a unity level, then you can choose where you’d like your output knob to be when you reach the desired level you’re calibrating to. Mark the spot on output knob with a white china marker or a piece of console tape.
  3. You’ll need to set up a track in your DAW with a tone generator to output pink noise. Most DAWs have a tone generator built in. Set the level to -18dbfs (you can use -20dbfs if you want more headroom). If you did step 1 correctly, then you shouldn’t hear anything yet. (We are calibrating to -18dbfs because it is considered to be the equivalent of 0 dBVU which is the sweet spot for analog gear)
  4. Now you’ll need an SPL meter. If you don’t have one I recommend buying one, but you can also download an SPL meter app on your phone. You’ll need to make sure the SPL meter has a C-weighted scale. Unlike the A-weighted scale, the C-weighted scale does not cut off the lower and higher frequencies that the average person cannot hear which makes it more suited for calibration purposes.
  5. Point the SPL meter at the sweetpoint in the center of the speakers where you would typically have your head. Make sure the meter is at about the same level as your ears.
  6. Pan the pink noise all the way to the right, so it’s only coming out of the right speaker. Start turning up the volume knob on the back of the right speaker until the SPL meter reads 78-85 dBs depending on what you decide to calibrate your speakers at. I’ll be calibrating my speakers at 80db. If you’re sitting closer to your speakers, you can calibrate them lower. Renowned mastering engineer Bob Katz likes to monitor at 79 dB.
  7. Now pan the pink noise to the left and repeat step 6 with the left speaker.

You’ll now know where you should be keeping your monitors output level to ensure you’re listening at the desired level!

Related articles:
EMT 250 and the birth of digital audio
The “your mixes sound bad in the car” phenomenon
[Even more] Things I wish I learned sooner about audio engineering
Things I wish I learned sooner about audio engineering

Posted on Leave a comment

8 things you can do to help preserve your hearing

Ear with protection from loud noises

Disclosure: Audio Hertz is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.


Be aware of noise levels in your environment

Loud noises are everywhere. The construction site across the street, the local bar on a Friday night… I’ve even been to painfully loud restaurants. I’m probably stating the obvious for most readers, but for those that don’t have ear protection or carry protection with you, I highly recommend it. There are many occasions where I’ve been saved by having a pair of earplugs with me. Your ears are an essential tool; without your ears, you wouldn’t be able to hear all those sweet plugins you just bought on Cyber Monday.

Use an SPL meter

It’s helpful to frequently check your mixing levels, so you’re aware of how loudly you’re monitoring. It’s easy to lose track of how loudly you’re mixing after seven hours in. It’s happened to me where I’ve been 8 hours into a mix and then realized I’ve been monitoring at 100 dB for the last hour. It sounds stupid, but it happens.

I like to leave an SPL near my mixing station. If that’s not possible, then I’ll make sure to check the app I have on my phone, although I’m not sure how accurate they are. Fletcher Munson says 80db is the ideal monitoring level, but I say, screw you, Fletcher Munson. I like to monitor at all levels; it’s good just to be aware of what you’re monitoring at and how long you’re doing it. Healthy levels of noise for shorter periods is not harmful to you; it’s the long extended period of times at higher levels that will do damage.  I like to monitor loudly at certain times but, the majority of the time I try to spend time at lower volumes on smaller speakers such as NS10’s or my newly purchased iLoud Micro Monitors.

Take breaks during long sessions to give your ears a rest

Pretty self explanatory and not very revolutionary but it’s still something people forget to do. Take breaks; it’s always a good idea. Sitting down for 3 hours without stopping is not only bad for your ears, but you’ll also start to lose perspective on everything. I would recommend trying to take a five minute break every hour or so; go outside, go for a drive, do something else. You won’t only get a mental break, but your ears will also benefit. It gives your ears time to recalibrate. Another cool trick is to flip the left side with the right side, so your channels are coming out of the opposite channels. Since the stereo field switched your brain will recalibrate itself and give it a new perspective, and you’ll hear things that you didn’t before.

Use proper protection

Get a good pair of earplugs. Heros and other cheap alternatives are great for what they use them for: cheap disposable protection for when you’re sleeping or getting an MRI. They work great for that sort of thing; they don’t work great when trying to hear anything after putting them in. If you’re planning on being an audio engineer or a musician, invest in a solid pair of earplugs. I use Earasers which are only $40, and I highly recommend it but $400-500 is a small price to pay to avoid future hearing problems.

Don’t overuse protection

That’s right… you can be too cautious. Greg Scott mentions his experience on the UBK Happy Funtime Hour podcast in episode 101. Scott found himself wearing his earplugs too often which brought on a problem called hyperacusis. Since he would wear earplugs all the time, the brain starts to turn up the volume. The issue is when you take ear plugs out normal level sounds are now painfully loud.

Know the signs of hearing loss, be vigilant, see an ENT

No matter what age you are you always need to be vigilant about your ears. Pay attention to your volume levels; are you listening at louder volumes than usual? When people talk to you are their voices getting increasingly difficult to hear? For a full list of things to consider when wondering if you are suffering from hearing loss, you can check out this article on HearingLoss.org.

Regardless of if you’re experiencing issues, if you’re a musician, audio engineer, or producer, then you should be getting your hearing checked some say as much as yearly but at least once every two to three years.

Be aware of the side effects of  your medications

Certain medications can negatively affect your hearing, and some even have tinnitus listed as a common side effect. Make sure if you’re being prescribed medication to tell your doctor that you’re a musician or engineer and your ear health is a high priority. You’ll need to weigh the benefits and negatives with your doctor, but always make sure they are aware of your situation so they can take the appropriate measures to make sure your ears stay healthy. To ordinary people, a little tinnitus, or a small loss in hearing isn’t a big deal when it comes to fixing other aspects of your health, but to a musician our ears are everything.

Manage stress and anxiety

I’ll start by saying if you struggle with stress and anxiety and haven’t looked into ways of helping yourself then you should do that first and foremost.

Stress, and anxiety can affect all different parts of your body and this includes your hearing and ears. It can not only cause hearing issues but exacerbate ones you already have. According to Calm Clinic issues related to anxiety that affect your hearing include:

  • Trouble focusing on sounds
     Anxiety and stress can be painful; it can be sudden and intense; it’s hard to concentrate on anything in these moments, and that holds with sound. You can’t mix a record when your brain is somewhere else and constantly being distracted. Mixing, recording, writing music all require both your body and mind to be present.
  • Unusual sounds and auditory hallucinations
    People who suffer from anxiety disorders may start noticing sounds and noises that others don’t, such as creeks, bumps, buzzes, ticks, etc. They can also hear sounds and noises that most people don’t. Many also experience hearing, clicks, pops or noises that aren’t there. There’s no real explanation for the connection other than your brain is probably just processing information poorly.
  • Tinnitus
    Tinnitus is a chronic ringing of the ears. Anxiety can increase the loudness of the ringing as well as your perception of it. Many audio engineers and musicians will end up suffering from different levels of tinnitus eventually in their life. Anxiety will only make it worse.

As a musician, audio engineer or producer our ears are paramount in being able to create our art effectively. Unfortunately over using our ears can lead to damage and affect our ability to create. Luckily, with small changes and taking a bit more precaution, we can prevent most of the avoidable damage that comes with the trade.

Related articles:
How to survive as a working audio engineer
[Even more] Things I wish I learned sooner about audio engineering
EMT 250 and the birth of digital audio
The “your mixes sound bad in the car” phenomenon

Posted on Leave a comment

5 mixing mistakes that I used to make… and how to avoid them

5 mixing mistakes that I used to make… and how to avoid them

Not properly preparing

Having your sessions prepared for mixing will not only allow you to mix faster and more efficiently, but you’ll also free up your mind to make more important decisions. Edits should have crossfades, vocals should all be comped, backup vocals and multi mic’d instruments should be grouped or bussed appropriately, etc. Every time you make a decision while mixing it taxes your brain, and it becomes harder to focus on the more important things. By preparing beforehand, you don’t have to worry about which vocal take you want to use but instead can just focus on the more important aspect of how that vocal is sitting in the mix.

Make a list of everything you need to have done to adequately prepare for a mixing session. Pretend you have an assistant and ask yourself what you’d ask your assistant to do before you needed to mix, then do that.

Monitoring way too loud

Get an SPL meter and start checking at what level you’re monitoring. About a year ago I had my first real scare when it comes to my ear health. I woke up one day with an ear infection which turned into tinnitus which turned into asymmetrical hearing loss. Your ears are fragile, and you should take care of them.

My hearing issue was a blessing in disguise. I was a habitually monitoring at loud volumes, I wanted to “feel” the music. It wasn’t until I was told that if I continued, I could further damage my ears that I was forced to monitor at lower volumes.

I’ve always heard people say it is better to monitor at low volumes, but every time I tried, I’d still find myself slowly raising the volume until it was back to 100db. After my hearing issue, I had no choice. I couldn’t risk further damaging my ears. It turns out, everyone that said monitoring at lower volumes is better was right. Not only does it save your ears, but it is also great for leveling purposes because you can hear transients better. More importantly, the lesson I learned is to try new things that are difficult because you’ll always learn something.

Having my phone out while working

Text messages, email, Facebook, Instagram… These things are only there to inhibit my workflow by distracting me and making my work take longer. Breaks are essential, but distractions will stop your thought process and make it difficult to keep focused on the task at hand. For example, say you’re mixing a song, and while you’re listening to the song you say to yourself, I want to tweak the EQ on that guitar. Then you get a text message from your friend, Joe, who starts asking you how to deal with a problem he’s having with his girlfriend, Rita. When you finally get back to work, it’s likely you’ve forgotten all about how you wanted to tweak the EQ on that guitar.

Not listening to references or rough mixes

I used to purposely not listen to rough mixes or reference mixes because I didn’t want them to “distort my own original ideas, man!” Okay,  I never said that or I’d have to kick my own ass, but I did still feel like listening to another mix right before a session wasn’t a good idea. Time and time again I found my mixes coming back with revision requests. But why? They weren’t down with my creative ideas? Didn’t they realize I’m the next Chris Lord Alge?!

No– the reason is that they’ve been listening to a rough mix for eight months and I just gave them something back that sounds completely different. The human brain appreciates habit and what it’s used to. If you give a client back a mix that’s completely different from what they’ve been listening to then it’s likely they won’t like it solely because it is different than the rough mix. You shouldn’t make a mix that’s exactly like the rough, but you should use it as a reference point.

Adding a mix bus compressor last

If you want to compress the mix bus, don’t slap one on after fine tuning everything without one. That goes double for when you’re inexperienced and don’t know what you’re listening for. It takes years to really understand and hear compression and a few more years on top of that to understand mix compression.

If you’re going to be adding a mix bus compressor do it in the very beginning. Once I have two or more elements going through my mix bus, I will insert a mix bus compressor. This allows me to mix into the compressor rather than, get my levels and then completely destroy them by adding a compressor that wasn’t set properly.

Mixing into the compressor and giving the mix movement and life makes it sound more interesting. If you don’t mix into compression then you probably shouldn’t add it later, leave that up to an experienced mastering engineer.

Related articles:
Things I wish I learned sooner about audio engineering
[Even more] Things I wish I learned sooner about audio engineering
EMT 250 and the birth of digital audio
The “your mixes sound bad in the car”