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Topic: Perceived realism of samples and Headphones vs Monitors

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  1. #1

    Perceived realism of samples and Headphones vs Monitors

    I need some input on this. It's a pretty complicated story, but here it goes...

    Me and my band have been finishing up our debut CD by recording individual tracks at home and then bringing them to our little studio once a week to have a collective listen. At our studio we have some pretty good monitors, but an extremely bad sounding room. Not much we can do about that for the time being and it's not that big a deal since actual mixing and mastering will be done externally. At home, I work with a very good set of headphones.

    Now I have been working on some sampled piano tracks (PMI emperor) and orchestral tracks (EWQLSO Silver). I spent quite a lot of time trying to tweak them into sounding as close to the real thing as possible through headphones. Now, when I listen to the tracks in the studio, they sound very different. I obviously expected this in terms of EQ, ... but it also has an impact on the perceived realism of the samples. The orchestral tracks especially sound extremely synthy. Now, I am not too worried about this, as I've recorded some real violins as well and they sound synthy on the monitors as well

    Now I know one should never mix with headphones, but my general question is: can the transition from headphones to studio monitors actually irreparably affect the perceived realism of a sampled instrument? Or in other words: can a good mixing engineer restore the sound of an instrument (as I perceived it through the headphone) on studio monitors?

  2. #2

    Re: Perceived realism of samples and Headphones vs Monitors

    I believe that mixing will not make any miracles if the samples do not sound realistic straight out from your sequencer. I would prefer to tweak everything while listening in the monitors, than tweaking the mix later.

  3. #3

    Re: Perceived realism of samples and Headphones vs Monitors

    Well, that's the whole pickle: they sound realistic in the headphones but not in the studio monitors.

  4. #4

    Re: Perceived realism of samples and Headphones vs Monitors

    One thing I like about EWQLSO is I rarely need to add EQ and often don't add reverb either for my final mixes.

    With that in mind, since you're in doubt, I would avoid any EQ or reverb as you print orchestral tracks. That way, you can just concentrate on whether you've sequenced realistically.

    For me, synthy sounding orchestras is usually a sequencing, rather than mix, thing.

    Be careful that you're not listening too loud on headphones. Loud always sounds better (and less synthy) so that may be partly accountable for the listening differences.

    - Mike Greene

  5. #5

    Re: Perceived realism of samples and Headphones vs Monitors

    Mixing in headphones is not a good idea, trust me. The field perception is often off as well as the dynamics since depending on the quality of the headphones you may not be getting the flat response you are looking for during mixing. I'd trust what the monitors are telling you and remix.

  6. #6

    Re: Perceived realism of samples and Headphones vs Monitors

    Thanks for the replies, but just for the record: I know mixing in headphones is not a good idea and that's not really what I'm doing right now. All I need to do now is render dry instrumental tracks. I am focussing on getting the sound just right, kinda like a guitarist would do when tweaking his amp in the studio before recording.

    So my main question remains: I am hearing the sound I need in the headphones. Will a good engineer be able to approach this sound through monitors? Intuitively I would think so: the sound I need is in there somewhere.

    Mike: thanks for the tip on loudness. I just went over the tracks and they do sound the way I want them to sound at any volume, so I'm ok there

  7. #7

    Re: Perceived realism of samples and Headphones vs Monitors

    Quote Originally Posted by billygoat
    So my main question remains: I am hearing the sound I need in the headphones?
    I would say yes. But I'm not offering any money-back guarantees!

    - Mike Greene

  8. #8

    Re: Perceived realism of samples and Headphones vs Monitors

    Quote Originally Posted by Joseph Burrell
    I'd trust what the monitors are telling you and remix.
    That's sound advice, but as I said, the real violin tracks also sound synthy on these monitors, so they're not exactly the best reference...

  9. #9

    Re: Perceived realism of samples and Headphones vs Monitors

    Hmm I mix everything with headphones. I guess the idea is to get a general mix, then listen on monitors. Because headphones are very good for hearing pops and clicks, hearing reverb, and balancing the instruments. One thing that is certain is that your music will sound different on anything. You just need headphones or speakers with a flat response. Headphones do deceive you in the high frequency department. For example a piccolo doesn't sound harsh on my headphones way up in the ledger lines of the treble clef. But on my crappy sb speakers they sound extremely harsh. I will keep the crappy speakers, keep the headphones and get nice monitors. Why? Different mediums, it may sound awesome on your expensive monitors, but on crappy speakers it may be off. So mix with all of them. To get a happy medium, since there is NO perfect.
    Adam Frechette
    Alternate Future Productions, LLC. CEO
    Composition | Web Design
    - www.morningswrath.com
    - www.etherealdarkness.com
    - www.audiostreet.net/adamfrechette

  10. #10

    Re: Perceived realism of samples and Headphones vs Monitors

    Mike: money back or not, I'll sleep a little bit better tonight

    Thanks Adam. You're right: headphones are great for troubleshooting pops and clicks-type stuff. Mine have a pretty flat response.

    I don't need to mix all the tracks together. Just need to get the single tracks sounding as good as possible without getting into general mixing. I don't have the equipment or know-how to do that anyway. Can't really afford monitors

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