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I'm working on mixing an album right now, and it's all sounding pretty good but I'm having an issue with the bass. I really like the tone I have, but depending on the speakers it's being played through it may not be audible because it doesn't have much treble in it.

Now obviously, if the speakers don't play bass frequencies, there's nothing you can do as far as adding bass to the mix. So in general this is a non issue, however a few songs have sections where everything except for the bass drops out, and one song that features the bass playing a melody throughout the whole song and the other instruments are sparse and quiet.

So here's my question: What should I do? I've tried to fix it in the mix by just EQing in some high frequencies, but the high frequencies just don't exist in the current recording so EQ alone won't work, I would have to do something more clever. As it's only a few specific sections that this matters for, I do have the option of rerecording them--but I want to make sure I still get a good tone if I do this. The current recording is all line-in, I had planned on reamping it but liked the line-in tone too much to mess with it. Could that possibly make a difference?

There's also the option of ignoring the issue altogether, I haven't extensively compared the album's sound on many different sound systems yet, the only place I've noticed this issue is on my MacBook's speakers. If the MacBook speakers are like strange in the fact that they have this deficiency, then I would be less motivated to fix it if it had a detrimental effect on the tone. Does anyone have any experience with this issue? Honestly if there was a good way to fix this in the mix, that'd be preferable, but if the best option is to rerecord or reamp I'll just have to do that.

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2 Answers 2

A couple things come to mind...

Unless you're mixing for internet streaming, don't base your mix on how it sounds through laptop speakers. Those little 1" drivers are just plain incapable of producing anything down in the bass fundamentals range.

You say you've tried EQing in some higher frequencies. You can only "EQ in" what's already there of course, so try to stick with octaves of the existing fundamentals. For example, if your bass fundamentals live in the 80-120Hz range, try boosting in the 160-240Hz range. Certainly not what you'd consider "highs", but perhaps high enough to stay in a laptop's speakers range.

I'm assuming your line-in source is a bass guitar?? I don't have a ton of experience here, but I know, as you've found out, that you can get some great bass tone when recording line-in. You could make changes with the tone knob during tracking, or run it through some DSP after the fact.

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Josh said most there is to say already. If you like the sound you have now over studio monitors (something NS-10 like, without subwoofers) then you shouldn't worry about it sounding horrible over laptop speakers – all music does.

If it already sounds bad over such monitors or smaller hifi speakers, you probably should do something about it. Again, EQing only helps if the frequencies you try to boost are already there. Now, modern bass guitars usually have a really large frequency spectrum (often reaching higher than many electric guitars!) and so do sawtooth-based bass synths. In such a case it should be possible to boost some frequencies in the mid-range to get the bass audible.

But some older basses (particularly with flatwound-strings) as well as sine-based bass synths simply don't have significant amounts of frequencies above 200 Hz, so you won't get anywhere with EQs. What you can still do in such a case is to overdrive the sound. That in fact happens on pretty much all old rock recordings: the bass was always too quiet, so they'd usually turn up the amps to the limit, and in these days with valve technology this inevitably meant quite a bit of (smooth & pleasant!) nonlinear distortion, which creates harmonics that aren't present in the original signal, but are coherent with the signal so you normally don't notice this too much in a mix. Today you can do all of this with software plugIns, my personal favourite is iZotope Trash.

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Thanks. I'm not so much concerned with it sounding bad as I am with it sounding wrong, obviously if the speakers are crappy it'll sound crappy, but I don't want important chunks of the songs to be missing. (it really is bad, sections missing are one thing but there's one song that has sparse syncopated clean guitar with a bass line tying it all together, without the bass it sounds random and disconnected) I'll try overdriving it a bit, that just might do the trick. –  Mason Dec 1 '12 at 21:55

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