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I'm currently final mixing a low budget feature, here's the deal:

I'm mixing in a smallish room (16'x13') on JBL LSR 4328s + sub, set up for 5.1, but i'm not totally sure how to make sure my mix translates well to a theatre context.

My main concern is bass; i've split the FX and music masters into >80Hz (to 5.0) and <80Hz (sent straight to LFE) so i can control the bass somewhat, and make sure i don't blow up the sub of any systems that have bass management. Are there any guidelines as to how the bass in my smaller room will translate to a theatre?

For now, i'm doing a lot of meter watching and keeping the LFE from peaking above the 5.0 levels in heavy FX sequences, as well as using MaxxBass to retain some perceived lows. I know this is far from an ideal way to mix; i'll be doing a pass on a good-sized dub stage later on, but i'd like to make my stab in the dark as accurate as possible.

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It is really hard to imagine what your mix will sound like in the dubbing stage. I think there are 4 key elements that you have to be careful about, and you have to be able to make changes when you go to the dubbing stage.

1 Volume

You have to work at a fairly high volume in your editing suite in order to get some decent dynamics into your work. If you compress your material too hard in the editing room, it will sound harsh in the dubbing stage.

2 Front speaker EQ

Since the speakers in a dubbing stage have horn tweeters behind the screen, you need to do some general EQ'ing to make it sound right in the dubbing stage. Do this right away, so your ears don't get used to a dull or harsh dialogue track. Remove the frequencies you don't need with hi- and lo-pass filters. Especially with dialogue and foley tracks. I always put a hi-pass on the dialogue somewhere between 80-130 Hz depending on the voice and a lo-pass at around 13k. The foley tracks get the same treatment. I have mixed a couple of films on dubbing stages with two-way cinema speakers, and if it is played back on three-way cinema speakers, you get a little more definition in the very high frequencies, so you can hear the background noise in your foley tracks turning on and off if you don't filter out the very high frequencies. You probably also need to adjust the general EQ of the music bus.

3 Surrounds

The surrounds are quite diffuse in a real dubbing stage. Instead of coming out of two discrete speakers right behind your ears, the sound comes out of two arrays of speakers somewhere above and behind your ears. They are also delayed a bit by the Dolby system in the cinema, so be prepared to adjust the general surround volume.

4 Bass / LFE

The bass is the hardest part. I would set the crossover at around 100 Hz instead of 80 Hz. Bass gets louder in bigger rooms because of the laws of physics allowing longer wavelengths (=lower frequencies) to exist in the bigger room. It also varies from one dubbing stage to another. I wouldn't worry too much about the bass in your editing room, it will sound differently in the dubbing stage, and it is not the most important part of your sound design.

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Thanks Morten! That's very enlightening, particularly the nature of the front speakers. We have a dialogue/ADR mixer who has full access to a large dub stage, so at least that will sound fine. –  Roger Middenway Apr 12 '11 at 19:09
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