First time poster here: I've just begun to learn post-production sound, and I'm at the mixing stage for a short film that is going to be sent out to some festivals. I'm mixing in stereo at a decent studio setup at my college campus (the best one we have there) with very good monitors and pro tools 10 HD.

I would love to be able to have a reference film (or films) against which I can compare my own work. Obviously, no two films will be mixed the same and no two styles will be the same. Even so, it would be nice to have examples of how various types of scenes are handled.

I know that most DVD releases of theatrical films apply significant compression and are often remixed. So: can people provide recommendations of good reference films that are virtually untouched from the original theatrical mix to use as reference / learning tool?

The compression issue will be tough, I know. I just want something that gets close to the dynamics and levels of the theatrical mix. It would also be ideal to somehow extract some sample scenes via handbrake (compression!!) to bring directly into pro tools for comparison. I know that handbrake or other programs introduce another layer of compression: I'm fine with the image being compressed to hell, but I'd like to get the audio as uncompressed as possible.

5 Answers 5


I'm not sure about the right reference. I think that audio tracks from DVD can be useful to some extent when you're really unsure how loud can things go. I used to mix things too hot and I think that even compressed stuff like 5.1 from DVD can help if you set the reference track(s) the right way (so it's pleasant to your ears). I'm sure that someone more experienced can be more helpful. Martin

  1. Your best bet is to find movies on DVD that match the soundscape you are trying to create. Listen to them carefully to determine what it is that creates the acoustic atmosphere you like. Listen for the pauses, general pitch, presence or lack of foley etc.

    Proper mixing of all of these elements is the MOST vital part of your audio process. It simply will not matter how loud or quiet your overall signal is if your foley or soundtrack levels are not properly adjusted to allow dialogue to be heard. Televisions come with volume buttons for a reason. One of the most notable mistakes I see in low budget film is poor use of audio. Essentially you are looking for the audio to be invisible unless you look for it. You want every element to have atmospheric purpose.

  2. Secondly watch your meters. If your meters are clipping (hitting the red) you are distorting (damaging) the audio and reducing quality. Your best bet is going to be setting the gain for the individual channels so that the meters NEVER go above -6, and with the exception of loud quick sounds like gunshots/explosions average right around -10. Then use the fader and ducking controls to mix.

    *I think another important issue is determining what type of compression you are referring to. Limiting type audio compression (squishing the loudest parts of the signal to even out overall output) or file compression (using math to remove/shrink file size and then re expand/add the missing information at playback or file recovery)

    The first if used properly can increase overall perceived volume. The second will remove some information from the file reducing overall audio quality.*


For setting your reference monitors certan major factors come to play. The size and shape of your studio, re recording engineers distance from the reference monitors. In a proper post sound mix stage, reference is: 85 db L,C,R 82 db Ls,Rs and 89 or 90db (depending on tv or film show) for Lfe.(aka Sub) If you are mixing in a substantially smaller than the theater size room, you have to reduce your reference level accordingly. Otherwise, you would go deaf, or tend to mix much lower than you should have, because you would think that it is just so loud. Theater is a much larger space in volume.

To calibrate yor ref. monitors, use pink noise on each main out channel set solo at minus 20db (digital equivalent of Unity) and get a db meter and point at the cone of the speaker from the mixing position at the head level. Calculate the size of your room h.w.d. in correlation to sound pressure. Example, I mix at 79db LCR based on a much smaller room size. 76db LsRs and 83 Lfe. Once you get your reference levels nice and proper, dialogue should have rms around minus 24 to 26 db, this way you have 4 to 8 db head room, if there is shouting involved. Everything else gets wrapped around the dialogue. Get that egg yolke shaped and mix the white around it. Use your critical listening at this point.

I hope this makes sense to people in need of an advice.

  • While good advice for what you are describing how to do, that doesn't seem to be what the question is asking. It sounds like the asker is asking for DVDs that he could compare his work to in order to see how he is doing. This has nothing to do with system calibration.
    – AJ Henderson
    Apr 2, 2014 at 13:24
  • I agree with AJ Henderson, you provide useful info, but no answer to the question. You seem to know your way around mixing post-production sound, so you might actually have some useful insights regarding the actual question. If you do, could you please share these with us?
    – EMV
    Apr 2, 2014 at 18:15

Not a DVD, but they say the Bluray version of Master and Commander is pretty close to the theatrical mix.

You can patch your player through your PT and monitor the inputs. You can at least have some idea on mixing levels if you can watch the meters during playback. Dorroughs are your best friends. :)


Make sure your 5.1 system is calibrated first of course, then here's some information :

+1 for "Master and Commander" BLURAY. Be careful though, that sucker is LOUD, but a real treat to hear and compare!

  • "Megamind" BLURAY (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1001526/) is also the theatrical mix. If you have a 7.1 system is practically identical according to Eric Adhaul. (he didn't mix it, but he was present during the process.)

  • Anything that Michael Semanick has mixed for Disney (blurays are closest). NOTE, these are not the exact theatrical mixes, HOWEVER it's interesting to know that Michael follows these mixes through all the way to the consumer stage, where he does his best to maintain the theatrical mix as much as possible for consumer release. He states that Disney is very thorough with the follow through of their films to DVD/Bluray. Though, I'm not sure if he's involved in this process on non Disney films.


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