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It's certainly not the ideal scenario, but I'm just starting out in the world of sound design and music production and I could use some clarification on how to mix bass.

Hardware Limitations

I've got two Presonus Eris E5s in a decent size (but not too big) room with dampening and overall I can get a nice sound. However, without changing the EQ on the monitors, the bass is, well, flat. That's obviously to be expected, but it's hard for me to be sure where the 5" bass reflex is just being "flat" (or not boosted like with most media devices) and where it's not being honest.

Mixing with Bass

Listening on other devices, such as my car's stereo, the bass is boosted by default (even with it EQ'd to 0). How do I take that into account into my mixing?

I understand what I want it to sound like in my head. If listening on a system like that in my car, I would want the bass to be nice and loud. However, if I mix it to be that loud (for certain genres, as loud as possible in the mix), will it be too loud on other systems?

My main problem is this: Should I change the EQ on my monitors, taking the (1) bass reflex into account or the (2) bias of other systems into account?

Maybe I'm over-thinking this.

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The first piece of advice I will offer is, don't add a sub to your setup. Ill come back to this point in a bit.

One of the most important tasks when first starting out mixing is to get to know you system. This is partially done when you pick monitors but in reality it does not matter what monitors you have as long as you know what they will produce. I have a few sample songs that I use to test out new systems. They are songs that provide a basis of reference for me, songs that I know so well I can easily use them to compare speakers my favorite is Steely Dan's "Hey Nineteen". A collection of test songs should cross all forms of music and be different in their sounds. Why you pick a test song is your call and it does not matter to anyone but you what you pick. Now go listen to that song in lots of places, then finally listen to it in your mix room to build a good basis for your mixes.

If you monitors are flat on the bass and you know that, you will have to do some predictive mixing but this can be dangerous. I will offer a few different solutions that may mitigate/solve your problems unfortunately some may be cost prohibitive.

Buy a second (or second and third) set of monitors: Unfortunately this is the expensive option but you will find this in many studios and is the best way to check your mixes. In this case I would chose 2 somewhat different monitors so that you can compare your mixes on the spot.

Mix On The Distributable Media: This is a bit of a lost art but back in the day engineers used to cary around Mono Boxes (basically the speaker part of an AM radio) to mix through since thats where the audio ended up eventually. Keeping in mind that you are mixing for the masses some times its not bad to demo your mixes through iPod headphones (or computer speakers) when mixing down. A mix that sounds great on $10,000 speakers is worth nothing if it sounds bad on iPod headphones since thats how most people will consume it.

Leave your monitors alone: EQ'ing your monitors wont fix any issues (well it may mitigate them a bit) but again we come back to the fact that you need to get to know your setup and how it responds in the real world. If you EQ your monitors you will just color them a bit and create a new slate to mix from a new slate that you will have to learn and become accustomed to.

Why I advocate for not adding a sub: as mentioned earlier most people listen to music through headphones or basic stereo setups. Adding a sub may cause you to mix you bass to light since you have added effectively a bass booster system.

  • So general sound design/music production practice does not call for a sub, then? – ZX9 May 17 '15 at 19:53
  • I don't personally use one but there are people that do. It comes down to distribution, see my points on mixing on the distributable media. Although 5.1 systems are common most people still consume music in a stereo setting. – Dave May 17 '15 at 19:59
  • I understand for the average listener. I was just a bit surprised by your suggestion to not get a sub. Thanks for the detailed response! – ZX9 May 18 '15 at 0:27
  • It does on some level come down to personal preference but you can get really good low end response from most studio monitors these days and I have always found a sub over kill that causes not enough bass to be put into the main stereo mix. – Dave May 18 '15 at 0:59
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The age-old dilemma - do I trust my system?

Do I have to compensate for it, physically or by guesswork?

The age-old answer has always been to listen to what other people's tracks sound like on all systems available to you - in & out of your usual genre, then mix to match the best of those.

If you are over- or under-emphasising low frequencies, you will actually be likely to be able to hear the effect of it even on non-flat systems.
The modern advantage is that you can put a frequency analyser over the stereo output & visually compare what those tracks look like compared to yours.

The other thing to consider is that adding a sub to your existing system would likely make it harder to line up accurately than without it.

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