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Old September 16th, 2009, 09:15 PM   #1
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Help Needed With Dialogue

Hi everyone,

In a previous thread I asked about which monitor speakers to get for a computer video editing work station. I ended up getting the Behringer MS40 which were a decent price.

The problem I face now is that the audio sounds great for almost everything (music, sound FX) - however it seems that all dialogue played back on them whether from my films or other films or DVD's all sounds very unnatural. The dialogue is very flat sounding. Now, if that's the way it's supposed to sound in order to help give me a more neutral sound to work with so I'm not being consumed with excess bass and treble then that's fine.

My question is: if the dialogue is supposed to sound this flat and unnatural when working with it, then how do I know when I've edited it correctly? With the exception of the Bass/Treble dials on the spreakers, is there a way to get the dialogue to sound more natural when editing it so I know when it sounds right? Are there certain settings in the Mac System Preferences, Final Cut Studio, or anywhere on my computer I should know of that I can adjust?

Please understand that 99 percent of my filmmaking skills is on the video side and I have always had a hard time working with and comprehending the audio workflow. Up until now, the audio I have created for my films has been ok. But now I wish to try and make it sound a little more professional if I can. So before I dive into learning more about using my audio tools I wish to get my work station set up correctly first - any help and advise you can give will be greatly appreciated.

Thanks.
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Old September 16th, 2009, 09:48 PM   #2
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I forgot to mention that I use a Mac and that all the OSX sound effects (such as the 'moving files dong' and the 'emptying trash effect') all sound very flat or mid-rangy as well just like the dialogue. So I'm thinking I must need to make an adjustment somewhere to correct this. Any thoughts?
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Old September 16th, 2009, 10:08 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by Paul Whittington View Post
Are there certain settings in the Mac System Preferences, Final Cut Studio, or anywhere on my computer I should know of that I can adjust?
Nope. You've just been introduced to Studio Monitors. It takes a while to get used to hearing less "coloured" sound.
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Old September 16th, 2009, 10:56 PM   #4
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Ok, great - I'm happy to hear everything is functioning fine. So then when I edit my sounds, how will I know when I've got them correct? What I'm I listening for while equalizing my audio on a set of monitor speakers? Do I focus more on the high and low frequency's raising and lowering them until they sound not so rich in sound?

I played back a piece of un-edited dialogue as recorded straight from my mic and I notice that the lows are much deeper and the highs are much higher on the studio monitors than they sounds on regular speakers - is this 'emphasis' on the high and low frequencies designed to be there so you clearly know how much to add and subtract from them. In other words, when working with monitor speakers, is the ultimate goal to get the sound as neutral as possible?
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Old September 17th, 2009, 02:16 AM   #5
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Not enough can be said for taking a mix into a true dubbing stage, and trying to gage the differences between what you hear, and what's heard on a dub stage.

That's really the only way to know with any certainty what you're aiming for.
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Old September 17th, 2009, 03:30 AM   #6
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Check your speakers are wird in phase. ie the same wires on each go to + and -.
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Old September 17th, 2009, 07:30 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by Paul Whittington View Post
Ok, great - I'm happy to hear everything is functioning fine. So then when I edit my sounds, how will I know when I've got them correct? What I'm I listening for while equalizing my audio on a set of monitor speakers? Do I focus more on the high and low frequency's raising and lowering them until they sound not so rich in sound?

I played back a piece of un-edited dialogue as recorded straight from my mic and I notice that the lows are much deeper and the highs are much higher on the studio monitors than they sounds on regular speakers - is this 'emphasis' on the high and low frequencies designed to be there so you clearly know how much to add and subtract from them. In other words, when working with monitor speakers, is the ultimate goal to get the sound as neutral as possible?
You have the dialog correct when it sounds correct. But NOT by adjusting tone controls, etc, on your playback system. That's the whole notion of studio monitors - you don't want anything in the playback chain to introduce any of its own colouration into the sound. What you want to hear is a raw, unaltered rendering of the sound as it actually exists in the naked soundtrack. Unwanted colouration can be on either side of neutral - home stereo speakers are designed with an emphasis on highs and lows to make music sound pretty - mixing on them will lead to mixes that have too little on the highs and low ends. Small computer speakers, on the other extreme, are too small and too cheaply made to have much on the low end - mixing on them will lead to mixes that are too bassy because you're cranked up the lows in the mix to compensate for the speaker deficiency as you listen while you mix.

All speakers interact with the room they're in and they also have their own response curves. The purpose of any tone controls or equalizers ON THE MONITOR SYSTEM is to compensate for any room quirks or uneven speaker response by balancing it out, so that the sound from the monitors at the your working position, in the room you're working in, will be unbiased. Once the monitors are adjusted to have a neutral response in your room and calibrated to standard levels, they should be left alone. Then if the dialog sounds flat, you know it's because the recording really is flat and what you're hearing isn't an artifact introduced by the speakers themselves. To give it the sound you want, you don't adjust the speaker's controls, you adjust the equalizers and other tools and plugins etc, in your editing software. Your objective is that when you achieve a certain sound as you mix to your ear, using your editor's tools and plugins to achieve it, you know what you're really gettinmg in the final soundtrack. Monitors aren't supposed to sound "good," they're supposed to sound accurate. The only time they should sound good is when the track you've mixed really is good.

The monitors should be neutral but that doesn't mean the sound should be neutral. James Earl Jones or Morgan Freeman's dialog certainly is not going to sound neutral! You don't want to mix out the individual character of the sound.

Alex makes a good point about a dub stage, if such a thing is possible for you or your project's are of such a scale as to make it worthwhile. Dub stages are designed so that what you hear while the track is being mixed and mastered there is what your audience is going to hear when it's played in a (properly set up and maintained) movie theatre.
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Old September 17th, 2009, 10:12 AM   #8
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Nobody has mentioned that what is more important than your choice of monitors is the environment that you are listening to them in.

You need to do some research and get up to speed on room acoustics and how to tune a system to a room and vice versa. You can have the best monitors in the world, put them in a lousy sounding environment and those amazing monitors are going to sound very colored.

Read up Acoustics 101...Practical guidelines for acoustic construction: building a sound studio, listening room, home theater room, and any other sound control room project.

You also need to learn about noise generators and EQs as well as room construction and treatments. Without a neutral sounding room, you are basically wasting your money as far as trying to obtain accurate mixes.

Dan
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Old September 17th, 2009, 11:13 AM   #9
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My M.O. and 02 cents. I consider a TV mix done when it sounds good on all the following.
- Vintage pro near-fields
- Larger pro near-fields w/sub.
- 13" consumer TV
- 32" consumer TV,
- Cheap consumer entertainment system.
- Laptop/desktop speakers.

I would not attempt a final theatrical release mix in my project suite.
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Old September 17th, 2009, 04:01 PM   #10
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The idea is to have flat sounding studio monitors and to adjust the mix till it sounds good on them. Then take the mix to other speakers in your living room, kitchen, tv set, and make notes of what sounds bad on them. Fix it in the revised mix and go back to listen again.

More various speakers are better in your studio *if possible. Switch back and forth to them to 'average out' the sound. Every listening room will be different when the final consumer listens to the production, so, during post production, check the mix on extreme low end and high end speakers.
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Old September 17th, 2009, 04:52 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rick Reineke View Post
My M.O. and 02 cents. I consider a TV mix done when it sounds good on all the following.
- Vintage pro near-fields
- Larger pro near-fields w/sub.
- 13" consumer TV
- 32" consumer TV,
- Cheap consumer entertainment system.
- Laptop/desktop speakers.

I would not attempt a final theatrical release mix in my project suite.
There's also a point that every room and consumer speaker system has it's own quirks, but if you average them altogether you get a roughly flat curve, but with a lack of bass on most systems. Toole mapped the responses of several systems in his "Sound Reproduction" book to prove that.

Which is to say that if you check your mixes on enough systems, you'll generally wind up with notes cancelling each other out (assuming your original monitoring system is truly flat). The only consistent deficiency is a lack of bass, which you can check for via a variable High-Pass filter.

On Acoustics...
I agree with Dan (btw congrats on 1000 posts) that they play an equal or even greater part in what you hear than the monitors themselves.

Auralex's Acoustics 101 is an excellent starting point. They also offer a free personalized room analysis for when you decide to treat the room (I believe GIK and RealTraps do as well, but I'm not as familiar with them)
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Old September 18th, 2009, 12:37 AM   #12
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One more thing about new monitors no one has yet mentioned:

There is a sort of 'imprinting' that goes on. New studio monitors will almost always sound 'wrong' or even 'bad' at first - because you are used to something very different.

Don't immediately go into a mix situation. Instead, spend a few days (even better, a few weeks, but we seldom have that kind of time) just listening to the best possible material you can find - sound Oscar winning movies, platinum Grammy awarded records, etc.
Don't listen to anything you have done on another system.

After a while, you will begin to feel like the sound from the new speakers is more natural, it will feel 'right' again. Only at this point should you listen to any old material you may have mixed, or try to do a mix session.

If you go right into mixdown mode before doing this, you will very likely wind up trying to eq the material to match the remembered sound of your old speakers, and will thoroughly mess the sound up.

-Mike
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Old September 18th, 2009, 01:08 AM   #13
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Thanks everyone for the great input - I'm already getting a good feel for the new monitor speakers. The thing I love the most about them is how they make visible and clear every sound no matter how hidden it is with regular speakers - I've been reworking the last audio edit I did before getting them and it already sound 10 times better.

Don and Steve: I've been doing as you say rounding up various different audio devices to see how it sounds - and you're right that, if you edit the sound so it sounds good on the monitors it seems to sound even better when colored on other speakers too which is great.

Mike: Yes, great idea - that was the first thing I did was try out various DVD's, online trailers, and whenever film material I could round up - this works good for both getting used to the speakers and also for adjusting them for my studio setup before editing.

And thanks to everyone else for contributing to the thread - all you suggestions are greatly appreciated! i don't know if I'll ever be as good with the audio as I am with the video but at least now my films should sound better than they did before.
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