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Old August 25th, 2013, 11:19 PM   #1
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Mixing audio for devices with small speakers

Hi -

I'm finishing a 6 minute mini-documentary for a church that will be shown on their web-site. The problem that I am now experiencing is that most people will be watching this video on devices with small speakers like laptops, smartphones and computers with internal speakers. To be honest, I've never mixed audio with this type of situation in mind. Obviously, I want the dialogue to be well-heard. It is. It's getting the dialogue and the music sounding balanced on a variety of speakers that have me quite nervous. At present, the only monitors that I'm using in my little studio are Mackie's HR824MK2. I just listened to the video on the computer that I use at work (with pretty poor speakers) and I could hardly hear any of the music
.
I'm attempting to keep the music-score simple. I'm using a piano, two acoustc guitars, strings and light percussion, all from differing (computer-based) instrumental libraries. If I was composing for audio CD, I'd feel much more confident. My confidence is a bit shaken knowing that the audio will be heard on devices which have limited frequency response. If I want the entire audio to be heard in a variety of situations how does one mix-down the dialogue and underscored music?!?!?

By the way, I'm a full-time ICU/CCU Nurse. I do have a music background, though. Heck, I studied film-composition. But that was 30+ years ago, and I learned it when "cut and paste" was literally cutting the audio tape and splicing the pieces together with special tape (on both an upright and flatbed movieola). I wish I took more sound-engineering courses back then!

Thank you for any amount of time and insight you may share with this.

With much gratitude,

Ted

PS - If it is helpful, I'll be happy to supply a link to the video. I just don't want to risk breaking any forum rules.
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Last edited by Ed Fiebke; August 26th, 2013 at 12:38 PM.
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Old August 26th, 2013, 08:49 PM   #2
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Re: Mixing audio for devices with small speakers

What methodology do you do when you mix dialogue and music that will be heard on small, cheaper speakers???
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Old August 26th, 2013, 09:05 PM   #3
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Re: Mixing audio for devices with small speakers

Some techniques include limiting, compression and even multi-band compression. Also "cutting out" (frequency-wise) space in music for voice-over frequencies, etc. And, of course, actually listening to your mix on small speakers (and earbuds, and car radios, etc.)
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Old August 26th, 2013, 09:19 PM   #4
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Re: Mixing audio for devices with small speakers

I run into this all the time. I came from a TV background and now 99% of what I do goes to the web. I have a pretty good broadcast set up and when I'm mixing for the web I turn up the music mix just to the point where its just a little to high. Then I pop it on my YouTube channel and listen on my laptop to check it and adjust as needed.
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Old August 26th, 2013, 10:01 PM   #5
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Re: Mixing audio for devices with small speakers

FWIW, I check mixes on multiple sets of speakers.. large, small near-fieldsa cheap TV and a system w/ a sub woofer. If it sounds acceptable on all, your good to go.
For broadcast submissions, adhere to the EBU or ATSC recommended practices, levels and guidelines... most b'casters use these, but it's recomemeded to check the individual b'caster's submission specs as well.
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Old August 26th, 2013, 10:13 PM   #6
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Re: Mixing audio for devices with small speakers

You could buy a set of really cheap PC speakers and hook them up to your 2408 as well as your Mackies

Then, in your software, or motu mixer, toggle between the main monitors and pc speakers to learn the difference.

Grab the audio from a source that sounds great on both big monitors, and laptop speakers and put it in your mix. Use it as a reference track by soloing and muting it to compare it to your mix. That will help you learn more quickly.

The one thing that I do when I mix dialog with music beneath it is:
1. Remember what my friend who mixes feature films says - "dialog rules"
2. If you are the composer, don't play notes that are in the same timbre as a human voice while there is dialog.
3. If the music is in the same timbre as the dialog make a drastic scoop in the mid EQ range so dialog can be clearly heard. You can use automation to flatten the EQ on the music when there is no dialog. Scooping the mids in the music will leave plenty of room for dialog in the mix, but the extreme highs and lows in the music can still be loud.

Music in the mix should not compete with the dialog. A catchy hook can be very distracting. The hook needs to happen before and after dialog, not during.

~Jay
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Old August 27th, 2013, 06:17 AM   #7
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Re: Mixing audio for devices with small speakers

First, thank you all for the thoughtful responses. I've already started listening to the audio on different speakers which brought me here seeking suggestions on mixing. I did not like what I heard on my work-computer's small speakers.

Obviously, a whole lot of frequency response is being lost from these small speakers. I thought I was helping myself out by keeping the instrumentation to the music relatively simple (no crazy and "busy" percussion, no thick electronic sounds, etc.). I have a lot of fine-tuning to do with regards to being really, really mindful of the limited frequency response these small speakers let out in sound.

Jay Morrissette - Your recommendations are well received. I'm going to listen, again, and make sure that any melody and harmony changes are not conflicting with the dialogue. Then, I'm going to lower the mid-range frequencies to the music-mix which, hopefully will offer me more choices in the mixing process. (At present, the music is already rather quite as heard even on my large studio speakers.)

I have some smaller speakers which I used to use during past music-mixing projects. After re-arranging my small studio, these (what I thought were) small speakers are now nicely tucked away in my closet. I'm going to take them out of the closet and hook them back up into my system somehow. LOL! They worked great in helping me make sound-mixing decisions. Interestingly, those old Radio Shack speakers are even bigger than the small speakers found on laptops and smartphones. I going to network my wife's MacBookPro into my studio system. With people watching videos on their computers and laptops more and more from the internet, I can see how such an arrangement is a necessity now. Geeze.

I really don't consider myself a sound engineer. . . . obviously.
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Old August 27th, 2013, 08:05 AM   #8
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Re: Mixing audio for devices with small speakers

Also check it on a tablet or iPad, since they have become very popular for home viewing and most people don't wear earbuds when watching at home with nobody else in the same room.

Last edited by Jay Massengill; August 27th, 2013 at 05:11 PM.
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Old August 27th, 2013, 02:07 PM   #9
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Re: Mixing audio for devices with small speakers

I didn't think of that, Jay. I'm going to check the current mix-down on my wife's iPad as soon as I figure out how to do it. (It shouldn't be to hard, hopefully.)
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Old August 29th, 2013, 10:12 AM   #10
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Re: Mixing audio for devices with small speakers

If it were me, I'd mix mix for the best possible audio for normal conditions. There are going to be people listening/viewing on more devices than you think, and I think it would be impossible to work out a single solution for all listening/viewing conditions.

Kind of like trying to color grade a video for a particular computer. What looks good on person number 1's computer may look like crap on person 2 computer. Just seems impossible.

So again, I would mix audio for the best quality. Can't expect much from little device speakers anyway, unless listener is using some sort of in ear device.
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Old September 1st, 2013, 06:40 AM   #11
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Re: Mixing audio for devices with small speakers

In TV we would tend to mix for normal speakers but do a check via the TV speakers to make sure that all is OK, I have also done it the other way round by using the large monitors to listen for any noises that need filtering but then doing the main balance using the TV speakers.

In the old days we used auratones or even hifi speakers such as the AR18 or Yamaha NS10's but found that they were all so different that just the main decent monitors and a good TV such as the Sonys we tended to use gave the best mix of different playback devices.

It is always about just finding a good balance that will be acceptable on a variety of listening devices rather than mixing for one particular thing.
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Old September 8th, 2013, 07:40 AM   #12
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Re: Mixing audio for devices with small speakers

Hello Ed,

Thanks for saving and caring for people's lives. :)

The problem you're facing is the results of simple physics. With rare exceptions, small speakers can't reproduce low frequencies. Cell phone, smart phone and other handheld devices (so far) can't. My iPad 3 does a better than average job (to my amazement), but still isn't quite there yet.

Since these devices can't reproduce frequencies below 500 Hz (or there abouts) you need to give them a helping hand. Using a parametric EQ, find a spot around 400Hz to 500Hz and peak the audio a bit. Not enough to mess up the sound on normal speakers, but enough to bring out the upper harmonics of the lower music frequencies that the speakers just can't handle.

Follow that with compression and then limiting.

Regards,

Ty Ford
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Old September 9th, 2013, 06:01 PM   #13
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Re: Mixing audio for devices with small speakers

Ty Ford and all -

Much thanks for the information shared! Trust me, I pretty much experimented with most if not all of the suggestions. I think that I created an audio mix that sounds good on the studio-montiro speakers and my wife's MacBook Pro speakers. To play it extra safe, I also simplified the arrangement.

FYI, if you have a web-site on your signatures, I pretty much book-marked them for later use, especially if there're lots of information to be found there. A HUGE thanks for taking the time to share the audio and video "how to" type of information!! It's much appreciated by these weary eyes (and ears).

Ted
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