Should You Mix For Your Listeners?

This is something of a leading question, and the obvious answer seems to be ‘of course you should’. Accepted best practise in professional audio mixing/mastering is to work with specialised flat-response monitors in a specially designed room – providing the cleanest sound possible without interference patterns or emphasising/attenuating any particular frequency range. However, considering that your audience will be listening to your product on vastly inferior equipment, should you take that into consideration too?

In fact, for many records, producers do just that – at least to some extent. The main concession given to the destination limitations is the radio mix, where a different mix is distributed to radio stations than is typically found on the commercial CD version. This is mainly because of the extreme pre-broadcast compression that is applied to radio signals, which can wreak havoc with already heavily-compressed material – see That’s The Radio On My Song for more on this subject.

Are You Listening Comfortably?

It seems that most people nowadays listen to the vast majority of their music on headphones, either through an mp3 player or a computer at work. Headphones offer significant acoustic isolation and a very different listening experience to a hi-fi system. Hometracked features a rough survey table estimating how people listen to music:

  • Headphones: 60%
  • PC speakers: 20%
  • Car speakers:10%
  • HiFi speakers: 10%

Now, combining the limitations of low-quality headphones with lossy mp3 files, the listening experience is inevitably going to suffer somewhat. However, this is not something that producers should be mixing for per se; if a record is properly balanced, it will sound great on decent equipment and sound as good as possible on everything else.


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