Mixing bass has always been a painful issue for audio engineers. Studios are getting smaller in size and bass reproduction often takes the biggest hit. Even with perfect acoustics, balancing bass can be a big challenge. That's because there are few true solutions to the problems of mixing bass
An engineer can spend years learning the sound of one studio environment. Change the room or speakers, and they feel like they are flying blind. This can be frustrating and may lead some engineers to question their abilities. Here are some helpful tips for mixing bass.
Tip #1:Improve Room Acoustics and Monitoring
An accurate listening environment is essential when mixing bass. Poor quality monitors and room acoustics can lead to problems in low frequencies. This causes engineers to make bad decisions and craft mixes that don't translate.
Make sure that your studio has a pair of full range monitors. Smaller monitors may only reproduce frequencies down to 40Hz - 50Hz. These speakers work for some mixing applications. However they are not accurate for mixing low frequency content. A subwoofer may be used with smaller monitors to reproduce low frequencies.
Use acoustic treatment to reduce room modes. Room modes are a series of resonances created by a room's natural acoustics. These resonances usually exist between 20Hz - 200Hz and can create major problems in this range. Use bass traps and absorptive acoustic treatment to reduce the effects of room modes.
Tip #2:Use EQ
It is important to balance harmonic content when mixing bass. Bass guitars and synthesizers often contain the power, body, and warmth of a mix. Use EQ to shape the tone of a bass.
Here are two examples of bass instruments recorded with no processing:
You may find that your bass instrument has too much low end. In this case, use some EQ. Try a Hi-pass filter set between 20Hz - 40Hz. This will remove some unwanted sub frequencies.
The 200Hz - 400Hz range can be a source of warmth. Too much of this range can result in a muddy sounding mix. If you find that your bass instrument is crowding other instruments, use some EQ. Try cutting some frequencies between 200Hz - 400Hz. This will help to increase clarity and separation.
Here is what our examples sound like after EQ:
Tip #3:Use Compression
Bass instruments have a wide dynamic range. Use compression to reduce the dynamic range of a bass and bring out subtle elements of a performance. Try a ratio of between 3:1 and 4:1 with a long attack and medium release time. Gain reduction of between 2dB - 6dB is common.
Here is what our examples sound like with compression:
Tip #4:Use Saturation
Saturation can give character to a bass. Hardware compressors with tubes or transformers add harmonic distortion. Tape emulations plug-ins have become popular for creating saturation.
For more aggressive styles of music, saturation can create the attitude needed for an emotional mix. For more classical or jazz oriented styles of music, saturation may not be necessary.
Here is the electric bass with some saturation:
Tip #5:Use LowLeveler
Use LowLeveler to harmonically balance your bass instruments. Bass instruments contain two frequency ranges: the Low Bass (Fundamental), and Upper Bass (Harmonic). The Low Bass (Fundamental) is often much louder than the Upper Bass (Harmonic).
Place Reveal on your DAW's master bus and turn on Critical Listening mode. In this context, you may find that your bass instrument has almost disappeared. In this case, adjust the Upper Bass (Harmonic) to an appropriate level. Now turn off Critical Listening mode and adjust the Low Bass (Fundamental). This ensures that your bass is harmonically balanced and translates across all listening systems.
Here is what our examples sound like with LowLeveler:
The Core Production Workflow optimizes mix translation across all listening systems. A mix may sound great in the studio but doesn't translate to other speakers. Balancing bass can be particularly challenging. Studio monitors are usually full range and reproduce extremely low frequencies. Consumer listening systems often cannot reproduce the same low end.
The Core Production Workflow helps engineers focus on the most important area of a mix, the audio core. In the past, NS10's and other small speakers were used to hear the core. These speakers may work for many mixing applications. However, they also introduce a variety of distortions. Soundways' Reveal is the only plug-in developed for listening to the audio core.