Mixing (The Quite Way)

I am a newbie on mixing. Reading these posts, I have read that it is much better to mix with volumes quite down, even almost unaudible.

What I do not understand, and hopefully someone much better that I am at this can explain, is If you mix with low levels, how do you know how the final mix will sound like ?

I have read a lot about ear fatigue and the like but when mixing at low levels does it mean to lower the main EQ Levels or lowering the Individual track faders while raising the Main EQ ?

I am mixing mainly on headphones, even though I have a good surround speaker system. I just do not understand the whole mixing with low levels technique.

Yeah I didn’t understand it at first either, as learjeff explained it to me, but I works!

I wise man at a 711 once told me, (in his mideastern accent)“Some things just cannot be known” Thanks Habbib!

So Does it require to lower the main levels or each track’s fader while raising the Main ?

How do I know final mix EQ Settings if I hear everything low ??????

I think it means the output volume on your speakers or headphones, not the main levels.
Just to set each tracks volume level.
You can always turn your main speaker volume(headphones in your case) up to get the EQ right after all the seperate levels are set.

Hope that helps…


That makes sense. I guess it takes getting used to it, specially with vocals, which should stand out in front of other tracks, and with the volume down it is difficult to percieve the differences in fx such as reverb or echo.

When mixing at low levels you are experiencing what is known as the loudness effect. The human ear is less sensitive to midrange sounds at lower volume levels, and this is why it may be beneficial to mix at low levels. I usually do my mixes at a combination of low and quite high levels to ensure what I call ‘low-level compatibility’. Sometimes I also make cross comparisons using different sets of loudspeakers. If the mix then sounds right at both low levels and high levels, it sounds right, period. :D

regards, Nils

let me just add that you really should be mixing with speakers not headphones. It will help you hear the way the stereo effect sounds in a room. Headphones separate the chanells in an exagerated way - not what you want when mixing.

I have read that it is much better to mix with volumes quite down, even almost unaudible.

What I do not understand, and hopefully someone much better that I am at this can explain, is If you mix with low levels, how do you know how the final mix will sound like ?

I think the key point is that you want to try to avoid hearing damage (in the long term) and ear fatigue (in the short). Things always sound "better" louder ("loudness factor" - or Fletcher-Munson effect as Nils has mentioned), so it's easy to keep pushing the volume of things up... and up...

You want to mix at a comfortable volume (85dB?). I don't see any benefit in mixing at levels that are almost inaudible.

But sure, when you think you've done, try the mix at different volumes, loud, louder, quiet, very quiet, from a different room, and then (whole new subject coming up) on different systems.

On the subject of mixing, have you read the "Jezar" document... written by a pro who used to hang around here a goodly number of years ago.... it's excellent:

How to mix a pop song from scratch

And...yes, you'll get better results on speakers than headphones.


let me just add that you really should be mixing with speakers not headphones.

I'll second that, especially through cheaper phones. I just did a mix of a live gig through some headphone, played it back on speakers and found there was bugger all bass guitar. Plenty of kick and bottom end, my guess is that the phones exaggerated some of the upper harmonics, when were then missing from the playback through the YSM1is and the home theatre setup...

—As you turn the volume down, certain parts will start to become inaudible before others… Bass guitar and kick drums are usually the first to go… The last thing you should be able to distinguish as you approach complete silence should be the vocal track and some snare drum.

Works for me.


…Oh… Headphones will damage your ears much faster than listening through your monitors! I’m guilty of this, too. :(

Hey, Great answers.

This forum has helped me a lot on issues like this. I will mix tonight using Speakers and doing it quiet.

Really appreciate all your help.

And do as has been recommended here, check the mix at different volumes and on different speakers in different contexts. Some folks swear by their car stereos - if it sound good there, they say, it’ll sound good anywhere. Some folks use a particular boombox for the same purpose.

Also, be aware of issues having to do with your mixing environment - esp. low end problems that almost all of us have from the rooms we are mixing in. Your mixes can get really screwed up if the mixing environment plays havoc with the sound - and I would bet dollars to donuts that your mixign environment has serious problems. It’s a factor that is usually underestimated. “Hey, I’ve got good speakers, isn’t that enough?” Nope. :(

First, don’t mix in headphones. I do, and others do, but I’ve been mixing for decades (amost 3 now!) and I know what the headphones do, and I try to compensate. For me, it’s due to a temporary restriction mainly based on decorating concerns (my studio nook is “temporarily” in our family room) and to be able to work at night while others are asleep. But I do NOT reccommend it – even for an experienced pro. It’s a compromise I’m willing to make as an amateur. I’m willing to settle for less than my very best – things still turn out good enough for me. (You can hear my work at Learjeff.com. Folks who know their stuff will detect some problems that were probably caused by my monitoring! But my friends & family don’t seem to notice.)

The ideal mixing level with respect to EQ curves is 87 dBSPL©. Now, what the heck does THAT mean? It means, hop on down to Radio Shack, get a Sound Pressure Level (SPL) meter. I like the cheapie analog one for $30 best. Slap that puppy on some kind of stand (IIRC, it has a camera stand mount), put it where your head is when mixing, and back away a couple feet. While playing commercial music, turn up your monitors until it reads between 85 and 90 dB, with the switch set to “C” weighting (for music – “A” is for speech).

This is the ideal listening level for EQ and best sensitivity. HOWEVER, I recommend mixing at lower levels (though not to “nearly inaudible” levels!) But before lowering the level, we have to consider Fletcher Munsen as mentioned above. If you’re using a home stereo amp for your monitors and it has a “loudness” switch, turn that ON and forget about Fletcher Munson. If not, you’ll want to manually compensate. Post back about that, maybe I can write something up after a little study.

Now, assuming you have Fletcher Munsen covered, I recommend mixing at significantly lower levels, like 60 to 70dB SPL©, which is conversational level. (It really helps to have a quiet room.) But, while I recommend MIXING at this level, you also have to double-check your mixes periodically at higher levels – ideally, 87dB.

Here’s why:

1) reduce ear fatigue, as you know

2) When mixing loud, you hear more detail. But don’t you want your mixes to sound good when played quietly? I sure do! I often used to find after mixing loud, that an important underlying part was dropping out entirely when turned down. I don’t want this to happen! Mixing quietly is harder, because it forces you to do whatever’s necessary so that all the important elements are heard, even when your ear isn’t getting all the detail it would in a loud mix.

3) I find that mixes made loud generally sound bad when played quietly, and mixes made quiet generally kick ass when cranked up. Of course, there can be some nasty artifacts in some plugins or tracks, so you MUST periodically CHECK your mixes and overall EQ at loud levels. Just don’t work that way as a habit.

I hope this clears up your doubts. Your questions make perfect sense; this isn’t a cut-and-dried simple matter.

Where does the 87dB number come from? I got that from Bob Katz. He got it from motion picture sound engineers (SMPTE), where it’s used as the standard level for movie audio, based on a good deal of research. Katz did some informal testing to verify that it was good for audio music mastering as well.

Quote (learjeff @ Feb. 17 2005,10:15)
HOWEVER, I recommend mixing at lower levels (though not to "nearly inaudible" levels!) But before lowering the level, we have

The point of checking the mix at very very low volume is to insure that the vocals are loud enough in the mix, certainly not to do an entire session at that level! :laugh:

Kinda like cranking it up to make sure the bass & kick drum are moving enough air, yes?

I like your idea of using a sound meter, gonna have to get me one of them gadgets.


hey Nils… I’m sorry to correct you, but I believe we are MORE sensitive to Midrange at lower levels. Hence the “Loud” button on stereos BOOSTING the bass and treble to compensate for this at a lower level. The F-M graph is confusing to look at, but you need to remember that whereever a point is on the line, that’s how much of a boost it needs to be the same perceived volume as another point. So the bottom curve for example shows that you need to boost the lows and highs significantly to hear them at the same perceived volume as the mids-which are at the bottom of the graph.

87 dB would be near the 90 dB-which is said to be the flattest our hearing gets especially in the midrange. :wink:

About the levels - I once went to a chamber concert that featured a performance of some Bach on a clavichord - sort of like a harpsichord but the sound it produced by a little wedge that strikes the string and stays on it to act as the bridge, not by plucking. These are really quiet instruments, and after the harpsichord music it seemed almost too quiet to hear - but by the end of the piece it seemed to fill the room (a very nice small recital hall at Valparaiso U.). When the fellow went back to the harpsichord it sounded loud and almost harsh, if you can believe that. So here is my question - is it perhaps the case that we adjust to a certain extent to the volume we are hearing? that is, might it not be the case that normally 87 db gives us a “flat” response, but that if we listen long enough at 50 db in a quiet room, we will adjust and hear it more or less flat as well?

I’m probably wrong, just asking out of ignorance, plus it gave me a chance to mention that concert, it was good.

I have read that it is much better to mix with volumes quite down, even almost unaudible.

I believe the "pro's" don't tell you to mix this way exclusively, do they? I use this technique only as a check on my main mix but I mix at normal volume levels, i.e., the levels I like to listen to music at (and that depends on the kind of music).

I also use Acuratone's as a check. I also use headphones.

You do have to concern yourself with ear strain though, so you don't want to mix your whole CD at one sitting.

Mr Soul
...we are MORE sensitive to Midrange at lower levels.

I stand corrected.


regards, Nils