IMPROVE YOUR MIXES WITH VIRTUAL MONITORING

Have you ever finished a great mix, only to play it at a friend's house and it sounds terrible? We’ve all been there. This guide explores technology and techniques you can use to make your mixes more translatable and effective. Using tools like our virtual monitoring plugins dearVR MIX and dearVR MONITOR, we’ll explain how to use software to improve your mixing workflow.

The modern producer has access to essentially infinite musical power. Cutting-edge software augments production and takes hardware and software techniques into the 21st century (Have a listen to what you can achieve). Whilst most producers have access to a full-stack recording studio on their computer, not all of us have access to acoustically treated studios for the mixdown - at least not physically…

Keep reading to learn how to improve your mixing workflow! Alternatively, check out our related guides:

Getting started with dearVR MIX

Getting started with dearVR Monitor

CONTENTS

1. Why you should use Immersive Audio Technology / Virtual Monitoring

2. Common constraints when mixing audioMixing with Headphones VS Speakers (without software)

3. How Virtual Monitoring technology overcomes the issues.

4. Headphone mixing workflow

5. What to listen for when mixing with dearVR Mix/Monitor

6. Conclusion

1. WHY YOU SHOULD USE IMMERSIVE AUDIO TECHNOLOGY / VIRTUAL MONITORING

Modern audio producers have the power to capture and recreate any sound or instrument, and also to harness and control reality's dimensions - space and time. Immersive audio technology is a keystone of modern audio production and enables producers to create more realistic and enchanting listening experiences. 

The next steps in the journey of music technology are techniques such as binaural and ambisonic recording, 360° sound mixing, Dolby Atmos, acoustic simulation, and virtual monitoring. These tools provoke more creativity, and help producers to overcome issues faced during the production process.  

To thrive in this industry, you need to stand out from the crowd. Immersive audio tools and virtual monitoring give you the edge you need to get ahead.

2. COMMON CONSTRAINS WHEN MIXING AUDIO

Several limitations arrive when mixing on speakers or headphones. These issues hold producers back and prevent them from working effectively. At Dear Reality, we design tools to combat these problems. 

You need to test mixes on multiple speakers.

Your mix will translate better across sound systems if you test it on multiple setups. In professional mixing studios, they test mixes on a wide range of speakers, including low-quality ones.

Because the range of possible listening setups is so diverse, you need to test your mixes in a range of situations. Consumers of your audio project could be listening on anything, anywhere. They might be listening on a pair of dusty old hi-fi speakers in a noisy location, or in a pristine audiophile setup. You’ll never know, so your best bet is to make a mix that works across the board. 

Limited access to space

Sound has a unique relationship with the place it’s in. Audio mixed in a bedroom might not translate to larger rooms. Testing multiple monitoring setups is like looking through different glasses, you’ll find more details in areas you couldn’t “see” before. 

Most producers only have access to one studio, rarely with more than two pairs of speakers. This limits the range of monitoring situations that a producer can test their music on. If you only test a mix on one setup, it will only sound its best in that place. Virtual monitoring solves this issue by simulating a range of listening scenarios. 

Acoustic accuracy is essential for a good mix.

You need to be able to rely on what you are hearing when mixing. If you’re second-guessing the sound of your mix then you aren’t hearing it clearly. Bad acoustic environments make it much harder to mix music accurately. This makes mixers miss important details and errors, leaving their mix sounding unfinished. 

Virtual Monitoring overcomes these issues.

Virtual monitoring is a modern solution to the above constraints. Now, you can simulate the acoustics of various listening situations from any location. 

Plugins save time and space, cost less, and are generally more effective and efficient. This technology helps you to overcome environmental limitations, accelerating your workflow and minimizing inefficiencies. It provides you with a range of listening setups to test your mix in.

The next section outlines a range of reasons why using headphones with virtual monitoring tools is one of the best workflows for mixing music today. 

3. MIXING WITH HEADPHONES VS SPEAKERS (WITHOUT SOFTWARE)

This list of pros and cons highlights some of the reasons why headphones are so powerful but also shows some issues - where our software can help. To learn how you can overcome the limits of headphones, jump to the section below.

Advantages of headphone mixing (Disadvantages of speakers)

Independent of room acoustics

You’ll need a room with good acoustic treatment to mix on speakers clearly and accurately. Alternatively, headphones work anywhere and don’t suffer from reflections or acoustic issues. With headphones, you don’t have to rely on the acoustics of your room being correct to hear your mix accurately.

The main focus of acoustic treatment is ensuring frequencies are balanced (by neutralizing room modes), and minimizing reverberation. This creates an environment optimal for mixing.

Mixing in the wrong environment will damage your mix. Due to inaccuracies, engineers overcompensate, typically using excessive equalization and compression. Mixers may cut out too much low end as their room amplifies low frequencies. 

Portability

Headphones let you mix anywhere. From a plane, train, park, or at a friend's house. Headphones are easy to transport, letting you mix on the go. Speakers are the opposite, and take up a lot of room.

More focused 

Headphones offer a more focused mixing session. They block out external distractions, letting you concentrate purely on the mix. Unless you have an isolated room, when using speakers you’re more likely to hear external sounds. 

More affordable

Pro-grade headphones cost less than equivalent speakers. A decent pair of mixing headphones can be picked up for less than $200, but a good pair of mixing speakers will easily cost $500+.

Limitations of headphone mixing(Advantages of loudspeaker mixing)

Unfortunately, headphones also present problems. (Which our software can overcome.)

Headphones lack acoustic energy and room perception

Because headphone drivers are directly next to your ear, you miss the effects of acoustic energy resonating throughout a room. It's easy to misjudge how a mix will sound in a room when you mix purely on headphones. It might sound great on headphones but then falls apart on speakers. 

When using speakers you get the full acoustic experience, which helps to identify issues and perfect the balance of your mix. It helps to get better stereo placement and frequency balance and gives you a 360°perception of the mix. 

Distorted Stereo Field/soundstage

Mixing on headphones distorts the stereo image. It becomes non-linear and ill-defined because of missing interaural timing information. Whichever headphones you use, you will always perceive the sound as inside of your head, running on a straight line through the center.

As a consequence judging stereo signals or panning mono sources is difficult on headphones, and can result in sounds sounding out of place in a mix.

In head localisation

Because the headphones are fixed to your ears, you lose the effect of spatialisation and localisation. When listening on speakers, the sound comes at you from all directions. You can also change your position by turning and moving your head. This is lost on headphones, where the sound comes from a fixed position. This often results in stereo issues going unnoticed and creeping into the final mix. 

Mixing with headphones beats mixing with speakers in a bad room

Mixing in poor acoustics will damage your mix. You’re going to be dealing with room resonances, phasing, reverberation, and frequency buildup. These factors interfere with your perception and result in a bad mix. 

Mixing on headphones lets you avoid these issues - a quality mix can be created in any room, even with sub-optimal acoustics. 

This is a blessing and a curse, as you need some level of acoustic perception to mix well. We develop monitoring plugins to bring back what you lose with headphone mixing. 

4. HOW VIRTUAL MONITORING TECHNOLOGY OVERCOMES THESE ISSUES

Virtual monitoring augments mixing to bypass the limitations of speakers and headphones.

Problem: Headphones bypass bad room acoustics, but lose acoustic perception.

Solution: Virtual monitoring simulates spatial acoustics inside your headphones, so you get a sense of the mix’s acoustic performance without needing speakers or a treated room.

Room virtualization creates realistic acoustic spaces in your headphones. Now world-class acoustics are accessible purely from software.

Problem: Mixes should be tested on a range of setups and formats

Solution: Our plugins like dearVR MIX let you switch between multiple room and speaker simulations in a matter of seconds. 

Our plugins also offer a variety of multi-channel audio format simulations. You can test your mix in surround formats like 7.1, 5.1, and even Dolby atmos. This lets you test the mix out for a huge range of listening situations without needing a complex speaker configuration. 

5. HEADPHONE MIXING WORKFLOW

This next section demonstrates a headphone mixing strategy to achieve a translatable, quality mix using dearVR MIX.  

Following a strict procedure minimizes guesswork, and makes mixdown sessions more effective. These steps demonstrate how to integrate virtual monitoring into your headphone mixing workflow. 

Get a rough volume balance between channels. Apply panning, EQ, compression, effects, and automation.Insert a mastering chain. Just a basic limiter to manage output levels.Insert dearVR Mix on the master channel (post limiter). Switch between simulations. (Car, Club, Stadium, etc)Tweak mix parameters to refine the sound.Switch through other simulations.Bypass dearVR Mix to get an A/B comparison.Repeat from step 2 until the mix sounds good across multiple reference points.


Download the trial now and test it for yourself!

6. WHAT TO LISTEN FOR WHEN MIXING WITH DEARVR MIX/MONITOR

Our monitoring plugins help you identify issues with mixes. Our software makes the mixing process easier and more effective by removing guesswork and inaccurate acoustics. 

Listen out for the following issues, and ask yourself these questions:

- Frequency - Are all the frequencies distinct, or do they overlap and blur? These issues arise most commonly in the mid-low range (below 1kHz). Is there a lack of definition and clarity?

- Stereo - Is the stereo image balanced? Do any sounds feel out of place in the stereo field? Are sounds too wide or narrow?

- Spatial Perception - Does the impression of space feel right? Do sounds feel too close or far away? Do sounds feel immersive or 2D?

- Reverb -Is there too much or too little reverb? Are sounds taking too long to decay? Does it sound too washed out in a physical space?

- Glitches and errors - Spatial simulation also helps to highlight glitches such as clipping or clicks and pops, as it makes these small issues more noticeable.

Keep an ear out for these factors when finalizing your mix. All of these issues can be addressed by modifying the parameters on mixing plugins like EQs, compressors, reverbs, and gates, or with some good old-fashioned waveform editing. 

With an intentional workflow, and conscious, critical listening, you will be able to iron out any issues in your mix. These corrections also help translation, so your mix cuts through wherever it’s played.

7. CONCLUSION

Whilst you can achieve a decent mix purely on headphones or in a bad room, you’re constantly fighting external factors - it can be an uphill battle. Your brain burns a lot of energy filtering out interferences. You also need to be very familiar with your room, speakers, and headphones.  

It can work, but it makes more sense to remove these background issues so you can focus purely on the creative aspects of mixing.

Thanks to virtual monitoring, you can craft the perfect mix purely on headphones, or create fantastic music in a bedroom with weak acoustics. 

Virtual monitoring creates liberating opportunities for anybody who mixes audio:

- The power of speakers with the freedom of headphones.

- Professional monitoring rooms with perfect acoustics anywhere, anytime.

- Mix in immersive multi-channel audio formats without buying extra speakers.

Janis Käune
Janis is specialized in recording classical orchestras, crossover ensembles, and 3D audio projects. Finishing his sound engineering degree at the Robert Schumann Hochschule, he is responsible for running and maintaining the spatial audio studio for classical music. At Dear Reality, Janis works in the Quality Assurance and Support team.

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