Using Pink Noise as a Reference when Mixing

play the mix of the track over pink noise, to give an even reference level against which to assess the level of individual elements

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I said in my last post that I’d write about some additional techniques I use to balance a mix.  One of these is to play the mix of the track over pink noise, to give an even reference level against which to assess the level of individual elements, and to try and get an impression of the balance of the elements independent of any room resonances or peaks or troughs in the monitor’s frequency response.  To explain…

A while back I read an interesting article by Eddie Bazil in Sound on Sound, where he discussed using pink noise to establish basic levels for each element when beginning a mix.  This got me thinking that the same technique could be used at the end of (and periodically during) the mix process, as a kind of sanity check to make sure the levels of the main elements are evenly balanced.

Hence, when mixing the last couple of tracks I did, I used exactly this technique, and periodically played the mix over pink noise.  What you’re looking for when you do this, is to set the level of the pink noise quite high so the main elements of the track are just ‘poking out’ above the pink noise.  You want to try and make sure the amount that each is ‘poking out’ is more or less even.

The below clip is of the track Summer Wave played over white noise as described.  The bass drum, bass line, snare/clap, and hi hat all sit above the level of the pink noise by a relatively even level…

(Actually on listening to this again, if I redid the mix I probably bring the hi hat down, and snare/clap up just slightly, but this highlights an important point… you want to use this technique as a ballpark guide only, and still let creative and subjective opinion override it.)

The technique also gives you a way to check whether various elements have been compressed enough or not… e.g. if only the attack of the snare drum was audible, and the decay was lost under the pink noise, you’d probably want to look at applying a bit more compression to the snare.  Also if you’re mixing radio and similar mediums,  this technique somewhat simulates how listeners would hear the track in a very noisy environment, and again gives you a way to check that all the key elements are audible in those types of situations.

The other benefit of checking the mix this way, is that it gives you a point of reference which is less affected by room resonances, or the frequency response of your monitors.  That is… pink noise played through monitors will have the monitor frequency response, and any room resonances imparted on it… hence if you assess the levels of different elements against the pink noise rather than against other elements, it gives you a way to check the mix balance independent of any anomalies of room or speaker frequency response.  This can be difficult, as it’s natural to tend to assess the level of an element of the track against the other elements… you should instead focus on the amount each element ‘sticks out’ over the pink noise.

When used in combination with listening through multiple systems, and adjusting your listening position (if required) as discussed in my last post, this technique gives you an additional, useful way to check your mix balance.

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