I finally got around giving the Brian MR session a listen at home and again on the Dynaudios. For the purposes of clarification, “home” means a Musical Fidelity Elektra through an NAD 317 and a pair of Origin Live bookshelf models.
First, I’ll talk about mixing with the Dynaudios. Apparently these monitors cost roughly ten times the ticket price for the Samsons. Andy wondered aloud to me whether the Dynaudios could justify the price tag. I can hear the effects of the dollar, dollar bills, and these effects…
might justify the price for someone like a movie soundtrack engineer. For me, the technical strengths of the Dynaudios probably make them less desirable for mixing rock than the more modest Samsons. The Dynaudios separate frequencies and accurately reproduce frequencies from about 80 hertz to the top of their range better than any speakers I’ve yet heard. I noticed a lot more to criticize while line checking the drums than usual, and the Dynaudios helped me fine tune the sound I wanted from the kick and the snare with use of mic placement. As per usual, the floor tom sounded terrible. I couldn’t get anything with subtle mic placement, so Kyle advised me to back the mic off the head by more than a foot. I left the channel in the mix, but it seems to have had little effect. Going through a quick level check, I felt a bit distracted by the subwoofer. I don’t spend much energy trying to shape the sound below 60 hertz, so, although the sub makes me feel engaged with the music as music, it takes a bit of my attention from the frequency ranges I can control and makes me feel less engaged with the music as a maleable entity I need to polish and control. I set the low pass for the sub at about 60 hertz and turned the sub-specific volume to a barely noticeable, but noticeable level. I had to give my testicles something to do while I worked. Unfortunately, I left the high pass on both the sub and the sattelites at 80 hertz. Finishing with the levels, the frequency separation and frequency specific accuracy played their proper roles again, but this time with a downside. (I don’t know whether these terms makes any sense to audiophiles, but I mean to express the degree to which I can separate in my head sounds of different pitches and similarly pitched sounds from the same instruments.) If a guitar got a bit loud in the mix, the Dynaudios seemed to make the discrepancy between the guitar’s current level and it’s natural level seem somehow more dramatic than it should. The monitors, in other words, seemed to hold a magnifying glass to errors in the mix. In most cases, I would appreciate this characteristic, but I got into trouble with the Dynaudios. Sometimes I like to highlight particular mic channels by letting them ride a bit above the mix. I tried to highlight the kick drum with Brian MR. I had a lot of trouble finding a subtle way to put the kick out in front of the mix with the Dynaudios. When I tried tried to place it only slightly above the snare, it sounded dramatically in front of the snare. I tried experimenting by throwing the fader on the kick mic ten decibels higher. It sounded a little louder, but it didn’t sound any more fundamentally above the mix than it had two seconds and 10 decibels before. Not only did this aspect of the monitors’ performance hinder my ability to make a nice initial mix, but, throughout the night, as instrument level changes would prompt me to remix, I struggled determining how radically to remix. When it came to effects, the Dynaudios let me hear the slightest delay, but, again, the slightest delay seemed a little too wet to me. The Dynaudios held a magnifying glass to effects just as they did with levels. Just as with levels, very badly over-affected channels didn’t sound as over-affected as I expected them too given how affected only slightly wet channels sounded. In the end, my mix pushed the kick drum a little too far above the rest of the mix and the effects came out pretty well. I don’t have much confidence I could get a significantly better sound from the kick if I could mix the set again, and I wouldn’t expect the effects necessarily to sound as good as they do. Perhaps if I mixed five sets with the Dynaudios I’d have a better sense of their subtleties and more confidence. Still, not only do these monitors seem to exaggerate delay effects and discrepancies between good and bad levels for certain frequencies within a mix (I want monitors to do these things as such monitors will help me to notice and correct mistakes in my mixes), but they do so in such a way as to give me no impression how ordinary stereos will react. All good monitors require engineers to know how to translate between sound through the monitors and sound through ordinary stereos. Even with monitors very different from ordinary stereos, engineers might have an easy time translating. I feel even if I knew the Dynaudios well, the monitors would make translating a difficult task for me.
Upon listening at home, I noticed only one property of the Dynaudios I would classify as a peculiarity. A guitar I panned to the right channel tended to feed back a little at a frequency somewhere around 300-400 hertz. On my home stereo, the feed back annoyed the hell out of me. On a pair of Grado SR 60’s, the guitar sounded a little more natural, the effect of a live set, but still a little amazingly strident. On a second listend with the Dynaudios I noticed the frequency, but, somehow, I didn’t mind it. Also, as I’ve mentioned, the kick drum sound came out in front of my mix a little too much when I listened at home. The Dynaudios make the kick sound pretty natural. As I’ve mentioned, the Dynaudios seem to separate sounds very well, and the kick drum seemed no more separate from the mix than any other sound on these monitors. I listened again with the high pass switch on the sattelites set to 60 hertz. This time, the 300-400 hertz frequency of the guitar seemed a little more annoying, as it had at home, and the kick sound did seem to ride a little above the mix. I can understand the newfound agression of the kick sound, but that switch shouldn’t have affected the guitar frequency unless the high pass filter on the sattelites has a regretably shallow roll off. I admit the subtle differences I hear might have more to do with psychology than sound, but I hear what I hear. Stereo image has a lot to do with speaker placement, and we don’t have much control over speaker placement in our control room. Still, I don’t have any complaint with the image of the Dynaudios. The stereo image I wanted translated pretty well to my stereo at home.
As instruments, the Dynaudios are very precise. Some tasks require or at least benefit from very precise tools, and, for those tasks, engineers should invest time in learning about the peculiarities of their precise tools. Mixing rock music requires more precision than most people seem to believe, but I have some reason to think the Dynaudios too precise for the task at hand. If I learned to use them properly, my mixes would sound better than the Brian MR mix. On the other hand, I think my mixes would sound better with the Samsons than with the Dynaudios even if I had a profound knowledge of both. The Dynaudios seem tuned for making slightly finer adjustments than those I tend to make while mixing rock. The Samsons, though more blunt, seem better suited.