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Topic: Sound levels vs. frequency

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  1. #1

    Question Sound levels vs. frequency

    I have a question regarding the relationship between sound volume levels and frequency ranges, so I hope there's an acoustician in the house today...

    I remember reading somewhere that volume levels perceived by the listener are affected by the frequencies of the instruments that are playing. Under this theory, virtual instruments playing at lower frequencies would need a somewhat higher dB level to sound in balance with instruments producing midrange and high frequencies. Here's my question (well, two really):

    1. Is this correct?

    2. If it is, and let's say I have my virtual Violas and Violins playing with a sound output of -20dB, what would be a good approximate dB level for the lower strings (String basses, and Cellos in their lower register) to sound relatively in balance?

    What prompts me to ask is that when I recently upgraded to a pro audio sound card, I found that I'm having to redo all the volume controller calibrations I had done earlier. I figure that since I'm having to go through the whole exercise again, it would be nice if I could factor in higher dB values for the low strings if this would produce a more realistic balance.

    Although I'm generally satisfied with my recalibrated controller values, I have some doubts about what I'm coming up with for the String basses and Cellos, so any advice I can get on this issue would be really, really, really appreciated.

    Thanks!

    Steve
    If you'd like to hear a couple of pieces I might actually finish someday, please visit my virtual concert hall.

  2. #2

    Re: Sound levels vs. frequency

    Steve

    Its the Fletcher-Munsen curve that you're thinking of and it changes shape with the original intensity of the sounds, meaning that if anyone turns the volume up or down on their audio device at any time your calibrated volumes will all be out of balance again.

    The same will happen if you apply EQ after precisely calibrating the volumes scientifically.

    I'd say you'd be better off writing standard volumes in the score for your works and then producing an audio mix according to your own taste using reference monitors after completing the score, making sure that the balance works by ear and working mainly at low volumes but checking again at higher volumes occassionally.

    Peter

  3. #3

    Re: Sound levels vs. frequency

    Peter is absolutely correct. I couldn't have said it better myself, and probably wouldn't have!
    Arvid Hand
    Theory-Comp./Piano
    ASCAP

  4. #4

    Re: Sound levels vs. frequency

    Quote Originally Posted by Peter Jeffrey Gale View Post
    Steve

    Its the Fletcher-Munsen curve that you're thinking of and it changes shape with the original intensity of the sounds, meaning that if anyone turns the volume up or down on their audio device at any time your calibrated volumes will all be out of balance again.

    The same will happen if you apply EQ after precisely calibrating the volumes scientifically.

    I'd say you'd be better off writing standard volumes in the score for your works and then producing an audio mix according to your own taste using reference monitors after completing the score, making sure that the balance works by ear and working mainly at low volumes but checking again at higher volumes occassionally.

    Peter
    Ah, when you said Fletcher-Munsen, some things started falling into place. I was incorrectly remembering what the curve describes, so thanks for the correction.

    Part of the learning process for me at the moment is simply determining the limitations on how much I can control scientifically on the MIDI side, and what can only be done through the audio mix process. Your advice makes perfect sense, and the next item on my shopping list is a good pair of monitors. What say any of you about the Alesis M1Active 520s? Yeah or nay?

    Thank you, gentlemen!

    Steve
    If you'd like to hear a couple of pieces I might actually finish someday, please visit my virtual concert hall.

  5. #5

    Re: Sound levels vs. frequency

    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Johnson View Post
    ... Alesis M1Active 520s? Yeah or nay?
    In terms of monitors I've got what I've got for now (a second hand pair of passiev JBL 4412's that seemed to be at an irresistably low price at the time but are really a little to big for my modest home studio) ... but near-field and passive like the 520's is best in the sense that you then will have less issues about placing them optimally in your room and don't have to find a separate amplifier that matches and works best with your chosen speakers.

    The purpose of reference monitors is to tell you the truth about your mix, not to flatter it, so the usual recommendation is take some CDs that you know well and listen to them played through the actual speakers before buying, if you can.

    But the advice I got was that "successful recordings are more about experience and skill than the actual monitors that you use" - better monitors won't necessarily give you better mixes, and the 520's seem well rated and a good brand at a great price for starting out with mixing ... I'm sure they'll stand you in good stead for a good few years to come at least and they can always be replaced later on if/when you get good enough to hear any weak points they might have for yourself.

    Peter

  6. #6

    Re: Sound levels vs. frequency

    Quote Originally Posted by Peter Jeffrey Gale View Post
    In terms of monitors I've got what I've got for now (a second hand pair of passiev JBL 4412's that seemed to be at an irresistably low price at the time but are really a little to big for my modest home studio) ... but near-field and passive like the 520's is best in the sense that you then will have less issues about placing them optimally in your room and don't have to find a separate amplifier that matches and works best with your chosen speakers.

    The purpose of reference monitors is to tell you the truth about your mix, not to flatter it, so the usual recommendation is take some CDs that you know well and listen to them played through the actual speakers before buying, if you can.

    But the advice I got was that "successful recordings are more about experience and skill than the actual monitors that you use" - better monitors won't necessarily give you better mixes, and the 520's seem well rated and a good brand at a great price for starting out with mixing ... I'm sure they'll stand you in good stead for a good few years to come at least and they can always be replaced later on if/when you get good enough to hear any weak points they might have for yourself.

    Peter
    Thanks, Peter -- you confirmed what I've been hearing elsewhere about the Alesis 520s. I'm really glad, too, because they seem to be a great choice for a couple of reasons. First, the price fits right in with my budget. Second, I live in a modest little apartment, and I simply don't have the room for full-sized monitors as one would have in a recording studio. The 520s are about as big as I can go, but they'll work in the space I do have.

    Now, once I start working with the Alesis monitors, my concern about sound quality won't be so much on my end, but for other people listening to my music on their own setups, which I expect will mostly be consumer-grade sound cards with computer speakers. I really don't have any experience with this, and I also understand that it's impossible to put anything out there that would sound as good on one audio system as it would on another. So I guess the question I have is, if I'm mixing for optimum sound quality with monitors, is this going to translate into at least decent sound over consumer-grade computer audio systems?

    Thanks again!

    Steve
    If you'd like to hear a couple of pieces I might actually finish someday, please visit my virtual concert hall.

  7. #7

    Re: Sound levels vs. frequency

    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Johnson View Post
    ... if I'm mixing for optimum sound quality with monitors, is this going to translate into at least decent sound over consumer-grade computer audio systems?
    Largely the answer is yes, I think.

    Reference monitors give a flat response across the frequency range, and don't flatter your music, so if you learn to use them well the non-flat response of any other speaker equipment will slightly boost some frequencies more than others, but otherwise give a good representation of your pieces.

    If your piece was only ever going to be played back on one exact setup then that that would be the ideal setup to mix on (I think this is perhaps what DPDan meant when he said he could "mix on earbuds and it would still sound good", though with his level of experience you could possibly adjust your listening for these to still produce a release quality mix) .. but thsi is rarely the case and reference monitors are theoretically neutral and give you the best starting point for a mix that works well on all setups.

    Listening to your interim mixes on other equipment (and possibly in mono) also seems to be an important part of learning to use reference monitors well.

  8. #8

    Re: Sound levels vs. frequency

    You might also want to pick up a pair of the CHEAPEST computer speakers you can find. If your final mix sounds good on them, then it will sound terrific on ANY consumer-grade speakers.
    Arvid Hand
    Theory-Comp./Piano
    ASCAP

  9. #9

    Re: Sound levels vs. frequency

    Quote Originally Posted by bionicbub View Post
    You might also want to pick up a pair of the CHEAPEST computer speakers you can find. If your final mix sounds good on them, then it will sound terrific on ANY consumer-grade speakers.
    Hi Arvid,

    Well, my Altec Lansing ACS340s being at least 10 years old probably qualify. So, you just gave me a good reason to keep 'em around!

    Thank you, sir!

    Steve
    If you'd like to hear a couple of pieces I might actually finish someday, please visit my virtual concert hall.

  10. #10
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    Re: Sound levels vs. frequency

    Steve - Look at the table of sound levels

    http://www.northernsounds.com/forum/showthread.php/67392-Authentic-Sounds?p=621336&viewfull=1#post621336

    I have been out all day but hope to find some time on the weekend to discuss.


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