Why does yesterday's mix sound crap today?

Posted by Aaron Groombridge on

Why does yesterday's mix sound crap today?

Everyone knows your car stereo can be your best friend when it comes to checking your mix, but I have found even more similarities.

After my last car died, I took out my (better than bad) speakers, head unit and sub with the intention of putting it my replacement car… I can’t really say the new car, as I have never had a new car…  Anyway, a year or two went by and I had not done it, so I hired Jared from JC Autosound & Security to do it for me (He runs a service kinda like mine where he comes to your place and makes a custom solution for his clients - highly recommended!).

For the last year or two, prior to getting my better stereo installed, I had been cruising around the North Island listening to my favourite tunes, singing along with friends and family and having a great time… Even though it was a crappy stereo with no definition, little control and a really annoying high pitched screech when listening to my iPhone… which apparently only I could hear… But it was there!

Now that I finally had my better stereo installed I was amped.  It was time to tweak it to perfection!  I jumped in the car, turned on my dB metering app on my Apple Watch and started digging into the eq and subwoofer settings.  Before long I had it sounding awesome!

The next day I jumped in the car, excited again about hearing my tunes sounding awesome.  BUT - I got a few houses down the road and had to pull over and start tweaking things again.  It just didn’t sound right. After a while I nailed it and could continue driving.

A few days later the whole family was packed into the car on a trip to Taupo then Wellington then New Plymouth then home again.  It sounded wrong again!!!! I kept fiddling with the settings, pulling over… Sometimes while driving… Getting told off… Basically my obsession with getting the stereo perfect was ruining the trip for everyone including myself.

What was going wrong?

Basically I had better audio gear in the car, with more control, and it was worse than having basic audio gear with little control.

Turning some frequencies up one day, meant they were too loud the next.

Because I have options, I was never truly satisfied.

Plus - having others in the car ruined all my hard work!  They were not sucking the joy out of my stereo, their bodies were absorbing the sound itself!

For some weird reason, because it was slightly out of context, I had forgotten all the issues we deal with in our home studios which were being mirrored here.

The first issue - I was getting ear fatigue as a result of listening too closely, too long, at too higher volumes when tuning the stereo.  The result was my ears dulled, and I ended up making things brighter to compensate, which sounded fine for the rest of that car ride as my ears adapted to protect themselves from harsh sounds.  But the next time I jumped in the car, my ears had recovered and the stereo was crazy bright and harsh to my fresh ears.

The solution was to do most of my tuning at lower volumes, and only turning it up for short bursts to check how it was sounding.

The next key issue was the “room acoustics”.  Having all those bags and bodies in the car absorbed huge chunks of the frequency range… And not consistently..  Which meant not only did the stereo needs to be turned up louder, but some frequencies were quieter and others seemed louder.  On top of that I was going at 100Km/h on frequently changing road surfaces which masked different frequencies every couple of minutes!  If I was going to always have the same number of people and luggage in the car, and I was going to be driving on the same quality of road this could be easily fixed… But this is not likely to happen, so I needed to compromise to make it sound “pretty good” in all situations.  Just like in the home studio when it is just you in the room vs having a bunch of musicians, and their instruments… Or turning a fan on because the room is hot.. These things will affect how you hear your mixes, so you either need to fix them or get used to them, and know how to compensate.

And the last thing that was happening, and this definitely happens in the studio, was having lots of new options on new gear, which not only did I need to learn, but more than anything - I wanted to use them all!

Don’t despair - There are ways to make this all a lot easier, and to get the results you want faster.

Get in touch if you would like a session or two to discuss and work through your issues.