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Spot serious problems with gadgets

While the World is changing rapidly you can still hear the same old story again and again that you need expensive professional equipment for everything worth mentioning. Well, I know that there are situations where you definitely need the highest quality equipment in order to be able to do the job properly, but there are situations where the gadgets can help you, even solve problems that needed serious equipment few years before.

Trust your ears, but test your beliefs with equipment

In our broadcast studio we have different types of monitors from small to fairly big, so anyone can check the mix on a variety of references. I think it is vital as we mix here live broadcast shows for TV and Radio, and do a fair bit of post production here too, from editing to final mix. So, versatility is what we need. But monitoring, being our sonic microscope, must be as accurate as possible, or else the mixes won’t translate well to the ether.

Few of us thought that we have a spot on small and near-field monitoring, but we felt that the mains are off for some reason. With those being “off” I mean listening to them was always made me feel uncomfortable with the mix. At first obviously I thought it is a mix problem, but then I started to think that we have problem with our mains as all the smaller speakers confirmed that I have a proper mix, which by the way translates very well. So I decided that we need to do something. The problem is though, it is very hard to change anything in a place which is used by many engineers, many of them being guests from different places, and most of them seems to like the monitoring just as it is.

Fortunately it turned out that I’m not the only one who felt that something is not right. So in a little downtime we decided to try to make some corrections. Next problem, we don’t have the necessary equipment available at the moment to make proper measurements…but, maybe, because we have an iPad Mini and and iPhone (call me an Applefan :)). So, let’s try it with what we have and we’ll see soon enough if it’s possible to achieve anything.

iGadgets and apps for the audio geeks

The first app that helped us in our endeavours is Studiosixdigital’s AudioTools with the Smaart module inside. Not only you have a generator in it, but have a very neat dual-window setup to analyse the data.

smaart module

As we didn’t have any other viable option, the built-mic had been used during he measurements. To my surprise it was fairly accurate. Obviously it is not as good or professional as a multi thousand dollar equipment, but good enough to spot problems and try to make corrections based on the data it provides. The little iPad app is fast enough on the new mini, and the fact that you can save different measurements and compare them makes the whole process a very enjoyable and productive effort.

measurements

Between the different measurements we tested the changes with a selection of classical, jazz and rock music which was right there on the iPad, only a gesture away after the current measure. From the start, we used different measurements to see what is our problem in the room. First things first, all the speakers calibrated to the same level, so if you switch to a different speaker set, you’ll hear the material at the very same level.

Just to make sure we are not fooling ourselves the levels were checked again. After this we were ready to jump in and make some more serious measurements. Tried sweeps and pink noise. Pink noise proved to be more useful in this case so we continued to make measurements with that. In a minute we spotted two problems, one peak at 160Hz and a quite big dip at 80Hz. According to the original room modes these frequencies are problematic in this room from the start, but treatment has been made to correct these errors. However, it turned out that the 80Hz dip is caused by an unfortunate over-treatment with tuned traps. At least now we know what to change in order to get a more flat response.

We also adjusted the speaker angles and checked the first reflection points, those still need a little work. For these things we also used some app. For the first reflection checking we simply used the built-in iPhone camera to precisely check the positions, and for the angle adjustments I love the SpeakerAngle app where you can reset your null position, hold or put your iPhone on the top of the speakers and start turning the speaker. When you reach the proper angle, the red box turns into green. In the box you can see the actual value too, but this colour change is very helpful during the process. With this utterly clever little app you can easily tune the angle of your stereo or even surround set of speakers within a minute.

speakerangleapp

We played about two hours and frankly managed to improve the monitoring in the room so much that even an untrained ear would spot the difference in a before-after game. Does this mean we don’t need expensive measuring equipment any more? Obviously no. For absolutely precise serious measurement you’ll still need high-quality equipment which is really accurate. Long-term decisions should be made after careful analysis has been made based on accurate data, and for this, you still need the expensive instruments. But the point is that with some clever gadget and a few apps you can spot and correct some errors very rapidly without spending huge amount of money.