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RTT: What to do when you've got NO SUBWOOFER!!!

Updated: Jan 19, 2021

I have a confession to make: I have no sub woofer in my mixing setup. My monitors only really go down to about 50Hz. Maybe just a tad lower but it gets really weak and drops off pretty quickly. So the question is, how do you even know what's going on down there??? Well, I am about to hit you with a little bit of audio blasphemy. Use your eyes. What??!!! Everyone is always saying, "don't mix with your eyes, use your ears," and other totally sensible things that you should heed for the most part. But if your speakers can't reproduce the frequencies you are trying to hear then your ears are going to lie to you. They will tell you there are no issues in the sub bass territory because we can't hear any! A good basic starting strategy is to cut out the Sub frequencies where you know they are not needed. Use a high pass filter to cut anything below 50hz on these instruments (probably): electric guitar, acoustic guitar, vocals, strings, melodic synths, whistling, room mics, piccolo, dulcimer, oboe, theremin, ukulele, sitar..... Basically anything that you don't specifically want to function in the brown note range. Of course if the un-pop-filtered air blasts from the flute is where the sub comes from on your Acoustic-Scandanavian-folk-EDM track by all mean, boost everything below 100 on your flute track. This is all circumstantial. However it is important to limit the number of instruments that are feeding that range to absolutely no more than 3 even in the most weird of situations (unless they take turns playing and do not overlap). Okay so now you've filtered out all the obvious stuff that just isn't really musical information. This is good! Next take a look at the analyzer on your master track. (Analyzer???? Yes, the wavy line in your stock EQ that shows the frequencies and what they are doing.) If the super low stuff on the left is way above the zero line, you probably need to do something about it. The reason this needs to be dealt with, even if you can't hear it and more than half of the people who listen to your music won't be able to either, is that it will effect every plugin it passes through. Compression is the easiest to think about. Compression lowers the volume when it detects a sound that goes above a certain level (threshold). If the inaudible sub range is the loudest part of the track, everything else will get squashed by any compressor you put on it resulting in a weak wobbly and weird mix. Do we just cut everything below say, 30 or 40 and call it a day? You can. In certain genres this will not be an issue at all! Rock, pop, metal, hip hop and, electronic, are probably going to want to keep it. Folk, jazz, indie probably won't matter much. If straight up high passing the master track is not desirable there is another option. Dynamic EQ or multi band compression. This is a fun tool for compressing specific frequency ranges while allowing the rest to pass through un-squashed. If you set a medium slow attack time on your sub band and set it up like a limiter (high ratio) you can really control how crazy the sub bass gets. If someone plays the track in a club setting, in their sef-destruct-bass-wagon (see fig, 6: honda civic with sub woofer), or any other speaker system meant to massage internal organs, they will still feel the bass because it is still there and it has retained it's transient (because of that slow attack time). If you have your own tips and tricks for this, please leave them in the comments below! See you next time, Peter Bull, Bull Cave Audio


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