Trying to figure out a particular "sound quality" I hear in a lot of music here

Hey everyone. I’m looking for some mixing advice here, and I hope I can explain myself effectively enough to get my point across.

When I listen to a lot of music here on AJ, as well as on some other sites, there’s a certain audio quality, or effect, I hear quite often which I don’t know how to do. It’s not something that I necessarily “enjoy” listening to, but it seems rather prevalent in this market and maybe it’s something that I need to do for any music I might put together for this purpose.

The best way I can describe it is that certain sounds/instruments have a crazy 3D-like property to them. They seem to jump out of the speakers in a way that I’m not getting in my mixes. I’ve learned a lot about how to create depth and space in my mixes, and to a certain extent, I think I can achieve that (using traditional methods like reverbs and delays, as well as using volume and EQ to either bring things up front or send them to the background). But quite often there are elements that I hear in other people’s mixes where the sounds sound like they’re coming from some space “in front” of the speakers… Somewhere in the air between the speakers and my ears. It’s really weird, but also interesting at the same time (and sometimes I find it also gets tiring to listen to if it’s used heavily). In my mixes, I can get sounds that sound up-front and present, but they’re only as up-front as the physical front surface as my speakers. Everything else I can “send back” as needed. But nothing I’ve done seems to jump right out of the speakers into the air/space around me.

I’ve messed around with a couple “stereo width” effects I have in my DAW. It kind of does the effect I’m hearing, but not quite. Also, what tends to happen when I use that effect is that as I continue mixing, I get tired of hearing it, and I end up turning it down more and more as I mix until I get to the point where I’m sick of it, and then I just take it out completely. I’ve also tried using the “Haas” effect once. I found it to be a rather effective tool for creating space, but I also got sick of it quickly as well.

I don’t know if the sound I’m asking about is one or both of the above or not, but hopefully someone here knows what I’m referring to and can shed some light on this for me.

Thanks a bunch!

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The Haas effect is a tool that makes stereo from mono by copying a signal and delaying it in one of the channels. Good reception, but it makes the sound unnatural. The depth of the mix is a matter of contrast. The mix should have instruments “in your face”, but they will not sound like that if the mix does not have instruments “at the back wall”. Lower the volume and apply the reverb to push the instrument back is not enough. It must also be remembered that close instruments have a wider stereo and bright HF. Instruments in the background have a narrow stereo and need to apply hi-cut filter. Reverb typically has 4 positions (you’ll need 3 fx channels): no reverb, small space (room), middle space (hall), large space (large hall). Sometimes it’s not enough just to apply reverb to make the instrument further, you need to make send to the reverb with the pre-fader. It is necessary to determine what role each instrument plays in the mix and arrange them in space appropriately. In words it is almost always easy, but in practice it’s quite difficult to get a deep mix)) We all work on this)

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I am personally very cautious with all these techniques… because of mono (in) compatibility!
You see many tutorials here and there, telling you that you just have to put some delay on a copy of a track, panned hard left and hard right, or use plugins that spatialize sound…

Well… please check your mix in mono! And see if it sounds great… many ultra large mixes sound terrible in mono, with doubling and phasing issues. I don’t want that personnally. There are tricks to avoid the problem (it is just a matter of having the sides cancelling perfectly - bx_stereomaker does exactly that)

@anon65936426 gave and excellent advice: The depth of the mix is a matter of contrast.

I am not an expert, but I try to improve, and I understand that for a good wide mix, you need mainly mono elements, and one or two wide ones. Same for bass, if you want the bass to really hit hard, you just need to use it only when its needed, the impact will be stronger.

Well, yes, these are words… but I totally feel the same as you, each time I tried “spatialization” tools, I was not happy, and deleted the fx.

Do you have a reference track that you like an consider like having this 3D effect?

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Thanks @anon65936426, good advice indeed. Most of the stuff I do is straight-up rock/hard rock/metal, so I don’t usually get too involved in trying to push stuff “really deep” in the background. A majority of the instrumentation is fairly “close-up” and aggressive. I did learn about rolling off the high end as one of several techniques for pushing sources back, but it was a good reminder to read that again (thanks). Narrowing the stereo field as well is a good tip that I don’t believe I’ve tried much, so thanks for that, too. And as you said, having the contrast of both near and far helps get the point across.

Yeah, the Haas effect does sound unnatural to me, too. Definitely effective for catching the listeners ear, but it seems it needs to be used sparingly and/or wisely to avoid becoming annoying or obtrusive.

Always something to learn, and always room to improve… I guess that’s what makes this so fun.

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Wow, thanks @FoxHorn. I very much appreciate you taking the time to do these demos for me. So, I’m not familiar with your DAW or the plugins you were using, but I think I got the idea you were trying to get across. I think in the first video you were using delays to get that crazy Haas effect going… I got that familiar “sea sickness” feeling like when I was trying it out for myself a while ago. It’s definitely effective, and may have something to do with that “3D/ in front of the speakers” thing I was getting at. And your use of reverbs and EQs in the second video was great for showing how to get that depth in the opposite direction. As you were doing that, I was just waiting for you to put the two techniques together at once, which you did near the end. Sweet.

Still, listening to the Haas effect used heavily, I tire of it quickly. One thing I think that helps with that (for my ears) is that in some of the places I’ve heard it used around here, it was frequently used on short/percussive sounds. For me, I think it helps it from feeling “overdone,” as opposed to using it on long, sustained sounds. Either way, that might very well be what I was asking about, so I might need to play around with it again, and perhaps experiment more with where and what I use the effect on, as much as how much I use it as well.

Thanks again for the demos!

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Thanks @frozenjazz. I can’t say I have a track of my own at this time that I’d like to use the effect on, but it’s likely I’ll try it out in the future if I compose something that it could be suitable on. However, I hear it a lot on stock music tracks on every site I’ve visited. The whole thing was that in addition to wanting to know how it’s done, I was curious as to whether that was an element that stock music sites “want” in their music because it catches the ear so effectively (and maybe part of the reason my music was rejected). I don’t know… Now, if you were asking me to point out a particular source where I already hear it so we can all make sure we’re talking about the same thing, there’s only a million tracks I could reference. But I think everyone here helped answer my main question, and I think I can begin to mess around with it again where/when needed and see what kind of results I get out of it.

Thanks again to you and everyone for being so helpful!

I’m sure it’s a combination of things. There was an artist on this forum (If I’m remembering correctly) that said they like to use saturation to help make certain sounds in a track sound huge.

I’m still improving the mixing side of things but I really think it’s all about the relationship sounds have with eachother. A lot of tracks on here have the crazy wide guitar delays that make all of the stuff panned near center pop out a little more.

edit: Just wanted to add that I think you are asking the right questions. I’d also suggest checking your mix in mono when you’re playing around with stereo effects.

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Thanks, @JC-Underscore.

Great question with no simple answer. :smiley:

That sound is the result of hundreds (or thousands) of small decisions along the way and only years of experience can teach you that. I think it’s almost impossible to explain just like that. After all, if it could be taught in a paragraph, everyone would do it.


Just my two cents: explore and learn how to mix in M/S (mid-side). :wink:

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Yes, this is something I did not explore yet… but I am sure it will open new horizons :slight_smile:

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Thanks @Flumen. It’s funny… I’ve been recording/mixing for over ten years, with most of those years not really knowing what I’m doing, just going by ear. It’s only been over the last year or so that I’ve decided to really try to up my game and actually learn more about this art. I think in this past year, I’ve learned quite a lot, and improved significantly (still and always there will be room for improvement), yet, my mixes still sound like “my mixes,” just a whole lot better I hope.

Anyway, regarding the question I was initially asking, I was going for a specific sound/technique, not an overall sound as you may be implying. I think I found the answer I was looking for, but I welcome every piece of advice that comes my way.

Thanks @SonicFox. M/S processing is something I’m aware of, and understand, but I’ve never used. Thanks for the tip and I’ll spend some time experimenting.

@rockinblockhead I won’t say something new or very valuable and won’t open your eyes if i say that you need to learn just a basic things about mixing. It’s not about mixing here it’s about arrangement/mood/emotions. If you become a super guru with mixing/mastering it’s a great bonus but it’s not the main and only goal. People looking for emotions and mood first of all here. So i am not saying that mixing/mastering is useless thing to get attention to it what i am saying just try to understand what kind of music people need here (instrumentation/mood/style) then learn basic mixing together with arrangement. Hope it helps. Good luck.

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