Speaker Calibration tutorial

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If you’re a student working on a short film, there’s a good chance you need to hand over your project to a sound mixer to balance everything to standard film levels – in order to submit it to festivals or for broadcast or burning it to a DVD.

The one thing that will save you much time in this process is calibrating your home studio to the standard level used by professionals, so your work is prepared with the right gain structure and the mixer can then build on your work and finesse it, rather than starting from scratch.

This tutorial walks through the simple steps involved in calibrating to 79dBSPL, a commonly adhered to standard for editing suites and small rooms, for film and TV mixing.Calibrating your speakers to 79 will ensure you keep 20dB of headroom in your mix, plenty of dynamic range, suitable for a wide range of projects – as opposed to the generally held belief that “as close to zero without hitting it”!

Key point, a few folks have asked where to point the SPL meter: either straight ahead or at the roof, holding it at arms reach where your head would normally be when you’re mixing – ie “the mix position”.

 

19 comments

  1. Marco Bernardo says:

    Hi Brent, great tutorial.
    But I have one question, i don’t know if you could help me.

    79dBSPL seems a bit lower in the room i’m working right now. We are using Dynaudio BM6a monitors. The routing is PT 8 interface 96 to Mackie Big knob, and from the Mackie to the monitors. When I put at 83/85 dBSPL it seem right, but i’m not in a big room. It’s weird.

    Any ideias?

    Thanks for your blog

  2. Brent says:

    Did you triple check your sig generator is set to -20 pink noise RMS?
    If its set to “peak” it will be making more noise and you’ll be pulling your speakers down further than you need to, under-cooking your mix by about 6dB.

    Please understand this is to calibrate your speakers for theatres where they want 20dB of dynamic range (or for TV for 10dB range between -30 and -10). You’d wouldn’t want levels over -10 dbFS very often when using this type of calibration.

  3. Marco Bernardo says:

    Hi Brent,

    I’ve triple checked : ) It was -20 Pink Noise, RMS.
    I work on a TV Post-production facility with 12 rooms, tomorrow i will check another identical room to see if it sound the same.

    Thanks

  4. Marco Bernardo says:

    Hi, Brent..

    Just found the problem, bad cables.

    Thanks for your help and your videos.

    Regards,

  5. I appreciates the simplicity of the process, it’s really helpful. My question is what do you use to flatten your speaker frequencies. In a live setting I’d use a DBX Drive rack for a PA but doesn’t seem reasonable for a project studio setup. Do you dedicate an spectrum analyzer & eq plugin for this? If so which do you recommend?

  6. Brent says:

    In cinema situations, the Dolby CP650 is normally used to decode the mix and it has EQ built into it to help flatten the frequency response of the room. The driveracks sometimes get used on smaller mix stages to do the same thing and the rolls royce solution would be a Lake EQ processor. Things like that.

  7. Mike Varela says:

    Great help for the basic setup. On another pass you might mention speaker placement in both stereo and surround setups. Also, mention the Blue Sky pink noise files as well.

    I’d also mention that for proper calibration the studio owner should take into effect the size of the room. 79 in a bedroom isn’t 79 in a living room etc. often the ATSC (paper 85) is a better option, whereas the engineer measures cubic feet and calibrates to that spl. I’m at about 1300 sqr ft. and mix to 76 for TV and then 81 for film. It translated very well.

    Thanks for making it though.

  8. Brent says:

    Hi Mike – totally agree with your notes.

    I almost always make my videos 5-10 minutes and for simplicity I picked the near-field small room (79db) calibration as its the most common for students (the target audience) and more importantly the most common one to be done incorrectly or with misinformation. Medium and larger rooms I would normally expect to be staffed by operators who know how to pink their room or have someone on staff to do it for them – but that might be a gross generalisation!
    I do see quite a few students pinking small rooms to 85 and under-cooking their mixes as a result, hence the tute. Hope that explains the decision for these numbers and how the video is pitched.

  9. Greetings Brent,

    Like all here, I’m very grateful and appreciative for your tutorial and how you broke it down so anyone can understand. I just have one question.

    When testing/calibrating each speaker individually were you turning the volume knobs on the rear of the near-field monitors or on your interface itself?

    Many thanks in advance for any further direction you can spare.

  10. Brent says:

    On the rear of the speakers – you don’t normally have independent control of each output on an interface. If you DO have output trims then you can use those if you like.
    The goal is to get all the speakers proportional to each other and at the correct levels – all the same at the front, the surrounds down 3dB if you are working in film, or the same at the rears if you are working in broadcast/TV/DVD.

  11. ignacio says:

    Hi, thanks for the video. I have a question, I did exactly what you show us and the pink noise at -20 RMS and -79 on SPL meter sounds for some reason a little loud to my ears. If I leave the speakers like that and I play a song from the computer through my speakers will be blasting. Also, the meters on my tascam 1884 is reading -16 db coming out of Pro Tools while calibrating each speaker.
    Am I doing something wrong?

    Can you help me out here? thanks man!

  12. Brent says:

    It should be blastingly loud! Music is mixed up as close to zero as possible due to the “loudness wars” – google it for more information. That’s a totally different application to mixing for TV and film, where there is intended to be headroom and dynamic range. Most peaks for TV dont go over -10 or -8 dbFS, nowhere near zero.

  13. ignacio says:

    Thanks so much for the reply! Ok, so after calibrating the speakers dialogue should be around -20 -15 to leave room for music and effects and still all together be around -10, right?
    Also, do you have any idea how to calibrate the tascam 1884? It does not match what I have on pro tools or logic on the master meter and I’ve been reading around a lot but I can’t find any info about it

    Thanks so much for all the help you provide!

  14. Philipp says:

    Hi Brent,

    Many thanks for the clear and concise video. I would like to use these steps for mixing pop/rock music. My studio is in my bedroom and I am using near field monitors (Mackie HR 824s) at about 4 ft away from my listening position. What dB SPL reference level would you recommend I try?

  15. Brent says:

    Hi Philipp, this tutorial is only for film where there is a dictated standard for dynamic range. The “loudness wars” is a term used to describe how dynamic range has been removed from pop/rock music, and the preferred thing is simply over-compressed loud music. Read up on Bob Katz “K-metering” for ideas to do with dynamic range and music. He suggests calibrating with pink at -14dbFS (instead of -20 RMS)from memory, and monitoring around 78 or so. Haven’t read his stuff for some time, best to do some googling on K-Metering. He has a blog too.

  16. Adam says:

    Hi Brent, thanks for the great video. It was a big help. My question to you is in hope to clear up what levels to mix a film at. I am new to this industry and I am going to begin work on an indie film that is going to be released to a film fest that will play in a theater. My question is once I have my room calibrated (as per your video) on my pro tools sound meter, what should I be mixing my film to so it will be the same as the others in the festival and so it will traslate how I intend it to? Also could you tell me where my dial, music , sfx…should sit on the meters? The film is a teen comedy so theres not really any dramatic intense scenes where sound needs to be quite and then jump out. I woul dreally appreciate your help on this. I have read everything out there on mixing levels and it is a little confusing. Thank you so much in advance!

  17. Tony Koretz says:

    Nice little video and well put together thanks Brent. Hope you don’t mind my chipping in here;

    To those who are asking about mixing rock music etc: the way I work is I have my speakers calibrated at 79dB for TV work, and have marked the fader there ( I use an analog mixer). I have another second mark for recording and mixing general music, and a third mark for final mastering of music. All marks have been set using an spl meter. I may move the fader quieter or louder at different times to check things, but I always have the marks to go back to for most normal working levels.

  18. David A Whittaker says:

    For the record, feature films are mixed with the room referenced to 85db, not 79. That is a standard Dolby has rather mandated for years. TV works better at 79. Mixing a feature film in a small room works better at 80-82. Even when calibrated identically, when the speakers are closer they will “feel” louder than when they’re farther back; it’s just a weird acoustic quirk.

  19. Brent says:

    Thanks David, but this isn’t a tutorial aimed at meeting Dolby spec, it’s for students in bedrooms to introduce the basics of how to calibrate. In my experience 79 translates best in this instance to find middle ground between tv, dvd and cinema specs, ie not purely for theatrical translation.