If your recordings are fuzzy or unfocused due to acoustic imperfections in your listening space, you run the risk of mixing with too much (or too little) bass or treble, undermixing vocals, and so forth. Here we offer some simple suggestions for re-working your workstation, from moving your monitors to adding a bit of absorption as needed, plus other sound-improving strategies.
Choosing your room. For starters, not all rooms are conducive to mixing audio—if possible, avoid “square” spaces (those with equal length/width) in favor of those with irregular dimensions, such as a room with a thatched ceiling or alcove.
Using monitors. To achieve a balanced mix that sounds good in any situation, you’ll want to have a decent set of nearfield monitors which, unlike conventional speakers, reproduce sound without excess coloration. Passive (unpowered) monitors are less expensive but require some form of amplification; by comparison, the built-in amplifiers used in active monitors are already matched to the specifications of the individual drivers, thereby providing more accurate sound.
Getting into position. The ultimate goal is ensuring the sound from the monitors gets to your ears without any interference. Hence, rule of thumb #1 –keep your speakers no more than three feet from your seat (they call them “near fields” for a reason). Set the height of the monitors so that they’re level with your ears, and place a thin piece of foam between the stand and the speaker to help keep vibrations at bay; use an adjustable chair to fine-tune your position up or down so that you’re right in the “sweet spot.” If yours is a small room, put the monitors as close to the back wall as possible; for a larger space, try situating your equipment closer to the middle of the room.
Tune your room. Even with monitors properly positioned, any lingering room abnormalities can still cause issues when mixing. Which is why you want your control room to be pretty much the opposite of your recording room—that is, relatively dry and free of ambience. To quell excess floor reflections, use sound-absorbent material such as throw rugs or, better still, wall-to-wall commercial-grade carpeting, and also fill up empty space with furniture (stuffed chairs are great). You can also treat walls and corners with acoustical foam panels, however even carpet remnants or pro-grade packing blankets will work (and at a fraction of the cost). All of the above will help maximize the direct sound, while keeping the room itself quieter (and therefore less intrusive to outsiders).
Keep it down. Though a truly great track definitely warrants a few extra playback decibels, sometimes even a weak song can sound powerful when cranked. In general, listening at a lower level not only reduces the chance for unwanted room noises, but also keeps your ears from becoming easily fatigued. And if you’ve really got a killer recording, it should sound amazing no matter where you place the faders.