Mixing for Car Speakers Published in Mastering

When mixing for car speakers, the mid frequencies need to be full and complex, and the low frequencies need to be centered, driving, and primarily mono. Use a mid-side EQ to isolate the lows to the mid image, and use saturation or parallel processing to affect the mids.

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Getting Good Lows in Car

The chapters in this video are in no particular order, so pick and choose which ideas you’d like to implement in your mixes or masters.

Low frequencies are incredibly important in a car and typically need to be made mono for them to translate well to the listener. That said, I typically use a mid-side EQ to cut the side image’s low frequencies up to 100Hz - leaving on the mids behind.

This reduces phase cancellation that would occur at low frequencies, especially when considering the placement of low-frequency range car speakers.

Let’s listen to how this centers the lows, and makes the mix more driving.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Advanced M/S EQ for Car

If we want to make things a little more complex, we can use a mid-side EQ again, but this time boost 350Hz and dip 3kHz on the side, while boosting 80Hz and 2.5kHz on the mid. Again the lows will be made mono, like in the last chapter.

Additionally, the mids are equalized with car speakers in mind, filling areas that car speakers need to sound full while emphasizing vocals, and pushing the kick forward.

Let’s take a listen to these EQ settings.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Trying Car Test Plugin

When researching for this video, I found this cool free plugin that emulates the frequency response of car speakers and the listening environment. If we observe the frequency response, we’ll notice a slight boost on the right signal’s high frequencies - accounting for the listening being in the driver's seat.

Additionally, we’ll notice a dip around 300Hz, a notch around 900Hz, and some lacking highs. Although this plugin won’t account for all types of car speakers,it’ll help when quickly monitoring how a car’s system will likely affect the sound.

Let’s take a listen to it.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Trying Morphit Plugin

Although this plugin doesn’t emulate car speakers, it gives you access to accurate frequency responses of multiple headphones - typically, if you can make your mix sound decent on a variation of these settings, you can rest assured that it’ll translate well to various playback systems.

If your monitoring setup is flat, use the first function to cycle through different EQ curves. If you’re using a particular pair of headphones for monitoring, select that type first, then simulate a different pair.

Let’s listen to headphones speakers being emulated, and keep in mind how creating a relatively balanced amongst various speakers will help your mix in the long run.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Upward Processing on Mid Image

Most lower-end speakers that are found in cars will still be able to support the mid-frequency range - that said, I like to use this trick to boost my mids. I’ll send the track, or instrument bus to a parallel track, on which I’ve inserted a linear phase EQ.

Then I’ll isolate the mid frequencies using high and low pass filters.

Lastly, I’ll insert an upward processor, like a maximizer or inflator, and process the signal before blending in the signal by using the channel fader.

I personally enjoy the sound, and I’ve noticed it helps mixes translate well in a car.

Let’s take a listen.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Boost Mid Tone, High Transients

With this SplitEQ by Eventide, I can boost the tone and transients separately, which I’ve found help mixes sound full and dynamic on lower-end speakers. What I’ll typically do is boost the mids tone band around 350 and 900Hz, then amplify the high transients.

Let’s listen and notice how the mix sounds fuller, and the high frequencies have more of an impact.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Overall Tone and Transients Boost

Using this SplitEQ again, I’m going to do something that seems counterintuitive but I’ll explain why it works. Simply put, I’m going to increase both the tonal and transient outputs on the plugin’s right side by the same amount - in this case by 4dB.

You’d think that this would just increase the overall amplitude, but since the transient and tonal bands are created in a way that doesn’t simply sum to the original signal, we still get a lot of benefits.

Let’s listen and notice that in addition to the increased amplitude, we get a good amount of tonal and transient amplification that we couldn’t achieve by simply increasing the original signal’s level.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Parallel Bus Processing for Car

As we saw in chapter 5, parallel processing can be incredibly helpful when translating a mix to car speakers. That said, I’ll use this Invigorate plugin by Newfangled audio to add parallel compression, limiting, and overdrive simultaneously - using the window in the middle to find the right balance.

The settings I like to use for this purpose include amplifying the input’s mids by 4dB and reducing them by 2dB on the output. Then I’ll orient the ‘processing toward limiting and overdrive, and lower the mix.

I’ll turn off gain compensation and instead lower the output. Lastly, I found a compression filter set to 150Hz works well, as does a slightly lower shape, higher squash setting, and a very subtle gate.

Let’s listen and notice how the mids and quieter aspects of the signal get pushed forward a good amount.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Boosting Vocals and Highs in Left

If you want to prioritize how a mix sounds in a car over how it would sound on headphones, try amplifying the left signal's high frequencies - or do the opposite if the driver’s side is on the right in your country. This will compensate for the driver’s position.

That said, it will have a negative effect on other playback systems so keep this in mind.

Let’s take a listen.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Saturation on Mids

Last up, let’s do something simple but really useful - in short, I’m going to create saturation on my mid frequencies to add harmonics and cause mild soft-knee compression. This will fill out the sound of the mids and help it sound more impressive in a car playback system.

So if you want a quick and simple way to improve the sound of your mixes in your car, try this out on the mix bus.

Let’s take a listen.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

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