Identify Frequencies In A Muddy Or Boomy Mix | Ear Training For Audio Engineers

Written By Kyle Mathias  |  Audio Basics 

In previous posts, I’ve introduced you to my favorite ear training method for audio engineers. The ear training method is based on vowel sounds that are associated with the octave frequency bands between 250 Hz and 4 kHz.

Training your ears to identify these vowel sounds will allow you to more quickly determine where an EQ can fix problems in a mix.

If this is your first time hearing about this method (or if you want a refresh), watch this video:

In order to fix problems in the low frequencies, we need to find a way to identify those frequency bands, too. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple because the low frequencies don’t really correspond with vowel sounds. Instead, we are going to practice listening with more than just our ears…

Before I explain exactly what I mean by that, we need to first acknowledge that some speakers just aren’t capable of producing low frequencies.

So, if you listen to the video above on phone speakers, you probably won’t hear the examples very well. Also, if you’re listening in headphones, you might hear the examples but not feel them as you might if you had a full range speaker system in front of you.

I’m going to do my best to explain with words so that you’ll get value out of this post no matter what you’re listening with. But keep these things in mind if you’re struggling to hear the examples.

Identifying Frequency Bands with Haptics

As I’ve already hinted, an effective way to identify the low frequency bands is to associate them with where you feel the sound in your body through haptics. In this case, I’m using the word “haptics” to describe the felt sensations of the sound on your body. 

If you’ve ever been to a loud concert with powerful subwoofers, you may have felt the haptic experience of the sensing low-frequency sound throughout your body. The same thing happens when listening to any full range speaker, it’s just less noticeable at lower levels.

When you listen to the examples in the video above, ask yourself, “Where do I feel the sound resonating in my body?”.

Again, you will only feel this if you’re using full range speakers. For me, I associate 125 Hz with a resonating feeling in my chest and 63 Hz with a resonating feeling in my belly. 

Ok, that’s great for when you’re mixing with a full range sound system, but what if you’re mixing in headphones?

This is where it gets a little more subjective, but I’ve always felt like the 125 Hz range has a more forceful, full-bodied sound while the 63 Hz band is gentler and mellow. 

I told you this part was going to get more subjective…

I associate the 125 Hz with the sound of dragging a heavy object across the floor or the sound of a rocket launch. 

To me, 63 Hz and below sound like a low rumble from an air handler or a subwoofer in the apartment next door. 

Ear Training For Audio Engineers

I’ve created a quick start guide for training your ears using a free tool. The guide is free and the step-by-step instructions will set you up to practice any time (even with your own audio tracks). It will teach you how to identify the core octave frequencies: 250 Hz, 500 Hz, 1 kHz, 2 kHz, 4 kHz, 8 kHz.

You can download a copy of the guide here: Ear Training Guide

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