This post focuses on ways to use visual audio scopes to gain more understanding about what’s going on in your audio.
It’s important to state right off the bat that working with audio should primarily be an auditory experience. In general people won’t be looking at visual representations of audio as much as they will be listening to the audio. And ears are more accurate than eyes. There are lots of situations where audio looks awful on a scope but sounds incredible. Scopes can, however, be very useful for gaining a different perspective on your material. Sometimes the speakers available don’t reveal as much of the lows or highs as is needed for the material, for instance. Using scopes to dissect phasing, frequency response, and peak levels can further inform the impressions your ears are giving you.
A general rule of thumb is… if it sounds fine, it’s probably fine. If your ears hear a problem, an analyzer can help identify what that problem might be. Don’t reach for visual analysis unless you have reason to because what you see might not be what you expect.
Analyzing Frequency Response
Taking a look at frequency analyzers can be really deceptive. Our ears hear sounds in relation to other sounds, just as our eyes see color in relation to other colors. Rather than simply aim for a mix that is ruler flat, take a look at the analysis of a similar, professional mix that you really enjoy. Take a look at how the frequency bands pump with certain instruments. Make note of where the peaks of the kick and snare are and how extended the bass frequencies go.
In the image to the right you can see the kick clearly around 100hz, the snare around 1.5k, and some frequency buildup around 300hz. The mix is also a dark mix, but not unusually so. Looks like some of the lows could safely be rolled off under 30hz or so.
Visual frequency analysis can tell us some specific types of information:
- In which ranges the body of certain instruments lie, evidenced by movement when they sound.
- How low the mix goes.
- How bright the mix is (but it won’t tell us whether the highs were boosted or the lows/mids were cut).
- It can help inform us as to whether there are a lot of frequencies stacked on top of each other, evidenced by a consistently big bulge in the response. Again, if your ears say it sounds good across several speakers, it sounds good.
The traditional way to tell if your audio is out of phase (at least across the stereo field) is to condense the output to mono and see if things drop in volume or out entirely. Phase meters can be useful for verifying that phase is indeed the problem. They also give you a chance to determine the relative balance of the material or whether you’re really overdoing stereo widening effects.
There’s nothing particularly over the top happening here, but you can see that there’s some phasing happening, probably a result of a synth that appears in the mix delayed hard left/right.