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Ear fatigue, it is in fact real.
Old 8th January 2013
  #1
Gear Maniac
 
kholland65's Avatar
 
🎧 5 years
Ear fatigue, it is in fact real.

I thought I would make a post about a recent experience of mine to give a bit of anecdotal evidence towards the case for ear fatigue. I figured the newbie forums would be a good place to post since beginners are probably most likely to either be unaware of it, don't believe it, or don't truly understand it. Let me explain.

The other day, I decide I wanted to review a new mix I had just done during my lunch break at work, while sitting in my car. Like most people, I like to reference tracks in my car since 1. it has a decent stereo, and 2. I obviously spend a lot of time listening to those speakers so I know what a good track should sound like on them.

I sat for about 30min only, not 3 hours, not 1 hour, 30min. That's it. I listened to the track on repeat taking notes as I went, also fiddling with the audio filters to experiment. After about 30min, I sort of realize that I was probably listening to it a little loud. I can get a little over-excited about new tracks, plus I like to make sure I can hear every little nuance. This was a bad idea. Finally I decided to turn back on my xm radio to hear some reference tracks. Fortunately for me, the perfect track was just coming on by one of my major influences. This is when it hit me.

I noticed right away, that a song I normally loved, sounded like ****. It sounded muddy as hell, and borderline like some 12 year just made it in his garage. I knew right away it was ear fatigue from basically blasting my previous track for 30min straight. I'm not scientist or doctor so I can't comment on the specifics, but as I said before, it sounded way bassier than normal and the highs lost their clarity. This makes sense since my dad has hearing problems from one too many loud concerts and that's exactly what went. His high frequency hearing.

So the lesson here boys and girls is, ear fatigue is very real, and it doesn't take much to experience it. In my case it only took 30min and the music wasn't exactly at an ear shattering level. It was loud, but not super loud.

-Keep your music at moderate levels unless you really have to turn it up. Trust me, a good mix will sound good even at a quiet level.
-Don't continually keep things looping. If you are trying to analyze something specific. Play it a few times and stop. If you need to make an adjustment or take notes, use that time to stop playback. Every second of quiet is a gift to your ears. Gladly take it.
-take Frequent breaks, No longer than ever hour in my opinion you should take a break, and not just to use the bathroom. Give it at least 15-30min in my opinion. Watch a TV show, make some food, run an errand, browse gear slutz. Just keep it quiet so your ears can rest.
-Be aware of ambient noise. You would be surprised how loud ambient noise can get just coming from cars on the road, your TV, people talking, etc. Especially during rest periods, keep your TV volume low, sit in a quite room with windows closed if you live near a busy street, stay out of rooms with loud appliances like a washer or dryer, turn down your video games, etc.

This isn't even just an issue of preserving your hearing for when you get old. It's about preserving your hearing for tomorrow. If you want good mixes, practice these techniques. Head this warning and you will notice an improvement in your mixes.
Old 9th January 2013
  #2
Gear Nut
 
🎧 5 years
Yeah I know that feeling..

Now I'm taking 15-30 mins breaks every 3 hours or so when I mix and I never listen lourder than around 75 dB, my "normal mix mode" is around 70..

Good advice man, good advice.
Old 9th January 2013
  #3
Registered User
 
🎧 10 years
Good advice, very good. Particularly on not keeping things looping and that silence is a gift, and dial back on the loudness. I've sat here all day and have barely taken a break if I'm honest.
Old 10th January 2013
  #4
Lives for gear
 
esaias's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
i wish someone had hammered this into my head when I was 20.
Old 10th January 2013
  #5
Lives for gear
 
JC Biffro's Avatar
 
🎧 5 years
Definitely an issue I have. I can't help but get excited and turn the volume right up. :(
Old 10th January 2013
  #6
Gear Addict
 
gruenburger's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
or maybe, just maybe, it sounded like **** because you were listening to... radio?
Old 10th January 2013
  #7
Gear Maniac
 
ModernMixing's Avatar
 
🎧 5 years
Nice Post!
My only suggestion would be Not to reference two diff sources where quality could be an issue like putting on your CD and then referencing the radio. A lot of times radio destroys the music with their own compression and limiting. If you were to reference in your car I would suggest either using a CD with your track and your referrence or your Ipod with your MP3 and the reference Mp3 trying to stick to same quality output. Or use the reference as a gage, if it is 192kbps then make yours the same.

Cheers!
Old 10th January 2013
  #8
Gear Maniac
 
kholland65's Avatar
 
🎧 5 years
I hear what you guys are saying about the radio format killing the song quality, however I know that wasn't the reason for it sounding like ****. I've heard this song 100x of times on the radio and its a favorite song of mine. It sounded completely different than I had remembered. I normally don't scoff at it, even on the radio, like I did this time. Where not talking bad as it, sounds a bit to compressed bad, where talking bad as in some 5 year old turned all the knobs on your stereos EQ.
Old 11th January 2013
  #9
Lives for gear
 
🎧 15 years
Hi
DEFINATELY use the same 'quality' of source material. FM radio has strange but usually 'euphoric' compression/frequency response applied to make it 'reach' a greater audience. Digital broadcasting should be limited to speech only unless it has a decent bit rate and 'uncompressed' at transmission.
Moving on, I think I heard mention that your ears can get 'bored' of signals after only a few minutes and therefore shut down, and of course the music itself has to be stimulating to capture your brain's attention. There is also the 'loudness' curves to contend with. All of this will be fully documented somewhere in either medical journals or elsewhere.
As a brief anecdote, a former colleague could not hear AT ALL a 400 Hz tone. Up to and beyond were fine but specifically 400 could not, however loud it was. This was due to his previous job at a company making communications receivers where the standard 'line up' tone was 400 Hz so he was subjected to it practically all and every day at some level (probably not loud).
Matt S
Old 11th January 2013
  #10
Gear Maniac
 
kholland65's Avatar
 
🎧 5 years
It was XM, not FM. Not sure how that makes a difference.

Either way, I hear what you are saying, but your are still missing the point. I listen to XM radio and ore specifically this song, on XM radio, all the time, so I know what it should sound like, baring my own track I had been playing previously. When one of my favorite tracks sounds nothing like I remembered it, on those same speakers, I knew that it was my ears.
Old 11th January 2013
  #11
Lives for gear
 
🎧 15 years
Hi
I am not disagreeing with you and had noticed the XM not FM but the point should be that to compare apples with apples you must ensure the 'source' is the same and ANY form of broadcasting or 'codec change' is definately 'suspect'.
It may be of interest if you have the same song available on CD (not a cheap MP3 or other bitrate mangled immitation) to compare HOW it sounds different. OK, CD mastering is also a bit suspect at times but unless you have access to the original pre CD master you have to start somewhere.
Matt S
Old 11th January 2013
  #12
Lives for gear
 
skillz335's Avatar
 
🎧 5 years
I think Ive been making this mistake, but my thinking was to train my ears. I generally loop the track and listen for around an hour no more then two then take a break. Now while that tracks looped I try to isolate each element of that mix to its individual tracks rinse and repeat. see my problem when mixing other peoples music is its hard for me to catch the subtleties and nuisances of their performance without listening to the track over a dozen times or more. Also I know I listen to music differently then when Im mixing. when listening to music I focus more on what I like about the track and when mixing I focus on what I dont(at least to my ears, generally it is things that need work). Ive been trying to bring these things together and thought my method was the way to do this. Am I wrong? and what would anyone suggest to do differently? also good thread thank you.
Old 12th January 2013
  #13
Gear Maniac
 
ModernMixing's Avatar
 
🎧 5 years
I agree with everything Matt said. The only time I take a reference seriously is when I actually have the 16bit audio file from CD. Would I prefer the pre master in 24 bits? YESSS lol. But the Audio CD is my best bet at hearing it for how it was meant to be.

Now onto your subject of ear fatigue. You are right its definitely a real world problem, it does exist. But even when I thought my mixes were not great they still sounded better than what was on the radio. They filled the car better, the were more dynamic, they were spacious. You have to consider I am listening to a 16bit CD and the radio is playing a crappy MP3 and then Compressing it even more. So its no surprise that your favourite song sounded horrible after listening to your stuff!! My 0.02
Old 12th January 2013
  #14
Lives for gear
 
🎧 15 years
Hi
When talking 'bit' numbers you have to bear in mind that of FSD (full scale digital) is set at your threshold of pain, then you only need about 21 bits to get to the real, practical noise floor. Thus as a MASTERED final medium a 16 bit CD is close to 'perfect' in terms of 'dynamic range'. OK the HF could be extended to a useful 30 or 35KHz perhaps for increased 'fidelity'.
Marketing has brought about the suggestion of 24 bit is so 'wonderful' but this range cannot exist in the real analogue world if you set the 'bottom' bit at the noise floor then hitting digital 'peak' would correspond to a level that would destroy your house.
Having a properly scaled A/D with say 20 bits, the ability to 'process' at 24 bit allows some digital 'headroom' to cope with summed signals.
We are now at a farcical situation where your 'pod' players have 24 bit converters but by using MP3 or whatever coding you could happily use 10 or certainly 12 bit converters and still end up with better sound. The real bottleneck is the storage and transmission mediums.
Matt S
Old 12th January 2013
  #15
Gear Addict
 
gruenburger's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
this thread is truly groundbreaking
Old 13th January 2013
  #16
Gear Nut
 
waveheavy's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
It's important to know about these effects, and they have been measured. See this link about the Fletcher-Munson curve:

The Fletcher Munson Curve & Why You Should Know About It |ZeSoundSuite Dot Com

Human ears do not best hear all the frequency range at the same loudness. There's a reason why around 85dB SPL (sound pressure level) is recommended. (A Rolling Stones concert would probably be over 100dB in contrast).

So here's the skinny on what I recommend - get an SPL (sound pressure level) meter. One can be had from Radio Shack for under $100. Might be something cheaper out there nowadays too.

Setup both monitor outputs (playing same time) to peak around 80-85dB on the SPL meter at your listening position That's your fallback volume reference. I recommend getting something that gives you a manual volume control knob so you can mark that setting on the knob (i.e. TC Level Pilot, Mackie Big Knob, etc.).

When you're just listening to a track for initial problems, like noise, clicks, pops to do edit cleaning, I recommend use of headphones for that stage (if you have a good set of cans). You can hear those things better under cans. Might save your monitors too when doing EQ boost sweeps to find those things. When each track is done, take the cans off and use your monitors.

When you're mixing, don't just pull all the faders up and leave them there for hours, never stopping the audio. Make your adjustments 'offline' (without the mix playing). Then play and see what changes it made, then stop it again, guess where it needs to be effected, make the adjustment, then play it again for a few seconds, then stop it again, tweak some more, play, stop, tweak, etc. Get into a tweak, play, stop, tweak rhythm, because that will keep your ears from getting used to any one loudness so you can hear what the tweak did. And it will also sharpen your skills to hear in your mind what tweaking a track needs, and eventually, you'll be able to listen to a track for just a few seconds and automatically hear what or where it needs addressing.

With the mastering stage, I know many engineers match the levels between a pre-adust and post-adjust tweak. They pay strict attention to keeping the loudness output the same as it was before they applied the treatment. Doing that makes sure you can hear exactly what the tweak did if anything. I believe WaveLab has a tool just for doing this.
Old 13th January 2013
  #17
Lives for gear
 
🎧 15 years
Hi
Waveheavy's post is excellent but I would like to add a little to the 'setup' regime.
Yes, mark the position of a 'real' analogue level pot but previous to this you should be checking that the metering of your signal path is actually measuring DIRECTLY what is going to the monitor level pot. It is a bit lengthy to write out in full but you need to know what level is being fed into the level pot. 'Older' traditional analogue desks would usually do this, in that the 'meters follow monitor', but digital setups and some analogue desks did not. Basically you are setting up a visual and aural monitoring system which is 'fixed' such that when your meters read your preferred level, that ultimately you hear your 80 - 85 dB SPL at your 'sweet spot'. You could for example set it so the monitor pot reads 7 on a scale 1-10 and you would then adjust the power amps to get the right SPL. Now mark the positions on the power amps. If you have more than 1 set of monitors you would of course set the other power amps, leaving your 'monitor pot' in the same position.
If you have 2 or more sets of 'passive' speakers and only 1 power amp, getting the SPL match will probably be inpossible as speakers have different 'efficiency', in which case treat your 'best' pair as 'reference' and note where the volume pot needs to be.
Matt S
Old 15th January 2013 | Show parent
  #18
Gear Maniac
 
kholland65's Avatar
 
🎧 5 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by waveheavy ➑️
It's important to know about these effects, and they have been measured. See this link about the Fletcher-Munson curve:

The Fletcher Munson Curve & Why You Should Know About It |ZeSoundSuite Dot Com

Human ears do not best hear all the frequency range at the same loudness. There's a reason why around 85dB SPL (sound pressure level) is recommended. (A Rolling Stones concert would probably be over 100dB in contrast).

So here's the skinny on what I recommend - get an SPL (sound pressure level) meter. One can be had from Radio Shack for under $100. Might be something cheaper out there nowadays too.

Setup both monitor outputs (playing same time) to peak around 80-85dB on the SPL meter at your listening position That's your fallback volume reference. I recommend getting something that gives you a manual volume control knob so you can mark that setting on the knob (i.e. TC Level Pilot, Mackie Big Knob, etc.).

When you're just listening to a track for initial problems, like noise, clicks, pops to do edit cleaning, I recommend use of headphones for that stage (if you have a good set of cans). You can hear those things better under cans. Might save your monitors too when doing EQ boost sweeps to find those things. When each track is done, take the cans off and use your monitors.

When you're mixing, don't just pull all the faders up and leave them there for hours, never stopping the audio. Make your adjustments 'offline' (without the mix playing). Then play and see what changes it made, then stop it again, guess where it needs to be effected, make the adjustment, then play it again for a few seconds, then stop it again, tweak some more, play, stop, tweak, etc. Get into a tweak, play, stop, tweak rhythm, because that will keep your ears from getting used to any one loudness so you can hear what the tweak did. And it will also sharpen your skills to hear in your mind what tweaking a track needs, and eventually, you'll be able to listen to a track for just a few seconds and automatically hear what or where it needs addressing.

With the mastering stage, I know many engineers match the levels between a pre-adust and post-adjust tweak. They pay strict attention to keeping the loudness output the same as it was before they applied the treatment. Doing that makes sure you can hear exactly what the tweak did if anything. I believe WaveLab has a tool just for doing this.
For those that are interested. There are free SPL meters for iphone. I just downloaded two. Ironically these appear to be fairly accurate. In a normal quiet room they read about 50db which apparently is what they should read. I open to other opinions about this, but I know I'll be using these apps much more frequently when mixing now.
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