Spectrum Analysis for Mixing
There are loads of situations when spectrum analysis can be helpful during mixdown, but there are a few things to bear in mind if you want to take full advantage of it. The first thing is that the analysers bundled with most DAW systems aren’t high-resolution enough, so check out some of the much better third-party options. Voxengo’s SPAN is a good piece of cross-platform freeware, for example, although I tend to use Schwa’s affordable payware Schope myself.
The first big analysis application at mixdown highlights overall mix-tonality imbalances that your monitoring hasn’t alerted you to. Although this is clearly relevant to budget setups with budget monitors and uncontrolled acoustics, even pros like Joe Chiccarelli and Eric Rosse talk about using spectrum analysis in this way. However, every spectrum analyser seems to display things in a different way, so you need to get to know how your favourite records look on screen before you can come to any meaningful conclusions about your own work. A related issue is that a spectrum analyser will usually be the only thing in a small studio that is a reliable guide to what’s going on in the bottom two octaves of the mix. This is because most affordable monitors are ported designs and low-frequency room problems are expensive to deal with.
The second thing spectrum analysis is great for is isolating resonance problems: things like guitar-cabinet honks, room-mode-induced boxiness, and undamped drum ringing. These show up quite clearly as peaks on the analyser’s display so it’s easy then to target them with narrow EQ cuts at exactly the right frequencies. (Voxengo’s SPAN has a great little auditioning filter built into it for this purpose, so you can check which particular spectral peak corresponds to the unwanted resonance you’re hearing.)
Mike Senior is a professional engineer who has worked with Wet Wet Wet, The Charlatans, Reef, Therapy, and Nigel Kennedy. He has transformed dozens of amateur mixes for Sound On Sound magazine’s popular “Mix Rescue column.”
As part of Cambridge Music Technology he also provides in-depth training courses and workshops specializing in the documented techniques of the world’s top producers. His new book, is a down-to-earth Mixing Secrets For The Small Studio mixing primer which shows how to achieve commercial-grade sonics within real-world project/college setups.