Training your ears

This week I want to talk about the most fundamental skill of audio engineering: listening. Before we begin down that path, I want to explain the different types of listening involved when making a record:  analytical listening and critical listening.

Analytical listening refers to listening to the way instruments and performances convey a specific meaning. Usually, this type of listening refers to how sounds fit into the context of the entire song. The producer of a project is an analytical listener and makes decisions based on the emotional qualities of the sounds.

In contrast, critical listening refers to paying attention to the physical details of sounds. Instead of thinking about the way sounds fit into the song, the critical listener listens to the minutiae of how individual sounds fit in with each other.  The engineer takes the role of the critical listener and makes technical decisions based on the producer’s direction and communication.

To reiterate, we, as engineers are critical listeners. But what specifically should we be listening for when we step behind the recording console? In this video, let’s focus on frequency response.

Frequency response refers to the range of frequencies of a certain captured sound or array of sounds. Different microphones, microphone positions, and other signal processors like EQs (equalizers) affect the frequency response. EQs affect frequency response because they are tools that boost and/or cut ranges of frequencies. Getting to know what particular frequencies sound like is one of the most fundamental skills of mixing and recording and separates the recordists from the true engineers. In this video, I’d like to demonstrate what certain frequencies sound like when we boost them by boosting them through pink noise. Afterward, there will be a test so you can try to guess which frequency is being boosted. Answers will appear at the end of the video.

(White noise is each frequency within the range of human hearing in equal amounts. Pink noise filters it so that each octave is reduced in volume to compensate for our ears and brains favoring vocal range frequencies.)

Pink Noise Examples

Watch the video to take the test to see if you can discern which frequencies are which.