Calibrating Your Monitoring Chain

You don't know how loud you are unless you know how loud you should be at a set level. This is something a lot of people forget to do for some reason... If you don't have your monitors reasonably well-calibrated, you might as well be shooting at a moving target.

I don't have all night, so I'm going to keep this short and sweet - There are a few things you'll need...

  • Monitors (duh) in a room - a quiet room, preferably. Well-positioned is a must. A well-treated room will help quite a bit also.
  • A SPL meter (the cheap digital one from Radio Shack is more than good enough) at ear level (you can use a camera tripod for this).
  • A "home point" on your monitoring controller that you can return to easily. If there is no "unity" point, you can use 1 or 2 o'clock or whatever. MAKE SURE this is marked and easily recalled.
  • A recording of full-range stereo pink noise at -20dBFS (almost any DAW can create this if you don't have one handy).

First off, turn your amp (or powered speakers) down.

Load up the -20dBFS pink noise file into your DAW and loop it. EVERYTHING should be at unity. The signal should be reading -20dBFS/RMS at the main outs.

Set the SPL meter for "C" weighting and slow response. It needs to be *precisely* at the mix position. Right where your head should be (which should be .38 the length of the long wall from the short wall if you read the "Basic Room Setup" rant).

Set that volume knob at the "home" mark...

Turn up the left speaker (or have someone else do it) until the meter reads 79dBSPL on the meter. Then disconnect that speaker and do the same with the right. Reconnect and presto - 85dBSPL at the mix position with a -20dB(FS)RMS signal. It’s that simple and it’s absolutely necessary to understand relative levels. If you haven’t already (which you probably haven’t if you’re reading this), you need a “standard reference” level to train your ears to (that particular level of "around 85dBSPL" is generally the "flattest" human hearing gets - Reference the Fletcher/Munson curves / Equal Loudness Contour). Looking at a meter only tells you so much... It’s great to “mix loud” for a while and “mix quiet” for a while and what not. But if you don’t know what your “normal” spot is and what “normal” should sound like at that spot, you’ll wind up chasing your tail.

John Scrip - MASSIVE Mastering -