Midrange: The Golden Centre

The midrange of a mix is really where it’s at. It is the most important band. The rest is all ear candy.

Some very important words from Jack Joseph Puig in episode 22 of Pensado’s Place about midrange (slightly edited):

I was always trying to make things beautiful as I could, and as open as I could, as extended as I could from a frequency perspective, and one day I realized, that all this talk about low end and top end, and I get it and I understand it but I’m like, not everyone has that. If you listen to what comes out of a car, maybe you have subwoofers and supertweeters in that particular high end car, but you might be in a Volkswagen that doesn’t have that, or you might be pushing a shopping cart (in a supermarket) that’s having something coming out of a ceiling that certainly doesn’t have that.
And the list goes on. So I quickly realized, really, 600 cycles to 4K (600 Hz to 4Khz) – that’s really what matters. And not only does it only matter from the standpoint that it’s common to all the systems, I also adopt the philosophy that that’s where the soul of an instrument lives, that’s where the real attitude lives. That is to me the most important band.

Cutting Off The Ear Candy

I’m sure he meant to say that this is where the core of a complete mix lies too. For example, listen to Katy Perry’s ‘Last Friday Night’, with a highpass filter at 500Hz and a lowpass filter at 5Khz:

Cutting off the lows and highs – the ear candy – doesn’t destroy this mix. It still sounds well balanced: You can tell the kick is punchy, the snare is snappy, and there’s a clap on every eighth beat. Vocals are subtly doubled at the end of every line in the verse. There are still audible traces of the bassline (with the occasional slap bass), especially in the chorus where that raspy, gliding sawtooth is added. That’s a lot of important information in a rather narrow band.

The Golden Centre

Now, add some high end to this band, and you roughly have the frequency response of a laptop speaker system. The latest models probably go all the way up to 20Khz, but still, when you listen to a song on a laptop, what you hear is the core. This core, or “Golden Centre” as I heard a London engineer once call it, is what buying decisions are based upon. My girlfriend skims through iTunes on her Macbook (without headphones) and buys a track if she likes it.

So, those laptop speakers certainly belong on that list that Jack Joseph Puig was talking about. I fully incorporated them into my mix-checking workflow. I instantly spot mistakes I made with the overall balance of a mix. Overcompression, overenhanced transients, and volume inconsistency of a lead vocal are easily spotted. Final tweaks on vocal levels, sometimes just 1.0 or 0.5Db, I usually make after judging a mix on my Macbook. Delays too busy? Thank you, laptop.

If you only work on full range speakers, challenge yourself and turn down that volume. This will put focus back on midrange too. Or put some filters on your master channel every now and then to simulate a laptop, your kitchen radio, or that crappy speaker in the alarm clock that’s waking you up every morning. Save some custom made presets in Logic Pro Channel Eq for later use.

If your mix doesn’t tick on limited range speakers, you know your midrange needs work.

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