September 4, 2014 at 5:23PM

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Post Production Sound Design

I have a nearly completed short film that I'd like to submit to film festivals, but I have a small problem. The soundtrack and sound design, while clearly audible through headphones and some computer speakers, isn't audible through the speakers of my Macbook Pro.

So clearly, sound design isn't my strongest attribute as a filmmaker. Has anyone encountered this problem? How much of a problem is this? Is there an easy way to fix it? Thanks!

30 Comments

Hey Douglas,

Like color and gamma shifting on different monitors, sound balance will be different depending on what the sound is being played through. Likely at the film festivals, the sound won't be played through either headphones or a Macbook computer's speakers, so you wouldn't want to mix the sound for either of those.

My suggestion is to find out from some different film festivals what the common playback setup is and if they have any sound recommendations to accommodate that.

September 4, 2014 at 5:55PM

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Samuel Neff
DP / Editor
682

Thanks Samuel,

My main concern is that it is very feasible to imagine that the online submission screener might be viewed on a Macbook. If this is the case they will hear the dialog, and "get" the story, but they will be missing a lot of the mood. I owe it to the film, and the people who worked on it, to make it work on all viewing platforms.

Once it gets into a festival, I can worry about mixing the sound for the specific delivery method they use.

Douglas Henderson

September 4, 2014 at 6:04PM, Edited September 4, 6:04PM

I'm still trying to figure out the way this board works, so excuse me if this message ends up somewhere else. I mean to reply to Douglas reply to Samuel.

The concern of making it work in all viewing platforms is one that is very present for soundies now, since people watch the same video on the internet in their cellphone in the bus and in their home-theater in the basement. And as far as I know, up to now the strategy available is to make educated compromises to certain platforms, depending on which audience you want to prioritize.

I mean, the speaker from the phone is very different from the speaker in the home theater. If you want it to sound good in the laptop for the submission screener, it is probably a good idea to prepare a "laptop" mix for this delivery, and once the film enters you send the version with the proper "theater"mix. That way you know what to expect and tailor your sound to the viewing platform. It might be worth calling the festival and asking how the make the submission screening, just to be safe knowing you are not shooting yourself in the foot if they actually screen it in a better setup.

Hope this helps

Claudio Santos

September 9, 2014 at 2:34AM

"My main concern is that it is very feasible to imagine that the online submission screener might be viewed on a Macbook."

Very good point! I don't have much experience with the festival submission process--am just digging into that myself--so I hadn't thought that they might allow a re-mixed version after initial submission. If that's the case, I would just re-balance the audio and test in a few computers and headphones to try to find a *good balance for multiple devices*. If you consistently can't hear certain elements, bring them up and lower others as needed. Just don't boost everything (rookie sound design mistake) or you'll be clipping and it won't sound good. Good luck!

September 4, 2014 at 6:11PM

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Samuel Neff
DP / Editor
682

Interestingly, it's not a problem of levels. Even if I crank the volume to the point where it is nearly clipping I still can't hear it unless I pop on some headphones. It seems to be problem with pitch and the capabilities of these speakers to handle it. The sounds I'm specifically dealing with are very low ominous tones, and they are meant to be subtle and understated. That said, I want them to be audible. Do you think it's possible that my speakers are shot?

Douglas Henderson

September 4, 2014 at 6:32PM

(I wish your replies to my comments weren't hidden by default. Hard to follow for readers. I'll post a feature request.)

Well, I don't remember Macbook speakers being all that great with bass. However, if you solo just the low tones in the editor and push them to near clipping by themselves, can you still not hear them? If you still can't, then you might be dealing with a bug or a speaker problem.

September 4, 2014 at 6:53PM

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Samuel Neff
DP / Editor
682

Hey dude! Is it just 2 channels? If you want some help I'll gladly have a listen for you and give you some constructive feedback if I think there could be anything wrong with it? I don't think there is a PM function I can see so message me on Vimeo if you want (my Vimeo link is on my profile).

Cheers :)

=KW=

September 4, 2014 at 8:10PM

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Hey Kraig! Thanks so much for your offer, man! I sent you the link. By the way your work is very impressive.

Douglas Henderson

September 4, 2014 at 8:21PM

Ps. In the mean time, grab your macbook and play something similar to what you are going for with your own sound design and A/B it with your film and then tweak the levels to match as closely as you can. Then take it back to something like a decent set of headphones or monitors and try to find a middle ground between the Macbook and what you hear on the decent monitors/headphones.

September 4, 2014 at 8:13PM

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Guys, what ever you do, no in built speakers in a laptop will be able to reproduce those rumbles, deep bass and neither the highs above 10kHz or so.
In the case of submission of your film, I don't think the judges will watch them on a laptop with their volume turned up. So don't worry about that. Instead do the need full to bring out the sound you want the audience to hear in YOUR film. For this you have to have some really faithful equipment to edit on. So good luck...

Dibyendu Joardar

August 12, 2015 at 2:04PM

When it comes to sound design, I generally try to make sure that a few things are always accounted for, regardless of the speaker setup:

-Dialog
-Foley

Music is a different animal. Mac speakers (stock laptop speakers in general, really), in my experience, have always sucked at conveying low-end. I would venture to guess that there really isn't anything wrong with your setup, you've just included a lot of low-frequency material for the sake of establishing your desired mood. As creators, I don't think it's particularly unreasonable of us to expect, or at least to suggest, that the viewer listen with the best possible speaker/headphone setup at their disposal.

I'd say mixing for laptop speakers is a pretty bad idea. Making sure that the levels are adequate for those viewing to comprehend dialog is a good idea, but aside from that, there's only so much laptop speakers can do.

September 4, 2014 at 10:02PM

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Steven Bailey
Writer/Director/Composer
966

Cheers dude :) Your short was brilliant! Glad to help.

Ps. Not sure if I have gotten to grips with the way this works... wanted to reply directly to your comment but couldn't seem to find the reply button.

September 5, 2014 at 12:09AM

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There is a simple rule of thumb, "if it sounds good on the NS10's, it will sound good on anything." if you can get your hands on a pair of YAMAHA NS-10's.

September 5, 2014 at 2:50AM

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Renico van Wyk
Digital artist
86

Sound is one of those mysterious forces that terrifies and intrigues me. I'm pretty awful at sound design, but I'm learning as I go (being a one-man-band for much of my work, I have to), so I've learned one huge bit of advice: find someone local who is an expert.

Do you know any sound guys or gals in your area? Even if they're into music and not film sound, someone who really gets it will be invaluable. I'm based out of North Alabama and it's easy to find someone, even here.

I know that's kind of a cop-out answer, but find someone who can physically be there to hear it, because at the end of the day, the best any of us can do is guess based on your description, or else give indirect advice like this :)

September 5, 2014 at 7:49AM

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David S.
2866

I would also gladly listen to the mix for you on both of my monitoring setups if you want to PM me a link. What I have seen (and the festival I work on is in the Doc world) is the programmers watching using their earbuds attached to a computer, because half the time they were screening films in the office during normal hours.

I have always been of the mind set to mix it using the best quality monitoring I can get my hands on - if it sounds good and balanced on proper professional gear then that usually translates down stream... but when you work the other way around I tend to find there were things I couldn't hear given the lower quality source that jump out once you are on professional gear.

Even a good pair of headphones (I use my Sony 7506's all the time) to check things can be great because at least they will give you a fuller sound image than iPhone earbuds.

September 5, 2014 at 11:55AM

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Scott Selman
Content Creator | Filmmaker | Producer
955

I would definitely suggest getting some speakers. Especially if most of your audience is going to view your work on the film festival circuit. If you're stuff is going to be viewed mostly on youtube, you can get away with computer speakers. But the prevailing wisdom is if you mix for speakers, everything else will sound right. (Particularly if you get High Quality of speakers)

These guys make some great cost effective, high quality speakers
http://www.krksys.com/krk-studio-monitor-speakers/rokit/rokit-5.html

Ideal placement is around head level, at a 45 degree angle.

September 5, 2014 at 8:42PM

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David Sharp
Video Editor, Cinematographer, Teacher
405

I have these speakers also. Totally recommend for budget video people.

Victor Nguyen

September 5, 2014 at 11:45PM

I'll second the KRK's - I had a pair of the original V6's and they rocked!

Scott Selman

September 6, 2014 at 12:47AM

Sound is my Forte, I see there are plenty of replies so if you haven't figured it out yet let me know, besides bad speakers, If you are still editing make sure that your audio output on your NLE is set to the computer speakers. If you are using an Audio interface that connects via usb/firewire it will disable the computer speakers so just unplug the usb. Also know that sounds at lower frequencies (like tones and bass) do not play well on small computer speakers. If this is the case might want to invest in an audio interface and a couple M-Audio Speakers, check Craigslist and ebay for a good price.

September 6, 2014 at 7:15PM

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Luna Videography
Videographer
611

I'm not a great sound designer, I'm a DP and editor (of course, as a low budget filmmaker I have to meddle in sound, color, lighting, etc.), but what I do when I'm not sure what platform my piece will be playing on is I try to equalize the levels over a couple of platforms. I boost the audio to be good enough on my MacBook Pro speakers, but not too much so that it still sounds good through my recording headphones and speakers.
It also depends on the microphone you use, and I value sound quality as just as important as the footage itself. But once you have recorded the audio, there isn't so much that can be done. I'd recommend that you double your audio track in your editor, and possibly bring up the audio a touch. Push it as much as you can without the background noise and distortion becoming too distracting.
Hope this helps and everything works out. Good luck with your short!

September 7, 2014 at 10:14PM

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Shaia Erlbaum
Director of Photography, Editor, Musician
74

I’m not a professional sound designer so I may be way off on this, but if you’re really concerned about keeping the mood on laptop speakers, I wonder if there is something that could be done about that.

I know laptop speakers are not good at reproducing low-frequency sounds. I just finished a video and was sad to hear that the driving kick drum in my soundtrack virtually disappeared when watching the video on a laptop. I didn’t have the time to do anything with that video, but it got me wondering if you could add in some sort of sound texture that can be reproduced in the mid-range but give the feeling of a low frequency.

I haven’t been able to experiment with anything, but perhaps someone with more knowledge than I could weigh in on this theory? Does what I said even make sense?

September 8, 2014 at 3:12PM

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Ryan Toyota
Graphic Designer / Typographer / Video Editor
1240

Precisely what I was wondering. Thanks, Ryan.

Douglas Henderson

September 8, 2014 at 3:45PM

Well, for all I know, there is some sense in what you said, but not exactly the way you put it. Laptop speakers are physically unable to reproduce part of the low frequencies, so they will pretty much just disappear when you play it back. Because of that it is important that important sounds have also information in the mid-range so once the low end disappears, the sound is still there, just slightly lighter. In that sense your idea makes a lot of sense. Otherwise you end up with a "gap". But mid range is mid range, so even though it can be used to give the same information of the low end, it won't have the same feeling. Simply because low frequencies are not only heard, but also felt through your skin to a certain extent. They are also less localized, so they feel more enveloping. These feelings will be very hard to reproduce without the low end.

In short: yeah, I think it makes sense to have mid-range information as a "fall-back" (if the low end doesn't play, it's there to convey the message and the mood), but I don't think you can recreate the feeling of low end with mids.

And if I'm talking bollocks please somebody correct me. Hope this helps.

Claudio Santos

September 9, 2014 at 2:25AM

Can anyone recommend a budget friendly setup (speakers and audio interface) for a PC workstation running Adobe Premiere Pro (MC6). I'm very naive in regards to audio, but understand its importance in supporting what the video is conveying. I currently use some spare computer speakers and know that is by no means an ideal setup. Headphones while effective are not my preferred option either.

September 9, 2014 at 1:45PM, Edited September 9, 1:45PM

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Zachary Ericson
Associate Director of Technology and Video Services
74

Well it really depends on your budget... but for starters You could Get the M-Audio
M-Track (2 Channel) USB interface and a Pair of the M-Audio Studiophile Speakers. that'll run you just about $300

Wentworth Kelly

September 10, 2014 at 6:38PM

I have a pair of Sony MDR7506 headphones I purchased just to carry anywhere if I'm in a bind and don't have any good speakers to mix or monitor in. They are great for mixing.

September 10, 2014 at 11:56AM

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Joe Gonzalez
Filmmaker/Editor/Sound Designer
128

You could Export the Sound as WAV 16bit 48K or higher if you can and have an engineer master it for you... or if you have adobe audition you could follow a tutorial online to learn basic mastering with a multiprocessor, reverb and maybe with light compression.

September 10, 2014 at 6:31PM

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Wentworth Kelly
DP/Colorist/Drone Op
2363

Hey There Doug!

I'm looking at your initial question from bonny Scotland and appreciate there is lots of advice on the forum. I work in music and sound production and my first thought to your immediate enquiry is the current monitoring set-up. You've mentioned that you can hear through headphones and some other computer speakers. This leads to suspect that your macbook (and possibly other PC's ) have a system setting issue (see systems preferences and alter output and input as required. Note. Connecting headphones causes the computer to redirect audio to a different port. This may need re-assigning).

Once you've establish the above you can start look at monitoring through speakers etc. What you ideally want is a set of 'flat response' monitor speakers (not hi-fi or computer) You don't need to spend a fortune! I also suggest a free spectrum analyzer plugin by 'Span' will be a great tool to start to see where potential problems arise. Use in your film edit package (or even better a dedicated DAW) where you can instantly see where the danger peaks are and start reducing the EQ. In most cases it's about rolling off the waves in the mid to high end. Be careful about boosting the lows as this can create all sorts of problems. Check overall levels by using another, comparable, piece of finished work and you'll know if your in the right ball pack re-volumes etc. (If your audio is unmastered then allow at 3-6db of headroom 'below' the test piece as a guesstimate)

Hope this helps,
Robert Aitken (Music Without Bars)

September 12, 2014 at 9:10AM

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Hey There Doug!

I'm looking at your initial question from bonny Scotland and appreciate there is lots of advice on the forum. I work in music and sound production and my first thought to your immediate enquiry is the current monitoring set-up. You've mentioned that you can hear through headphones and some other computer speakers. This leads to suspect that your macbook (and possibly other PC's ) have a system setting issue (see systems preferences and alter output and input as required. Note. Connecting headphones causes the computer to redirect audio to a different port. This may need re-assigning).

Once you've establish the above you can start look at monitoring through speakers etc. What you ideally want is a set of 'flat response' monitor speakers (not hi-fi or computer) You don't need to spend a fortune! I also suggest a free spectrum analyzer plugin by 'Span' will be a great tool to start to see where potential problems arise. Use in your film edit package (or even better a dedicated DAW) where you can instantly see where the danger peaks are and start reducing the EQ. In most cases it's about rolling off the waves in the mid to high end. Be careful about boosting the lows as this can create all sorts of problems. Check overall levels by using another, comparable, piece of finished work and you'll know if your in the right ball pack re-volumes etc. (If your audio is unmastered then allow at 3-6db of headroom 'below' the test piece as a guesstimate)

Hope this helps,
Robert Aitken (Music Without Bars)

September 12, 2014 at 9:10AM

2
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Hey There Doug!

I'm looking at your initial question from bonny Scotland and appreciate there is lots of advice on the forum. I work in music and sound production and my first thought to your immediate enquiry is the current monitoring set-up. You've mentioned that you can hear through headphones and some other computer speakers. This leads to suspect that your macbook (and possibly other PC's ) have a system setting issue (see systems preferences and alter output and input as required. Note. Connecting headphones causes the computer to redirect audio to a different port. This may need re-assigning).

Once you've establish the above you can start look at monitoring through speakers etc. What you ideally want is a set of 'flat response' monitor speakers (not hi-fi or computer) You don't need to spend a fortune! I also suggest a free spectrum analyzer plugin by 'Span' will be a great tool to start to see where potential problems arise. Use in your film edit package (or even better a dedicated DAW) where you can instantly see where the danger peaks are and start reducing the EQ. In most cases it's about rolling off the waves in the mid to high end. Be careful about boosting the lows as this can create all sorts of problems. Check overall levels by using another, comparable, piece of finished work and you'll know if your in the right ball pack re-volumes etc. (If your audio is unmastered then allow at 3-6db of headroom 'below' the test piece as a guesstimate)

Hope this helps,
Robert Aitken (Music Without Bars)

September 12, 2014 at 9:11AM

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