I keep a collection of audio samples designed to help check my monitor setup. Test tones, essentially, that I use after I’ve moved my speakers or desk, to ensure the speakers still behave as they should.
I’ve included 4 of the samples below, and I hope you find them useful – and possibly enlightening. Each tests a facet of the two most common monitoring problems in home studios: Uneven bass response, and poor stereo imaging.
Sine wave sweep
Contents: A sine wave sweeping from 40Hz to 300Hz.
Use this to test for: Bass response, sympathetic vibrations.
Unless you’re outdoors, or listening on headphones, you’ll notice the volume rising and falling as the audio plays. That’s normal, although the level doesn’t actually change. (Open the MP3 in your DAW to confirm this.) Rather, you’re exposing the acoustic response of your room.
Use this test as a rough gauge of how extreme the acoustic issues are in your space. (You can flatten the response somewhat, but acoustic treatment is a topic unto itself. For some more information, check the quick backgrounder on home studio acoustics.)
Additionally, the sweep can expose low-frequency dependent rattles, buzzes, or other sympathetic vibrations happening in the area around you. With this test, I once discovered the casing on an overhead light shook at exactly 140Hz, after puzzling with a mix for 15 minutes, unable to isolate the odd rattling sound.
Two octave walk-up
Contents: Consecutive semitones from G1 (46.2Hz) to F3 (174.6Hz)
Use this to test for: Bass response, specific problem notes.
Here, the tone ascends through a chromatic scale. Certain notes will jump out or disappear, for the same reasons as above. Remember these notes, as they’re important to the character of your mixing space. Specifically, when you know that, for example, the B at 61Hz drops in volume in your space, you can reconsider when you find yourself reaching for the fader every time the bass guitar plays B.
5-point pan check
Contents: 5 bursts of white noise at different pan positions.
Use this to test for: Coarse panning issues.
This file plays sound at the center, hard left, hard right, half left, and half right. If you don’t hear 5 separate panning locations, you’ve got stereo issues!
Most stereo imaging problems are caused by incorrect speaker configuration (i.e. the speaker aren’t equal distances from your ears,) and poor room acoustics.
Contents: White noise at 3 different pan positions.
Use this to test for: Fine panning issues.
This file plays a sound at 50% left, then hard right, then 25% left. (The jump to the right distracts your ear so it can’t track the sound moving from 50% to 25%) The 3 sounds then repeat on the other side.
Most listeners can reliably distinguish 5 or 7 distinct pan positions. So if your stereo imaging is clear across 9 points, i.e. 25% increments, you’re in good shape (for mixing in a home studio, at any rate.)
On the other hand, if the difference from 50% to 25% isn’t clear in your monitors, or is more defined on one side, you might want to consider using headphones to verify your important panning decisions.
Note: Since these test don’t require high fidelity, MP3s should be fine for checking your setup. However, here are links for WAV versions of the test:
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