Show 114 – Monitor setup and the K-System and more

This week we talk about optimizing our monitoring, and Bob Katz’ K-System metering. In the Rapid Fire section we talk about Women in the audio industry; Headphones; and Gear vs mic technique.

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Explanation of the Bob Katz K-System of metering and great technical article on all kinds of meters


15 thoughts on “Show 114 – Monitor setup and the K-System and more

  1. Jon’s practice of setting a comfortable volume level based on his drum mix at -14dB FS (did I get that right?) was interesting. Cool technique.

    I don’t adhere strictly to 83dB SPL calibration, but I do spend most of my time mixing pop music at a specific, repeatable volume setting. And it’s pretty low. This works really well for me… I mix longer because relatively low volume means less ear fatigue, and I think I mix faster because I have to “go big or go home” to be able to hear changes. Yes, I check with the volume cranked at least once per mix and I always check in the car too.

    Regardless what method people use, I think having method is important. A key to learning how things work is repeatability. For me, that means the bulk of my mix listening is all at the same volume setting.

  2. Jon, get off of ryans back.. hes allowed to make mistakes.. and you always seem to be there to rub it in… chill dude, chill

  3. Best line of the show: “Unless you’re into feedback loops. But hey, if that’s your thing, ride the lightning!” LMFAO!

    Great topic, guys (monitor setup). Very informative and well-executed.

    Could you talk about the strategy behind standing your monitors up vs laying them on their side? Is it just a preference like holding a gun? (ie FBI-agent-style vs gangsta-style)


  4. Hey guys, I’m a a long time fan, have listened to almost all episodes and left some comments in the past. Thanks for the show, I often mention it in my messages to students and readers in Brazil.

    I’ve been using the K-system monitor calibration for around 4 years now and I must say it’s very helpful.

    After all this time listening at the same level and using marks in the gain knob, I’m able to adjust levels by ear when my hearing is fresh (with 2dB precision) and instantly judge how loud is the audio being monitored, depending on how much gain is needed to reach the reference level.

    As Randy said, this avoids ear fatigue and most importantly, gets your ears used to the same reference over and over, making it easier to judge tonal balance, over-compression and even “acoustic reality” – something very interesting that Bob Katz describes in his book, related to natural and real levels of instruments and music styles.

    Talk about getting to know your monitors! One should definitely use calibration, even if it’s not based on K-system. Actually, my alternative monitor pair is also calibrated at the same level, so that comparisons between the two sets are reliable.

    In my setup, I use the monitor bus in my Allen & Heath console to control the main monitors, through a dedicated knob at the desk. It’s not large, but it’s smooth and has marks. When in 0dB, I know a -14dBFS RMS audio will generate 86dBC (83dBC at each speaker).

    The interface output is at max value, which is actually no-attenuation, so that the D/A converter is operating at nominal levels, giving you around +24dBu at 0dBFS.

    >>> When setting your gain structure, make sure your D/A converter is the first and only point of distortion in the audio chain. In other words, 0dBFS digital values in your DAW can never distort you monitor controller nor your actual monitors or any piece of equipment for that matter.

    In my setup, I play a full scale sine wave in the DAW and adjust the input gain in my desk (which is working as monitor controller) so that, all faders in 0dB, there’s no clipping LED indication. Increase the input until it starts to clip, back off a little. As most analog equipment will distort long before the clipping level, it’s not a bad idea to back off at least 3 or 4dB in your input gains all along the audio chain.

    Next, I’ll use a pink-noise signal at -14dBFS RMS (personal choice) to adjust monitor gain. One can use filtered pink-noise (say, 200Hz HPF) to minimize room effects (white noise also works, but it sounds too bright and can get really annoying after a few seconds, that’s why we usually use pink or even brown noise for acoustic measurements).

    While playing, I put my monitor bus volume knob in the desk at 0dB and adjust monitor gain in my amp so that this noise generates 86dBC in the SPL level meter, at listening position. Done. Do not change your amp (or active monitor) gain and you are good to go. Try it for some months and you will realize the benefits.

    The monitor control knob (at the desk) goes up to +6dB, which would be needed to make a -20dBFS RMS track sound as loud as 86dBC. It goes down to -infinity, making it possible to adjust any higher than -14 RMS value to sound as loud.

    As I said, at this point, I adjust the level by ear, and of course it is a constant process during mixing and specially during mastering. I have to lower the volume 20dB or so from time to time and then get back to 86dBC reference. But when I check the gain knob, I can tell right away what is the actual RMS value, how distorted and over-compressed must be the track (you can’t always trust your ears) and even what is the DR value, as most audio will peak at 0dBFS. The knob status, along with the LED meters at the desk, give you valuable information at all times.

    Good way to keep our hearing healthy, work for more hours, train the ears, build a reliable reference, get to know your monitors better, prevent equipment failure and do better mixes. So much benefits, so little work to calibrate.

    86dBC can sound loud and soft, specially in the first months, depending on the time of the day, if you are tired or have been monitoring for a long time. So one can quickly play some well known -14dBFS RMS track, put the knob at 0dB and re-train the ears when needed.

    With time, the process of mixing and all of its tasks – such as compressor and EQ settings – become faster, easier and more reliable.

    We must acknowledge Bob Katz’ efforts. If every mixing and mastering engineers used monitor calibration (as they used to do with films), music would be more level consistent and dynamic.

    Keep up the good work!
    Cheers, Dennis

  5. Hey Jon, question for you regarding the last episode on automation – as you produce music that is more dependent on automation for its character, is there a point where the effects and their automation become part of the song writing itself? And how does this affect your approach to the production process, compared to music where the effects are far less prominent?

  6. Hey Skidmark, Jon was just messing around man. You never goofed on your friends when they made a mistake? You never teased or joked around when someone said something the wrong way? Seemed like both Jon AND Ryan were pretty relaxed about it and you’re the one who needs to chill about it. Man, there’s always at least one D112 in the crowd… Anyway guys, great show as always. I have been missing the two segment approach since the format change but, somehow you still manage to cover a good amount of info per show. Well done.

  7. Following the headphone segment of Rapidfire, I wanted to give some love to in-ear monitors for drum tracking. My overhead mics are not very high, so when I used traditional inexpensive closed-back cans, the overhead mics would pick up the click bleeding out of the headphones. Now I use in-ears exclusively while tracking myself on any acoustic instrument. In-ear monitors give far superior isolation, so I can listen at much lower volumes, and no sound bleeds back out. This might not apply to commercial studios because it would be pretty gross to have clients sharing in-ears, but for any drummers tracking themselves, it’s a great solution.

  8. Another benefit of calibrating and consistently working at the same level is you can get the same Fletcher & Munson response. In other words, if you work at radically different settings all the time, you are hearing a radically changing the frequency response too. With the same monitor setting you can develop a comfortable listening volume for every mix that will have a reliable spectrum context.

  9. Great show again as usual. There’s an iPhone App that’s a SPL meter and it’s only $0.99. The one I downloaded is called Decibel.

  10. Yep Joe.
    There are two or 3 version available and also some available for Android phones and Apple IPads.
    But all need calibrating before use and that can be an issue.
    Getting them calibrated correctly from the get go is however important….

    Anyone wanna talk about how they calibrated their SPL Meters?


    Hey guys, I stumbled this today and thought it might interest you and pretty much everyone who listens to the show. It’s a good talk so I won’t spoil it but I’ll give you a hint: Sound Lasers.

    Oh, yeah. Okay. Here, I’ll make it topical: He mentions these things could end up in car audio systems, which could pose an interesting challenge to mix and mastering engineers. Thoughts?

    That is all. Until next time,
    Mr. S

  12. Hello…
    I’m a long-time listener, first time writer.
    I love your show, and am grateful for all I’ve learned from your show. I was wondering if you folks provide critiques?
    That’s not my real question, but it is the first one.

    The second question is regarding the placement of near-field monitors. I’ll try to be succint.
    The question of whether or not the speakers would sound better (ie. more in-phase/time-aligned), if laid on their sides with the tweeter toward the outside -farther from the listeners ear.

    Here’s why it might make sense:
    The tweeter and woofer get their impulses to drive their respective speakers. Because it takes more energy to drive the bass speaker than the tweeter, the tweeter respondes first…by just a few miliseconds.
    Placing the tweeters a few inches farther from the ears would compensate for the few milisecond delay of the bass speaker, and both speakers would reach your ears at the exact same time.

    Or am I wrong about this?

    Thanks for a great podcast!!



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