Mixing bass on headphones is notoriously difficult. If you know your headphones well you might be able to get some of the way, but it's never entirely accurate.
And, if you're making music for big systems, it's crucial you get your bass right. Of course you can check your bass on multiple systems to ensure it's ok, but it's never gonna beat using an actual studio, or a studio simulator like Waves CLA NX.
In this article I'm gonna cover just how you can mix your bass using Waves CLA NX, to ensure it's not overpowering or non-existent.
What Is Waves CLA NX?
Waves CLA NX, is a plugin that simulates a studio room environment, based on Chris Lorde Alge's real-life studio. It's a fantastic plugin that gives you access to listen on NS-10s, with a sub woofer, Ocean Way HR1s, and a boombox.
It's the perfect bedroom studio companion for making any decisions in a mix, and provides a really accurate stereo simulation of being in an actual studio, with ambience controls to change the room dynamics.
There's also some cool features like headphone EQ, built-in to CLA NX, which means you can flatten your headphones' frequency curve, helping you make the most informed decisions possible.
Unfortunately there's only a few headphones available for this, but it's useful if you have a selected pair, and don't want to shell out for Sound ID reference 4.
Since I don't have a full studio or monitors yet (because of costs and to be mindful of people I live with), I've been using Waves CLA NX to make more informed decisions on everything.
I always have an instance of CLA NX on my master now for checking it's that good.
It's not 100% accurate, but it's more than enough to help you get balanced mix & masters in headphones.
How To Use Waves CLA NX For Perfect Bass
I'm gonna go through what I've been doing to use CLA NX to reference samples and ensure that the bass is ok before shooting them off for feedback and selection for our sample packs.
1. Listening through CLA 10 + Sub mode
1st I'll reference through the CLA 10 + Sub mode and here I'm listening for any overbearing resonances through the speakers.
You'll know when what you're listening for comes up.
It's a really overpowering ring that causes everything else to distort and become underwhelming/muddy because of it.
CLA NX is needed to spot this, because headphones don't give me the same room dynamics, and don't sound like a set of speakers would.
There have been multiple times I thought my bass sounded fantastic in my headphones, switch on NX, and I've realised there's some overbearing resonances anywhere between 60-500Hz.
Once I've discovered there are problem frequencies, I'll use Soothe, or Pro-Q 3 on dynamic mode.
But, usually when listening through the sub you won't always hear the problem frequency area that you're looking for. This is where the “mains” function comes in handy.
2. Listening through mains (Ocean Way HR1s)
2nd I'll opt for the mains monitors (Ocean Way HR1s), and listen for the same thing.
Usually if the CLA 10 doesn't pick up these resonances, you can be sure the HR1's are going to do this, and they'll sound really, really overbearing in this mode.
After I hear the resonance, I choose to either turn the channel volume down to try and resolve the overpowering sub, or I'll treat it using a combination of soothe 2 and Fabfilter's Pro-Q3.
Soothe 2 is fantastic at dealing with harsh bass resonance, without affecting the character or weight from your bass, and is easily set up.
Here, you're looking for the fundamental frequency, or a resonance that's overpowering.
This is usually the problem frequency, and is easy to spot, because it's the highest amplitude frequency (at the lowest point) – that will be your fundamental.
Then I'll use Pro-Q3 on dynamic mode, or I'll use Soothe (Soothe more often).
Select the frequency band and increase the depth using delta mode, until I can hear the resonance I want to tame a little.
Then I'll increase the depth of Soothe a little bit, finding a sweet spot that doesn't destroy the original signal source, but also stops the distorting in CLA NX.
It's worthwhile messing with mix knobs here too, and playing until you find a setting that reduces the bass, but doesn't destroy your signal.
Once that's done, the sample is on it's way to being fixed!
You can apply this processing to your entire sample or the separate bass track.
3. Listening through the Boombox
The final thing I'll do is listen through the Boombox.
This is especially import to the process as it emulates an old boombox that has a mono speaker, and isn't very high quality.
Due to the nature of the boombox, there's usually no sub information that can be heard through it.
It also helps you to hear what information you're losing when switching from stereo to mono.
If you can't hear your sub through the boombox setting, it's because you don't have enough low-mid -> mid-range frequencies coming through on your sub bass.
This is a common issue and is often why your bass can sound bad through car speakers.
The easiest fix for this is to duplicate the channel, pitch it up 12st and add some saturation on it. Using R-Bass, and Sound Shifter you can do this, then you'll want to mix this channel in at a low volume to add that missing information.
For R-Bass you want to double the fundamental frequency. So, remember when we found that fundamental above? You want to select double that Hz value of that on your R-Bass settings.
Our fundamental is 54.3Hz 53.4Hz x 2 = 108.6Hz
If that doesn't hit the sweet spot, try adding another 54.3Hz on top, and so on. Sometimes you need to go higher, but doubling is a very good start
Doing this fills out the mid frequencies that you need in your bass to be more audible in car systems, phone speakers, laptop speakers, TV and other devices that don't have good sub reproduction, or large enough cones to even reproduce sub.
You've gotta remember that most people are listening to your music through pretty awful sources, so you gotta make sure it sounds good across everything.
If you can get your mix sounding good in boombox, it'll sound good in anything.
Bonus Mixing Tip
Using CLA NX with bass is incredible, but also using it for mixing and checking your stereo field is fantastic. Try using CLA NX with the Waves S1 stereo imager. This will give you a true representation of your stereo field and allow you to control how it sounds properly.
A great technique I like to use is splitting the low, mid & high bands using a multiband compressor inside an audio effect rack.
You create 3 chains, solo the low on one, the mid on one, and the high on one.
On each of these chains, place an S1 stereo imager. This will allow you to individually control the low, mid and high stereo information, giving you far more precision when adjusting your stereo field.
Mixing on headphones can be difficult, but with new technology getting a great mix or master using your cans is becoming more and more possible, and easier to do.
Waves CLA NX is one of this plugins that is a must have when using solely headphones for referencing.
That's it for this article, check out some of our other music production tutorials!
With over 8 years of hands-on experience in the music industry, Harry has run successful raves, played alongside industry heavyweights such as Max Chapman, DJ EZ, DJ Zinc and more (pictured below), had music played on national radio, DJ'd on live radio, produced until he hated every song, mixed until his ears bled, created sample packs from scratch using just a Zoom H1n and some sound design skills… and pretty much anything related to music production – he's done it, tested it, tried it.