Hi-Fi Tracks, for a Low-Fi World. Make a Mix Translate

Cover/ Thumbnail Photo Credit : Drew Ressler /Rukes www.rukes.com 

Note * I use the term " Lo-Fi" a lot in this post, I am referring to , Ear buds, Low End Headphones, Stock Car Stereo's, Laptop Speakers etc...pretty much the normal stuff people listen to music on .

New Track Done?  Have you had this conversation ? 

Artist : This sounds SICK ( in the studio/ place you made it )

Artist : Let’s go test this in the car with the woofer !

Friend : uhhhhh, this sounds meh.

Artist : uhhh, ummmmm. Maybe its just the car....

Artist : Let’s try it on your ear buds

Friend : I can’t hear the drums, it sounds really high.

Been there, done that. We all Have.

 A few key reasons why this happens.

1. Your mix down isn't ideal ( this is a no brainier, but 90% of the time a solid mixdown WILL translate ) 

2. You haven't learned your studio / environment you produce on well enough ( if you learn to match the key aspects of pro tracks in your listening environment, the tracks will translate )

3. You simply haven't developed the ears to hear what the track is lacking. This can take a long time and a ton's of practice.

These are some of the main , big picture reasons its not translating however over the years I've picked up a few " tips " that may help them translate better.

The next few tips are in a " problem / solution " format. 

1. Problem -  No Punch/ Power on Drums

My drums sound SICK in my studio, but when I listen in the car, or a place without a Hi-Fi system, they sound shitty ! Why?

   Solution -  

 This is due to usually one ( or a combo ) of 2 problems.

 - Your drum ( kick ) is super subby. This is great and uber important for, Hi- Fi / Club playback systems, however, if you are listening on a laptop speaker, or anything cheap without a sub you really won't hear this range.  

If you take a look at your kick, make sure there is VOLUME in the 100-250hz range, this is the first range that cheap playback systems will start to hear. If you listen to Zedd or Avicii you will notice their tracks are FAR less subby then the " bangers " however they are super solid in the 100hz+ range. The majority of their listeners are playing their tracks on low end gear, so they design it to sound better on such devices ( like how pop music is mixed) .

Quick Take Away : If the drums lack power or punch check your 100-250hz range first. This range tends to be over shadowed by sub which isn't audible on all systems.

2. Can't " hear " the drums/ No Drum Clarity   

Man, the drums sound LOW in the mix, but when I boost them it gets muddy

Solution -  

- This is another huge problem new producers face. The drums don't sound " loud " in the mix, even when mixed loud. 

Luckily, this is often a simple illusion due to the drum lacking a top end ( high range )

The high end of the drum , ( knock/ tok/ smack) depending on who you ask, is a SUPER important aspect of drums, especially on low-fi systems.  This is the part of the drum that comes TO THE FRONT of the mix, while important on all playback devices, if this range is lacking on low-fi, you simply won't have the drums punching through the mix.

Check out Zedd's Epicly Produced/ Mixed Tune- Note how the top end of the kick punches through the mix, if this wasn't loud in the mix a lot of the groove would be lost. 

Quick Take Away : Try Boosting or adding a smacky element on the high end of the drums. Madeon once recommend a cowbell ( he has SUPER clickly drums great for low-fi systems) . If you are using one of the uber popular vengeance kick drum samples, many of them have a click layer already added, I feel these often get lost as producers will boost the low end of the drum a LOT to get " loud bass " but in the process the volume of the top is too low. 

3. Problem - WALL O HIGHS ( but sounds great in studio )

Man, the track sounds SICK in my studio, but WAY to “ high “ in my car

Solution - 

Another super common problem. The track sounds solid to you in the studio its produced in but way too bright in a car or other devices.

After mastering 600+ tracks, I've learned a good portion of newish producers tend to over brighten their songs. I'd even go so far to say that 60% of stuff sent to me is a bit to high. ( easy adjustment in the mixdown/ master , so no huge deal )

The " over bright problem " I feel stems from the fact that when your ears are learning, you FOCUS on the highs because they are the "loudest" element in the " box " ( full article on this fact alone soon) .

What I mean by this is when you are new you do not have the ability to " see inside " the box" . Your ears can't really pick out whats riding below the top elements. You focus on the highs because the highs are what you are mainly hearing.

note* I'm not saying when your new you can't hear a bass line, or a sub line etc. I'm just saying you can't hear them CLEARLY in the same context that someone that has been producing for many years can. After awhile, you start to hear the spacing and you can pick out a " vocal sample " 15% to the left and 30% back in the mix. When you start out your ears pretty much hear whats front and center/ loud and up front. ( this also leads to why peoples tracks end up WAY over compressed/ elements poorly placed, but thats another article as well )

This brings us back to the low-fi playback issue. When the tracks are already too bright in the studio environment ( due to lack of ear training ) then they can end up way to bright in the low-fi world. This isn't always the case, but more often then not seems to be true.

Quick Take Away : It seems, new producers tend to over boost highs due to the above reasons, a simple cut a few db in the 10k-20k range can help a lot. 

4. Problem - Hollow Sounding Track 

Man my tune sounds empty when I play it on my buddies stereo

Solution - 

The infamous hollow track syndrome. Typically occurs when producers are lacking in the 100-1.5k range ( yes huge range I know ) . Often times for whatever reason, people tend to over look this range. I feel it may have to do with the fact that its rather hard to judge this range unless you are rocking decent cans ( headphones ) or have a solid studio set up/ audio card etc. 

This range, or more so the 500hz -  1khz range is known to cause " mud " however, from my personal experience not only do most people not have enough volume in this range, they often times don't have enough volume directly above and below it.

If you play your tune in the car and it sounds hollow and thin, take a good look at what you have going on in this range and how it can fatten up your track.  

* note , you want your tune to have some " hollow " ness to it, so it will sit better and sound less cluttered, however from tracks I typical get sent from newish producers, this range is commonly massively over looked.

 Quick Take Away : If your tune is sounding thin, try fattening up either the 100-300hz range or the 300-1.5k range. Try different combos for boosts ( or even just volume boosts) and cuts to see what works best for your tune.


Getting tracks to translate across all playback devices is a skill that can take awhile to learn. With these tips, hopefully you can adjust any issues you may be currently having. 

If your having any issues getting your tune to translate that's not covered, leave a comment and I will try and help.


Posted on October 7, 2014 and filed under Music Production.