We’ve all been there: we’re working on a project that we know that it’s gonna be mainly played on mobile devices (smartphones and tablets). And because we all use this devices, we know: their speakers’ frequency response is extremely limited (and mono, many times). So, should we consider this information when mixing and designing sound for this kind of medium.
That’s a tricky question. And I’m gonna use my music production background to throw some light over the topic.
When we’re mixing a song, the rule is: first of all, make it sound good on the studio monitors, and it will translate into other speakers systems. Although this is not entirely true, it’s a good start point. Why? Because your room and your monitors are considered to be flat (or at least really close to that), so you can balance all the frequencies and give all the sound textures the way you intend to do.
But, as accurate as this may seem, it’s not 100% true. That’s why is so common (and advisable) to have a boombox, radio or a single Avantone Pro MixCube speaker (that las one comes handy also to check things on mono). This speakers shows us the limitations and frequency response of many of the commercial sound systems that are around, and that’s really important because it can reveal the flaws on our mixes (maybe we’re focusing on frequencies that are not playable on this speakers, or they colour the mix in a strange way…).
So, getting back on the mixing for mobile issue: should we care on how the speakers sound?
My answer is: yes, we should. Not as a main premise, but as one of the factores that should guide us thru the mix.
You’re probably wondering: what are you trying to say with this statement?
Before I can explain, let me share a graph I found that show the iPhone 5s speaker’s frequency response.
Can you see how limited (frequency wise) and uneven that is!? There’s a huge 20dB cut between 600 Hz and 250 Hz. That’s huge! And the same happens between 8 kHz and 16 kHz.
So, what we can see is: it’s basically focused on the mid range, no low end, a bit of high end.
So that means that you should have this graph glued to you monitor and use it as a guide to mix your soundtrack or SFX? No! Not at all. This is just the iPhone 5s graph, and probably differs a lot from other smartphones and tablets.
What you should have in mind is that the most important sounds of the game shouldn’t be on the low end. That you should use some compressing techniques (that I already talked about on the post “All about that bass that you hear, but isn’t really there“) to make you low end content sound better on small speakers. That you won’t be able to give the player a big “boom” sound, and that’s ok!
And, maybe, we should all start to do different mixes for when people uses headphones to the device speakers. How? That’s possible with WWise, for example. The phone can feel when someone has plugged the headphone, so the game can use this info and change the mix it’s using.
Summing up: yes, you should think about the devices you’re mixing to, but that shouldn’t be your main concern. Focus on making the SFX and soundtrack sound good, but keep in mind what are the limitations of the medium it’s gonna be played at.
Hope you enjoyed 🙂
Mauricio Ruiz – www.mauricioruiz.me