Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Checking Pitch? Turn it down!

You're in the studio, listening to a track or mix. You're arguing with yourself as to whether that instrument or vocal is just a bit out of tune. If you're monitoring at a pretty loud volume, the solution is simple; turn it down!

This is not widely known, but here's the deal: your perception of pitch can be affected by volume. At high volume levels, your ears/brain will sometimes perceive a slightly out of tune pitch as being in tune. As a result, turning down the volume will help you get a better sense as to whether the performance in question is in tune or not.

You can test this yourself by playing back two test tones that are about an octave apart (i.e. the higher pitch double the frequency of the lower pitch). If you set them so they are just a little out of tune, you will be able to hear that clearly at a moderate volume. However, if you turn up the volume significantly, it will sound as though the pitch corrects itself.

By the way, there's an interesting corollary to this. Have you ever been to a concert, experienced it live, and then been surprised by how bad the recording of the same concert sounded when you heard it later? While a number of factors can be involved, this "volume fixes pitch" perception is almost certainly involved!


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