Mixing & Mastering for Car Systems

Bob Katz Leave a Comment

From: Randy
Hi Bob,

Your website and posts on the audio messageboards have been a great help to me and my mixes and masters are definitely better having followed advice you’ve given to others.  I’m at a bit of a loss with a hard rock mix that I’m doing at the moment.  The original sessions were recorded on 1″ tape and all of the sounds are quite good.  The mixing is happening ITB and I’m using Cubase.  I’ve left plenty of headroom on the 2Bus (about 8DB) on the mixdowns.  I’m also doing the mastering in Cubase – just in a different project. I’ve been very careful not to crush the master too much and average RMS is about -11.5 for most of the songs, none are above -11.2 though.  The masters sound great on my monitors, a couple of different home stereos, as well as some really nice Bose headphones and some cheap MP3 player earbuds.  The issue I’m having is when I burn a CD and listen to it in the car it’s not so good.  When I compare my masters to some commercial releases in a similar style they compete quite well.  If I then play those same commercial CDs in the car they sound great, but my masters don’t.  Do you have any thoughts as to why my masters work well on multiple systems except for the car?  It’s weird because the commercial mixes work well on all of those systems including the car, but mine work well everywhere except the car.  I’m wondering if something is going on with the CDRs themselves. 

Thanks and keep up the great work, 


Hi, Randy.  Thanks for the nice comments.  Translation to the car is definitely the last frontier.  It involves a lot of care and use of the highest bandwidth and most accurate reproduction system in the mastering room, plus, depending on the style of music, possibly a couple of trips to the car if certain notes stand out too much.  You’ve got to have a system going for dealing with this and lots of experience at doing it.  There’s no substitute for the experience and the accurate monitoring room.  It’s not your CDRs.  You’re just on the last frontier, and even when you have all the ingredients right, car systems are a challenge for all of us.

If I am to pick on one particular area it’s the low bass, generally from 45 to about 125 where some things can be just too boomy in some cars. I do not like to use the car as a standard because if you mster for the car then the sound can be too thin everywhere else. But if one note stands out and makes it boomy in some cars and you can tailor your master slightly to please that without making it sound thin everywhere else, then go for it. That’s the secret to those CDs you have which sound great everywhere!
Best wishes,

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