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How To Mix With Pink Noise (Ultimate Mixing Hack)

Mixing with pink noise is one of those techniques that sounded too weird to work, but once I tried it, I was pretty impressed with the results.

If you are having problems getting the levels right in your mixdowns, this mixing trick might be the solution for you.

In this article, I will explain how to mix with pink noise, discuss some pros and cons of this method and show some creative ways to use pink noise to enhance your sounds.

Let’s dive right into it!

What Is Pink Noise?

If you are unfamiliar with what the pink noise is, you are not alone. Remember that wash of noise old TVs used to emit once they were out of signal? Well, that’s basically it.

How To Mix With Pink Noise

Although it sounds like a mess of frequencies, a pink noise signal is actually a pretty well-balanced sound. It has an equal amount of energy per octave, covers all of the audible frequency spectrum, and is calibrated to the human ear. This is why pink noise is used in this method instead of white noise, grey noise, or brown noise.

However, white noise is generally more “accurate” in terms of energy per individual frequency. Whoah! That’s probably too much science for a mixing article. Still, I thought it’s helpful to know why this particular sound is being used in this specific mixing technique.

  • A Tone Generator plugin or a short audio recording of pink noise.
  • Level meter / VU meter
  • Multitrack recording session (Song you want to mixdown in your DAW).
  • Spectrum Analyzer

What Is Mixing With Pink Noise All About?

This method is used primarily to get a quick, static balanced mix. We want to get a somewhat stable and cohesive base to build and refine our mix using the noise as a reference. So, why would you do that?

Pink Noise through a Spectrum Analyzer
Pink Noise through a Spectrum Analyzer

Since the pink noise is a constant and reliable sound source, we can predictably get good results every time. In audio engineering, there are so many variables… Our monitoring spaces are not perfect, and our ears are not always fresh or trained enough, so at times it really is useful to have this kind of a “cheat sheet.”

Even if you feel confident in your mixing skills, this method could still help you double-check things. It might take away the “artisan” vibe of mixing, but hey…whatever gets the job done. The process is pretty simple and straightforward and shouldn’t take more than a couple of minutes to do, so with that said, let’s do this!

How To Mix With Pink Noise

Step 1: Set The Pink Noise Source As A Reference

We can go about this in two ways. You can either use a pink noise generator plugin or download a short audio sample of the pink noise.

I’ve included a pink noise file that you can download below:

A Tone Generator is usually found as a stock plugin in most of the leading DAWs (Digital Audio Workstation) if you decide to choose that way of generating pink noise. If you don’t find one in your DAW of choice, there is a free plugin called MNoiseGenerator that does the job just as well. Make sure to put it on “pink noise” mode, and you are good to go.

However, there is one catch; make sure to have the plugin last on a Master Buss effects chain, so the pink noise reference won’t be affected by any processing you already have.

This will ensure that you get the best results.

Tone Generator Plugin for Pink Noise

Step 2: Set Reference Levels

This step is crucial to set a strong foundation for our mix. Setting the pink noise level too high will result in our rough mix being already too hot. This can cause many problems further down the mixing process, so it’s better to eliminate such issues in the first place and leave yourself plenty of headroom.

Your reference level should be debatable and highly dependent on the style of music you are producing. It can be as low as -14 RMS (Root Mean Square) or as high as -8 RMS. I generally wouldn’t recommend going above or below these limits since you may risk your track getting too hot or too quiet for any bus processing.

This means that any plugin you insert afterward will either clip straight away or not feed the plugin with enough volume to work as best as possible. If you produce aggressive genres like Dubstep, Drum & Bass, Rock or Metal, feel free to crank it up to -8. A range between -14 to -11 seems to be working just fine for most other genres.

Level Meter Plugin

After the Tone Generator plugin, we will load a Level Meter as our next plugin on Master Bus and adjust the Tone Generator’s output section until our desired level is reached. If you are not using the Tone Generator plugin but rather a pink noise sample, make sure to loop that sample on a separate reference track and use the channel volume fader to adjust the signal to the desired level.

Step 3: Mix In Mono

This step is optional, but I would advise you to do it regardless. There are two benefits:

  1. You will get a better result if there are tracks that are recorded in stereo (like claps, shakers, and synths) because you will be able to judge their true level against all the mono components of the mix (like kick, bass, and snare)

2. Getting a great-sounding mono mix will automatically make your stereo mix even better.

If you are unsure how to do this, there are various ways to do it, depending on the DAW you are using. Many have the mono button switch on Master Buss, but some plugins will let you do this, like Fab Filter Pro Q.

Fab Filter Pro Q - Stereo/ Mono Switch
Fab Filter Pro Q – Stereo/ Mono Switch

Step 4: Set Your Tracks Just Above The Pink Noise Level

Now we are getting to the core of the matter and the most crucial part of the method. We set the volume faders of all tracks except the reference pink noise track all the way down and start bringing them back up, one at a time, just until they are barely audible over the noise. At this point, pull the fader down until it just slightly disappears into the noise and leave it there. That’s your level for that channel.

Once you set the volume of one channel, you mute it and proceed to do the same to the next one until you have balanced them all against the pink noise. Some people choose not to mute the tracks once they are set against the noise and prefer to balance each element with the bigger picture in mind. This might be a bit more challenging approach, but I’d say that either way should produce good results.

Pink Noise DAW set up
DAW set up for pink noise mixdown.

Make sure not to monitor too loudly while doing this. The level coming out of your speakers should allow for a relaxed conversation in your mixing room. This will ensure a better level-balancing and save your ears from getting fatigued since pink noise is a high-energy signal that is not very pleasant to listen to.

Once you’ve gone through all of the tracks, turn off the Tone Generator or mute the pink noise channel, and voila! At this point, you should probably be in the ballpark as far as levels are concerned. You’ll probably need to tweak things to make it sound closer to your particular style of mixing, but a nice, solid rough mix should already be there.

The balance between the lead vocal and backing vocals will definitely be off since you treat them in the same way against the pink noise. You can balance different mix elements using this mixing technique, but prioritizing which parts will take the lead will be your call.

Pros And Cons Of Mixing With Pink Noise

The Pros

Mixing with pink noise is probably the closest thing to being an actual “cheat sheet” in audio production. I am otherwise very suspicious of all hard and fast rules for handling creative tasks such as mixing music. But this works in a very reliable way, and every time you do it, you will get an approximately nice-sounding mix to start with. As easy as it sounds, setting levels is all but easy. It takes a lot of time to recognize which mix elements need to be prominent and to which degree.

Mixing with pink noise is a time saver

Another bonus is that it’s speedy to do it. Once you get the hang of the process, balancing a single track should take you seconds to set up, and unless you have a massive session with 100+ tracks, it shouldn’t take you more than 5 or 6 minutes for a whole song. Although one might say that it takes even less if you set your levels manually, it’s still a pretty good trade-off since you do not have to spend 20 minutes tweaking things and then regret if you get disappointed with the results.

The Cons

And now for the cons. Since there will be quite a few of them, one might get an impression that this method is flat-out useless, but some of these are more of a practical guide to situations in which this trick doesn’t work so well than objections to the method itself.

Many people are not satisfied with the results once they mute the pink noise, and I’ll try to explain why this usually happens. Not all genres benefit equally from using the pink noise as a reference. This mainly has to do with the raw material you are mixing.

Generally, the more samples you use, the better the outcome because most samples are constructed and layered, so they sound well-balanced already. If you work with raw sounds that need a good deal of EQ to sound good on their own, this method will produce an unbalanced rough mix.

A good idea is to treat the channels beforehand. Rock music seems difficult to get right with this method since you work with many unbalanced sounds that need a lot of attention before they start sounding decent. Also, distorted guitars cut through the pink noise rather well, so you will most probably turn them down way more than you should. On the other hand, mixing electronic music with pink noise works wonders!

Pink noise can be unpleasant to listen to

Many engineers also complain about having to listen to pink noise for an extended period. Pink noise is not the most pleasant sound to listen to, even for a couple of seconds, let alone a couple of minutes.

It may take away the fun and joy of mixing music and make it more of a chore for some people, and I completely understand that. You could try to monitor at lower volumes than usual just for the portion of balancing and then turn it up again once you are done with every channel. It might make pink noise easier to listen to.

Another issue might occur if you have huge sessions to mix. No matter how good you get at quickly balancing audio against the pink noise, if you have to do it 80 or 100 times, you will invest quite a bit of time which might go to waste if you end up dissatisfied with the results.

Mixing with pink noise is cheating

The biggest issue for me is that it is actually a “cheat” in a way, and I’m not saying this from the perspective of an audio purist. I have no problem with any method as long as it sounds great! Although mixing with pink noise does produce results that can sound amazing, I believe it could stop you from growing as a mix engineer by not forcing you to judge the levels by yourself.

This is a skill that goes beyond being able to compile a rough mix. It is an integral part of your mixing arsenal, and training yourself to become good at it, will be of immense value to your career in audio production. By relying on this method alone, I think you might miss out on developing some essential skills. That being said, I’d say that the pink noise method can be of great help while you are still working on improving your leveling skills.

Using Pink Noise To Enhance Sounds

I’ve always been fascinated with the ’80s and ’90s production, especially the snare sounds of that era. I kept searching for ways to get that specific sound, and it turned out that many producers were using pink and white noise to enhance the snare. Pink noise can add some weight to the snare and even simulate the sound of the snare wires. It is handy for breathing some life into dull snare sounds. This is how you do it!

Pink noise snare effect gate

We start with the good old Tone Generator inserted on the snare track. After this, we add a noise gate plugin and set the threshold until we can no longer hear the noise. Through the sidechain, we key the gate only to let the Tone Generator play pink noise once the snare has been hit. Through “Attack” and “Release” options on the gate, we can shape the duration of the pink noise and, in that way, dramatically alter the sound of our snare.

With longer release times, you can get a “larger than life” type of snare that sounds epic and explosive, or by lowering the release time, you can get a tight snap you usually find in a well-recorded bottom snare mic.

You can send the gated pink noise to a reverb for an even more dramatic effect! In many cases, it can provide a better snare ambiance than sending the actual snare to a reverb aux. Quite a sweet trick!

FAQ MIXING WITH PINK NOISE

What is a pink noise generator?

A noise generator is a piece of software that continuously produces various noises, pink noise being one of them.

What Hz is pink noise?

Pink noise covers a whole audible frequency spectrum, from 20 Hz to 20kHz. That’s precisely why it works so great for this application.

Why is it called pink noise?

It’s a bit of a scientific question. It has to do with the color that this particular combination of waves emits in a visible spectrum, which is pink.

How do you calibrate your speakers with pink noise?

Among many other things, pink noise can be used to calibrate speakers since it is a constant and balanced sound. The idea is to measure the loudness of each speaker in a stereo setup and adjust the volume of each one until they are the same.

Why is the pink noise signal most often used instead of the white noise for observing the speaker frequency response?

Pink noise is preferred since it emits a more balanced sound across the frequency spectrum. White noise is a bit on the bright side of the spectrum and has a distinct harsh sound which is good for some things but not for measuring the frequency response of speakers.

What is pink noise used for?

Besides sometimes being used in mixing situations, pink noise is used primarily in acoustics, specifically in measuring frequency responses of rooms and speakers.

Are people using pink noise for orchestral music?

I wouldn’t advise you to mix orchestral music that way since it is too dynamic, and you would most likely get inferior results.

Final Words

Mixing with pink noise will never substitute for a “proper” mixdown; however, it can definitely help get a rough mix together relatively quickly. You can then refine and polish the track to get it sounding exactly how you want.

I have to admit; I was skeptical when I first heard about this technique but thought, what the heck, it’s worth trying it out. I urge you to give it a go yourself and see how you get on. 

You have nothing to lose; if it turns out it’s not your thing, you have spent 5 minutes on it, at least you have helped ease your curiosity if it works.

 If you are looking for more mixdown tips, click here to learn about Mixing in Mono.