Nothing makes a track hit hard like a good bass synth. Whether it’s a powerful sustaining sine wave, a snarling sawtooth, or a bouncy plucked rhythm that makes you want to dance, a well-mixed bass synth can make or break a track.
In this blog, we’ll break down our approach to mixing bass synths step-by-step to help you capture a professional, polished sound.
Use Reference Tracks
Before you start trying to dial in the perfect bass synth sound, you need to know what the perfect bass synth actually sounds like.
REFERENCE helps you accurately match the loudness, tonal balance, punch, and stereo width of your reference tracks. Simply drag and drop a few of your favorite mixes and use REFERENCE to see how your track stacks up.
Listen to how the bass synth in your reference track compares to your own bass synth. Consider these points:
- How loud is the bass synth relative to the whole track (be sure to use the level matching feature in REFERENCE to get an accurate understanding of this).
- Does the low-end of your bass synth feel too weak or too strong compared to the reference?
- Are the upper harmonics subtle, or do they cut through the mix?
How to EQ Bass Synths
Once you’ve identified how you want your synth bass to sound, it’s time to insert your favorite parametric EQ and get to work!
Start with a high-pass filter to remove any unwanted sub frequencies. Be careful not to use too steep of a slope, as you only want to roll-off frequencies below the lowest fundamental frequency. A common starting point is 30 Hz.
Use a bell curve to cut any low-end resonance and make a little room for the kick. If you’re having trouble identifying problem frequencies, use a bell with a narrow Q to boost around 80 - 125 Hz. You should be able to hear a distinct ringing sound when you land on the resonance. Use a dynamic EQ if you want to attenuate the signal only when the resonance is heard.
Use another bell curve to cut any muddiness around 200 - 250 Hz. Remember, these are generalized frequency ranges to help you get in the ballpark. Each track is different and will require a unique approach.
Next, use a low-pass filter to roll-off some of the top end above 8 - 10 kHz. This will help make room for high-frequency instruments like vocals, cymbals, and other synths, as well as keeping the mix from sounding harsh when we add saturation later (spoilers!).
Now that you’ve tamed the frequencies that make the bass synth sound worse, it’s time to enhance the frequencies that make it sound better.
Use a bell or shelf EQ to boost the fundamentals of the bass synth, typically around 60 - 80 Hz. Don’t be afraid to boost the midrange either. A wide bell in the 700 - 1.5 kHz range can help bass cut through the mix on smaller speakers. And if you’re mixing a particularly plucky or buzzy synth, don’t be afraid to add a little sparkle with a shelf on the top-end.
To make sure you nailed the balance between the kick and the bass, use BASSROOM on your mix bus and select one of the genre-specific presets to help you fine-tune the low-end of your mix.
Bonus tip: BASSROOM has very transparent filters and can help push your sub louder without introducing distortion. Try it on your next mix, download BASSROOM now.
How to Compress Synth Bass
Bass synth tends to require quite a bit of compression. But simply smashing your track with a compressor will suck the life out of it. Instead, try using serial and parallel compression to create the sound you’re looking for.
Start with a compressor to catch any transient peaks and create more consistent dynamics. Use a moderate ratio around 4:1 and fast attack and release times to compress the track by about 3-6 dB.
Then use a slower compressor to squeeze the track, adding glue and increasing the perceived loudness. Use a mild ratio around 2:1 and slow attack and release times to compress the track by about 3-6 dB.
You can also use the attack and release times to fine-tune the sound of your bass. Faster attack and release times are great for tightening up plucky synths and adding excitement to tracks.
Slow attack times can be used to enhance transients, giving your bass more punch. Using slower release times will help increase sustain for a more powerful and consistent synth sound.
Next, send your synth bass to an aux track and use your favorite compressor to squash the living snot out of it. Seriously, crank the ratio as high as it will go and peg the needle. Smash it to smithereens! Then gently blend the compressed signal back in. This will help fatten up the tone and create more consistent dynamics.
Last but not least, route both tracks to a bass bus, and apply some gentle bus compression with a 2:1 ratio, a moderate attack, and auto release to help glue everything together.
By using multiple compressors in parallel and in serial, you can easily apply massive amounts of compression without sucking the life out of your mix.
The Finishing Touches
Now that you’ve dialed in the tone and dynamics of your bass synth, it’s should sound pretty good—at least on your studio monitors. But one of the toughest parts of mixing synth bass is getting it to sound good on small speakers like laptops and smartphones.
To make sure your bass synth cuts through the mix, try adding a little bit of distortion. First, send your bass synth to an aux channel and insert your favorite distortion plug-in. Then crunch up the parallel track and slowly blend it in with the original.
However, sometimes this can create a nasty build-up in the low-end. Which is why it’s best to use a dynamic distortion plug-in like IGNITE. Use the built-in filter to focus on frequencies above 200 Hz or so—that way you can still capture all of the rich, crispy harmonics from the midrange without any of the muddiness.
If your bass synth still isn’t popping out of the speakers, try using a stereo widening plug-in like GROW to help add space and depth.
Similar to saturation, using reverbs, delays or stereo enhancement plug-ins on bass instruments often creates muddiness. But with GROW, you can focus the stereo widening effect to a specific frequency range, allowing you to enhance the width of the high frequencies without muddying up the low-end.
Check Your Levels
Now we’re cooking. Things are starting to sound pretty good! But are you ready to press print?
I always use LEVELS to check my mix for problems before bouncing. LEVELS makes it easy to quickly identify issues with stereo field low-end, dynamic range, and of course, your levels. You can even use presets to make sure your mix will sound good in any format.
If you can playback the entire song without triggering any red lights, you’ve passed the test! Download LEVELS here to test your mix now.