Your room may be giving you an unreliable idea about how your film or game sounds. Everything from the height of your ceiling to where your speakers are positioned can influence which sounds you miss and which sounds stand out. Does this matter?
When you're the person responsible for assessing the efficacy of music, sound effects in your game, or the audio in a film, this absolutely matters. When our spaces aren't catered to accurate listening, we make mistakes based on what we think is missing or over-represented. Here are some factors that influence monitoring audio and how to fix common problems:
There should not be anything between your speakers and you in your listening environment. Items that reflect light, such as wood or metal, also reflect sounds, which muddy what we're hearing. Minimizing early reflections by removing them or using absorption is key.
Your speakers should be equidistant to each other and to you. If you're following the rule of thirds for acoustics, which I recommend, your speakers should be in a position that allows you to be seated a third into your room. (This is relative to your walls.)
Skip this section if you don't want to learn about acoustic engineering. There are certain parts of rooms where particular frequencies are over-emphasized and others completely disappear. This is due to standing waves, which can be calculated using this.
To make a room a better environment for listening, there are products out there that absorb the frequencies we shouldn't hear. These are bass traps, acoustic panels, foam (only good for behind speakers, not for absorbing sounds), heavy packaging blankets, and more.
What About Headphones?
Testing your mix on headphones is great, but this shouldn't be the only way you're testing your audio. Ideally, testing your mix in all the types of environments that your players may use is ideal. This could be on speakers, on a soundbar, in a home theater, and with earbuds.
If You're Not the Sound Person on Your Team
Teaming up with a sound designer who can do the interactive mixing for your game and perform these tests would be ideal. If this isn't an option, find playtesters with different listening setups and get feedback from them about the sound in your game. Was there a sound effect that was way too loud? Did a sound seem too harsh or too sharp?
Wrapping it all Up
Make sure you can test the sounds in your game, film, or music by monitoring them in an an acoustically treated environment. Accurate listening critical for figuring out what's wrong with your mix vs. what's wrong with the space you're listening to the mix in.