Mixing Water / Water Fall BG's



I have an entire scene that takes place at base of a small / medium waterfall. I'm trying to create the ambience for the scene, but everything I try comes out sounding like white noise, and therefore a little 'phasey'. To make matters worse, I'm working in 5.1.

I've tried, slowing water recordings down and layering them under normal waterfall recordings, I've tried taking two mono recordings and panning them left/right with a heavy mid range recording in the center, mid / side recordings, etc, etc.

Any words of wisdom would be greatly appreciated. I feel like this question might be a little vague, but I guess I'm just wondering if anyone has a good technique or idea for generally anchoring these kind of sounds.



Posted 2014-06-10T07:49:14.097

Reputation: 153



Nice, a sound design question :) It's difficult to create a clear and not phasey ambience with water sounds, but in most cases it's a matter of less is more.

How many different layers are you using and have you divided them up in 'tones' or 'colours'? A simple LF/MF/HF division can do a lot to keep things tidy.. and don't be afraid to use detailed trickles of water to highten the sense of closeness to the water in the mix. (I don't have a lot of experience in 5.1 so I can't be sure that it will work.)

Furthermore, can you add some details about the presence of dialogue in the scene and let us know what the character is doing or feeling? Where do you want the audience to be (point of hearing). Close to the other characters or detached from a group? That makes a lot of difference with regards to presence of the waterfall sound and mix of the soundtrack.

Arnoud Traa

Posted 2014-06-10T07:49:14.097

Reputation: 2 886

1Thanks so much for your help!! That mixed with what coaxmw said below makes a ton of sense. Mixing more tickling / flowing water in subtly, even though we might not hear it from the characters perspective should really help anchor the sound. Luckily all Dialog will be ADR'd since the water on set was so loud, no one could hear anything. Unluckily, one character is yelling from on top the fall, and the other from the bottom :( – Jake – 2014-06-11T02:49:16.400


I think it helps to play with the mix of water layers subtly so that the sound is always evolving. Lighter sounds on top of the the more body or base sounds and changing the mix up a little bit. Adding some higher frequency and unique content like some splashes or drops will also help it. Since your working in surround you should have a little more room to do that without losing the focus of the dialog. Using part of a light stream recording could help also, getting the trickles and movement off of rocks without the rush of water.


Posted 2014-06-10T07:49:14.097

Reputation: 1 294


Funny that you ask this, I was just watching a recorded webinar with Randy Thom where he speaks about designing the waves in Castaway and specifically how he kept them from sounding too noisy. He said that not only did they do what Arnoud said with layering by frequency content, but also frequently used sounds produced by waves much smaller than the waves on-screen, because the smaller waves had a much more watery quality.

Here's a link to the webinar


Posted 2014-06-10T07:49:14.097

Reputation: 91

WOW, thanks a million for the link Brian, this is awesome!!!! – Jake – 2014-06-11T02:49:39.073


I had a similar problem very recently. I'm currently working on an exploration video game with many waterfalls, rivers & streams. The platforms for the game include iPad and other tablets, so I wanted to avoid blasting out white noise, as this would not sound good on tablet speakers. I ended up recording waterfalls and fountains much smaller than the ones depicted in the game, to achieve more definition (as described in the other comments) instead of a wall of sound. I don't really have experience in 5.1 though, so I can't comment on that.


Posted 2014-06-10T07:49:14.097

Reputation: 84

@travis wow i can't imagine how hard it would be to get it sounding clear on a tablet!! This makes me realize that even though this project is premiering in a megaplex theater, I should probably test the fold down to make sure it sounds good a phone / ipad too, since that's what everyone watches on these days. The 5.1 has been difficult since it's hard to tell if it's the speaker relationship, or the sound. But the fold down is proving 'phasey' sounding too. Thanks for the tip!! – Jake – 2014-06-12T21:07:58.193


Try to use one mono or stereo source, panned there, where you want water source to be. Then, use surround reverb to add space. This how you can avoid phase cancellation, but its a trade-off: scene will not be so "large" and "wide". To compensate this you can use "wide" reverbs.

Richard Topchii

Posted 2014-06-10T07:49:14.097

Reputation: 171

wow I didn't even think of this! Thanks Richard. What kind of reverb would you recommend? like a plate with the mids and lows scooped out a bit? – Jake – 2014-06-12T21:09:12.000

It has to be surround reverb, you can use any. In my opinion, better to use reverb that matches your source and "destination" - where you want put your sound source, what space. It must sound natural, as this is kinda organic fx. – Richard Topchii – 2014-06-12T22:24:31.820