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Are Headphones A Viable Tool For Monitoring Your Mix?

Weighing the pros and cons of using headphones as reference monitors.
This article is provided by Home Studio Corner.

 
Editor’s note: This article originally ran in 2011, but the information is still just as useful and relevant today.

A question I’m often asked is “Do You Mix With Headphones”, which I think is something worth discussing.

To start, here are a few comments I’ve received in response to this very question:

David S.
I cater to the most popular form of listening. So far, I’ve found that mixing to headphones and then listening on speakers has worked. I’m not Rick Rubin, but neither is anyone else who is not Rick Rubin.

Dave.
I do the main mix with Sony MDR-CD180 headphones, while checking with iPod buds, little Logitech laptop speakers and finally in my car. Between those, I can pretty much get it in the ballpark.

I must be doing something right – on my last CD, even my most pickiest of listeners actually commented on how good it sounded. (excuse while I break my arm trying to pat myself on the back)

Those both made me laugh out loud. So, Let’s talk about mixing with headphones.

Pros

1. Less-than-ideal Mixing Environment
Most people that use headphones do so out of necessity. If they had a properly treated acoustic environment with nice studio monitors, they would likely use those.

But since they don’t have a great mix room, they revert to headphones.

I’ve talked before about acoustic treatment in your studio. It’s absolutely a necessity for both recording and mixing. However, some people just can’t afford to properly treat their entire room.

They may only have enough money to treat a portion of the room to allow them to get a nice, clean recording.

When it comes to mixing, though, frequencies are flying all around the room. There are huge peaks and dips in the frequency response of the room itself. (My room, for example, has some serious issues in the 120-160 Hz range.)

All this craziness can make it very hard to get consistently good mixes. Acoustic treatment will help “flatten out” the frequency response of the room.

Headphones, on the other hand, don’t need acoustic treatment. They sound the same every time.

2. Increased Detail
Most people would agree that you can hear more detail on headphones than on studio monitors.

I always use headphones for editing, for example. I want to make sure I don’t miss any pops or clicks in cross-fades, etc.

When mixing, headphones can give you an added amount of detail with things like EQ, compression, panning, effects (reverbs, delays), level balance, etc.

3. Keeping Things Quiet
Many of us work with other people, or in less than ideal conditions. Also, many of us have day jobs, which makes “studio time” synonymous with “late nights.”

When I first got the studio monitors I have now, I was living in an apartment, and I could only work on music at night. I was so bummed, because I never had a chance to try out the monitors, since they would wake the neighbors.

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