Many producers using home or small studios are forced to use headphones late at night so they don’t disturb the family or the neighbors. That’s obviously not a method that many would recommend for a great mix, but it’s possible to attain something reasonable using headphones if you’re aware of the pros and cons involved, which are outlined in this excerpt from my Music Producer’s Handbook 2nd edition.
Believe it or not, it’s possible to get great mixes out of virtually any set of speakers in just about any room, and that includes headphones as well. The trick is that you have to have enough listening time using the headphones so you can get a reference point as to what sounds good or bad when you play your mix back elsewhere.
That’s why mixers began to take their own speakers wherever they went (or asked for something like Yamaha NS-10s) in the first place. It was a reference point that they were familiar with, and since the speakers were nearfields, the room didn’t come into play too much during the mix so they could be more sure of the end result.
Mixing on headphones does have 4 significant downsides:
1. You can’t wear them for as long as you need to (which is somewhere between 8 to 12 hours) before your head and ears get tired from the extra weight.
2. You have a tendency to turn them up, which can lead to some quick ear fatigue, again limiting your ability to mix for long periods.
3. Although most of the more expensive professional headphones really sound great, you can get a false sense of what the mix is like (especially on the low end), and it causes you not to work as hard getting the frequency balance in that part of the mix right.
4. Much of the audience won’t listen on phones after the mix is completed. Since a mixer is always aiming for a mix that sounds great on any speaker that the material is later played on, you want to stay in that realm if possible, and even listen on some crappy speakers if possible as a check (at a low volume, of course). Headphones just sound too good for that.
That said, headphones do have their place.
They’re great for editing in that you can hear clicks, pops and inconsistencies that you may otherwise miss while listening on speakers, and they’re a great check for panning and checking reverb tails when mixing, but it’s best not to use them for an entire mix if possible.
But if you’re mixing in your bedroom and don’t want to wake the the kids, significant other, or the neighbors, then by all means, go for it. Just make sure that you listen to some other material that sounds great on your phones first so you have a reference point of what sounds good and what doesn’t.”