Why Mixing on Headphones Is Better Than You Think

Last Updated on June 20th, 2019 at 9:56 am

Mixing on Headphones

I usually see introductory mixing guides that stress the importance of not relying on headphones for mixing music. While they make lots of good points, it isn’t totally true that you need to never mixing on headphones.

Actually, I feel lots of newbie and intermediate producers and engineers may benefit from mixing on headphones.

These are the top reasons why mixing on headphones could be better than mixing on nearfield monitors. However first…

The case against mixing on headphones

The reasons that you don’t need to mix on headphones seem fairly clear and compelling at first.

The main ones I often hear are:

  • It’s less realistic
  • Your ears get fatigued much quicker

These are both true and I will address them here before you grab your pitchforks.

Monitor crossfeed

First off, there are some fundamental differences between mixing on headphones and mixing on monitors.

The direct sound from a nearfield monitor is not fully isolated when it reaches your ears like it’s on headphones.

The sound emanating from each speaker blends collectively a bit in the air.

This phenomenon is known as crossfeed.

speaker crossfeed

That means a small amount of sound from the left and right speakers will mix together and make the stereo picture seem a little bit narrower.

That is what leads engineers to claim that mixing on headphones offers your tracks an unrealistic feel.

On headphones, you have no awareness of how the sounds from the 2 speakers blending affect your mix.

It is true that the absence of crossfeed while mixing on headphones could potentially result in problematic stereo field choices.

However, as long as you understand it’s a risk you could keep away from it!

There are some fascinating plugins that may simulate the effect of crossfeed in your DAW, however, why not keep it easy?

Just be aware of your panning and the width of your sources in the stereo field and you will not have an issue—do not be afraid to pan wide!

Ear fatigue

The next main problem I usually hear is that headphones could cause bad ear fatigue more rapidly.

That is also true, nevertheless, it relies on lots of different factors.

Ear fatigue could be a problem in any listening setup when you are monitoring too loudly or sitting too near the speakers.

It’s extremely simple to lose track of your listening levels while mixing, however, it’s incredibly essential for your ears. Don’t combine too loud!

And no matter where you mix you must take regular breaks for a variety of reasons. That will not change even when you have the best listening chain in the world.

However, most significantly, not all headphones are created equal. I’m definitely not suggesting you mix your album on a pair of consumer closed-back cans, or (heaven forbid) earbuds.

You will want good high-quality open-backed reference headphones to mix successfully

Open-backed headphone designs are much less fatiguing and much more transparent.

That may sound like you must spend a lot however in comparison to the other options…

Headphones are the best value for money

Have you checked out monitor prices lately? There is an enormous variation.

It seems like there are lots of good choices in the sub-$1500 range.

However, when you are looking for a more serious pair many seasoned engineers will let you know to save till you could afford something in the $3000-4000 range.

That’s lots of money!

By contrast, the most expensive headphones in Sennheiser’s professional audio range top out at $1699 USD.

headphones vs monitors price

Still an enormous amount, however, these are the very best headphones cash can purchase!

Clearly, headphones provide the best worth in monitoring. Even a $500 pair is considered high-end pro!

The base price before you begin seeing diminishing returns in functional high quality for a pair of headphones is much lower than monitors. That is an enormous bonus.

You want a great pair of headphones in your studio anyway

Even when you have good nearfield monitors, you will still want a pair of headphones for other studio tasks like tracking or mix referencing.

Why not begin with a pair which are good enough to mix on? It is the perfect investment when you are just beginning out with mixing.

If you understand you will not be capable to afford monitors for a while at least you will have capable headphones to see you through.

And when you get there you will have a good way to get a second opinion on your mix.

Mix referencing is one of the most essential processes for getting your mix nearer to the sound of a polished skilled product.

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Good headphones need to be your number one choice for referencing your mix somewhere other than your monitors.

They’re a key part of any mature studio workflow!

Room acoustics have more impact than speaker quality

Most of the mixing environments that newbie and intermediate producers work in have very poor acoustics.

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That sounds judgemental, however, I understand you could not help it. Unless your room is meticulously designed with acoustic treatment in mind it will not even be near flat or transparent.

Even when you bought top of the line monitors that cost as much as a new car, you’d still have issues in case you mix in a bad sounding room.

mixing on headphones

Headphones allow you to take your room out of the equation entirely. That is an enormous win.

The single greatest problem plaguing non-acoustically treated spaces is an inaccurate low end.

EQing kick and bass wrong could mean your track has no foundation. That’s’ why even pros with high-end mix rooms check their lows on headphones periodically—I have seen it occur!

Headphone hi-fi

Headphones are an important piece of your gear arsenal, however, there’s no purpose they could not be your main mixing tools.

It’s true that they probably should not be your solely possibility within the long-term, however till you get arrange with a superb listening chain, headphones are a superbly workable answer.

Subsequent time you’re feeling depressed you can’t afford a high-end pair of displays bear in mind you can nonetheless enhance your work quite a bit by getting higher at mixing on headphones.

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