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Headphones or Studio Monitors
Headphones or Studio Monitors
Should you be mixing with headphones or studio monitors? What’s the difference? Which one do you need? which one is better for mixing and why? Well, there are some benefits and downsides to both.
A lot of people have headphones, especially in the home studio kind of environment. Headphones are great and you need headphones to record so that you are not playing your studio monitors out while you are having feedback go through your microphone. But can you also mix in them?
Benefits of Headphones:
- They are portable. You can pretty much pack them up and take them everywhere with you.
- You get direct sound with headphones. When I’m using headphones, I’m not worried about the room acoustics I don’t need any acoustic treatment in my studio. The headphones will just sound as they sound no matter where I am.
- Familiarity. You can use headphones to do more than just make music. You can listen to them too. You have a favorite pair of headphones that you love to use, you can use them for mixing.
- Using headphones will give you some increase to details. I check for things like clicks in pops, for changes in pitch, for any artefacts that may happen. If I am doing time stretch I can hear those little details a lot clear by using studio headphones.
The downside of Headphones:
- Most of the time, headphones or home stereo equipment are made to enhance the music. We don’t want anything to enhance the music while we are mixing it. We want the actual flat real representation of whatever we are creating or listening to.
With that knowledge, we can try to choose a pair of headphones that are relatively flat even though all of them will have some type of coloration.
The headphones that I love to work with are the Sennheiser HD280 Pro that only costs about $99.
- Listening to a mix in headphones only will fool you about your stereo imaging Anything that you pan will seem even wider than it is. When you are mixing in headphones everything just seems very wide.
If you add reverb to a vocal load instrument in that mix it can seem like that reverb is just enough in the headphones but maybe it’s not enough reverb when we play it through our studio monitor.
You may notice a few things:
- Maybe you have not added enough reverb and end up having to go back and turn up the wetness levels on those types of effects.
- Maybe you didn’t pan the background vocals and harmonies out far enough because headphones were giving you a hyped stereo image.
- When the sound is coming out of the studio monitors, whatever is coming out of the left monitor is not only going to my left ear but it’s going to my right ear too. The difference is my right ear is going to hear what is coming out of the left monitor at a slightly delayed time and the frequency content is going to be different. My brain is processing the information differently from when I’m hearing it in my left ear and my right ear and coming up with the sound that I perceive.
- Not only do I get the sound coming from my studio monitors mixing into my head but I also get that sound in the room. Once the sound leaves the studio monitors it bounces off the walls and creates the reverberation in the room and that mixture of sounds is what I’m hearing and what creates the mix. That can be a good thing or it can be a bad thing depending on the acoustic treatment of your environment.
- Using studio monitors emulates what the music will sound like in the real world. When somebody is listening to a boom box or you are at a club, a venue, or a concert. When that music is being played out, interacting with the environment bouncing off walls and reflecting all these different things that are happening in a real environment, all that stuff changes the music it changes the sound, the tonality.
- You can use studio monitors for a lot longer. Studio monitors don't cause you to be as fatigued as quickly as listening in headphones will. You can also get to the point a lot quicker by using studio monitors. What you are hearing is going to be a lot more accurate especially when it comes to terms of reverb, panning, and depth.
The downside of studio Monitors
- Acoustic treatment can get expensive and it takes some science and knows how to make it effective. There might not be a viable option for all of us especially at our home studios set up. Also, if it is going to be something temporary.
- If you are working in an environment where the acoustics are not very good, one way to alleviate that is by using lower volumes while mixing.
Which one do I use?
I use my monitors more often than I use my headphones for mixing. When I use the headphones, I always check them in studio monitors before sending it off to the client.
Other than studio monitors you can check your mixes in the car, on Bluetooth speaker, computer speakers or laptops speakers.
If you are using a computer or laptop speakers, you won’t have your low end. There is no subwoofers wafer base to be represented in that mix. You won’t have an idea about what is happening at the low end of your mix. That could cause some problems.
Checking your mixes in studio monitors will be a good idea even if you do most of the mixing in headphones.
The point of mixing is to make sure that our mixes sound good no matter where it is being played at. You don't want to have a mix that only sounds good in headphones but doesn't translate in the car on in the club.
Using both in a professional environment is a perfect marriage.
I check my mixes both in headphones and studio monitors before I send them out to a client because I want my mix to sound good everywhere. Studio monitors will be the most accurate when it comes to sounding good across most platforms.
The stereo imaging is quite detailed when you are listening through headphones. When I put my headphones on it will easily tell me whether my mix is either too narrow or too wide.