We get a kick out of much of the arguments flying around the net that are either for or against mixing on headphones. More often than not, you’ll discover that many of the heated positions on this topic come from amateurs. If you listen to many of the pros, the truth is that they are mixing on multiple playback sources. This goes from pristine quality studio monitors, a mono kitchen radio, professional studio headphones, Apple earbuds, and then the car stereo.
Engineers will often gravitate to mixing in the same format in which they most regularly listen to music. With many of us growing up in the age of the iPod and personal music player, there are sure to be many who prefer to work in this way.
Key consequences of mixing with studio headphones or studio monitors are the spatial anomalies. This is why it is necessary to listen back to a mix not only on a variety of stereo playback devices but also in mono. Techniques such as panning require much more multi playback listening as the stereo image can take on a new shape depending on how you’re listening.
Open-back headphones are far more optimal for mixing as there is more room within the ear cup and plenty of holes allowing a release of pressure, and overall offering more space. Closed-back headphone essentially just crank sound within your head and a very closed environment. What you need to consider is that your audience will be listening on a multitude of devices. It is you’re job to ensure that your mix translates well across all of them.
For a comprehensive overview on selecting a pair of studio headphones, we’d encourage you to read studio headphones buyers guide over at Hollagully in it’s entirety.
While many of the arguments for mixing solely on studio monitors sure sound reassuring, the fact is I have heard countless mixes from producers and engineers who get through about 75% of the mix exclusively on headphones. How can you argue with them that what they are doing is wrong when the result of their work is so flawless?
Tip: Don’t be tempted to keep turning up headphone levels, or you’ll sooner end up with a listening fatigue, a headache, and eventually hearing damage. Take regular short breaks, which should keep your decision-making processes fresh and help you tap into those “first listen” sensibilities.
One of the benefits of mixing on studio headphones is that they will often offer a wider frequency range than most pairs of studio monitors. Especially if your home studio is not equipped with a subwoofer. Even if it is, the layout of your room may be too small as to not allow the sub frequencies to travel as needed. Headphones will let you fine tune your low end with much more precision. Be sure to invest in a pair of headphones with a flat frequency response and an extended low end, without too much of a roll off in the bass. These will often allow you do work down into the low end where some studio monitors typically don’t extend into.