Welcome to Day 9 of 31 Days to Better Recordings.

Yesterday we took a look at studio monitors, but what if you don’t have studio monitors?

Or perhaps you’re like so many home studio owners; your prime time to work is when the wife/kids/pets are all sleeping. Gotta keep things quiet, so you reach for your trusty headphones.

Can you get a good-sounding mix with headphones?

There are two trains of thought here. Some people will tell you that the only way to get great mixes is to use studio monitors. They’ll refer you to the hundreds of great-sounding albums out there, which were all mixed on monitors, not headphones.

Other people will tell you that headphones are wonderful for mixing. They’ll tell you that since they fit directly on your ears, you don’t have to worry about all the pesky acoustic issues in your room. And they’ll argue that most people listen to music on earbuds these days anyway.

I think both groups are right. Yes, most professionals mix on studio monitors. Yes, it’s possible to get a good mix on headphones.

The key is to learn how to mix on both.

For example, panning a guitar hard left won’t sound nearly as dramatic on monitors as it does on headphones. On headphones, you’re only hearing the guitar in your left ear. On monitors, you still hear it a little bit in the right ear.

Also, balancing levels is very different from headphones to monitors. I’ve found that if I mix a lead vocal on headphones exclusively, nine times out of ten it’s too loud when I listen on monitors.

There are a thousand other little inconsistencies between the two. The key is to spend time with both. Listen to your favorite album on both your headphones and your monitors.

There will be subtle differences. Knowing these differences will be the key to mastering the art of mixing on both headphones and studio monitors.

For more, read this article I wrote called Headphones: To Mix or Not To Mix. I spell out in a bit more detail the pros and cons between monitors and headphones.

Day 9 Challenge

Your challenge for today is to repeat your Day 8 Challenge on headphones. Listen to the same album, and leave a comment on what differences you noticed. How will this change your approach to mixing?