The other day I was doing the dishes (shout out to my wife). Normally I listen to music or a podcast when I’m cleaning or working out.

This time I popped in those amazing Apple earbuds and tuned my iPhone into Josh Rouse’s album 1972.

I’d listened to this album plenty of times before, but always in the car or in my studio through my studio monitors. I’d never listened to it on headphones.

I was honestly shocked at all the things I heard for the first time…even over the sound of dishes clanking and water running. 🙂

There were all these little parts hidden in the mix that added such an interesting texture. I wasn’t able to pick them out before, but now that I was listening on headphones…er, earbuds…I could hear everything.

Headphone Power

I talk about mixing quite a bit here on HSC. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you should mix your tracks on headphones. I think that task is best left to your studio monitors. However, don’t underestimate the power of headphones as an educational tool.

While I was listening to 1972 I got a ton of ideas for my upcoming album. He used all sorts of little drum loops and vocal parts that were almost imperceptible, but in the context of the entire mix they made a big difference.

I left that little dishwashing session inspired and full of new ideas. Had I listened to the album on the stereo, I probably wouldn’t have heard all these cool details. Listening on headphones, however, allowed me to be immersed in the creative production of this record.

Your homework: Go listen to an album on headphones. What things do you hear that you didn’t notice before? Leave a comment!

[Photo by david.nikonvscanon]

12 Responses to “Headphones: A Great Learning Tool”

  1. John Carston

    I love the added detail that headphones bring to an album. For this reason I always make sure I have a good pair of headphones with the range needed to bring out everything included on an album. I even have school headphones for my children to assist in learning. I don’t always have time to sit down and enjoy an album like I used to but it’s still an occasional pastime.

  2. Carlos.A

    Yesterday , i was listening to Led zepellin , and i notice one part where Jimmy Page messed up a litte bit on Stairaway to heaven

  3. bluelake

    Hi Joe & other co HSC member

    Can anyone explain how to make a pitched snare roll in pro tools please ?

    Ive been wanting to learn this for a while

    • Joe Gilder

      Sorry. Not sure exactly what you mean. You’ll probably get a much better response in the forums.

      However, I would imagine the answer to your question isn’t Pro Tools necessarily, but something like EZDrummer, BFD, Strike, etc.

  4. Sparqee

    Using headphones I got a lot of great ideas about using mono reverb (or DDL) panned opposite mono guitar tracks. For that matter I’ve really come to appreciate how a lot of guitar tracks are not as distorted as I once thought. Less distortion on double tracked guitars with opposite panned ambiance makes for a HUGE electric guitar sound that still leaves room for the other instruments. 🙂

  5. Sam Swenson

    Headphones can really reveal a lot of the hidden textures in a mix.

    One thing I like to do sometimes, is pull the headphone jack out halfway from the device (i.e. ipod). This removes one of the stereo channels. On many songs, there are textures that are much more evident in the mix when you isolate the one channel. I guess you could do the same thing through a mixer … but where’s the fun in that 🙂

    Often, you can use this technique to pick up how much reverb the artist might use on a vocal track, for example. (Listen to a Radiohead this way for a good test).

    Great little read, Joe!

  6. Nick Maxwell

    “And of course being in the Production Club helps out a lot too!”

    Co-sign on this. I’ve really enjoyed the Production Club, Joe, there’s a LOT of value there.

  7. Chris

    Hearing music through head\ear\phone\buds has become an obsession of mine lately. I love picking out all the little pieces that I never realized were there before (double tracking, stereo recording, how many guitars are used, different percussion, reverbs, delays, etc). Although listening like this can take a long time to listen to a complete album since I’m constantly going back to listen to certain parts. Ever since I started really getting into and understanding the recording process over a year ago I can now hear things in music I never heard before, even after I’ve heard some songs many many times. And of course being in the Production Club helps out a lot too!

  8. Graham

    I agree Joe. I reference with headphones ALL THE TIME since so many of our end users (listeners) only listen to music through earbuds of some kind.

    Plus it’s my personal favorite way to listen to music, all the nuances come to life like you mentioned!

  9. Neil

    It’s funny, I come from the opposite end of the spectrum — I’d guess more than 95% of my music listening is on headphones (I have those ear canal-clogging silicon ones to block out the many annoying sounds of NYC). Of course, I also notice new things the first time I listen to something on my monitors, especially in terms of space/staging (I find headphones really make stereo sound a lot more like a pair of channels, if that makes any since). On the flip side, I think I get better low bass accuracy out of my earbuds than my monitors (the woofers are only 4″).

  10. Nick Maxwell

    I love doing this, especially with albums that I’ve heard 10 times or more on my studio monitors. My first and favorite experience with this was listening to NIN’s “The Downward Spiral,” an album that’s easily in my top 5 of all time. He packed so much sonic detail in there and was still able to maintain a great mix – a listen on headphones will reveal lots of layers that never make themselves apparent on a stereo system.


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