When having a discussion about mixing, you obviously need to talk about the monitoring environment. Studio monitors, the acoustics of the room, acoustic treatment, monitor isolation pads, monitor placement, distance from the monitors, etc.

We would hopefully all agree that being able to accurately hear what’s going on in the mix is very important. However, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for everyone. An amazing pair of expensive studio monitors won’t sound all that great if the room isn’t treated.

But…what about headphones?

I was having a discussion recently on the HSC Facebook page, or maybe it was here on the blog, about mixing with headphones. Is it acceptable? Is it wrong to mix on headphones?

The only thing that matters is if your mixes sound good. If you get good mixes with headphones. There’s your answer.

I’ve got a fairly decent set of studio monitors in a fairly decent-sounding room, but lately I’ve been doing a lot of mixing on my Sennheiser HD650 headphones. These are high-end headphones with a lot of clarity and detail. I’ve found that my mixes have no problems translating to other systems when I mix them using these headphones.

I’ll post a review of these headphones tomorrow, but for today, check out this article I wrote a while back: Headphones: To Mix or Not To Mix.

In that article I spell out the pros and cons of mixing with headphones. Go check it out and let me know what you think.

In case you missed it, MixWithUs.com is re-opening for new members on Monday. Are you joining?

  • ldiazmusic

    Yes Preshan! Try it out, you won’t regret it my friend!!

    God bless,
    Luis

  • First of all great pic brother Joe ๐Ÿ™‚ I enjoyed reading the post, great stuff. Keep feeding us with good knowledge. Peace!!!

  • Julian

    Anyone using a cross-feed plug when mixing on cans? Just curious. When casual listening during extended periods (during the day job grind, etc) I use an Airhead headphone amp to introduce cross-feed. It reduces ear-fatigue and lets me go for hours at a comfortable listening…

    Awesome comments, I’m learning a ton reading this.

  • Dchesney

    My own home studio is my basement, the veritable “Man Cave” as it were. This room downstairs was concrete floor, brick walls and no real ceiling, only the floor joists and flooring of the rooms upstairs. I laid wall to wall pad and carpet on the concrete, and put up an acoustic tile ceiling. There’s a little television entertainment center and a futon, and my desk/workstation. The room is about 12 ft wide and almost 22 feet long and 7 feet from floor to ceiling. Also, it is the basement so there is the furnace/air conditioner to deal with.

    I’d like to know your thoughts Joe, on direct recording. Really the only ‘instrument that I don’t record direct is the vocal mic(s). I record keys, guitar, bass all via signal processors/pre amps and straight line in.

    What are the advantages/disadvantages to recording direct in line?

    • There’s nothing “wrong” with recording direct. I record bass direct all the time, and sometimes electric, but you’ve just got to be happy with the sound. I almost NEVER record acoustic guitar direct. Acoustic guitars were meant to be placed in front of a microphone (or two). I would suggest recording with a mic and comparing the two. Then let your ears decide.

  • I haven’t tried it…but currently I don’t feel like I’m missing anything. There’s so much clarity on the HD650’s I really don’t want to miss it. Rather than making my headphones sound like monitors, I’d rather just learn how to properly mix on headphones.

  • I had found some sennheiser hd502 dj headphones refurbished on Amazon for 5 bucks, they were originally priced at 80 bucks, I snatched those suckers up, it was a great deal and they sounded great I used them to mix for a good year and half and it definitely translated into my mixes. Just recently though something went wrong with them and they no longer play right anymore, makes me sad, now all I have are some cheap koss headphones that I’m doing all my mixing on now. I suppose anythings better than computer speakers though. I really need some room treatment and monitors. why don’t ya hook a brotha up Joe, you always up in my email box trying to sell me one Recording course or another, so I assume you’ve got a decent amount sold, so your pockets should be decent. so whaddaya say, hook me up with some monitors at a cheap price?

    • I don’t sell gear…sorry. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • superfreak

    I’ve also got VRM with my focusrite saffire pro 24 DSP, and I like it a lot. you don’t have to buy 6 pairs of monitors anymore!

  • Hi Joe, “Mixing with Headphones” is something I have spoken about quite a bit in the last few days so I visited my Supplier in Dublin in Ireland, to try out a new product. He gave me a Focusrite VRM (Virtual Reference Monitoring) box to test out for a few weeks and I’m pleasantly surprised. In a nutshell it basically takes a lot of the most used monitoring systems from Pro studios to bedroom & living room speakers and emulates their response. For me, i have found this takes away the “Second guessing you mixes”. Very cheap to buy and I will hold onto it by the looks of things. The only downside I see is that you need to understand your headphone mix first but I reckon most people will already have that sorted. Hope this helps your readers

    Ray, Ireland

    • I’m not sure how I feel about VRM. It’s cool that it emulates fancy monitors and rooms, but if your headphones aren’t that accurate (or flat), you won’t it just hurt things rather than help?

  • RCAmorim

    I also did a lot of mixing with headphones (mainly the Sennheiser HD555) and they are good to hear all the details, but there’s something that you’re always missing on headphones: – phase interference between the left and right channel.
    You can have mixes that sound amazing on your headphones, but when you listen to them in a regular room, both channels are mixed and a lot of bad things can happen.
    This is especially true when youโ€™re listen your mixes in your car, as most times you have the loudspeakers facing each other on the doors and maybe the highs coming from the dashboard.
    I guess you can mix with headphones _and_ loudspeakers, but if you do it only with headphones you may be doing a awful mix for a normal listening environment.

    • Very possible. I definitely check my mixes on monitors and everywhere else. I’ve just found the headphone mixes translate to the car, stereo, PA system more easily. YMMV.

  • Noah

    I like to mix with headphones, because whenever I casually listen to music, I’m always using headphones. So I hear albums from more of a headphone perspective. You are so close and personal with the music. No doubt, I will also listen to my mix on speakers, especially to check the low end, but I really prefer the headphones for the most part.

  • Frank Adrian

    If you have a good pair of headphones and know what your headphones sound like, you can mix mainly on headphones. Todd Rundgren did this on his latest album, Arena (see Project Studio Network podcast #102). I often do early balance mixes in headphones – after all, I usually already have them on from editing. Of course I also tweak the levels (and sometimes EQ) while listening on my monitors later.

    • You’re right. It all comes down to learning your system. You CAN get great mixes on just about any system if you take the time to learn it. (Great gear, however, makes it easier.)

  • Let’s face it: 80% of today’s music is listened on what? Right, mp3 players or smartphones and therefore on headphones. 30-year old standarts aren’t “standards” anymore…

    • Ben

      Yeah, I agree at least to an extent. The headphone explosion (for lack of a better term) has convinced me to never hard-pan left and right unless it’s a stereo mic. Nothing gets panned more than 80-85% left or right, so that you don’t get that uncomfortable itchy ear from hearing something in only one side. I just want to shove my pointer finger down my ear canal and scratch my brain when something is panned too far to one side or the other.

    • This is why I always check a mix on Apple earbuds.

  • ldiazmusic

    I have tried pretty much everything out there to get decent mixes. Good pair of Mackie MR8 and a nicely treated room. But it would always require playing through different sources to ensure translation is accurate and then revising over and over…
    It wasn’t until recently I couldn’t resist trying mixing on cans. I have to admit I was reluctant to do so because of all the drama I’ve heard from other engineers out there! Couldn’t afford the Sennheiser 650 so… I had read many positive reviews about the AKG K702 headphones so I went ahead and grabbed a pair off eBay for $230 (awesome deal btw!).
    The day I received them, I started listening to some of my favorite recordings mixed by CLA, JJP etc and I could not believe such amazing sound coming from those things. Then I played back some of my mixes and…yes, I was ashamed after all the hard work (and money) I had put into treating the room, cross-checking in different sound sources, etc…
    Then, immediately I tried mixing a song really fast, trusting my new pair of K702 to see how it would play in my car, iPod, laptop built-in speakers, bla,bla,bla… To my surprise, I could not believe how much better my mix was without much effort into it. Low end was clean and tight, mids impeccable and highs just pleasing. Overall better balance etc.
    Recently, I paired my K702 with the new Focusrite VRM Box $99 and I’m just speechless. My mixes are just now starting to climb to a different level. As a matter of fact, I ended up assisting well known Nashville mixing engineer Kevin Ward with a major release (Beyond The Ashes). Did it all sitting on my porch with my MacBook Pro, VRM Box and AKG K702s enjoying the nature around and a nice cup of coffee!
    Joe, I’m certainly excited to finally see someone touching on the subject of mixing on cans in a positive way! Technology has come really far and it’s for the most part to our advantage!!!
    Great post as always, keep it up!
    God Bless Everyone!
    -Luis

    • Luciano

      (Sorry for my english mistakes. I’m brazilian)
      Hi, Luis. I’m a new K702 and VRM Box user. I’m spending a lot of time in order to find out which VRM Box speaker selection is the more neutral in terms of frequency response. Sometimes I think KRK VXT8 adds less color to the mix and sometimes I think Genelec 1031a is the best one (more neutral). What is your favorite VRM Box speaker selecion? Which of VRM Box Speakers you think translates better to other speakers/evironments (car, iPod, laptop built-in speakers, bla,bla,bla)?
      One more question. I’ve observed that vocals are a little weak (thin) is my K702. Do you have the same feeling? Have your K702 already broke in? My K702 are new. Do you think that feeling will change after many playback hours?

      God bless,

      Luciano.ย 

  • For me I’ll mix on headphones if its really late purely cos of the volume issue. Other than that I use headphones to check my mix through. Ill use my Sennheiser HD 215 and then ipod headphones too.

  • I mix on headphones out of a need… my room sounds terrible and I simply don’t have the money to buy either acoustic treatment or monitors (never mind both). I own the cheap (well, not for me) AKG K171 mk2 headphones, not the best headphones in the world but I believe that I have been getting some good mixes on them. and when I review the sound back through monitors it sounds quite close although the headphones are a bit bassy (like most most headphones will be).

    anyway when I become big and famous with my hans zimmer type of studio ๐Ÿ˜› (what?.. I can dream can’t I?) I can always use them as tracking headphones.