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Mix With Headphones (How To Get The Best Results)

gear headphones mixing Feb 21, 2020

Do you mix with headphones? Should you mix with headphones?

To be honest, I avoid mixing in headphones, I just prefer to mix on studio monitors but I know that some people have no choice but to mix with headphones. 

I use headphones as another “mix checker” and as a way to hear the finer details of a mix or any clicks or hums that I need to sort out before I can call a mix finished.

I would hazard a guess and say that headphones are probably how most people listen to music today, so it makes sense to check how your mix sounds on a typical “consumer” pair of headphones and a good set of studio headphones.

Mix checks aside, what about when you have to do the whole mix with headphones?

Well, it can be done, and done very well once you know the pitfalls and how to get around them.

In this video, I go over the different types of studio headphones and which type is best for mixing, then, I give you my best tips for getting the best results possible when mixing with headphones.

Want my FREE mixing with headphones cheat sheet? Grab it here:


Video Transcription

Some people can mix with headphones and some just can't, and some even say you shouldn't. But what about those who have to do it? Does that sound like you? Then keep watching to learn how to get the best results if you mix with headphones. Hi, I'm Sara Carter from simply mixing where each week I bring you simple, practical advice to help you get better at mixing.

If you're one of those people who have to use headphones to mix music because you've either no money or the space for studio monitors, then you're going to love this video because I'm going to give you five tips for getting better results when you mix in headphones. In the description, you'll find a free downloadable cheat sheet that includes the five tips in this video, as well as links to all the products I talk about today. I'd really like to get an idea of the most popular headphones used in studios right now,

so please share your current headphones and why you love them so much down in the comments. The two design types of headphones that are useful in the studio are closed back and open back. Closed back, are were the headphones are completely sealed at the back, effectively isolating you from your environment, making it really easy to listen clearly to the sound source without getting bleed from other people in the same room.

They might be talking loudly or playing an instrument.

Likewise, it also means that you don't annoy other people who are near to you whilst you listen to music, like, for example, on the train. Open back on the other hand, are where the back of the headphone is completely open to your surroundings, this creates a more realistic soundstage and makes the music sound more expansive and lifelike. But it easily lets in sounds from your environment, which means to get the best experience from them, you need to listen to them in a quiet space. In the studio, closed back are best for tracking, and whilst you can use them for mixing, the better choice would be to use an open back design, providing you can mix in a quiet space.

The great thing about mixing in headphones is that they isolate you from the acoustics of your room.

Making any room resonances or comb filtering problems just disappear, which otherwise would seriously impact your mixing decisions.

So if you only have limited control over your mixing environment or you're working on an unfamiliar system, then headphones and knowing them well can be an absolute lifesaver. Headphones are great for quality checking your mix, you'll be able to quickly pinpoint clicks from bad edits or lips smacks and mouth noises on the vocals.

Whilst there are some definite plus points in using headphones, there are certainly a few downsides to mixing on headphones. The first is that even after investing several hundred pounds on a good set of headphones, you'll still find it tricky to get an accurate representation of the low end.

This is because of the roll off or reduced volume that occurs often at the lower and higher end of the frequency range on headphones. Whilst headphone technology is getting better all the time, you have to still spend many hundreds, if not thousands of pounds to get a truly accurate sounding set.

Another issue with headphones is comfort. We typically spend several hours on a mix and headphones can be sweaty, tight and uncomfortable. So I have to tell you, I have struggled for years because I wear glasses.

The frames get crushed into my temples and they also cause an air gap in the pads and that really affects the bass response. And after all those years of struggling with the glasses, I just eventually bought a second pair of glasses that have got really thin frames they're really kind of, almost like wires at the side and they're really flexible, so the pads just push the frames into my head and they're so thin they don't dig in. So it's a winner for me.

It can be difficult to get the panning and relative levels right using headphones. You can get them sounding great in the cans, but when you play back your mix on speakers, the balances can be off. And this is because of the room reflections and how they interact with the stereo field.

So it's still a recommendation to check your mix on speakers if you can, even cheap ones. The common mistake is to mix lead parts and reverbs too quietly using headphones, which is another reason to check your mix on speakers. So if you absolutely have to mix on headphones, how can you ensure you get the best results you can?

OK, tip one. Invest in a good set of mixing headphones. So two popular examples of mixing headphones are the Sennheiser HD 600 or the HD 650's they're open back cans. And because they've been around for many years, you can pick these up second hand for just a couple of hundred pounds and then couple them with the Sonarworks Reference 4 software for another ninety nine euros.

Then you're onto a winner.

Tip two is to listen to lots and lots of music on your headphones. Really get to know how they sound and what they do to music and build a small playlist of songs that you really love and are typical of the sorts of music you mix and listen to them as often as you can. Compare them to your mixes and make changes based on those references. In particular, listen to the panning, depth and lead levels.

Tip three, use headphone correction software like Sonarworks, what I've just mentioned. I recommend it because I've used it myself and I do use it currently. I use it on DT 770 pros just to dial in a flatter frequency response and I use them on my studio monitors. But in the past I have used them with HD 650 and can highly recommend that path. The other option here is the Waves NX software.

Now, I've not used this, so I'd love to hear from those of you out there who have. But it's supposed to replicate listening on speakers through headphones, if you see what I mean.

Tip number four, check your mix on speakers. We've already established the shortcomings of headphones, so use some speakers to check the reverb, the delays, your lead instruments and vocals and of course, the panning.

Tip number five, take care with your monitoring levels. The longer you mix in headphones, the tendency is to just creep up the volume. So mix at lower levels and take plenty of breaks, not only for the sake of your hearing, but for your comfort too. At the end of the day, the best headphones to use are the ones that give you the best results. And that can be different for everybody. It comes down to really knowing how your headphones sound, which comes from listening to lots of music through them, not only your mixes but commercial music too.

Because so many people consume music on portable devices through headphones, it makes sense to devote some time to checking your mix on a pair or two with different headphones. Think about the consumer. What's their typical headphone? It might make sense for you to check your mixes on a set of Beats or Apple AirPods. Have a few different sets in your arsenal to use as references. I have bought and sold so many different pairs of headphones you wouldn't believe it. But they've all been really valuable in my journey as a mixer.

So I hope you found this video useful. And if you want a reminder of the five tips mentioned in this video, then be sure to click the link in the description below to get my free mixing with headphones cheat sheet and then consider subscribing and click the bell to get notified every time I release a new video. So that's it for today. Thanks for watching and see you in the next one.


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