Of course you can mix on headphones, but does that mean you should? It’s an increasingly relevant question because many people listen to music on ear bud sor headphones, not the hi-fispeakers that resemble what’s usedfor traditional mixing. Further more, asmore people work in home/projectstudios, mixing at high levels couldlead to a grumpy spouse or complaining neighbor.
Another consideration is economics:Headphones take room acoustics outof the equation, which can be a factorwith home studios, and top-of-the-lineheadphones cost less than top-of-thelinespeakers.
However, not all headphones arecreated equal. Those designed forconsumers sometimes “hype” the lowend, high end, or both. Finding headphonesthat provide an accurate listeningexperience requires effort.
To complicate matters further, someheadphone amps are more of an afterthought(few are as sophisticated asSound Performance Lab’s Phonitor,which seems to make just about anyheadphone sound better). But even ifyou get the right headphones and agreat amp, there’s still a major psychoacousticissue because music doesn’tsound the same on headphones as itdoes on speakers. The sound is in yourhead, not in front of it, and there’s nocross-feed between channels. (I hadplanned to cover some of the DSPsoftware that claims to make workingwith headphones more like listening tospeakers, but after working with themfor a while, decided they deserve their own coverage—which we’ll do in afuture issue.)
In any event, now you don’t just mixso something sounds good on different speakers: Your mix has to soundgreat on living room speakers, cheap ear buds, and in the car. What’s an EQreader to do?
Well, start with this roundup. Welooked at nine headphones intended for recording applications, and haveincluded a roundtable discussion ofmixing/mastering on headphones,courtesy of the “in the trenches”recordists who frequent my forum at www.harmony-central.com .
Ultimately, can you mix on phones?Whether you can or not, many feelthey now have to be a part of the mixingprocess, even if it’s just a bit part.
EQ: If you use headphones for mixing,what’s your methodology?
Roy Brooks: I tend to mix withheadphones late at night, but thenlisten to it the next day on monitorspeakers to see if it needs changes.I’m pleasantly surprised when the mixI did with headphones sounds goodwith monitors.
Jon Chappell: I do a variation ofthis. I often mix with headphones (AKGK 271 MkII) because I can hone in onthe individual instruments better and listen for timing, breath noise/fretsqueaks, flams, etc., faster and moreefficiently than with speakers. I domake individual EQ adjustments,but sparingly.
When working with headphones, Imake it a habit to swap the left andright sides, sum to mono, listen to leftonly (through both earpieces), thenright only. This was a trick I oftenemployed when I was a professionaltranscriber and music editor; it helpsyou hear parts in a new light. This(hopefully) eliminates a...