Mixing on headphones in your home studio

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Other than cost, which is one obvious reason headphones are a worthwhile option, here are three advantages to mixing on headphones in your home studio.

Mixing on headphones in your home studio might be your reality, for any number of reasons. That’s not necessarily putting you at a disadvantage, as mixing on headphones is becoming more and more prevalent in the pro audio world and is a legitimate option to get a great audio mix. But as with anything, knowing your source – knowing what a good guitar sounds like, what good vocals sound like, what good reverb and delay sound like on your go-to sound source – gives you a leg up on the project you’re working on and is one big step toward a professional mix.

Three reasons why it’s a good idea to be mixing on headphones

Other than cost, which is one obvious reason headphones are a worthwhile option, here are three advantages to mixing on headphones in your home studio.

1. Consistency. No matter where you mix, your headphones will be consistent. Whatever the room, time of day, your placement in relationship to the console, you will always know what to expect and what you’re getting from your headphones.

2. Clarity. Your home studio is not a pro studio, so you are at a disadvantage when it comes to the acoustic integrity of your room. Knowing your room and recognizing you’re not in a perfect environment is necessary when you’re mixing on monitors, but you take all that out when you mix on headphones.

3. Subtlety. Subtlety in mixing is underappreciated, and while there may be a call to do massive boosts and big cuts in your audio mix, it can be heavy handed. The little boosts and cuts, the slight changes to automation and processing, the little tiny moves that might not be as strong and satisfying on their own can add up to be the most important. In your imperfect home studio environment, you may not be able to detect those subtle moves through your monitors. Your headphones will allow you to hear those subtle changes much more easily.

Three ways to get the most out of your mix working with headphones

1. Avoid ear fatigue. You will need to take more breaks when mixing with headphones – at least every 30 minutes, and maybe every 10-15 minutes. When your ears tire, a couple of things happen. Long term, you could end up with permanent ear damage, which is the last thing you want as a musician and engineer. In the short term, as your ears fatigue, they protect themselves by shutting down certain frequencies and you will not hear things properly. Some of the high-end information disappears, some of the dynamics disappear, and you are not hearing things accurately.

2. Change up your sound source. Don’t mix exclusively on headphones, just as you shouldn’t mix exclusively on the same studio monitors all the time. Your ears get accustomed to the sound they’re hearing, so whatever color or frequencies your go-to sound source provides might cause you to misinterpret the sounds you’re hearing. Switching to another sound source – either a different set of headphones or a new pair of monitors, will wake your ears up as you hear things a little differently and perhaps bring attention to a problem somewhere in the mix.

3. Turn the volume way down. Turning the volume down helps with ear fatigue and it helps with balance. Just as with monitors, when you crank the volume, you’ll get a hyped bottom end and top end which can make you lose perspective of the balance of the mix.

Graham Cochrane is a Tampa, FL-based freelance mixing engineer and founder of one the web’s most loved audio recording and mixing blogs, The Recording Revolution, with over 200,000 readers each month. Follow him on Twitter @recordingrev. Get your free copy of Graham’s guide, The #1 Rule of Home Recording.

Build your own home recording studio

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16 thoughts on “Mixing on headphones in your home studio

  1. That was a good read. I completely agree with you, mixing on headphones has its benefits. For this purpose one would definitely want a good quality headphones. There are so many options from which one can choose, based on specific needs and budget. I have a friend who uses the headphones that he got from http://www.soundmagic.us/ for his projects and got a good deal on them and are of good quality.

  2. What I have appreciated with creating music is that different techniques or rules for every folk, I can’t move around with my studio but I can with a laptop and headphones. Being always on the road, I can do some mixes, put them on a disc and while driving play them on my car cd player and check where I need to do some changes when I have a chance. It all depends on the gear you are using and also going expensive is not always a solution as I have experienced, I prefer portable stuff that I can move around with, as know the old debate of hardware vs software.

  3. Great video, but what about in-ear monitors? Not a cheap as regular cans but . . .
    They are more transparent AND highly accurate . . . especially when evaluating stereo placement and the balance of effects in the mix. Much more efficient than cans.
    I use Ultimate Ears UE-5-Pro . . . they are like plugging directly into your brain.
    Give it a try . . .

  4. I should write a follow up article agreeing with all these points. I’ve been mixing on Sennheiser HD headphones for years now. Too many records and artists to list. Can’t be specific either for other concerns 😉 But I will say the most important point raised to is to constantly ref your mix on other systems. Most of the time it ends up anywhere between 60-80% of work on the phones and finishing tweaking on monitors. Very revealing. I can also say I’ve done rough mixes while being involved in the production process of a record that I felt bad the final mix engineers had to try and beat. That’s more about emotional involvement that necessarily the superiority of a process, but it’s happened many times.

    For *me*, it’s all about the freedom of choosing my environment. I was trapped in isolated studio rooms for decades, and I think I’ve had my fill of that. Being able to be out in the world is very important to me. The social connection/relationship aspect of that keeps me going when I feel myself disappearing into the work vortex.

    Great article, Graham.

  5. These are all salient points..but…and there’s always a ‘but’…Al Schmidt has never worn headphones. I would suggest he’s the best mix engineer in history. When I mix on headphones I use an old pair of SONY MDR-CD2000. comfortable and great for editing.

  6. I have been dealings with professional engineers for years they all say you can’t mix with head phones it’s misleading…for ex mids lows and highs how could you mix effectively with phones on say a rap record…I’m my experience a acoustically dead room brings out the best mix

  7. Fantastic video Graham! I’ve been using AKG’s for several years and my current favorites are the Q701’s.
    The advantage I get is detail. The subtleties you pointed out are important to me. I’ve learned A LOT just listening to my favorite artists over the years on headphones to hear THEIR details.

    It IS VERY important to use other sources as you point out. I break things up with a boombox, the CD player in my F150, and a single Avantone speaker at various low volumes. These alternate sources are a MUST before I send the mixes to a mastering house. Thanks for your pointers and for the reassurance that mixing with headphones is a viable way to go!

  8. Very helpful, thank you! I’m about to start a recording project in my home and intend to use mainly headphones for the mix, and very glad I read this.

  9. i have done audio for over 50 years
    it is aamazing the internet myths some so called experts try to make us believe by yelling at us and claiming to be better

    if you use good headphones you know they are far better than speakers or even ‘monitors’ for mixing as well as all audio work

    you can hear things on headphones the speakers omit or hide
    and they block out the other distractors that normal people have unless you can afford to build a sound proof room inside a vibration free building

  10. Been following Recording Revolution for about 6 months… my recordings and mixes have gone from laughable to “hey, this actually sounds pretty good!” without a single change in gear. Thanks Graham!

  11. Excellent points, Graham!!! I mix in a well controlled acoustical environment, but I certainly do utilize my headphones. I have Sennheiser 650’s and love them. They are easy on the ears in every way (audio and comfort) and they really replicates the mix I get on my M&K (much more expensive) monitors!!!

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