AudioTip: Mixing on Headphones

A question that I often get from a lot my students is whether they can mix on headphones. While monitors have their own advantages, my answer is yes. There is no hard and fast rule and as long as you understand and recognise the frequency response of your headphones, mixing on them can give you really good results, be it an entire song, a voice-over or even some basic two track effects laying. The cost effectiveness involved in mixing with using headphones is also another important factor to consider. The main aspects that you’ll have to consider while mixing on headphones are

Portability

Well, many of us cannot afford to buy a pair of studio monitors or have the appropriate space to accommodate a pair at our home studio setup. As a result, investing money in a trusty pair of headphones is the most logical and, almost always, the cheapest solution to  the problem. Having a pair of headphones also allows you to mix and produce on the go.

Being able to work, irrespective of the environment

Headphones are ideal for working in a scenario where your room isn’t necessarily acoustically treated and/or for working in a noisy environment. This gives you the liberty to set up camp pretty much anywhere and start working.

Here are some headphones that I would strongly recommend for mixing and production purposes. For recording or tracking, I’d highly recommend the Sennheiser HD 280 Pro. Since they are closed back headphones, they won’t bleed into your recording microphone. Your other options are the KRS KNS 6400, the legendary SONY MDR 7506, Extreme Isolation EX-29, to name a few. The Beyerdynamic 770 Pro will cost twice as when compared to these other models but are definitely worth the investment. They have a sound isolation of up to 35db which makes them very good even for a drummer. Another important factor to look for is the frequency response range of the headphones. If you have a wider range of frequency response, then you’ll be able to make a better judgement while mixing. A pair of headphones with a flat frequency response is preferred so you can hear exactly what changes you are making to your mix.

A lot of the cheaper headphones out there are often heavily coloured, i.e may have a boost in the lows or a scoop in the mids. An alternate solution for this is to use headphone calibration software, like the one by  Sonarworks, which calibrates your headphones to give you a rich frequency response for mixing.

Mixing on headphones might not be for everybody as it purely depends on how you perceive the sound in your headphones and how familiar you are with them. What I have done is in the past 15 years is try a lot of mixes on my headphones and playing it on different system like my car, home music system or even a cellphone. By doing this, you will surely find and understand your headphones and how they respond to your mix. This is the best course of action to get used to mixing on headphones. And always remember to mix at lower volumes so that your ears don’t get fatigued.

This article was featured in our November 2017 issue: http://bit.ly/2ja0XWf