For anyone who makes music, being able to mix and master is a huge deal. Without mixing and mastering, the music won’t sound quite right and no one will listen to it. But then you run into the dilemma of whether or not to use headphones. Some people say “yes”, and others give a very emphatic “no” to the question. As with most things, using headphones has its own set of pros and cons that can help you to decide if mixing and mastering with headphones is right for you.
Why not use headphones for mixing and mastering?
One of the reasons that people say not to use headphones is because they can sometimes distort the audio in such a way that it can make accurately mixing and mastering all the more difficult. This is in part because of how headphones are designed. Rather than the speakers being at a distance, they’re hovering right by your ear, making it much more imbalanced.
The smaller speakers that can be found in headphones are another possible issue. Because they’re so small, bass frequencies usually end up being boosted because they can’t be heard as easily. This doesn’t mean that headphones cannot be used for mixing and mastering, but it does mean that you want to make sure you do plenty of research before taking this approach.
Benefits to Using Headphones
One of the biggest benefits that headphones can provide is that you can have the ability to remove any ambient noise that might be present from the room during recording, depending upon the quality of the studio. If you don’t have a sound-proofed, professional studio, you will likely have more ambient noise than if you did.
Another benefit is that it can make mixing and mastering a bit more affordable if you’re unable to have that sound-proofed, professional studio. You’ll be able to mix and master your tracks on the go and not have to worry nearly as much about not being able to remove all of the background noise. Once you’ve gotten used to whatever pair of headphones you choose, it will become easier to pick out those little noises to make your mixes the best that they can be.
Choosing the Right Headphones
If you decide to go the headphones route, there are plenty of things that you’ll want to look at, such as how they do with bass frequencies or whether or not they’re open-back. You’ll want to make sure that you’re looking at the best headphones for mixing and mastering, and not just a random set of cheap headphones. Make sure that you spend time looking at each model of headphones to find the set that will work the best for your needs and your budget.
As mentioned previously, headphones will allow you to more easily remove ambient noise. This is because you’ll be able to more easily hear these sounds with headphones as opposed to any other types of speakers. So, even if you don’t want to fully mix and master without headphones, you may want to consider getting a set of headphones for removing ambient noise.
Tips and Tricks for Headphone Mixing
Trick #1: Purchase Headphones Meant for Mixing
When you’re looking for a good pair of headphones, you don’t want to accidentally purchase a gaming headset or a super cheap set that will break after a year. Open-back headphones are meant for mixing and will be a lot more accurate than their closed-back counterparts. They may end up being a little bit more expensive, but if you want high-quality, that extra investment will be well worth it to make sure you get the best mixes possible!
Trick #2: Use Both Headphones and Speakers
Just because using headphones for mixing can greatly improve your tracks doesn’t mean that you should eliminate regular speakers too. Since people listen on many different platforms with many different devices, it can be helpful to listen to your mix on many different devices to be sure that it sounds good cross-platform. You don’t want to have it sound good only with headphones and have it sound terrible over regular speakers. This will turn people away from wanting to listen to your mixes.
Trick #3: Don’t Tire Your Ears
Ever heard of ear fatigue? If not, it’s very real and can be detrimental to your mixes. Wearing headphones and having things at high volumes will make your ears get tired, and you won’t be able to correctly pick up various sounds, especially the lower ones. So, to avoid this, try to keep the volume low and only turn it up if you’re focusing on a certain element. But once you’re done with that element, be sure to turn the volume back down. And be sure to take breaks too! If you’ve been working on a mix for hours, it might be time to get up and take a break for a little while to make sure your mix comes out sounding amazing!
If you want the best mix you can get, using a pair of headphones will help you get closer to achieving that goal. Between headphones and your monitor setup, you should be able to get a high-quality mix without spending excess money on a full studio.
Written by Alyssa Batzer