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Who Wins in a Fight: Headphones or Monitors?


There’s one thing I didn’t really go into in Recording Strategies(www.recordingstrategies.com)

Headphones.

I think headphones are a poor substitute for even the cheapest studio monitors.

Even the shittiest of monitors are better than headphones because they will always have one thing that headphones will never have.

The Room.

If you mix exclusively with headphones you’re leaving out one part of the equation.

I think you shouldn’t use only mix on headphones you’ll be running your mix through every single hi-fi system you can find just to make sure it sounds ok.

And believe me, you’re going to do that more often if you don’t mix with monitors to begin with.

Sure, they are useful for checking details. Like I’ve said before: headphones are like the zoom tool for audio. When you need to check out your audio up close and personal you solo it and listen to it in headphones.

But for serious mixing? Nope. Don’t do it.

You need the room around to make accurate decisions.

So if I were to put money down on a fight between headphones and monitors, I would choose monitors any day.

What about you?

Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

 


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About me

About Björgvin Benediktsson

I’m Björgvin Benediktsson. I’m a musician, audio engineer and best-selling author. I help musicians and producers make a greater impact with their music by teaching them how to produce and engineer themselves. I’ve taught thousands of up and coming home studio producers such as yourself how to make an impact with their music through Audio Issues since 2011.

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LEAVE A COMMENT

  • joe

    ab$olütely true. even hifi $peakers beats a headphone mix. dont even try it, wa$te of mudäf*****g time. u$ed to though, bäck in my stone age, hahahäha…..$heer mädne$$!!!!!!!!

  • joe

    ab$olütely true. even hifi $peakers beats a headphone mix. dont even try it, wa$te of mudäf*****g time. u$ed to though, bäck in my stone age, hahahäha…..$heer mädne$$!!!!!!!!

  • Max

    I have found headphones to be very unreliable and I therefore do not use them as much as I used to. There are a couple of things i use headphones for tho:
    1. To Edit- i find that if i want to make sure vocals are in time with the beat and each other, headphones are good for that.
    2. I check the vibe of my mix in headphones. How does my automation sound, how are the effects gelling and vibing… how is my panning… does my vibe work for the track. In my experience, a lot of people will mostly hear your music through headphones, I therefore check that my mix sounds good there as well.
    3. Noise- I check for noises and clicks and pops i might have missed.

    I found that it is was a mistake to monitor with headphones (only/mostly), rather just do checks in them.

  • Max

    I have found headphones to be very unreliable and I therefore do not use them as much as I used to. There are a couple of things i use headphones for tho:
    1. To Edit- i find that if i want to make sure vocals are in time with the beat and each other, headphones are good for that.
    2. I check the vibe of my mix in headphones. How does my automation sound, how are the effects gelling and vibing… how is my panning… does my vibe work for the track. In my experience, a lot of people will mostly hear your music through headphones, I therefore check that my mix sounds good there as well.
    3. Noise- I check for noises and clicks and pops i might have missed.

    I found that it is was a mistake to monitor with headphones (only/mostly), rather just do checks in them.

  • rl alexander

    I agree with you to a point,
    if your room is flawed your mix will be skewed.

    Of course you get dynamics from the monitors in the room you don’t get with cans on,but I am in favor of
    mixing with cans because long term your hearing doesn’t suffer as much.

    Also with headphone plugins like the Mildon R23 that simulate different monitors as well as virtual headphone hardware like Focusrite’s you can listen to your mix
    through different virtual monitors.

    • Hey!

      I have to disagree with you on the hearing damage matter. I’ve had tinnitus for a few years (I’m 25) and the only possible cause would be listening to music on headphones. Mind you, I have never turned up music at more than 70% of max volume on anything while wearing headphones..
      Turns out, there are a lot of studies proving that.

      As for virtual monitors, for that to be relevant, the frequency response of your headphones should be taken in consideration, and even then it would be the “emulation of the pros/cons of a pair of monitors in a room (?) on headphones”. Can’t imagine that going well..

  • rl alexander

    I agree with you to a point,
    if your room is flawed your mix will be skewed.

    Of course you get dynamics from the monitors in the room you don’t get with cans on,but I am in favor of
    mixing with cans because long term your hearing doesn’t suffer as much.

    Also with headphone plugins like the Mildon R23 that simulate different monitors as well as virtual headphone hardware like Focusrite’s you can listen to your mix
    through different virtual monitors.

    • Hey!

      I have to disagree with you on the hearing damage matter. I’ve had tinnitus for a few years (I’m 25) and the only possible cause would be listening to music on headphones. Mind you, I have never turned up music at more than 70% of max volume on anything while wearing headphones..
      Turns out, there are a lot of studies proving that.

      As for virtual monitors, for that to be relevant, the frequency response of your headphones should be taken in consideration, and even then it would be the “emulation of the pros/cons of a pair of monitors in a room (?) on headphones”. Can’t imagine that going well..

  • Mike R

    I personally don’t have the budget for headphones. I have noticed a significant difference when I play songs I mixed through speakers.

    My tip if you only use headphones is to find a friend! I send all of my mixes to my mentor and half of the time I am over compensating the low-end and blasting his monitors.

    This topic will help me know what to buy priority wise though. 🙂

  • Mike R

    I personally don’t have the budget for headphones. I have noticed a significant difference when I play songs I mixed through speakers.

    My tip if you only use headphones is to find a friend! I send all of my mixes to my mentor and half of the time I am over compensating the low-end and blasting his monitors.

    This topic will help me know what to buy priority wise though. 🙂

  • ntnsystems

    I have been able to complete about 80-85% of a mix in my headphones (Beyerdynamic DT-880), but I completely agree that the room is a huge factor. After I get to the 80% point, I test my mixes on my monitors and also on a set of computer speakers in another room. Invariably, I find I added too much reverb (no room reflections in my headphones) and sometimes my panning is too narrow. After doing this across so many mixes, I have now “learned” the sound of my headphones a bit. I am now intentionally over-correcting when using the headphones. I am intentionally panning wider than sounds comfortable in the headphones and adding only 10-15% mix on the reverb in some cases. I have found that I am getting much closer to a reasonable mix after this. I also sometimes over compensate for the low-end in the cans because the DT-880 are pretty flat on the bottom end, but now that I know this, I keep myself in check whenever I reach for the EQ below 200Hz (except for the high pass).

    In my case, and I am sure for many others, this is out of necessity. I don’t start mixing until the kids are in bed, so I have to save my monitor checks for just the right moments.

  • ntnsystems

    I have been able to complete about 80-85% of a mix in my headphones (Beyerdynamic DT-880), but I completely agree that the room is a huge factor. After I get to the 80% point, I test my mixes on my monitors and also on a set of computer speakers in another room. Invariably, I find I added too much reverb (no room reflections in my headphones) and sometimes my panning is too narrow. After doing this across so many mixes, I have now “learned” the sound of my headphones a bit. I am now intentionally over-correcting when using the headphones. I am intentionally panning wider than sounds comfortable in the headphones and adding only 10-15% mix on the reverb in some cases. I have found that I am getting much closer to a reasonable mix after this. I also sometimes over compensate for the low-end in the cans because the DT-880 are pretty flat on the bottom end, but now that I know this, I keep myself in check whenever I reach for the EQ below 200Hz (except for the high pass).

    In my case, and I am sure for many others, this is out of necessity. I don’t start mixing until the kids are in bed, so I have to save my monitor checks for just the right moments.

  • Rick

    Björgvin, I look forward to your comments when they arrive in my e-mail box!

    concerning headphones/monitors, when I was recording some of my tunes in a rented studio back in the 70’s they told me to never mixdown with headphones. They also told me: ” NO REVERB ON BASS GUITAR!”
    Ha!
    But then, ’bout 2 weeks ago I listened to an interview with Todd Rundgren, can’t remember who the host was, and by God, Todd said he didn’t use monitors, just mixed everything in headphones. Geesh! I still listen to his stuff. I love the sound he got!
    Back to the drawing board!

  • Rick

    Björgvin, I look forward to your comments when they arrive in my e-mail box!

    concerning headphones/monitors, when I was recording some of my tunes in a rented studio back in the 70’s they told me to never mixdown with headphones. They also told me: ” NO REVERB ON BASS GUITAR!”
    Ha!
    But then, ’bout 2 weeks ago I listened to an interview with Todd Rundgren, can’t remember who the host was, and by God, Todd said he didn’t use monitors, just mixed everything in headphones. Geesh! I still listen to his stuff. I love the sound he got!
    Back to the drawing board!

  • I wouldn’t agree all over. Monitors depend heavily on the room you are in. It will not tell you what it will sound like in another room as they all differ. To be sure you would still have to try out your mix in several different systems. If your room sustains certain frequencies it will affect your mix unless you are aware of those frequencies and take action while mixing. To me it all comes down to know you headphones or monitors. What does a good mix sound like in the monitors/headphones I use right now? If you know that I think you can mix entirely on headphones…or monitors. But if you don’t the equipment you might always put in a bass boost in you mix due to the monitors lacking of the frequency, or create a lack of bottom in your because your headphones have a built-in bass boost. Personally I change between monitors and headphones often while mixing, I mostly use headphones because my room is not ideal or to not to disturb anyone else working in the same room.

    • Björgvin Benediktsson

      Hey Jimmy, you have a great point. You always need to check in other systems to hear how it translates, and the better you know your room and monitors the easier it is to get a good all around sound. The same could be said about your headphones I suppose, but I just think it’s easier to get a “translatable” mix using monitors than headphones.

      Thanks for the thoughts. Much appreciated.

  • I wouldn’t agree all over. Monitors depend heavily on the room you are in. It will not tell you what it will sound like in another room as they all differ. To be sure you would still have to try out your mix in several different systems. If your room sustains certain frequencies it will affect your mix unless you are aware of those frequencies and take action while mixing. To me it all comes down to know you headphones or monitors. What does a good mix sound like in the monitors/headphones I use right now? If you know that I think you can mix entirely on headphones…or monitors. But if you don’t the equipment you might always put in a bass boost in you mix due to the monitors lacking of the frequency, or create a lack of bottom in your because your headphones have a built-in bass boost. Personally I change between monitors and headphones often while mixing, I mostly use headphones because my room is not ideal or to not to disturb anyone else working in the same room.

    • Björgvin Benediktsson

      Hey Jimmy, you have a great point. You always need to check in other systems to hear how it translates, and the better you know your room and monitors the easier it is to get a good all around sound. The same could be said about your headphones I suppose, but I just think it’s easier to get a “translatable” mix using monitors than headphones.

      Thanks for the thoughts. Much appreciated.

  • Both. Many of my fans like my instrumental tracks in cans for walking, hiking, driving, cooking, reading etc. But! when I’m tracking and mixing along the way as many home project producers and musicians do today, I use my monitors. The project isn’t complete until I’ve given the track a head phone test. Both tools are valued for a mastered project. I only need the monitors and the head phones to decide when I’m finished with the project as both systems are crucial at any given time through out the production. It’s not an ‘either/or’ issue.

  • Both. Many of my fans like my instrumental tracks in cans for walking, hiking, driving, cooking, reading etc. But! when I’m tracking and mixing along the way as many home project producers and musicians do today, I use my monitors. The project isn’t complete until I’ve given the track a head phone test. Both tools are valued for a mastered project. I only need the monitors and the head phones to decide when I’m finished with the project as both systems are crucial at any given time through out the production. It’s not an ‘either/or’ issue.

  • Ben

    I would never use headphones exclusively. I check my mixes on 4 different systems at minimum – my PC, my home stereo, in the car, and at the gym in my relatively cheap headphones. That said, I do have a pair of Sennheiser HD550 cans and late at night I’ve done a lot of mixing with them, too. As long as you understand what any set of “speakers” (generically, audio output devices) does to the sound you can be successful. My mixes aren’t meant to be listened to solely in my room on my PC, so my answer to the question of “monitors or headphones” is “both”.

    • The Eye

      Agree! I mix on phones (don’t have a treated room, monitors not an option, for now just hi-fi speakers). I then go to my friends studio to do minor adjustments but I am starting to understand them better and I reference tracks when mixing.

  • Ben

    I would never use headphones exclusively. I check my mixes on 4 different systems at minimum – my PC, my home stereo, in the car, and at the gym in my relatively cheap headphones. That said, I do have a pair of Sennheiser HD550 cans and late at night I’ve done a lot of mixing with them, too. As long as you understand what any set of “speakers” (generically, audio output devices) does to the sound you can be successful. My mixes aren’t meant to be listened to solely in my room on my PC, so my answer to the question of “monitors or headphones” is “both”.

    • The Eye

      Agree! I mix on phones (don’t have a treated room, monitors not an option, for now just hi-fi speakers). I then go to my friends studio to do minor adjustments but I am starting to understand them better and I reference tracks when mixing.

  • The Eye

    I know a guy who does most of his commercial mixes on headphones (AKG 240 studio & some sennheiser model) + they sound great with no flaws. He only goes to monitors to adjust exaggerated stereo field. I personally think it’s a matter of understanding your headphones like any studio monitors and learn how to use them effectively + lots of practice.

    • Yeah, it really is just all about knowing your equipment. It’s just that it’s nice to have both to check when you need to.

      • The Eye

        Yeah! Absolutely, nice topic and I did learn something from your post. And hopefully more will learn from this too.

  • The Eye

    I know a guy who does most of his commercial mixes on headphones (AKG 240 studio & some sennheiser model) + they sound great with no flaws. He only goes to monitors to adjust exaggerated stereo field. I personally think it’s a matter of understanding your headphones like any studio monitors and learn how to use them effectively + lots of practice.

    • Yeah, it really is just all about knowing your equipment. It’s just that it’s nice to have both to check when you need to.

      • The Eye

        Yeah! Absolutely, nice topic and I did learn something from your post. And hopefully more will learn from this too.