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Why not use headphones for mixing/mastering?

Discussion in 'Studio Techniques' started by Drums4Ry, Aug 30, 2010.

  1. Drums4Ry

    Drums4Ry New Member

    It seems to be common knowledge that one should not mix or master using headphones, but what about for those of us who are bedroom recordists and have a less than ideal room?

    I'm unfortunately limited to my wood floor apartment living room with only book shelves for reflection dampening and an old cut up memory foam mattress pad for monitor isolation and behind the desk bass dampening (you can imagine how well this works).

    On my wonderful 7506's, I can fine tune verb impulse responses, delay tails, not to mention hear it all in true stereo. Also, tinnitus and ear fatigue have unfortunately become a big problem for me so the lower volume headphones help somewhat to delay that. Any thoughts? Should i really only use them for tracking? Thanks everyone.
  3. Eli

    Eli Senior member

    I'm a firm believer that the quality of the speakers, or headphones, that you mix on play a secondary role in the outcome and quality of the mix. The primary factor being, how well you "know" the speakers or headphones you are mixing on.

    So, if you "know" your headphones and produce great mixes with them that play well and translate evenly on multiple playback systems in multiple environments, then you're golden!

    You can get a pair of the most expensive speakers on the planet, mix on them, and have the end result sound like crap. Why? Because you don't "know" them; are not familiar with them and how the frequency spectrum you hear from them translates on other systems. It's ALL about "knowing" the equipment you are mixing with rather than the actual quality of the equipment. Case in point - the ubiquitous Yamaha NS 10M speakers! I rest my case :D
  4. michaelo

    michaelo LUG Emeritus

    I agree with Eli. Its really your ears that become educated over time to understanding how your particular speaker setup works. Thats why its really hard to get a mix on an unfamiliar speaker system in another studio sometimes.
    Using headphones to mix is actually not at all a bad idea now that so many people primarily listen to music on ipods and such. Headphones are not to be relied upon solely for stereo imaging and separation so you still must use speakers if possible.
  5. Pete Thomas

    Pete Thomas Administrator Staff Member

    The main issue(s) that springs to mind is:

    • Headphones sound drier than monitors in a room
    • Headphones have no crosstalk between l & R as speakers do in a room
    • Bass response can vary enormously just by changing your hairstyle

    However as Eli and Michaelo have said, if you are used to them and have the ability to compensate for those factors, then you may get better mixes than you would in a dodgy room and crap monitors. Get to know them really well and compare what you heard on the headphones with many systems: Lounge Hi Fi, car, ipod, club, TV, mono radio, cinema (Ideally!) etc.

    Sooner or later you get an intuitive feel for what is going to work and what to listen for.
  6. Drums4Ry

    Drums4Ry New Member

    Thank you all very much for the responses. Very helpful and makes me realize that I need to get to know my monitors much better than I currently do, especially so as not to come to rely on the headphones in the future. Thanks again!
  7. AppleTurnover

    AppleTurnover New Member

    I'm a little late in the game here, but there is an excellent film entitled ONCE, that addresses your concerns. Set in Britain, it follows an aspiring street musician on his quest for recording and releasing his original work. The scene that taught me the most was his impromptu car trip immediately following an all night studio recording session. His back up musicians and studio engineer all piled into the car in the wee hours of the morning to "test drive" the fresh music on crappy car stereo speakers. If it didn't sound good on the basics, never mind cinema quality surround sound, it would never fly. I learned this on my own when I perfected my mix on Rockit Studio monitors, and then played the resulting CD downstairs on my powered sub woofer system. All kinds of overpowering bass from the pipe organ track suddenly revealed itself. A real wakeup call to the meaning of mastering, and what a special skill it is. One step at a time.
  8. NeroMan2

    NeroMan2 New Member

    Thanks for bringing up this topic. I'm a noob myself and in the process of learning as much as I can. I just completed a recording session with my band and am mixing on a pair of M-Audio BXa. But I'm also mixing using headphones. If you think about it, many people these days listen to music on their iPods. This means crappy earbuds. So maybe it makes sense to mix on headphones in combination with monitors?? One thing that helps me with my workflow is once I think I have a decent mix ready, I bounce to MP3 and import to iTunes and WIFI the track to my Apple TV which is connected to my home stereo. If it sounds good there, it will usually sound good everywhere else.

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