Is It Bad To Mix With Headphones?

Is It Bad To Mix With Studio Headphones?

There has been an ongoing debate within the music production community as to whether it is acceptable to mix with headphones. While it is pretty much a given that some headphones are off-limits when mixing and mastering, even the best over-the-ear headphones can have limitations.

But let’s answer:

Is It Bad To Mix With Studio Headphones?

Studio Headphones can expose details you otherwise wouldn’t hear even with the expensive studio monitors. You can learn more about some of the upsides (and downsides) to using headphones here.

What are some advantages to mixing with headphones?

  • Hearing what you see means looking at a graph of eq distribution, say, two minutes into your session, you will listen to as much low-end as you will see in your chart. That said, accuracy is more important than quality when it comes to gear, so it may not be the best choice for mixing your audio if it sounds the best.
  •  The most reliable headphones will help you zero in on potential shortcomings in your mix and adjust accordingly.
  • There aren’t any set standards as to which headphones are the best for mixing and mastering.
  • However, any headphones with enhanced frequency specks (extra bass or high eq gain) will mislead you because they will not accurately reproduce your session. The best headphones to use when mixing and mastering are those that will “tell it like it is” rather than sugar – coat any unwanted truths.
  • The more accurate the headphones, the better they are for mixing and mastering.
  • If money isn’t your middle name,  you’ll be pleased to know accurate headphones can cost significantly less than real speakers. 

What are the disadvantages of using headphones?

If you are looking to achieve the perfect mix and expose every flaw, headphones might not be your best option, no matter how acclaimed they may be in the production market. Also, people who use earphones may be more likely to develop hearing loss or tinnitus, especially at higher volumes.

  • For safety, professionals recommend producers keep the volume low when working with studio headphones. While this may seem like a good thing, it can become difficult to hear issues (i.e., bloated high or mid-range frequencies) when you work shallow volumes, even if it is better for your hearing.
  • Studio headphones may not expose substantial problems that would otherwise be obvious with monitors. While they may be useful for picking up on smaller – scale details, studio speakers tend to reveal more serious problems, especially if they are accurate. If your mix sounds wonderful at a low volume on your headphones, it could have some severe issues if performed at a dance party – it may be too loud or too pronounced in specific registers, and as a result, will be a turnoff to others.
  • Even the best studio headphones are generally less accurate than monitors. Mixing with headphones alone will make it difficult to pick up on every flaw in your mix, and because they generally sound better than popular monitors, they may be more forgiving.

Is it better to mix with headphones or speakers?

There is no easy answer to this question. I have found from personal experience that headphones and speakers have worked well for different situations.

  • My Yamaha HS5 monitors have been beneficial for equalization. They are the perfect “tell-it-like-it-is” speakers. They reveal serious issues that headphones tend to mask.
  • My Sony MDR-7506 has helped me achieve the best results when panning and leveling. Plus, they reveal more of the low frequencies than the Yamaha’s, so if you are mixing stems of, say, a string quartet performance, you may want them to use them for low cuts.
  • If you want the best of both worlds, use both worlds. I cannot stress this enough; if you are in a position you have both available to you, you should go back and forth between speakers and headphones. You will get different perspectives from different speakers, which will only help you add that much more detail to your mixing.

Final Thoughts

It is not necessarily wrong to mix with headphones, just as it isn’t necessarily great to mix with speakers. Both have their pluses and minuses, and both can be useful for exposing different things in your mix and, ultimately, helping you achieve radio-ready results.

I would recommend a combination of Yamaha HS5 monitors and Sony MDR-7506 headphones for the aspiring commercial producer or composer. Both will help you achieve the most mileage without breaking your wallet.

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