People often ask me which option is better, mixing with headphones or monitors? If you are one of them then this article is for you. Read this article till the end...
If you are a newbie recordist, probably you are facing a lot of trouble with your mixdowns. There are many reasons newbies face trouble to properly mix a project.
The most important reason is the monitoring system which you are using to listen to your mixes. Are you mixing with headphones or monitors?
Well, I have been attached with recording field for more than 10 years. In my earlier stages of the career, I also suffer from these problems.
I didn’t get a proper mix for my projects, just like you today. But with time I have discovered that whichever approach you adopt for your mixing, whether you mix with monitor or headphone, you face some trouble.
The reason is, these two ways are not full proof. There are a number of pros and cons of mixing with headphones or monitors alone.
So what’s the better way, Mixing With Headphones Or Monitors?
Use studio monitors and headphones both for mixing. If you use both options to mix your projects, you will get far better results.
Well, how to use both headphones and monitors for mixing your audio would be discussed in my next article.
Today I will show you the Pros and Cons of using headphones or monitors for mixing.
In the end, I will recommend some neutral headphones for mixing which you can use side by side your studio monitors to get a better mix.
Pros and Cons of Mixing With Headphones
When I was new in the recording field, I chose to mix my projects with headphones. I did mix too. During those days I realized that there are some pros and cons of mixing with headphones alone.
And it was natural. Just like other things advantages and disadvantages were there with mixing on headphones. I had to get rid of that.
I learned from my experiences and of course, my ears also helped my a lot to get out the missing parameters when mixing with headphones alone.
Then I adopted a better approach.
I used a good studio monitor to fill the gap in mixing which I was not getting in headphones. There are pros and cons of mixing in monitors though.
I used both of them as a gap filler in my mixes. I combined their advantages and subtracted their disadvantages to get a better mix.
You can too adopt this approach if you will be aware of the pros and cons of mixing with Headphones or Monitors alone.
Benefits of using headphones for mixing
There are several benefits of using headphones for mixing. In this section, I have mentioned the 6 main advantages of using headphone for mixing. So, without wasting any more time let’s know those benefits.
Free from environment
The best part of using headphones for mixing is its free from environmental changes. Whether you are traveling, mixing in a public place or in a home studio which is not soundproofed.
It doesn’t matter with headphone mixes. Mixing in headphones is environment free and you can mix anywhere you want with just your laptop, a USB powered audio interface and a decent neutral headphone.
It’s very helpful when your neighbors are not cooperating with you and getting disturbed when you mix your project in your non-soundproofed home studio.
Just wear your headphones and forget about anything while mixing. No one is going to interfere in your mixing session.
Better stereo Experience
Pro recordists say that they use headphones for a stereo panning as they get a better stereo experience with headphones. In fact, I too use them for that only purpose.
Do you know why headphones deliver a good stereo imaging?
Because, apart from studio monitors, headphones cover the ears there is no cross-feed around your ears.
Although, this is considered as a disadvantage of using headphones it’s also a benefit if you want a good left-right pan. You can use this feature to give place to your percussion items.
In the studio monitors, when sound emits from the left speaker, along with the left ear, some amount of this sound reaches to right ear too. The same thing happens with the right speaker and left ear. This effect is called CROSS FEED and affects positively upon the brain.
No need for a sound-treated room
As you are mixing with headphones, there is no need for a sound-treated room. You are all free from the outer environment with your head covered with the headphone.
This is a true benefit of using headphones for your mixing. Everybody knows that how much money you need for proper acoustic treatment.
You can save this cost with headphones mixes.
But the sad aspect of this is, in the end, you have to own a sound-treated room because there are some major cons of mixing with headphones.
You can’t get a full proof mix with just a headphone. You will be aware of all of those disadvantages while reading this article.
Low Cost as compared to Monitors
You can get a neutral headphone with the very low price compared to a good studio monitor. This is very useful for those who are in the learning period and don’t want to invest more in the pro equipment.
If you are a newbie and want to learn to record and mixing then you don’t have to invest in costly equipment.
Just buy a laptop, recording software, a sound card, and a neutral headphone. All set up. You can use this setup on the go and at very low cost.
Delivers subtle details of sound
The one thing which I like is, headphones give you all the detail sound. You can hear the subtlest part of your project which you probably miss out while hearing in a studio monitor.
The back bounces of reverb, delay, and other effects, as well as the attack and decay of compressor and all the subtle frequencies which affect your overall mix, could be hearable in a good mixing headphone.
I use this advantage of headphones to set up the compressor in tracks as it helps me calculate the attack, decay and release of the instrument in a proper way.
Helpful if your neighbors are not cooperating
I have told you about this above. If you have not properly soundproofed room and your neighbours are not cooperative then you should think to buy a headphone for your mix.
You can mix a big part of your project in headphones and at last, hear and give final touch in your monitors. In that way, you don’t disturb a lot to your neighbours.
Disadvantages of mixing with headphones
While as you seen above, using headphone for mixing gives you many benefits but there are demerits too. In this section, we will discuss all the disadvantages of using headphones for mixing.
Lack of Mixing Environment
Above I have discussed Cross-Feed, the positive effect which you feel when using studio monitors. You will miss this effect in headphones.
The majority of the audience listen to your projects in stereo speakers instead of headphones. They also feel this effect on their speakers.
So when you mix in a headphone, with the lack of Cross-Feed effect you can’t get a perfect mix suitable for stereo speakers.
Actually, for a long time listening Cross-Feed effect is very important. The human mind is familiar with this effect because of the daily living conditions. So if you mix with headphones, your audience will not get the benefits of this effect.
For the better understanding of what I am telling, you should do an experimental mix on headphones and use left-right panning in your mix. You can get an un-proper heavily panned mix.
Over-compensating unbalanced Low frequency
The other thing you should be aware of when mixing with headphones is the Over-compensating unbalanced low frequency.
In the early stages of my recording career when I was mixing with headphones, I didn’t get neutral bass lines. After that, I researched, why I am getting these un-proper bass lines with headphones.
In my research, I find that the bass the low frequencies were colliding with the internal walls of headphone and mixed with the original bass line. This effect was increasing the low frequencies in an un-proper way.
I was read why only the bass side is over-compensating? Then I read that the intensity of low frequencies is greater compared to the high frequencies.
They do not damp as much as high and mid frequencies. This was the main reason that why bass lines were so muddy on my headphone mixes.
Always listen to your bass lines on monitors after mixing nor you will end up with a muddy low-frequency mix.
Unbalanced Effects (Reverb delay etc)
I never use headphones to adjust reverb and delay(Only adjust compressor attack and decay) in vocals and other instruments. The Cross-Feed effects and environmental conditions strongly apply in reverb-delay adjustment.
Due to the lack of this effect, you get more reverb and delay directly to your ears. Now, in this condition, if you adjust them on your headphone then you get a mix with low reverb and delay.
So, its recommended to use monitors for reverb and delay adjustments.
Not suitable for hours of working
As Cross-Feed is an integral part of human life, lack of this effect will fall you into fatigue if you work for hours with headphones.
In easy words, you can’t mix for hours in headphones, while with monitors you can mix for hours without fatiguing.
As a professional recordist, I spend many hours in front of speakers and don’t feel tired and discomfort during sessions.
While, when I was mixing with headphones, really felt discomfort after just half an hour of work.
Benefits of Studio Monitors for mixing
The primary equipment for monitoring and mixing in professional studios is a monitor speaker pair. There are many benefits of using studio monitors instead of headphones.
In this section, I will discuss with you that why a studio monitor is far better for mixing rather than a neutral headphone.
Better Mixing Environment
The very first reason which makes the studio monitors the first choice for professional studios and recordists is the Cross-Feed effect.
In the upper sections, you have read about this effect. This effect creates a natural listening environment for recordists.
We get the second monitor’s sound too on our first ear and vice versa. With headphones, we miss out this natural effect which is an important part of the human listening system.
Our mind is familiar with this effect because of the daily life situations. So when we mix in this open environment, the output is more natural than mixing with headphones.
Clear Bass lines compared to Headphones
As you know that the intensity of low frequencies is high as compared to high frequencies. Due to the increased intensity, bass lines do not damp like mid and high-frequency sounds.
In the enclosed environment of headphones, there is no space for bass lines to play and damp gradually. In result, you get a muddy bass with them.
With studio monitors, we get an open environment for bass lines to play and diffuse gradually. In studio monitors, you get more clear bass than headphones. The only condition is you have to have at least semi-sound treated room.
Accurate Balancing of Effects
Effect play an important role in mixing. If applied accurately, they can take your mixing capabilities to the next level.
With headphones, you can accurately right-left pan percussion and other items to reduce the load from the middle section, you can also use headphones to setup compressors.
But for accurate reverb and delay effects, you must use studio monitors.
No matter how accurate you design those effects on the headphone, it will get altered in the natural environment.
So the best option is to balance them on studio monitors. Studio monitors give you the natural environment to accurately balance these effects.
You can Work for hours – Less fatiguing
You can work with studio monitors for hours without fatiguing. In headphones, with the lack of Cross-Feed effect, you don’t have the natural listening environment which is necessary for your mind to feel good during work.
With studio monitors, you get natural environmental conditions to work, which don’t create discomfort like headphones.
Disadvantages of mixing with Studio Monitors
Although due to the great benefits, studio monitors are the primary monitoring equipment over headphones there are some disadvantages too.
You must aware of the downsides of studio monitors to make a balance in your mixing process when using both monitors and headphones.
Stereo Imaging is not as better as on Headphones
As I have told above the stereo imaging of monitors is not as much accurate as headphones. You can pan your tracks with studio monitors too but for better panning, you should use headphones.
The Cross-Feed effect interferes while panning with studio monitors, so you can’t get as accurate pan as in headphones.
A Sound-treated room is required (at least partially)
Working with studio monitors could disturb your neighbours if you don’t have a soundproof room. It’s not just disturbing your neighbours but you also get reflections from the wall which ruins your sound.
To use a good studio monitor in your recording sessions, you must have a sound-treated room – at least partially.
Though this partially treated room is not going to please your neighbours but at least you don’t get many reflections from wall to interfere with the main sound.
Studio Monitors are costly as compared to Studio Headphones
Cost of equipment plays a big role in creating a decent recording studio. When you want to go with studio monitors, you have to invest much more bucks on basic needs.
- 1st, on a decent pair of studio monitors which are at least 3 times costly than headphones.
- 2nd, on soundproofing which is far much costly than owning studio monitors.
Many newbie recordists can’t afford this cost. In this situation, headphones are the good alternative to studio monitors.
But keep in mind, don’t expect a professional mix with only headphones. A pro mix only comes from the combination of good neutral studio monitors and headphones.
Lack of Subtle details
With studio monitors, you can’t get the subtle details of the project. There could be some pops, clicks in your tracks which should not be avoided. These are very subtle part of a project and only be traced by headphones.
Maybe you would ask me here if these clicks and pops are not as more powerful to listen in normal conditions than why we should care?
You should care because your mind cares for them a lot at the subconscious level. When we don’t remove clicks and pops from our mix it will affect on the mind of the listener and he would feel discomfort.
Finally, he leaves the listening to your song.
Moreover, many people listen to songs on headphones and they can be able to listen to these clicks and pops. So, you should use headphones for observing and removing them.
The conclusion is very clear. Any of these approaches, whether mixing with headphones or monitors, will give you the best results.
The best results only come if you use both of them with proper knowledge of what are the advantages and disadvantages of using them.
If you properly use monitors and headphones for mixing together, I am sure you will get better results.
Well, I think you have now the better knowledge of the pros and cons of mixing with headphones and monitors.
Now its time to share this post on your social circle as people in your circle also want this valuable knowledge. If you have any questions or further knowledge the comment box is waiting for you.
Here are my recommended article for choosing good studio headphones,
- 9 Hacks To Choose Studio Headphones
- Headphones Buying Guide: Types Of Studio Headphones [Pro & Cons]
- Audio Technica ATH-M50xBT Studio Headphone Review
Gautam Roy is a recording engineer and a blogger from India. He loves music, writing and travelling. He is also an active investor and a successful entrepreneur.