Saturday, December 16, 2017

Mixing With Headphone vs Studio Monitors

As I was growing up in the music industry, I was always around people who were musicians, techs,
engineers, lighting guys, etc. Every one of them had their own opinion as to what I should be doing if I wanted to be one of them. IE: "Eric, if you want to be a studio engineer, you have to develop a professional ear and mix with headphones. I know because God and Mutt Lange came to me in a dream and told me".

Well now that I am older and have more experience than all those people combined, I call BS on that advice. Not only that, but when I run across one of those people on social media, I make sure to let them know what I do here in the studio and point out that Mutt Lange must have been pulling their leg :-)

The reason I don't mix with headphones...exclusively.

Headphones are great in certain scenarios. Such as if you are recording yourself singing, you'll want "reference headphones", which is a fancy way of saying "headphones". So that you can hear the music you'll be singing to without it being picked up by your vocal mic and recorded onto the vocal track in your daw.

Another scenario would be the recording engineer using headphones when checking incoming signals and sound before or during the recording process. The headphones isolate his/her ears from the acoustic sounds of the instruments being recorded so he/she can adjust the signal and tone easily and properly.

When mixing a song, I like to use studio monitors with a flat response, but with an equalizer on them
boosting lows and highs just as I do with my car or home stereo when I am just listening to music. Many engineers will tell you that you shouldn't do that (the eq) but my philosophy is this: Why would I want to set it up any differently than what I am used to hearing? That way I can mix until it sounds like everything else I listen to.
Using headphones will make the mix sound much different than it would on normal speakers, so if you must use headphones, at very least alternate between the two.

Checking the mix on multiple speaker sets

In my studio, I have three rooms in which I can listen to a mix. Each room has completely different speakers and sounds totally different than the others.
  • Control Room - KRK VXT8 studio monitors
  • Recording Room - In wall mounted stereo speakers. 8 inch full range.
  • Lounge Area - MTX Audio - Old giant living room stereo speakers

What I do many times per session is play back the song I am mixing, get up and go walk to each room and listen for about 20 seconds in each. Move back and forth until the song is over, or until I hear something I want to change.

You might not have the luxury of multiple rooms to walk between when mixing, so burning a cd and going to your car, then home stereo or playing an mp3 on your phone may be your method. In any case, don't test the mix on just one or two devices, use multiple.

Hey Eric, what brought you to this awesome epiphany?

In my mid 20's I thought I was Mr. kick ass studio engineer mixing guy extraordinaire. I had mixed an entire cd (8 songs) over a period of months using headphones and thought it sounded killer! We had the cd's pressed and started selling them, etc. One night at a friends house, he put the cd on his outdoor stereo which had pretty small speakers but still sounded fine with everything he played on it. When our cd came on I was terrified at the sound.
The snare drum sounded like a wood block and was the loudest thing not only in the mix, but
seemingly the neighborhood. The entire mix was way too heavy on mid-range for that system. I took my embarrassment home with me and from then on I always checked the mix on multiple systems and aspired to find a happy medium between them all.

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