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Is it better to mix with cans or speakers?

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  • Is it better to mix with cans or speakers?

    Phil, I know that you covered this before but I could not find it in the search. I have both. What would be the benefit of one over the other?
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  • #2
    With speakers the image appears in front of you and you hear that aural image using your outer ears which allows you to judge the distance of sounds.

    With headphones the center of the stereo image appears between your ears within your skull. Its impossible to judge sound distances of sounds and give the mix realistic three dimensionality. Any properties involving distance like reverb, and associated EQ adjustments that add to an instruments depth in a mix are guess work at best.

    Monitors are going to give you a flatter response as well because your outer ear lobes color the sound. When using headphones which are rarely flat and designed to enhance highs and lows, shoot the sound directly down the ear canal and the coloration the outer ear provides is not present. Trying to mix with headphones only always has a strange midrange bump because of this.

    Its fine to use headphones to check a mix. It can help to detect balance issues and identify faults, but the final mix should always be completed on studio monitors to have playback system compatibility.

    If all you have is headphones, they do make a program that adds some of the left source in the right side and vice versa. It may help to recreate the HASS effect you get while using actual speakers front of you, but I have no idea who well it works. But there are several available.

    http://www.ohl.to/about-audio/audio-...ossfeed-and-eq

    http://www.ohl.to/about-audio/audio-softwares/head-fit

    http://www.midnightwalrus.com/Canz3D/

    http://www.toneboosters.com/tb-isone/

    http://www.sonicspot.com/vnophones/vnophones.html

    This hardware unit by Focusrite might be a good tool.

    http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/apr1...ite-vrmbox.htm
    http://us.focusrite.com/usb-audio-interfaces/vrm-box


    I tried mixing on headphones for 10 years when I had small kids. I'd get 1 out of 10 mixes that sounded close to sounding natural but that was mostly luck based on experience. When I switches to using good monitors that percentage reversed. I may get 1 out of 10 that still has issues and those issues can easily be caused by ear fatigue and corrected easily. Headphones fatigue the ears so quickly in comparison you may only have 30 minutes of accurate concentration time mixing with them. Open backed headphones reduce ear fatigue but they cause bleed over issues with open mics.

    Here's one of many must read articles.

    http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/jan0...headphones.htm
    Last edited by WRGKMC; 07-30-2014, 08:10 AM.

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    • #3
      As always WRGKMC, a wealth of information. I never took in the effect of ear fatigue. My deal is that all my equipment is in the basement and I wanted to do some mixing while sitting in bed. I use a laptop with a Focusrite iTrack so the whole thing is portable.
      -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
      Mesa Boogie Road King II
      Carvin 2x12 cab
      Egnater Rebel 30 Combo
      Fender FSR Standard Black
      Schecter Hellraiser Black Cherry
      Ibanez RG570 Blue
      Ibanez AR200 Red Wine
      Gretsch G5120 Orange
      Hofner Shorty White
      Musket > Morley Bad Horsie > DynaComp > FullDrive 2 > BBE Green Screamer > EH POG2 > Ernie Ball Volume > Amp
      Loop EFX: Line 6 M9

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      • #4
        Download one of those free programs like Crossfeed that compensates for the Hass effect and you should get much better results then with headphones only.

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        • #5
          Really depends on how much you trust your headphones, and how well you've treated your mixing room. Either situation can artificially color your sound. I mix quite often with my headphones. I know they have a slight bass boost, so I hafta account for that. But on the other hand, my mixing room is currently untreated and sounds really muddy, so I light the tighter sound I get in the headphones.

          When I think I have something good, I burn it to a CD and play it in my car, and also play it on my son's clock radio. Those are usually pretty good indicators, at least for me, of how close I am to what I was going for.
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          • #6
            My theory has always been that it's best to use speakers - unless you're mixing for listeners who will be listening exclusively on cans or earbuds, in which case, headphones should be used as a reference too.

            I tend to use speakers for most of what I do, but I do have several sets of cans, and I do use them too. For detailed "seek and destroy" jobs such as finding and fixing glitches and deleting undesired coughs and other noises, headphones can often be the best choice since you can sometimes hear things on them that you might miss on speakers. But the frequency spectrum and stereo balance are both usually skewed with cans, and that can make mixing on them exclusively quite tricky.

            If you want to mix on headphones with your laptop, I'd recommend using the best, most accurate sounding pair of open-back headphones you have. Open-backed cans usually have the best frequency balance across the spectrum, and are often more sonically accurate than closed-back headphones. My advice would be to use your headphone time to do any corrective stuff first. Any editing and tuning, glitch and sonic gremlin removal or other prep work you need to do can be done with cans just fine. Any actual mixing is something I'd normally prefer to do on speakers in a good sounding room... but give it a try on the cans and see how it works out for you. If nothing else, you might be able to get it started on headphones, and then finish it later on the speakers, or at least do a reality check with the speakers to check the stereo and bottom end stuff.
            Last edited by Phil O'Keefe; 07-30-2014, 01:15 PM.
            **********

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            - George Carlin

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            - Sir George Martin, All You Need Is Ears

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            - Bob Lefsetz, The Lefsetz Letter

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            • #7
              To amplify Phil's point - something like 85 to 90% of consumers are listening to music these days thru buds or 'phones - your mix needs to translate to them as well as to speakers playing at your face. In my humble & limited experience; if the mix works well in both headphones and monitors, it will translate to almost everything else(laptops, cars, "multi-media" gamer speakers, etc)
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              • #8
                I think most people who work and have money to spend buying music, go to clubs to see bands or pay for tickets to see shows, buy CD's or have download accounts, are the ones that hear music traveling too and from work driving in their cars. Listening to music on ear buds during work is rarely tolerated, but it depends on the job. Kids on the other hand listen to music on ear buds all the time. They may be the future for the industry but many don't have any income or incomes so low they cant afford to build lawful music collections.

                Phil makes a good point about using headphones to do some of the heavy lifting. I agree you can get a good deal of the mixing chores done using them but that last 10% really needs speakers to finalize the mix, especially in the bass region. Hearing the music up close and at a distance is important too. Up close I listen to how the speakers handle the bass. They puff like bellows and when you get the right amount of bass that punch instead of gasp for air or puff out. Its like judging shock absorbers in a car. When the bass is tight they ride the bumps smoothly and recoil without rattles or shimmies.

                Listening at a distance can identify level discrepancies. When I think I have a good mix I'll often leave the studio and walk on down the hall till I can barely hear the music. What I hope to hear is the snare and vocals as being just louder then the rest of the material. If I hear the guitars or bass being louder or equal to the snare and vocals I know I probably have some more work to do. The leads can come up and equal the vocal loudness, but they are only the center of attention for a short duration during their solos and drop back a few DB's when the vocals are back.

                Even the bass traveling through the walls tells me something. I as myself, does that sound like a real bass player and drummer in that room or does it lack the energy to capture ears at a distance. Compression can fix transients you may notice at a distance and if the background music is too tame, I may want to back off using too much.

                If the music sounds good on speakers it will nearly always sound good in headphones or ear buds. I'd say the exception might be if the mix had too much bass, or the headphones are very bad. Working it in reverse there are just too many factors that cannot be identified properly with your ears that close to the diaphragm.

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                • #9
                  what they said...lol. I have a good Sennheiser headphone set and a bassy-sounding Bose. When the mix gets where I want it on the speakers, I'll listen to it on both sets as part of my "home mastering" process, along with many other playback sources so I have no surprises. I may use them like Phil said for working on general editing.
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                  • #10
                    Speakers, with two caveats:

                    1. If you are in an environment where there is a lot of ambient coloration, you can block that with the cans. And ...
                    2. No matter how pricey and 'flat' monitors are, they are situationally dependent. Speaker, room, etc. With the variance in listeners' situations, it can be helpful to run things through a second playback environment / platform. To be blunt, mixing changed a LOT as people moved away from home stereo in the 80s/90s.

                    So: mix first on speakers, then listen on cans. My .02.

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                    • #11
                      These days, I think you have to at least listen through both as a reality test given how many people listen on headphones. I used to mix mostly on speakers, then use headphones to make sure they sounded okay. Now it's the other way around.
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                      • #12
                        I have no surprises. I may use them like Phil said for working on general editing.

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                        • #13
                          Download one of those free programs like Crossfeed that compensates for the Hass effect and you should get much better results then with headphones only.

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