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The Art of Mixing with headphones

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  • The Art of Mixing with headphones

    Mixing with headphones is a viable option if you dont own quality studio monitors, and or, you dont have a private mixing space.

    Now, there are a lot  dissenting view regarding the accuracy of using "cans" to master and mix....and  this was mostly due to the fact that technology simply was not ready yet......However, in the last 5 years with the onset of flat frequency headphones and High Rez very accurate plug in USB Dacs as well as vastly improved Interface headphone outs, imixing "in the box" using headphones is now not only a viable option, its a worthy option.

    Im someone that has a space for mixing, and i have nice FOCAL studio monitors, but i prefer to mix with headphones as im use to it, and being use to it, is the key to solving all issues related to mix or mastering balance and EQ errors....Lets face it......even if you buy $8000 studio monitors, you still have to learn how to use them, have to understand their "sound" as all studio monitor models sound different...In fact, everything that "monitors" has its own specific sound....So, the key is to learn what this sound is doing (frequency wise) so that you can mix using it whereby  it translates to any other speakers with a good sound....So, using studio monitors in a room, or using monitors strapped to your head, are still a certain "sound" and you have to practice and learn the sound so that you can then EQ and Balance according to what you are dealing with as your monitoring source.

    Let me tell you about the specific hardware  i have discovered that works very well for mixing and mastering that is not related to using stand alone studio monitors.

    There are 3 sets of  headphones that i own, (i own more) but i have found that these work very well for mixing in the box.

    Focal Spirit Pro

    Sennheiser HD 600

    AKG 702s

    Regarding using a USB DAC instead of your PC or Notebooks soundcard, i would suggest an Arcam Rpac or a Centrance Dacport......I own both and they are very accurate Dacs, affordable, and have plenty of power to drive Headphones like the AKG 702s that need more juice.

    Ive owned a lot of Interfaces, and i have found that for the budget minded who does not need a lot of imputs, the Roland Quad Capture, which i own, is a very good Interface which  has a very good Headphone out....IT also has a cool loop back fucntion whereby you can hook it up to your Daw, then go online and find a video or a song and play it and the Roland will "loop it" into your DAW, allowing you to make very nice recordings from any online source.....this is WAY cool.

    If you want to spend more, then the British made Audient I22 or the  American made Sound Device USB-Pre2 (which i own) have Killer Headphone circuits

    One other piece of recent "sound" technology is Dolby V4.......which is their newest "Dolby" that according to Dolby eliminates digital distortion and allows the original "master quality" of a sound file to be reproduced..... I  have it in my Laptop and i can tell you that its, in my opinion, astonishing.

    So, for those of you who are interested in mixing with "cans", i hope this short Thread gives you a few hints and a little direction.

     

     


  • #2

    None of the headphones you listed have a flat response. They may have a full response but a single element will have a peak resonance and have a number of peaks and valleys along the frequency response curve. 

    This could be tested with a test tone generator and a very sensitive DB meter, but even then, you have everyones ears that are different and on top of that, peoples minds are most attuned to midrange speech ranges since birth. (or even before birth)  

    Flat frequency response is only part of the problem though. The bigger issue is the false sense or depth perception you have using headphones.

    The fact is high and low frequencies travel through the air at different speeds. If you don't mix with air between your ears and sound source you wont compensate for that phase shifting and make a mix sound natural.

    Its nearly impossible to add this compensation in when you have the speaker elements directly on your ears. Since there's no phase shift between frequencies you cannot use that phase shift to give your mix its proper depth. All frequencies will reach your ears and everything will sound two dimensional when played back on a normal speaker system. 

    Getting some instruments to set further back in the mix and having some up front by using various amounts or reverb would simply be guesswork.  Its like standing on stage in directly in front of the drummer trying to take a picture of the entire band. It can't be done. You're too close for the camera to tale a full shot of the band the way the audience out front sees it. You have to move back from the band, off the stage so the focal length is long enough for the lens to see everything. Mixing is the same. If you aren't hearing things at the proper distances then you are working upon a false sense of perspective and all you can do is guess what might or should be there 

    I should note I mixed with headphones for 10 years recording back when I lived in an apartment and had small kids. I mixed thousands of recordings and they all suffered from the same issues of two dimensionality ton some degree or another. If I was lucky I might get 1 out of 10 recordings to have some sense of 3d but very few sounded natural and all could have been mixed much better on a proper monitoring system, even if that system was sub par.

    If you like two dimensional recordings, headphones will get you there. I'm not going to debate what art is or what someone prefers.  I'd just beware when you advise others who know about the issues I've mentioned. 

    Technology has not overcome the phase issues with sound traveling through the air. Bass frequencies make it to your ears before high frequencies do. That's basic physics 101. This has nothing to do with technology, it deals with physics, psychoacoustics an how your ears work. If you mix with headphones on your ears you will not compensate for this phase delay properly no matter how good the gear is.

      The best you can do using headphones only is do allot of A/B comparisons and test your mixes against well mixed commercial recordings and playing the mix on many playback systems with speakers as you can. I always found this to be very time consuming and inaccurate. Like I said, I was good at it and could get something to happen but I wasted thousands upon thousands of hours of time that could have been put to better use. I do use headphones to track vocals, and I may use them like a microscope to hear details up close and check stereophonics. I always finish mixes with monitors though, 

    Oh, and I hate the cauliflower ears you get using headphones. The fastest ways to make your ears loose sensitivity to details is wearing headphones. Use them at the lowest volume you can tolerate and you'll get the best results possible.   

     

    Comment


    • witesol
      witesol commented
      Editing a comment

      "The fact is high and low frequencies travel through the air at different speeds. If you don't mix with air between your ears and sound source you wont compensate for that phase shifting and make a mix sound natural."

       

      huh? The speed of sound is the speed of sound. What it propogates through, along with temperature can affect the speed

       

      headphones along with any transducer are not flat in response, nor are our ears and hearing perceptions. Especially at different given volumes.. How you perceive the sound is what matters and how you compensate is what gets you to a better mix. What can be difficult is adding ambience since your "room is but a small air volume, and the mixing of waves between speakers isn't happening either. But lots of people listen to music on ear devices and few sit in front of a perfect 60 degree, acoustically treated triangle so arguments can be made for using both techniques to mix..  it's an imperfect science at best

       


    • Zenith
      Zenith commented
      Editing a comment

      WRGKMC wrote:

      None of the headphones you listed have a flat response. They may have a full response but a single element will have a peak resonance and have a number of peaks and valleys along the frequency response curve. 

      This could be tested with a test tone generator and a very sensitive DB meter, but even then, you have everyones ears that are different and on top of that, peoples minds are most attuned to midrange speech ranges since birth. (or even before birth)  

      Flat frequency response is only part of the problem though. The bigger issue is the false sense or depth perception you have using headphones.

      The fact is high and low frequencies travel through the air at different speeds. If you don't mix with air between your ears and sound source you wont compensate for that phase shifting and make a mix sound natural.

      Its nearly impossible to add this compensation in when you have the speaker elements directly on your ears. Since there's no phase shift between frequencies you cannot use that phase shift to give your mix its proper depth. All frequencies will reach your ears and everything will sound two dimensional when played back on a normal speaker system. 

      Getting some instruments to set further back in the mix and having some up front by using various amounts or reverb would simply be guesswork.  Its like standing on stage in directly in front of the drummer trying to take a picture of the entire band. It can't be done. You're too close for the camera to tale a full shot of the band the way the audience out front sees it. You have to move back from the band, off the stage so the focal length is long enough for the lens to see everything. Mixing is the same. If you aren't hearing things at the proper distances then you are working upon a false sense of perspective and all you can do is guess what might or should be there 

      I should note I mixed with headphones for 10 years recording back when I lived in an apartment and had small kids. I mixed thousands of recordings and they all suffered from the same issues of two dimensionality ton some degree or another. If I was lucky I might get 1 out of 10 recordings to have some sense of 3d but very few sounded natural and all could have been mixed much better on a proper monitoring system, even if that system was sub par.

      If you like two dimensional recordings, headphones will get you there. I'm not going to debate what art is or what someone prefers.  I'd just beware when you advise others who know about the issues I've mentioned. 

      Technology has not overcome the phase issues with sound traveling through the air. Bass frequencies make it to your ears before high frequencies do. That's basic physics 101. This has nothing to do with technology, it deals with physics, psychoacoustics an how your ears work. If you mix with headphones on your ears you will not compensate for this phase delay properly no matter how good the gear is.

        The best you can do using headphones only is do allot of A/B comparisons and test your mixes against well mixed commercial recordings and playing the mix on many playback systems with speakers as you can. I always found this to be very time consuming and inaccurate. Like I said, I was good at it and could get something to happen but I wasted thousands upon thousands of hours of time that could have been put to better use. I do use headphones to track vocals, and I may use them like a microscope to hear details up close and check stereophonics. I always finish mixes with monitors though, 

      Oh, and I hate the cauliflower ears you get using headphones. The fastest ways to make your ears loose sensitivity to details is wearing headphones. Use them at the lowest volume you can tolerate and you'll get the best results possible.   

       


      As i said.

      there is always the dissenting crowd when it comes to using or discussing using headphones as mix monitors.

      But, to each of your points, i already addressed them in my Thread, as ive heard it all before.

      Most of what you had to say , that is an objection, has to do with headphones not having a flat frequency or that headphones are 2D regarding the soundstage.

      Well, lets be honest.....there is no such thing, no such thing, as a flat wire, flat frequency, studio monitor.

      It does not exist at any price, so, this illusion that "flat" frequency is the reason we need to use speakers instead of headphone to mix, is simply as i said, its  an "illusion" that is best described when using the word "fallacy"..

      So, when i speak of flat frequency headphones, im speaking in the general sense of headphone that are  not designed as extended bass ghetto blasters or designed with spiky shrill hyped trebles.......So, yes, none of the headphones i listed have an absolute flat frequency, just as non of the studio monitors ever created till the end of time will ever have a wire flat frequency, so, your point is........moot.

      And regarding a 2D soundstage.......well, thats just prejudicial semantics that you are practicing there, fella........Headphones are not 2D, and in fact, if you learn how to use the sound of headphones, then mixing with them is as accurate or more accurate then trying to deal with $4500 Genelecs whose sound is being phase betrayed by a room that is not tuned.

      Now who here, including you, has had their bedroom studio, or their music room studio , professionally tuned?...And if you haven't then you will never EVER get a mix that is exactly what it should be....as your untuned room is ruining your mix no matter how many pillows you duck tape to the sheetrock).

      Tune the room and then you can finally make correct use of those Genelecs,....but until you tune it, id suggest you  sort of back off your negative headphone mixing theology you are preaching

      See.... with Headphones, you dont have to tune the room, and you dont have to deal with phase issues because the tuned room is  only your EARS and BRAIN.

      So, as i said.....with the advent of superior headphone technology that has come of age in the last 5 or so years, combined with the  articuate and accurate sound being produced by even something like a $249 "Class A" Centrance or Arcam Dac, you can most certainly take a notebook and good headphones and learn how to use them to mix, and your mixes will , with practice, be way superior in their translation then any set of phase betrayed overpriced studio monitors that you care to own.

      I know, as ive used both for years....Ive owned Dynaudios and KRKs and Focals and other studio monitors, and i have learned  that its not a problem to get better mixes using good headphones and a good Dac and a Notebook.....If you are diligent and understand the sound of your  head strapped equipment.......as this is key.


  • #3

    The biggest problem with headphones is that your left ear hears only left channel and right ear right channel.

    When you use nearfield monitors your left ear hears also some portion of right channel and vice versa.

    In HQ studios with good acoustic they also have main monitors so you can listen from the other side of the room without big freq anomalies.

     

    My point is if you mix your music only for listening on headphones then mix it only on headphones.

    On the other hand if you mix bass heavy music that would be played in clubs good idea is to doublecheck it on club PA.

     

    I use mainly monitors but i also always use headphones to check details, reverbs etc. 

    Revolt!

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