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Headphones for Mixing - Subjective Impressions


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The question was asked about headphones for mixing in the "Beats Headphones" thread, so it seemed it might justify its own thread. Here are my subjective thoughts.

 

 

Audio-Technica ATH-M40: Good value, somewhat dull in the upper mids and highs, bass accurate but not "tight." Hits the sweet spot for cost vs. performance.

KRK KNS 8400: Accurate, some upper mids/highs emphasis. Detachable cord and in-cable volume control is a plus. Comfortable over long sessions. Cost-effective.

Beats in general: Excellent bass, which many headphones lack. Good for hearing how much bass you have, but not for balanced mixing. Uncomfortable for long periods of time.

AKG in general: They have the recipe down for beautiful, airy highs but I find them lacking in bass. Generally comfortable.

Ultrasone in general: Extreme high-frequency emphasis. Good for classical music, which is recorded naturally and benefits somewhat from the increased definition.

Monster Turbine Pro Coppers: Surprisingly accurate earbuds. I've mixed on them when stuck in a hotel room, and the mixes needed hardly any tweaks over speakers.

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Ultrasone headphones are like the anti-Beats IMO... they have the emphasis at the other end of the spectrum. I dislike the ones I've tried nearly as much as I dislike the Beats models I've tried, except it's for the opposite reason. lol.gif

 

I still mainly use speakers and primarily rely on a couple pairs of cans as auxiliary references when mixing... KRK KNS 8400's and Grado SR125i's. The Grados are great - nice and balanced, with an honesty you don't hear in a lot of headphones at their price point, but they're open-backed and they leak like a sieve, making them worthless for tracking. Additionally, they're supra-aural and sit on the pinna (outer part of the ear) instead of surrounding it, and I'm kind of sensitive to things pressing on my outer ears. I find it uncomfortable for extended listening sessions. The KRK's are nearly as accurate (with a touch of upper mid emphasis, as Craig noted), but much much more comfortable to wear, and since they're closed back and have great isolation, you can use them for tracking too, which makes them among the best general purpose studio cans for all-around use IMHO.

 

The other cans I like a lot in the studio are the Sennheiser HD280's... they're not quite as accurate as the KRK's, but they are nearly as comfortable and have similar levels of isolation, making them very good for use when tracking.

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Grado SR125i's. The Grados are great - nice and balanced' date=' with an honesty you don't hear in a lot of headphones at their price point, but they're open-backed and they leak like a sieve[/quote']Those might actually be a good upgrade for the one's I have on at the moment - Koss KTX PRO1 that I paid $13 for. I bought them primarily for rehearsing bass through with my Tascam BT-1 where I still want to hear what's going on around me. I've been pleasantly surprised at their durability and "OK" sound. I was using iPod buds before so a HUGE improvement over them. I also tend to use them with the laptop when needed as they're always right here next to the couch along with the BT-1 and "couch bass" ;) .

 

My other pair of cans are Direct Sound EX-25 that I bought for their extreme isolation for live sound mixing. Those sound OK too and I've used them for live level mixing a rough stereo recording off my Mackie DL1608. Bass isolation sucks though as is the norm with passive isolation. Anybody ever have luck with active isolation cans for live mixing? I always end up with the low end FUBAR with these :( .

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I'm not real big on mixing on headphones, and don't have a lot of headphone mixing experience. But if I must, I've been referencing mixes on Sony MDR-7506 headphones and can very clearly hear everything and can get the reverbs and delays right and get everything pretty well balanced. I'm not saying it's as good as Grados or ATHs or KRKs or this or that - maybe it is, maybe it ain't - but you could do far worse.

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For tracking in the studio, I have a couple of pairs of Studio-Kans, which squeeze the head like a vice and have Koss drivers. I've had these forever and they still work great. They're sort of like these, but with no metronome.

 

http://www.amazon.com/Metrophones-Studio-Isolation-Recording-Headphones/dp/B0002E1NXM/ref=pd_sim_sbs_267_4?ie=UTF8&refRID=1KAE5FS9T4VV338HXFP9

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I have the AudioTechnica ATH-M40 and have been very pleased with them. Got them just a couple of months ago. Find that, like a number of folks, I do have to mix in the cans most of the time.

 

One of the hardest things I have ever had to do is try and mix a live performance in the room, off the same mixer as the FOH. No matter how good the cans are, you still get some bleed in, and you just can't be sure that what you are mixing is coming in through the cans or bleeding in from the house. Much happier when the recording area is physically separated from the house.

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I'm not real big on mixing on headphones' date=' and don't have a lot of headphone mixing experience. But if I must, I've been referencing mixes on Sony MDR-7506 headphones and can very clearly hear everything and can get the reverbs and delays right and get everything pretty well balanced.[/quote']

 

They're an interesting case. They are very forward with the mids, so what sounds good on them will have the "smile" EQ when played back on flat systems because you will have pulled back a bit on the mids. I recommend them to DJs sometimes because the mids are easy to hear over the residual thump of the kick, which you can't avoid hearing to some degree in a club :)

 

 

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Well, after hearing myself talk "aloud" about it, I decided my next move is to check out some active noise cancelling headphones to see if I can mix to a stereo recording live from sidestage in close proximity to the subs. I found some $100 MSRP Audio Technica ATH-ANC29 on fleaBay being sold for $30 shipped as "open box" so I'll check those out. I don't need extreme HiFi as these would just be promo/demo recordings for bar bands. If I find the active noise cancelling useful I can always "upgrade" if I feel a need. Just messing about at this point. I do have a sound gig coming up with a 7 piece (w/two horns) band composed of retired session/touring guys I'd like to "capture". Unfortunately my Mackie DL1608 can't record multitrack and I really have no justification to upgrade to a mixer that does - although something rack mountable and with a couple more inputs would be nice (X32 Rack?) :) .

Edited by RoadRanger
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I've only ever used headphones for mixing. I've never owned monitor speakers. Don't want anyone (wife, neighbours, or pedestrians) hearing what I'm up to

 

In the past I wasn't too bothered what I bought, but these days I use 'phones with a flat response. At the moment I'm using Shure SRH440 'phones. They get quite uncomfortable to wear after about half an hour, but the sound is fine

 

I'm a tad deaf in my right ear, so I have to be careful that I don't have things too loud on the right-hand side of the mix :0

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I used the Sony 7506s for a long time - great clean deep bass for headphones. Really nice for electronic material. A little tiring to listen to for long times but still I would recommend.

 

Now I have two sets -

 

ATH M40fs - not super detailed or hyped, can be worn for a long time - great imaging, sort of a plush, enveloping, slightly muted sound, nothing jumps out. Great for stuff like solo piano or chamber music or baroque, which can tire the ears pretty easily. Was very affordable.

 

Sony MDR-7509 - I had been listening to the ATHs for a few years, then got these for a very different take. First impression was WOW. Like cleaning the windows. All-round excellent, detailed, super. Snagged cheap used pair off Ebay estate sale as they cost a bit in the context of my budget. Maybe the guy died with them on - maybe I'll die with them on, not a bad way to go smile.png

 

 

nat whilk ii

 

 

Edited by nat whilk II
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I been using AKG K240's since I bought a set several months ago. They do what I need tracking vocals and even though they are opened backed headphones I have no problems with bleed over. They do take allot more power to drive them up to comfortable listening levels compared to other headphones I own.

 

I have about a dozen others, Koss, Sony, Senheiser. None of them are high quality, they just do a basic job.

 

The other set I've used since the 80's was a high end set of JVC headphones. I'm surprised they have lasted as long as they have. They have a lifetime warrantee and they might just make it.

 

Knowing your headphones well and what their deficiencies are is a key item. I used those JVC for enough years to know they have an unnatural high frequency notch. If I want a good mix I cant trust them to produce a flat response and have to smooth things out and boost the low end a bit. Still they're not too bad when you consider how many really bad headphones there are.

 

One other set I get allot of use out of is a set of older Sony wireless headphones. Drummers especially like them because they aren't tethered by a cord and have freedom of movement. They are the infrared, not the blue tooth so Keeping them in line of sight to the transmitter is their only drawback (and changing batteries)

 

I still hate wearing anything on my ears at any time and only use them when I absolutely have to. I used them exclusively for nearly 20 years when I was living in apartments and had small kids. I'm very thankful I have a studio and I don't have to rely on them for mixing any more because they all fail at producing the proper image depth.

 

The only thing I have found that can help a bit is some software that will add some cross feed like these.

 

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

 

http://www.112db.com/redline/monitor/

 

They do make some hardware versions that do the same basic thing, provide cross feed in each of the ears so the mix center doesn't wind up being inside your skull. It makes the mix sound like its in front of you like speakers would be.

 

I have one set up as a plugin, but to be honest, I don't wear headphones enough to tell you how effective these plugins are. If I had to mix on phones, I'd definitely use it however.

Edited by WRGKMC
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Over the years, I`ve also had my share of cans… Here they are with a brief review.

 

AKG 240s: nice overall balance in the mids and open highs, not enough low end for accurate mixing. Very comfortable to wear but cheap ass design. I have had two pairs over the years, both exterior plastic bands around the ear pieces fell off… very frustrating.

 

Sennheiser HD280s: way too bright in the mids and uncomfortable after a few minutes. I do not recommend these for mixing but for recording, they are nice and the isolation is quite good.

 

Sony 7506s: These suck. They are bright and after a few minutes, they exhausted my hearing. They are comfortable to wear and I do like the size of these but again… the sound is just ugly.

 

Sony 7509s: A bit more tolerable sound wise and better balanced than the little brother but they are so heavy that its not worth the ache.

 

Audio Technica ATH-M50s: These are definitely my top 2 headphones. Overall, they balance quite accurately and I find my mixes translate the best with these. Not exactly built for comfort but definitely the best bang for the buck that I have experienced in cans.

 

Beyer Dynamic DT990s: These are my favorite overall headphones for tracking, mixing, and mastering. They are super comfortable, and I truly enjoy these for pure listening enjoyment as well. I had a pair of these for years and they took a beating. I mean, I used these for everything and now I realize, I need another pair!

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by Ernest Buckley
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The other cans I like a lot in the studio are the Sennheiser HD280's... they're not quite as accurate as the KRK's' date=' but they are nearly as comfortable and have similar levels of isolation, making them very good for use when tracking.[/quote']

 

I also like these, though both pairs I've owned over the years were really uncomfortably tight on my head when I took them out of the box. Apparently some folks will put them on basketballs for a few days to break them in. I did the same with a cardboard box I had laying around and it made a huge difference when it came to wearing them for extended periods of time.

 

They also for some reason really like to end up on my floor, but that's a whole different issue :p

 

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I'm a tad deaf in my right ear, so I have to be careful that I don't have things too loud on the right-hand side of the mix :0

 

Have you tried taking the headphones off and flipping them so they're on the "wrong" ears? Maybe you could do that occasionally to check the levels and balance of what's going on for the right side of the mix. :idea::wave:

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Over the years, I`ve also had my share of cans… Here they are with a brief review.

 

AKG 240s: nice overall balance in the mids and open highs, not enough low end for accurate mixing. Very comfortable to wear but cheap ass design. I have had two pairs over the years, both exterior plastic bands around the ear pieces fell off… very frustrating.

 

 

Just curious, Ernest, are your 240s made in Austria or China. Both of mine are Austria and I've had them since late 80's or 90. No structural or functional problems. Only thing is one of the flat gold round pieces with the model number fell off one side of one pair and I lost it. Otherwise they work perfectly.

 

I don't mix with cans though... only nearfield monitors for mixing and mastering.

 

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Just curious, Ernest, are your 240s made in Austria or China. Both of mine are Austria and I've had them since late 80's or 90. No structural or functional problems. Only thing is one of the flat gold round pieces with the model number fell off one side of one pair and I lost it. Otherwise they work perfectly.

 

I don't mix with cans though... only nearfield monitors for mixing and mastering.

 

I know the 1st pair I owned were made in Austria… I remember being very impressed with that… at the tender age of 18. As for the second pair, I don`t remember. Both pairs suffered the same damage. I`m pretty good with my gear but headphones do fall to the floor quite often. The 240s never handled that 3 foot drop very well. With that said, they are good cans but no longer my favorite. Those DT 990s I mentioned though… I`ve been thinking about them a lot lately…

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I have the KRK 8400 mentioned in this thread, and I love them. As far as mixing goes I only use them as a reference, not a primary, but I love their sound. I have a pair of Adam A7's, and I love them too.

 

 

 

But the two rarely agree. I don't know what to think of this.

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Have you tried taking the headphones off and flipping them so they're on the "wrong" ears? Maybe you could do that occasionally to check the levels and balance of what's going on for the right side of the mix. :idea::wave:

 

Never thought of that. Good thinking, Batman ;)

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I have the KRK 8400 mentioned in this thread, and I love them. As far as mixing goes I only use them as a reference, not a primary, but I love their sound. I have a pair of Adam A7's, and I love them too.

 

 

 

But the two rarely agree. I don't know what to think of this.

 

I use ADAMs too - S3A's and A7's. The KRK KNS series works very well in partnership with them.

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i use AKG 702s... love 'em

 

i was recently in a pro studio having a song mastered... the guy was using them (in conjunction with monitors, obviously) and i was really impressed, so i grabbed a pair

 

i too only use mine as a reference... my monitors are adam A7Xs and a single avantone mixcube

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AKG 240's comfortable, made my best mix yet on them on an iPad in SFI airport. I watch movies w/them too.Will buy another set.

 

HD280's I hate everything about them. But they tend to correlate w/my monitors. So I bought a second set of the damned things. But I REALLY hate them.I hate their sound. They don't fit my head. They are uncomfortable. I'll probably buy a 3rd set.

 

Shure 440's - fell apart very fast. Won't buy another set.

Edited by Etienne Rambert
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Ok, I'll post something in the 'budget' category.

 

I bought 5 pairs of Sennheiser 202 headphones for about $80 from BH Photo around 8 years ago, and use them for tracking. They work really well for this; the isolation is great if you don't run your cans at excessive loudness. They are bass-heavy, so I wouldn't consider them good for mixing.

 

But for tracking use, they work great. They have ~20 foot cords, which end in 1/8" plugs, though each comes with an 1/8" to 1/4" adapter. Long enough to run to a drum kit without an extension cord. Though they look flimsy, they've held up very well; all of them still work and sound great.

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