There’s an endless battle between music producers and engineers about the question: Can you mix with headphones?
It’s a good question. There really isn’t a right or wrong answer to that because it depends on the situation. There are, however, few things to consider when making the decision between studio monitors and headphones.
You should mix with the best option available to you. Sometimes headphones are better option than studio monitors (I’ll explain why).
I want to add that I’m not a specialist. But, I’ve created and mixed music professionally (mostly) with headphones for a decade. I feel I might have at least few pointers for you.
Let’s dive into it.
1. Room acoustics matter (a lot)
When you’re mixing with studio monitors, the environment has a massive effect on the sound of them. The echo and reflections in the room will determine what your monitors sound like.
To achieve an accurate mix with monitors, the room acoustics should be on point. Sadly, many bedroom and homestudios are not suitable for mixing without proper acoustic treatment.
I’m not saying it’s impossible to mix with monitors in a bad environment. You can, if you understand the things the space does to the sound.
Many producers and engineers do prefer using monitors over headphones so it’s a good idea to look into doing acoustic treatments in your room if you want to go that route.
2. Headphones are convenient
You can use headphones anywhere. They’re convenient for creating and mixing music. The space doesn’t affect them. In addition, tweaking the details of the mix is easier with headphones, at least for me personally. You can hear the panning better and spot the tiniest details easier.
It’s also important to remember that when you have a homestudio, you might have neighbors. You’ll drive people crazy if you mix in the middle of the night with monitors. You can use headphones at anytime.
3. Get familiar with the sound
The most important thing to remember when mixing with studio monitors or headphones, is to get familiar with their sound. Once you understand what everything sounds like on each equipment, you can achieve a great and accurate mix.
For example: The most common issue with using studio monitors in any environment is the bass frequencies. You might move your chair less than a feet and the bass volume may multiply. How can you know when the balance is right?
Get familiar with your equipment by listening music on them and learning what their weaknesses are.
4. Always compare the mix
A simple way to make sure your mixes sound good is by doing comparisons with both monitors and headphones. Export the mix/master and do side-by-side comparisons to other commercially released songs in the same genre. Choose songs that are mixed well to you. Not every commercial song has a good mix.
You can learn quite a bit by doing this.
Never blindly trust your studio monitors or headphones. You should always check the mixes on several different systems like studio monitors and headphones, cheap consumer speakers, headphones and earbuds, the phone speakers and by doing the classic ”car test”.
After you’ve successfully compared the mix to other songs and checked it on several different systems, you can be quite confident the mix is good enough. After all, it will never be perfect.