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Mixing On Headphones

In home studio, it's often necessary to work on headphones. For example, I use them almost all the time - after all, I live with other people too and not everyone likes the process of creating a mixdown :) So what are pros & cons Of Mixing On Headphones ?

Judging only by specifcations, we would conclude that a pair of quality headphones is ideal for monitoring. Headphones have excellent frequency response, no sound dispersion, and don't suffer from frequency anomalies in acoustically questionable rooms. They're much easier to carry around than studio monitors, and allow you to work where and when you want. Not to mention that they are relatively afordable and extremely portable.

Too good to be true? A little bit. I mean there are plenty of professional musicians, engineers, producers mixing on headphones but they are aware of problems related with using headphones.

When listening to loudspeakers, your right ear receives sounds from the left channel as well as the right, but slightly later and at a slightly reduced level. This is due to the 'shadowing' effect of the head, and in particular the external parts of the ears, which act like complex direction-dependent tone controls. You also hear additional reflections from walls, ceilings and floors. This all sounds perfectly natural, because that's how we experience every sound around us.

On headphones, you hear only the left channel in your left ear and the right in your right ear. Any hard-panned sounds will be heard through one ear, which sounds very unnatural. In fact, it can cause headaches and induce nausea over prolonged periods. When sounds panned to the middle are played through loudspeakers they are heard 'in front', but the same sounds on headphones appear to be emanating from inside your head. You can get used to the skewed spatial response, and you can even enjoy its intimacy, but the one-ear phenomenon remains unpleasant for some.

Any possibilites to improve our mixing on headphones experiences ? Check two great articles (both from Sound on Sound mag) with some theory and tips & tricks too:
* Mixing on headphones - What to use & How to do it
* Successful Mixing without Loudspeakers

There are also some plug-in tools that (very short story ;) ) can change your headphones into monitors. They replace the extreme stereo separation with the detailed stereo image of loudspeakers. Such plugins can help with ear fatigue effect and even some headaches too. There's commercial 112db Redline Monitor (69 EUR) with amazing 2 months full featured demo and there are free tools such as Refined Audiometrics Laboratory HDPHX and Crossfeed.


Anonymous said...

I love this site man....very useful and robust.

Greeg said...

thank you :)

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