With the ever improving mobility when it comes to different music production tools, the topic on mixing and mastering using headphones also becomes relevant. Despite the fact that there is no actual substitute or alternative to mixing using near, as well as mid field monitors inside an acoustically prepared room, the use of headphones play a very important role when it comes to playing in production. Regardless of the reason, whether it is for portability, convenience, noise considerations, as well as other reasons, there are important tips that you can keep in mind when mixing music using headphones.
Make sure to protect your ears
Safety first. When you are wearing headphones, acknowledge the fact that since the drivers are located right beside your ears, you may have to anticipate a higher risk of experiencing damage in hearing as compared to simply utilizing studio monitors. Since wearing headphones may be immersive, and the fact that mixing is a process that consumes time, it is very important to have some regular scheduled breaks in order to prevent fatigue on your ears. At the same time, it is also important to keep track of the SPL level, as well as the total amount of time that is spent on mixing. By doing so, you will not risk your hearing accidentally.
Choose your equipment wisely
There are various options when it comes to headphones these days. They are also available for different types of applications. For mixing music, it is highly important to choose a pair which comes with a flat response so that your mixes can be translated across a variety of playback systems. Several headphone models have been designed for both personal, as well as hi-fi listening, providing a great bump in the bass, cutting in the treble, in order to create a sound that is more engaging and fun. Even though this may be perfect for listening, it may also lead to issues for mixing, since the frequency response may skew the overall perception of your mix’s frequency response.
Study your equipment by working on mixes you already know
It is very important to realize that when mixing using headphones, you are not simply making a track sound good for that headphone alone. Rather, you are making a mix which will translate accordingly across various playback systems. Of course, this may be difficult, since the actual makeup of headphones make it almost impossible to create and fill the full-frequency spectrum. At the same time, bass sounds usually need a good amount of space for developing waveforms. With this, headphones lack most of the spatial information required for reverb processing and stereo imaging.
Use a Second Pair of Headphones
Whether you are mixing on headphones, or you are using extra expensive monitors, it is always important to make a reference of your mixing using a second speaker set. With this, you do not need to have the most expensive ones, as the cheaper ones will also do. The idea here is very simple. Each of the headphones pair, or even monitors, come equipped with a built in EQ curve. They can shape your mixes in their own way. Afterwards, your ears will be familiar with the sound, and eventually adapt to it. This becomes the problem if you have headphones which have the tendency to create dull sounding mixes. In order to avoid this, you can use a second pair of headphones, preferably ones that come with a different frequency response.
Focus on headphone mix translation
When mixing music, it is very important to have your song translated well in various sound devices. With this, after creating your mix, you can just burn it on a CD, listening to it played from various sound systems. In order to get a good listening to it, you can also perform some Do-It-Yourself mastering on the final mix, testing it using your reference tracks on various sound systems. It would even be better if they are tested with indoors and outdoors devices. In most cases, you will come to observe that there is a need for further adjustment, which is why it is not recommended to complete a final mix using headphones. It should be done at the studio for final touches with the use of actual speakers.
Headphones are perfect for identifying things such as clicks, pops, over-processing or distortion within a mix. Therefore, they need to be used as a reference monitoring device, and not as your primary device for audio mixing. However, most skilled mixers would still say that there is no wrong or right way with mixing. After all, creativity can still pave the way for possibilities. As such, you can try to use the strategies and techniques you have learned so far, and see which one works best for you.
Set your expectations well
Setting your personal expectations will involve knowing what to mix on your headphones, as well as recognizing which ones can be done on studio monitors. Headphones may prove to be highly useful when it comes to focusing on correcting errors, as well as other subtle details on individual music tracks. The isolation and clarity that is produced out of acoustic coloration may also make it a whole lot easier to fix issues with pops, distortion, and clicks; thus performing dynamic signal processing, including compression.
At the same time, headphones may not be perfect for use on tone shaping processes, including reverb and equalization. This is because frequency response of sound, particularly with bass, varies depending on the distance coming from the source, as well as the acoustic properties on the space with which the sound happens.
Unless you make a decision to invest in high quality acoustic signal processing software or hardware, it is recommended to limit your mixing on your headphone to correcting errors on individual tracks. The other processes, such as tone shaping, imaging, low-frequency mixing, as well as reverb processing can be done using studio monitors.