Guide to Mixing on Headphones
The never ending debate, can we mix on headphones!? It’s so controversial! But…..the answer is yes! Many people are already doing so. It may not be the traditional method, but it is being done with great success! But how?! Well, there are various tips and tricks we can employ to make it work. Software solutions also help. Before we get into that, you may be interested to read our thoughts and recommendations on the Best Studio Headphones.
Luckily these days most of us have access to more than one method of listening to our mixes. Even if you don’t have a set of studio monitors, you can make a great sounding mix! Usually this involves lots of referencing, which is listening to your work in different environments and with different equipment. For years I would make multiple mixes of the same song and listen to them:
In the car
On my speakers at home – as it happens they are really good at revealing over compression!
On my phone
On a bluetooth speaker
Anywhere else I possibly could
You can probably relate! This was very time consuming, and at the end of the day I would rather just know that my mix is going to sound good anywhere. Nowadays my workflow is much faster, I am more confident in my mixes and don’t reference like that half as much. Don’t get me wrong; I still do check on various devices, but I don’t have to tweak my mixes as much anymore, whereas before I would end up going back and forth 5 – 10 times between my car or other devices to get it “right”.
Follow these tips and you will save yourself a lot of time, and cut years off of the learning curve that myself and many others go through. Hopefully you will find some things you didn’t know about 🙂 You will see that there is really not much to it!
Tip #1 – Reference Tracks
It seems like a no brainer to me now, but it was honestly years before I even heard or thought of this. Basically you use a reference track to “calibrate” your ears and listening device/environment. What is your all time favorite song or album? Chances are you have heard that music in many spaces and on many different types of speakers. You need to choose music that you know very well, or music that you know sounds really great! Then you listen to that music on your headphones and try to appreciate the sound signature of your chosen headphones. You may notice, for example, that you hear more high frequencies on your headphones that in other places. You may hear less low end. If you can, try switching between headphone and earbuds for example, the differences are usually very noticeable! You have to take these differences into account when mixing your music on your chosen headphones. You can even bounce between listening to your mix and your favorite reference track to make sure you are getting the sound right. Personally I always ask clients to send me songs that indicate the direction they would like me to take, so I don’t really have any fixed reference songs. I work in many genres too so depending on what I’m working on my reference songs will vary. Check out and follow my reference playlist on Spotify! I am constantly updating it! >>>
Tip #2 – The Right Equipment
Make sure you actually have a decent set of headphones to mix on! Some headphones also require more power so you may need a decent headphone amplifier. Do not overlook this step…you can try and mix on earbuds or some budget headphones, but you will find your mixes improve greatly with headphones that were actually designed for studio use. Plus they tend to be more comfortable as they are designed for long sessions. Even a great set of headphones will be more wallet friendly than most studio monitor speakers, so don’t skimp on this! You don’t have to spend a fortune either as you can see from our Best Studio Headphones guide. Having a decent pair of headphones is essential for the next tip.
Tip #3 – Emulate Spaces
Once you have a good set of headphones, you can start trying out software based emulations. Although controversial, I have found them to be quite helpful. So instead of having make a CD to go and listen in your car, you can use software to emulate the cars speakers. There are various options available, free and paid that can emulate different speaker sizes, mobile phone speakers, and more. My personal favorite free option is the Beyerdynamic Virtual Studio. This emulates a Stereo Studio, a 5.1 Studio (not actual 5.1 as headphones only have 2 speakers but it’s still a handy reference), Car, and Big Venue. It can sound a bit strange to begin with but you just have to let your ears adjust. Sometimes when using the Stereo Studio setting you can almost forget you are using headphones, if they are comfy enough! Deespeaker is another free option but only has one setting. Panipulator by Boz Digital Labs is an often overlooked free plugin which simulates a few other things like when speakers get plugged in thw wrong way, etc. Quite handy! Paid options include Audified’s Mixchecker and Perspective by Oscillot.
Tip 4# – Frequency Correction Software
The idea of this type of software is to flatten the frequency response of your headphones and/or speakers. These are all paid products so tend to have good features, some supporting more headphone models than others. Here are some options:
Quite a cool plugin with support for VR audio, but unfortunately doesn’t support a whole load of headphone models as it is more geared towards speaker correction. Still a great bit of software though! Use this link for a 10% discount on any Waves plugins! > https://www.waves.com/r/97pji0
The budget friendly option, supports loads of headphones but has a rather simple feel and look. Even so, at the low price point it is a fantastic option!w
My personal favorite. Supports load of headphone models, you can even buy it with headphones that they have calibrated to be even more accurate, or send your headphones to them for calibration! This is a good idea because there can be slight differences even between the same model of headphones. DISCOUNT
Tip #5 – Double, or triple check
Have more than one set of headphones! Although I largely use a pair of DT990s if and when I mix on headphones, I often switch between them, some very cheap Superlux headphones that happen to reveal a lot of mids, and some Sennheiser HD215’s (now discontinued) which I have had them for over 15 years and know their sound intimately. Occasionally I´ll check on some Apple earbuds too but I don´t need to do this as often as I used to, thanks to all the other tricks mentioned!
I hope this has been helpful and wish you the best of luck in speeding up your process. It is still worth checking your mix on a mobile phone speaker and on other devices, but you will require less tweaking if you take these tips on board. Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment below! Feel free to share this article with your producer friends too!
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