It can be easily demonstrated that doing your final mixes with headphones can produce stellar mixes when the mixing engineer is familiar with the practices of mixing with headphones. But how is this possible?
For one thing, the loudspeakers react with the room so that you hear the room effects while you are mixing. Sure, most of the best recording engineers can mentally ignore the room sound so that they can create a mix what is not befuddled by room acoustics. For the home studio person, we usually do not have a professionally designed control room to work in. We also do not have luxury of using the best sounding room in ones residence. So we are relegated to a little room that is virtually impossible to mix in. What sounded great when you were mixing it, now sounds anemic when played elsewhere. What happened? All that bass that piles up in such a small room, the inaccuracies if the “monitors”, and the total collapse of any likeness of a realistic soundstage. Wow!
Slip on a correctly calibrated pair of high quality headphones, and listen to your favorite CDs for a while. Then listen to your mixes that you made using speakers. Do you notice the difference? Are you mixes lacking clarity and life? Do not start blaming this piece of gear or that piece of gear. Most likely it is the result of mixing with loudspeakers in a bad room. Why not eliminate the room altogether? So lets use the headphones!
Another advantage of mixing with headphones is the clarity of the sonic picture due to perfect time alignment inherent in headphones. You do not have to deal with the room resonances and phase cancellations due to reflections off the walls and the console. The time smear caused by the typical nearfield monitor situation can gloss over things you will want to hear clearly when you are mixing. This is where you can lose control of your mix and run into trouble using speakers.
Mixing with headphones will take some getting used to. You should make a copy of your mix, and play it through various playback systems such as boom boxes and car stereos. Try listening in a variety of environments,and not the same little room. This will keep things in perspective, as a “reality check”. If your headphone mix does not sound good in these situations, then you are doing something wrong. But what are you doing wrong? Like any new skill, you must gradually familiarize yourself with different acoustic space that headphones create. This takes some time and practice. You will know when you have it down when your mixes sound correct on a variety of systems.
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