Arguments exist and will stand against mixing music on headphones. However, that hasn’t prevented many professional artists, engineers, and producers from doing so. It’s not ideal, and there is an increased chance of unintentionally creating issues as opposed to fixing them. That said, having a decent studio, or the space for a monitor setup is a luxury that many can’t afford. In such a case, headphones might be the only option. How can you use headphones to produce a great mix? Stick with us. In the next tutorial, we will share five essential tips for mixing on headphones.

Choose your gear when mixing in headphones

If you just use headphones to compose and mix, it suffices to say that you should invest in a solid pair, built particularly for these tasks. This pair should have a neutral or flat frequency response. That means that the full frequency spectrum is reproduced as precisely as possible. This allows you to make more accurate EQ, signal level, and dynamics decisions.

Another important factor to consider is whether to choose closed, semi-open, or open-backed headphones. The frequency response of open and semi-open-backed headphones is typically flatter, with a more realistic depiction of bass.

On the other hand, open headphones are inappropriate for tracking and recording. That’s because noticeable sonic bleed can be picked up by your microphone. There are numerous headphone buying guides available on the internet. For that reason, we highly advise spending some time researching a model and frequency response that best matches your demands before reaching for your wallet.

Make the most out of your headphones

Headphones produce an unnatural sound field. The sound appears to come from within your head rather than around you. However, recently we’ve seen the emergence of software that can emulate crossfeed between speakers, or compensate for your headphone model’s inaccuracies. This software can also authentically simulate the depth, natural reflections, and stereo imaging of a high-end set of studio monitors in a proper acoustical environment. This can be very beneficial when making mixing decisions on headphones.

The level of details

Audio engineers spend a lot of money on speakers, monitor controllers, and pro-level D/A converters when using studio monitors. Why shouldn’t they? It’s an essential part of their gear. If you’re mixing on headphones, the same rules apply. This is where headphone amplifiers come in, ensuring that you hear every detail of your mix with pinpoint accuracy. Connecting your line-level signals to a dedicated headphone amp may frequently result in much superior audio quality, greater output levels, reduced distortion, a tighter and more powerful bass end, and a more delicate mid-high-range with improved stereo imaging. 

Perception of the stereo image through headphones

Crossfeed occurs when sound from the left monitor is heard in your right ear and vice versa. On the contrary, you only hear the left channel in your left ear and the right channel in your right while using headphones. The center of your head becomes the center of your focus. This makes panning choices much more difficult. Pans that are subtle to moderate only seem to move sounds slightly from their central location through headphones. Hard pans also create the sensation that a sound is coming from directly at the opening of your ear canal or even slightly behind it. This is not very accurate imaging and can be annoying after a while. Naturally, with experience, you will become accustomed to panning in headphones and will be able to make it work for you. However, if at all feasible, double-check your panning decisions on a pair of monitors.

Protect your hearing

When using headphones, keep in mind that drivers are placed very close to your ears. That means there is a higher possibility of injuries than when using studio monitors. Wearing headphones may be rather immersive, and mixing can be a long process. Therefore, it’s critical to take frequent pauses to avoid hearing fatigue. Keep note of the SPL level as well as the amount of time you spend mixing to avoid damaging your hearing.