Using Headphones For Mixing
24
May 2021

Headphones and mixing have gone together for almost as long as mixing has been a thing. Sure, some will say they only mix on reference speakers - but for many artists, especially indie producers, that may not be an option. 

Headphones can give excellent results when mixing, and Grado headphones work especially well. Thanks to Grado's emphasis on precision reproduction, as well as great wearability, you could put together your next album with nothing but a nice set of cans.

Tips For Pro-Quality Mixing With Headphones

1 - Use open-back headphones

Closed headphones are great when you want to keep your music to yourself, or enjoy the thump of heavy bass - but they aren't good for mixing. They distort the sound too much. You want high-quality open-back headphones, such as the Grado PS500e or GS3000e.

These will give you the most honest and realistic music reproduction - and if you're mixing at home, who cares if the music leaks out?

2 - Get a good headphone amplifier

If you're trying to mix on a budget, you still need to spend a bit if you want pro-quality results. Low-grade amps (not to even speak of standard laptop jacks) are going to degrade the sound quality significantly.  This is one area where spending a little extra is going to really pay off in the end, plus they'll make your headphones sound so much better the rest of the time too. Check out the Woo WA6 premium headphone amp, or the Schiit Magni as a budget option.

3 - Be careful about hard panning

When you're working with speakers, you'll never have a sound that's only heard by one ear. Even if a sample is fully panned to the left, your right ear will hear it a moment after your left ear, thanks to basic acoustics. 

However, that's not true with headphones. Isolating the sound to each ear can produce a very unrealistic idea of what the music will sound like if it's played back with speakers. So, it's a good idea to avoid hard pans and always keep some sound coming out of both/all speakers, even if it doesn't sound quite right through your headphones.

(Not unless you're going for a really crunchy early-90s house sound, anyway.)

4 - Look for plug-ins that will handle sound analysis

If you want to get a better idea what your music will sound like when played through speakers, or just want some help shaping the envelope, plug-ins for your mixing software can be a big help.  Plug-ins like Mixroom and Bassroom will analyze frequencies, looking for problem areas, and can generally make up for what you're not hearing with the headphones.

5 - Get a reality check from other systems

A good mixer knows that they shouldn't rely entirely on a single set of speakers or headphones. After all, not everyone is going to be listening on the same system as you, or even on high-end equipment in general.  Before committing to your final mix, play back your work on whatever other speakers and headphones you have access to. 

Don't avoid the cheap stuff either. Plenty of people are playing back music on their laptop speakers, or with the $5 earbuds that came with their phone. Make sure your music sounds as good as possible on as many devices as possible, or at least that it doesn't sound bad.

In short, there's no reason you can't mix a great track or album using high-quality Grado headphones. Just put in the work, and make sure to check it against other playback devices so you know that everyone will have a good time!