Monitors vs. Headphones: Which is the Best for Mixing?
If you talk to multiple producers about whether you should utilize headphones or speakers while mixing, chances are you'll receive help and honest responses.
The issue is, they might not all be the same!
The topic about mixing on headphones vs. speakers is one that comes up often among engineers and producers. So, which method is truly the correct approach?
Instead of just adding opinion to the debate, let's break down the pros and cons of mixing with headphones and speakers.
Should You Mix on Speakers or Headphones?
Table of Contents:
- Pros of Mixing on Headphones
- Cons of Mixing on Headphones
- Pros of Mixing on Monitors
- Cons of Mixing on Monitors
Mixing on Headphones
There are a lot of producers that argue against mixing on headphones.
However, not every beginning producer may have access to to high-quality monitors. So, your options are:
1. Mix on headphones
2. Not get the project done
Chances are, you'll opt to mix with headphones.
The Pros of Mixing on Headphones
In some cases, working with headphones may give you a more accurate mixing environment.
Headphones will often give you a better bass response, especially if you don’t have a subwoofer to work with. A lot of studio monitors that you would use in your home studio aren’t big enough to generate sub-bass frequencies.
This also has to do with the room, of course, as some rooms will allow you to hear more bass than others. With headphones being so close to your ears, they usually have the advantage of having more bass response.
Speaking of acoustics, sounds will bounce off the walls in your room when using speakers. Hearing the different reflections will influence the way you mix, which could result in something completely different than how it actually sounds if your home studio is not properly treated.
When using headphones, this is a problem you won’t need to worry about!
Click here to check out our list of common mistakes to avoid when recording in your home studio.
One benefit of mixing with headphones that we alluded to earlier is the price point. Depending on what you buy, most headphones will come at a cheaper cost than speakers. You can pay less than $200 for a pair of great headphones!
Lastly, none of your family members or roommates will have to be bothered when you use headphones. Loud music isn’t for everyone, so this is where headphones come in handy.
The Cons of Mixing on Headphones
There are some consumer headphones that are specifically used because they have increased bass response, along with other potential increased frequencies.
You’ll most likely want to stay away from these headphones because you will be getting an inaccurate sound when you are mixing and the finished product will end up sounding completely different than what you had imagined.
It’s also possible to acquire hearing loss when using headphones. It’s tempting to crank up the volume whenever you are working on music and having headphones on while doing so will not be good for your longterm music career.
Tip: Taking breaks from working in your headphones will prove to be beneficial and remember to listen at reasonable volumes when you are using them.
Something interesting that many people may not think about is how we hear sound from the side of our head when using headphones, instead of in front of us as if we were using speakers. Spacing out your audio is important when mixing and that can be more challenging using headphones.
This isn’t only different for mixing on speakers, but various headphone models will have a difference in the stereo field as well, so be sure to look into those specifications before you make a purchase.
Mixing on Monitors
Mixing on studio monitors is a go-to for many people, but why?
The Pros of Mixing on Monitors
Although speakers can still cause ear fatigue or hearing loss if used inappropriately, having headphones on for hours at a time can take a toll on you. You feel slightly more free when you are working on speakers and not quite so restricted with a cord dangling from your head.
After a couple of hours, your head may start to hurt from the pressure of having headphones on. This is the great part about speakers; you aren’t physically restricted!
Closer to the Final Result
Starting on speakers can give you a head start to your final result. Are you making music to be played at a festival or outdoor venue?
Like we mentioned before, headphones can give you increased frequency response, so starting on a speaker will get you that much closer to your final product and what other listeners will truly experience.
The Cons of Mixing on Monitors
An untreated room (acoustically) can give you a completely different response than a treated room. This is also true for how your speakers are placed in the studio and how the room itself is designed.
A cube-shaped room is generally not an ideal space to set up a studio, as excessive sound reflections tend to cause interference and unwanted standing waves.
You can do some DIY acoustic treatment and buy some acoustic panels to hang in your room and this will help out a lot. If this is out of your budget, something as simple as hanging a blanket in the room will help reduce unwanted reflections!
Check out more tips for building an in-home studio.
The Bottom Line
Overall, it is preferable to mix with studio monitors. You have extra depth and volume that headphones lack, which can really give a track that extra boost it needs.
However, the ideal situation would be mixing with studio monitors but still referencing with headphones. Let's not get exclusive! Instead of picking one or the other, why not utilize both?
Learn the Best Mixing Techniques
So, now you have a little more insight whether or not you should be mixing on monitors or headphones, but that is one tiny detail in a massive process.
How can you be sure that you're firing on cylinders with your project? Attending an accredited music college is a fantastic way to learn the inside tips, tricks, and techniques that professional producers use on your favorite albums.
The Atlanta Institute of Music and Media offers the following programs:
Want to find out if AIMM is right for you, your skills, and your career journey?
Click the button below for a free online intro course. We are excited to discover how our music college can benefit your music career.