3 Considerations for mixing with headphones

1. Just because you can mix with headphones doesn’t mean you should only mix with headphones.
Your perfect headphone mix might suddenly sound unfamiliar to you when played over a PA system. Why? Once your audio leaves a set of monitors, the room acoustics and reflections might alter the characteristics of those fiery beats. Every room is different and has a sound, especially if there’s little to no acoustic treatment. Some rooms can overrepresent certain frequencies (peaks caused by standing waves) and underrepresent certain frequencies (dips caused by nulls). As a producer, be aware that many people will be listening to your tracks in a less-than-ideal environment, so you owe it to yourself to audition your headphone mixes in the real world as much as possible.

2. Be aware of headphone “coloration,” and try to stay neutral.
Headphone models are as unique as snowflakes. They offer different frequency responses that can “color” the audio and ultimately affect the way we perceive our tracks. This response varies across headphone models, meaning if there’s an overrepresented low-end bump as part of the frequency response of your headphones, this may lead you to needlessly attenuate bass frequencies, or conversely, boost high-end elements that don’t sound as powerful as the bass.

You wouldn’t wear green tinted glasses if you’re color-grading a film, so why use a headset that colors your audio? This is why it’s important to choose headphones that provide as neutral a portrait of your audio as possible, so you can make objective choices. Do your homework and seek out the frequency response of your headphones before you make a purchase.

3. Use more than one set of headphones when monitoring.
We’re used to hearing about the importance of monitoring a mix through multiple speakers, but increasingly, mixing engineers are also ensuring excellent translation across headsets too. You’d be wise to do the same. This means listening to heaps of well-regarded mixes on everything from top-shelf headphones to low-grade earbuds to ensure excellent translation. Spend time in a quiet space (close the windows, etc.) and work to perceive and understand the sonic differences each headset provides, and remember: a well-mixed track should sound great no matter how you’re listening to it.