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Mixing on Headphones is BETTER than Studio Monitors?! | Blind Shootout Results

Mixing on Headphones is BETTER than Studio Monitors?! | Blind Shootout Results

Can Mixing on Headphones (actually) Beat Studio Monitors?!?

Mixing and mastering music with headphones has traditionally been viewed as a bad idea. Many say that will lead to subpar mixes that don’t translate to the real world. But is this actually true?

I’ve never personally seen any evidence to support these claims.

Well, I wanted to get to the bottom of this. Thus, this blog article and video below was born!

Problems With Mixing and Mastering Using Headphones

There are a few known “problems” that can occur when mixing with headphones. The biggest potential problem is that the sonic image on headphones is much different than when using studio monitors.

Headphones create a soundstage that feels linear from one ear, through the head of the listener, to the other ear. This makes it hard to visualize a real space for the music to live. Consequently, making panning and mixing decisions can be confusing.

Waves - What Is Crosstalk
3D Audio on Headphones: How Does It Work? | Waves

Another issue is that the frequency response of headphones can be tricky to get right. The overall frequency response that we know and love in a treated and tuned studio doesn’t necessarily translate the same way to headphones. They have their own “targets” that closely mimic the sound in a real space.

How to Fix Headphone Translation Issues

Because of these disadvantages, there has been a big push to discover ways to overcome these potential problems with headphones. Companies like Sonarworks, Waves, dSONIQ,  GoodHertz, among other companies have come up with solutions to address these issues.

  • Sonarworks provides EQ correction to headphones that makes them sonically “flat”. This fixes imbalances in the audio and allows us to make better mixing and mastering decisions.
  • Waves has several room simulation plugins to help with potential sonic image problems that headphones have. They have release their “Nx” series plugins, which model the acoustics of many famous recording studios like CLA’s studio in LA, Abbey Road Studios, Ocean Way Nashville, and Germano studios (aka the Hit Factory). Additionally, these plugins offer some built in EQ correction for a small number of headphones to make them sound “flatter” and better for mixing and mastering.
  • dSONIQ Realphones provides a similar solution to Waves, but with many more options and customizability. Realphones also offers EQ correction for many more headphone models than CLA Nx.
  • GoodHertz uses some psychoacoustic modeling technology to simulate a room sound without actually using an impulse response. This is probably the least invasive approach to correcting the sonic imaging issues in headphones.

With so many different approaches to “fixing” the headphones problem, how do we know which is the right solution for you?

Well, the answer is that we need to test all these different software in a controlled way to determine if it actually helps or if it is just snake oil.

So, to really understand if these EQ adjustments and sonic image adjustments actually help us make better mixing and mastering decisions, I remastered the SAME song 7 different times. The first master was done using my studio monitors in my acoustically treated and tuned studio. I then made a master that was slightly quieter to account for loudness bias.

I then used the same plugins but with their settings set in their default state. I then attempted to master the song with just headphones (using my Sennheiser HD 650 headphones), Sonarworks, Waves CLA Nx, and finally dSONIQ Realphones).

ABX Blind shootout free software for audio.

Free Blind Shootout Software

Then, to prevent any sort of confirmation bias, I performed a blind shootout of all 7 masters using both my studio monitors AND my Sennheiser HD650 headphones without any correction 10 different times each.

The results were recorded and when I saw which masters I picked, I was shocked! See the results in the video below!

Please note that while I did my best, this experiment has its obvious flaws which I discuss in the video. But regardless, I hope that the results inspire you to try some of these products out on your songs. Just be sure to come back and post in the comments about your experience and results!!!

00:00 Mixing on Monitors vs Headphones Shootout
02:27 Download My Favorite FREE Mixing and Mastering Plugin Guide!
02:58 The Song and Session Details
04:57 How this Test Was Performed *IMPORTANT*
05:36 Different Headphone Remastered Versions
06:18 Settings Used for Headphone Correction Software
08:37 Listening to Headphone Vs Studio Monitor Masters
10:59 The Blind Shootout to Reduce Bias
11:42 Free Software to Perform Blind Shootouts
12:55 Details on Shootout
13:29 Results of Blind Shootout
15:48 Worst and Best Sounding Masters
17:01 Potential Flaws of this Study
18:48 Summary of Mixing with Headphones vs Studio Monitors
21:17 Question for you!
21:33 Grab Your FREE Plugin Guide! 🎁

Like this video?


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About The Author

Bobby Balow

I'm an audio enthusiast, entrepreneur, and owner of Raytown Productions – an online mixing, mastering, and production studio. I love challenging artists and musicians to create art that is honest and resonates with others.

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