Mixing with headphones: How to get a good impression

It is a wonderful experience to mix music in a space that has been acoustically designed with a large mixer board, outboard effect, custom engineer’s table, and speakers placed with precision using lasers for maximum clarity and accuracy. Let’s face it: how many people have access to such a space?

Not many. Recent successful artists have shown that it may not be necessary to have a large space in order to create music of Billboard quality.

Rather than dreaming about a lavish, outlandish mixing suite, music producers should focus on a compact, powerful, and efficient portable system.

The portability of a laptop and headphones is a great example of how audio production has evolved in recent years. You can record and mix music with this device, but most listeners will only hear it on that device.

Just because a system has high-quality features and is affordable does not mean that we are automatically trained to use it. Here’s where compact, efficient mixing systems fall short. Let’s discuss how to get a good sonic impact when mixing tracks with headphones.

Is it acceptable to use headphones for mixing?

Some people listen to their music on headphones exclusively these days. This means that mixing is acceptable as it’s a matched method of listening.

You can make your headphone mixes as good as any professional studio mix by following a few simple steps.

What are the characteristics of a high-quality pair of headphones

When purchasing headphones for mixing, the primary considerations are accurate audio reproduction, sound insulation, and Comfort.

Accurate Sound Reproduction measures how close the sound coming from headphones is to what you’d hear on a high-quality non-headphone monitor system.

Sound Isolation measures how well headphones block out outside sounds so you can be certain you are only hearing the sounds from your mix.

Durability and Comfort are Important factors when selecting headphones for mixing. You may wear them for long periods, and fatigue of the ear or head or hardware failure could seriously hinder your mixing.

Invest in headphones for mixing.

There are literally thousands of options for high-quality headphones—too many to list, let alone the top 20. But I will give you a few suggestions to start your search. You may be using a compact or portable mixing platform, in which case you are likely to be concerned about price. I’ll limit my recommendations to headphones that cost less than $300.

Sennheiser HD 280 Pro

The Sennheiser HD 280 PRO is a fantastic first choice. These headphones are compact, produce full sound, and block out noise well. They’re also incredibly comfortable. At just $100, you can’t go far wrong. I have used them in my studio as spares for many years.


The K271 MKII is my recommendation at a slightly higher cost. These headphones are worth $200 because they offer outstanding sound reproduction, noise isolation, self-fitting design, durability, and an auto-mute feature when removed from the head.

Blue Mix-Fi Studio Headphones

I recommend the Audiophile Mix-Fi Studio headphones at $300. Their multi-jointed design offers outstanding Comfort. They also feature unmatched sound reproduction with three analog amp models.

Compare speakers to increase familiarity.

Moving on, even though you are mixing on headphones, it is still important to simulate the sound of your music coming from regular car and home speakers.

You’ll need to familiarize yourself with the sound of your headphones compared to those from other devices. This is similar to driving a brand-new car. You need to test drive the car on different roads in different weather conditions.

To fully understand the differences, you will need to listen to different audio and music recordings. It would be best if you also tried listening to these recordings through different speakers or headphones. Listen to the same recordings with your new mixing headphones and note the differences.

Take note of the finer points.

Do the headphones sound any particular flavor? They always seem to produce more bass, which, which increases the steres when compared with other playback systems.

Know the specifics of your headphones to be able to take them into account when mixing. If your headphones have a heavy bass sound, you will need to ensure that your mixes are also bass-heavy in your headphones to guarantee the result sounds “normal” elsewhere.

Refer to the references.

You’re ready to start mixing once you have your headphones (or headphones) in hand and you understand the specifics of sound flavors you must account for. Listening to a reference track is a good idea before mixing.

Select a song that has a similar style or genre to the music you plan to mix. It would be best if you chose a mix that is widely recognized as “great.” But you should also pick something you think represents the sound you want to achieve in your mix.

Listen to the song several times with headphones. Listen to the different tones: low-bass percussion and effects, midrange tones, upper and lower midrange melodies, and crispness and brightness in the treble. Listen to the characteristics of the stereo image, such as wide, constrained, or highly separated.

Note these details in your song reference and use them as a guide to help you set your levels, EQ, and panning.

What to look for in your tracks

It would be best to follow the same procedures when using headphones to monitor your mix as you would any other monitoring system. You should pay attention to the tonal ranges.

Deep BaBasskickdrums, 808 low padsBasser Bass: low notes and bass guitBasson pianos, string instruments, and synthesizers

Lower Midrange: Vocal and melody instrument body

Upper Midrange: Clarity in vocals and timbre of strings and synthesizers

Treble: percussion, air/space/sizzle

We’re now ready to mix

Here are some quick tips on how to adjust your mixing routines so that you can use headphones instead of studio monitoring.

1. Set the EQ to the highest level for each track, both for its impact on its own and for the way it blends with the other tracks.

You should now pay attention to the sound flavoring you have become familiar with through your headphones. You should make sure that the EQ settings you have chosen for each track account for any tonal characteristics you anticipate it will have on your headphones. It would be best if you also compared each tonal range to the reference track, making a comparison between A and B.

2. The same procedure should be followed when creating stereo images.

Place each instrument, sound, or voice in the desired location. If desired, apply any stereo-widening effects. Adjust the panning effects and stereo effects now to reflect the stereo width and balance you noticed in your headphones when testing them. Check how your mix compares to your reference track in terms of the overall flavor and spatial feeling.

3. Final step: Just like with any mix you make, check that the volume levels of each track and the song overall match your expectations.

If you hear a loud song in your headphones, your mix should also be noisy. As with all other aspects of sound, your headphones should produce the same sonic characteristics as any other mix.

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