Resources for the Recording Musician
November 24, 2011

Headphones for the unmentionable

I have a question regarding headphones and mixing....

I think most of us know that mixing in headphones is not a good idea for many reasons. However, many of us, including myself, do not have a lot of control over my mixing environment and often depend on headphones.

Are there some headphones that are better for the task than others? Are there truly headphones designed to such an exacting standard that they can truly be called "mixing headphones" ?

Or should one take the position of simply getting a decent pair of headphones, listen to everything under the sun through those phones, and do one's best to replicate the sound through those same phones?

Well, now days with so many people listening to music through earbuds, it's actually a good idea to at least check all your mixes with headphones, and even some cheap earbuds.
Basically, the more playback systems you have to check your mixes on, the better... at least until you get a good monitoring system and environment that you can learn very well and trust.

Mixing solely in headphones is usually not a great idea, but it's probably been done (perhaps by electronic musicians who do all their work on a laptop and can't afford real mixing).

If you are going to do it, definitely spend the money to get a decent pair of headphones.  You'll really want something that has a deep and accurate low end response since that's the area you'll have the hardest time with if your room and monitors aren't very good.  They don't have to be super expensive.  I rather like the Audio Technica ATH-M50 headphones, which are right around $160:

You can get into more expensive Sennheiser headphones, or other brands... but, for the price, I don't think you can beat those M50 headphones, and they get great reviews.  I like mine a lot, and usually check my mixes through them.

Recently, as part of my price package for a mixing contest, I got a pair of Ultrasone HFI 680s headphones, but I don't care for their sound.  They are one of the lower end models, and I thought the low end was too hyped, and they were a bit "plastic" sounding overall.  Perhaps some of their higher-end PRO models would be better, and they use some sort of technology to give you a more natural sound (supposedly) than most headphones... but, I haven't tried any of those models, and they cost a lot more than the Audio Technicas.

But, certainly, if your monitoring situation is not very good, get a decent pair of headphones that are fairly neutral (not hyped in the lows or highs) and use those in conjunction with whatever else you have at your disposal.  You'll also need something with a decent headphone amp to listen with... a good pair of headphones won't help much if it's driven by a really cheap headphone amp.

You may want to also go to and do some searches on headphones for mixing and read lots of varied reviews and opinions there.

So do you stay with the idea that open ear headphones are better for mixing because they have a better or truer bass response?

I'm no headphone expert by any means, and I only use them occasionally to check what my mixes sound like in headphones.  Most of the headphones I have in my studio are for the musicians/talent to wear... some of which are open, and some are closed.  Closed type are better for isolation, when you don't want a loud click track to bleed into the microphone, for example.  But, I think most people prefer the open, or semi-open, styles better.  I used to use the Sony MDR-7506 a lot for clients, and that's a very popular model for studios, but they didn't work very well with my particular headphone amp for some reason, and I kept blowing the drivers when the hip-hop artists would crank up the headphones too loud.  I now prefer the AKG studio headphones for clients, as they seem to be much more robust!

But, I keep my AT M50, just for myself!  Don't let any studio clients wear those!

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