Mixing on headphones is not really an easy task which is why I don’t recommend it for beginners to music or any other form of audio production.
You’re better off using good studio monitors that can help you understanding audio better and give you more flexibility towards natural sound perception.
With that said, some people still prefer to mix on headphones…even beginners.
Beginners usually have so many questions with regard to how to handle headphone volume when using them for mixing.
This post will therefore discuss this to give you an idea about how much volume you need in your headphone so you can go about mixing with ease and precision.
with that said, How loud should headphones be when mixing?
The best practice is to mix at around 65% to 80% of full volume or 80 to 90db . Avoid mixing at high volumes. You need to mix at a moderate volume and then get to increase it when you’ve done about 90% of the mixing work. You should not mix at high volume.
Mixing at high volume can easily lead to ear fatigue which will make it difficult for you to continue working. Furthermore, mixing is hard work because it means being exposed to music for a long time which means mixing at full blast volume will just wear you out and burn you out before you get through half of the mixing.
How to mix effectively with headphones
Mixing with headphones is tricky business but I believe it can be done with the right ideas in mind.
I’ll discuss some of these below.
Get the right headphones
The very first step when looking to mix with headphones is to get the right gear which in this case would be headphones.
Closed-back headphones are great for recording because theyll by design, prevent sound from escaping and leaking into your microphone and be recorded into your digital audio workstation accompanied by the actual signal being recorded.
With that said closed back headphones also trap pressure inside them which creates false low frequencies, therefore a person using them will notice a low end bump.
This bass bump makes listening for pleasure more fun and engaging but in regard to mixing… it is a total no-no!! because it alters the sound.
It is for this reason that you should go for open back headphones because they’ll give you a more accurate representation of what’s going on in your DAW without false feeding you low frequencies.
When it comes to mixing you should always strive for equipment that gives you an accurate representation of audio.
Headphones producing a lot of bass are great when you’re out taking a walk listening to your favourite song but they are utterly useless when you’re mixing music.
So get good performance optmized open back studio headphones.
Always have studio monitors for reference
We’ve touched on getting the right headphones so let’s get into the role of studio monitors.
I recommend mixing on studio monitors, and to use headphones to check your mix after you think you’ve got it nailed down so that you can make a few final tweaks.
This is the easiest way to ensure that your mix sounds great through both speakers and headphones.
This a concept you should therefore apply when you mix on headphones.
If you start out your mixing on headphones you should have some studio monitors to use for reference so you get a better sense of your mix.
However, if you don’t have studio monitors you should use other speakers… for example home speakers or car speakers…
The goal here is to get a sense of the overall mix because you want to avoid having a mix that only sounds great on your particular brand of headphones.
Avoid steep panning
When you listen to studio monitors, the sound from the left speaker doesn’t only reach your left ear but it reaches your right ear as well and vice versa.
Because of this, hard panning a track on loudspeakers doesn’t completely mean that you won’t hear it on your other ear.
With headphones, it’s an entirely different ball game…
when a track is hard panned on headphones, the sound is completely absent from its opposing channel.
So when you’re mixing on headphones, try to minimize the use of hard or steep panning.
When you do this every sound in your mix will exist, at least to some extent, in both channels.
This will lead to an overall more natural overall sound.
Mixing on headphones is not the same as mixing on loudspeakers. With headphones you’re basixally fully immersed in the audio and this can be stressful and can easily cause ear fatigue.
It’s therefore important to take frequent breaks to give your ears and yourself a break from loud music.
This will generally make returning to the mixing easier and a lot more fun.
You’ll also notice that you’ll spot things that you may have missed which can be beneficial because you can fix these things.
Optimize your headphones
Headphones create an unnatural sound field…in that, the sound seems to be emanating from inside your head rather than around you like it does naturally.
To compensate for these issues, you can employ software products than can resolve crossfeed issues, and can mimic the depth, natural reflections, and stereo imaging of a set of studio monitors placed in an appropriate position.