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Is it possible to mix and master just with headphones?

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Is it possible to mix and master just with headphones?

Postby dennisgamalej » Sat Oct 12, 2019 3:48 pm

Hey guys, im new to recording and i like to go deeper into it. I want to buy some equipmrnt but budget is tight. My question is is it posdible to mix and master just with studio headphones? Or i rlly need to buy studio monitors? Thank you for your help and tips!
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Re: Is it possible to mix and master just with headphones?

Postby The Elf » Sat Oct 12, 2019 4:42 pm

It is certainly possible, and I'm living proof of it, but I would suggest also having some decent speakers to hand.

Headphones-only is not an acceptable approach for everyone - finding the right headphones, and even knowing when you've found them, can take a very long time. I was many years settling on mine. Some people seem unable get used to the very literal stereo presentation of headphones, and others seem to make odd mix decisions when they try this approach. Although I mix 95% in phones I find that I need to check bass response with speakers, even if, in my case, that has more to to do with 'feeling' the bass than hearing it.

A hybrid approach may be to use one of the new 'make headphones sound like speaker's' processes. I'm not a fan of these, but they have a place and many people seem to find that they help. Neither am I a fan of of processes that attempt to 'flatten' the response of headphones, but other swear by it.

If you're doing this as a home hobby that's one thing, but if you need to present work to others then speakers will be a necessity anyway. It just may be that your speakers don't need to be as large or as expensive.
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Re: Is it possible to mix and master just with headphones?

Postby dennisgamalej » Sat Oct 12, 2019 7:40 pm

Thank you for your reaction. Im a singer and i just like to record edit and upload on youtube. Which monitors do you recommend for beginner? Mackie CR3? or maybe something else? Or maybe to go for krk 8400 studio headphones? again thank you
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Re: Is it possible to mix and master just with headphones?

Postby CS70 » Sun Oct 13, 2019 12:05 am

Mixing is perfectly possible. Not being a master as the Elf, for mixes where I'm forced to use mostly headphones, I still like to test the mix with different playback systems to check it, but lately it seems not much tweaking is necessary. The major things to look for are reverbs, the stereo image and the sweet spot for using high frequency to get something (like a vocal) to stick out just so.

About mastering, my usual answer would be at my blog's post here.
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Re: Is it possible to mix and master just with headphones?

Postby dennisgamalej » Sun Oct 13, 2019 7:48 am

Thnx for your help! And when i use for example Sonarworks Reference 4? Will it be better to mix an master with earphones? Does it make kindeof good acoustic room effect? Thnx
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Re: Is it possible to mix and master just with headphones?

Postby The Elf » Sun Oct 13, 2019 9:11 am

dennisgamalej wrote:Thnx for your help! And when i use for example Sonarworks Reference 4? Will it be better to mix an master with earphones? Does it make kindeof good acoustic room effect? Thnx
My advice is to get used to your headphones as they are. I have tried Sonarworks, and I appreciate what it does, but... it seems a bit unnecessary, IMHO - especially if you have headphones you know and trust anyway. Let me declare that my favourites are the AKG K701/702/712. Currently I'm using 712s. SOS did a run-down of the prime candidates a couple of years ago, and many are still current - a couple of searches should find it for you.

As to speakers - I'm not so up on them, but something like a pair of humble KRK Rokit 5's would be on my list - I'm not so versed on currently available speakers, for obvious reasons! Others will come up with suggestions, no doubt.
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Re: Is it possible to mix and master just with headphones?

Postby Martin Walker » Sun Oct 13, 2019 11:53 am

I'm an enthusiastic user of Sonarworks 4, but as The Elf mentions, you can also get used to mixing with your particular headphones 'as is', as your ears get used to their sound and can compensate for any non-linearities in their frequency response.

However, I'm also an enthusiastic user of Sonarworks Reference 4 for my loudspeakers, in conjunction with a suitable measurement microphone although I'd only recommend this if you already have some decent acoustic treatment in your studio. Some people have tried using Sonarworks Reference 4 by itself on their loudspeakers, and it really can't compensate for a total lack of acoustic treatment, so you're likely to get large changes in sound as you move out of the small listening spot.

On the other hand, once your room acoustics are reasonably tamed, Sonarworks can in my opinion work wonders in tightening up the stereo image and flattening out remaining peaks and troughs. My own rule of thumb is that any room frequency response deviations of up to 6dB can be improved by Sonarworks Reference 4, but it's not a miracle worker.

Oh, and I'm a firm believer in mixing under headphones, as witnessed by this SOS feature I wrote some years ago:

https://www.soundonsound.com/techniques ... headphones

I'm also with The Elf in saying that while I can occasionally do mixing/mastering solely through headphones, occasional checks through loudspeakers are also extremely helpful if at all possible.

Hope this helps!


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Re: Is it possible to mix and master just with headphones?

Postby Zukan » Mon Oct 14, 2019 8:38 am

That article has helped so many Martin. Defacto!
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Re: Is it possible to mix and master just with headphones?

Postby ore_terra » Mon Oct 14, 2019 2:55 pm

another user of Sonaworks Reference here. agree with above about its benefits on speakers, and on headphones it has become part of my listening system, but in line with The Elf, if I could go back now I would re-learn to mix only with my Beyers DT880 Pro without Reference. using reference tracks only.

... too late (and too lazy) now :lol:
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Re: Is it possible to mix and master just with headphones?

Postby CS70 » Mon Oct 14, 2019 4:13 pm

dennisgamalej wrote:Thnx for your help! And when i use for example Sonarworks Reference 4? Will it be better to mix an master with earphones? Does it make kindeof good acoustic room effect? Thnx

What really matters is that you can "bring with you" everything that allows you to make mixing decision based on your knowledge of how things sound.

That means that, if you use sonarworks with your phones, you need to be able to install in every target machine you use.

If you never plan to mix anywhere else than from your machine, and Sonarworks makes that job easier, why not - but be aware that even the best plans usually change when you get on the field. :D

I for one prefer to know my headphones and my references well.
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Re: Is it possible to mix and master just with headphones?

Postby ore_terra » Mon Oct 14, 2019 4:18 pm

following my previous post and in line with CS70's I must say I've learned the lesson and everytime I have to do any critical listening without Sonarworks Reference (typically location recording) I don't bring other headphones instead of my Beyers
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Re: Is it possible to mix and master just with headphones?

Postby dennisgamalej » Mon Oct 14, 2019 10:25 pm

The biggest problem i have is that i have just time in the evening and i cant put on loud speakers because of my neighbours... I am thinking to buy the krks 8400 or beyerdynamic DT-880. But when i will mix and master with headphones it can sound bad on speakers:(
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Re: Is it possible to mix and master just with headphones?

Postby CS70 » Mon Oct 14, 2019 11:41 pm

Hehe that boat is pretty loaded, rest assured. Damn neighbors! :D

Jokes apart - what exactly sounds "bad" to you on speakers?

As above, there's a few things that are usually hard to evaluate if you're unaware, and can make a mix not translate well:

- general balance (due to the quality of the headphones - for example these horrific bass-boosting things so popular with kids);
- timbre choices (if you use closed-back instead of open-back);
- stereo spread (hard panning may end up ridiculously wide on cans, or vice-versa the stereo field be very narrow on speakers);
- reverb levels (mixes sounding lush on cans end up very dry on speakers);
- and, if there's vocal material, the all-critical vocal balance and how the vocals sits on top of the rest without unduly sticking out.

Is it one of these? Or something else?
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Re: Is it possible to mix and master just with headphones?

Postby Dynamic Mike » Tue Oct 15, 2019 1:14 am

Given the compromises you're forced to make, I'd consider a slightly different approach. It strikes me that you're more interested in the final result than you are in the process of getting there. It's difficult creating tracks that translate well across lots of different playback systems especially if (like me) you don't have loads of equipment & access to a good sounding room.

Personally I'd take a look at iZotope Neutron (even the Elements version) to start with. It might look intimidating (it does a lot of stuff) & the SOS review is so comprehensive you might think you'd find it a bit daunting, but you can do a lot with one process.

The most important feature for you is the Track Assistant. Basically what it does is analyse each track & automatically detects what's been recorded. It then applies settings to make it sound like it would expect each individual track to be if it were professionally recorded. You can still tweak the settings as much as you like, but the important thing is it'll put you in a great starting place even before you start mixing. I use it loads & find it makes it quite a bit easier & quicker to create a good mix, and a hell of a lot harder to create a dreadful one.

Initially I felt it was a bit like cheating, but I can honestly say I've learned quite a lot from using it by seeing how it does things better than I was previously. There are skilled professional mixers posting here who probably wouldn't use it because they wouldn't need it, that's great & I envy their skills. But it works fine for me.
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Re: Is it possible to mix and master just with headphones?

Postby dennisgamalej » Tue Oct 15, 2019 9:23 am

CS70 wrote:Hehe that boat is pretty loaded, rest assured. Damn neighbors! :D

Jokes apart - what exactly sounds "bad" to you on speakers?

As above, there's a few things that are usually hard to evaluate if you're unaware, and can make a mix not translate well:

- general balance (due to the quality of the headphones - for example these horrific bass-boosting things so popular with kids);
- timbre choices (if you use closed-back instead of open-back);
- stereo spread (hard panning may end up ridiculously wide on cans, or vice-versa the stereo field be very narrow on speakers);
- reverb levels (mixes sounding lush on cans end up very dry on speakers);
- and, if there's vocal material, the all-critical vocal balance and how the vocals sits on top of the rest without unduly sticking out.

Is it one of these? Or something else?

- reverb levels and overall in headphones it sounds good but when i listen for example in your car its too loud the vocal gaining sounds different than in speakers..... but now im using ST-H01 studio headphone. maybe its because its not the best headphone? thnx for help guys!!!!!!!!!!!
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Re: Is it possible to mix and master just with headphones?

Postby Sam Spoons » Tue Oct 15, 2019 9:58 am

A decent pair of open back headphones like some AKG K702 would help, the Steinberg headphones you have are closed back and designed fro tracking rather than mixing.
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Re: Is it possible to mix and master just with headphones?

Postby Wonks » Tue Oct 15, 2019 10:09 am

Those KRK 8400s are closed back headphones, not really the best type for mixing on (and the SOS review - which strangely forgets to state the headphone type - says they began to get fatiguing after an hour) .

As Sam (and almost everyone else) says, use open back headphones for mixing, especially at the mid-price end of the market.
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Re: Is it possible to mix and master just with headphones?

Postby dennisgamalej » Tue Oct 15, 2019 10:10 am

Sam Spoons wrote:A decent pair of open back headphones like some AKG K702 would help, the Steinberg headphones you have are closed back and designed fro tracking rather than mixing.
Why do you think that open are better than closed?
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Re: Is it possible to mix and master just with headphones?

Postby CS70 » Tue Oct 15, 2019 10:13 am

dennisgamalej wrote:- reverb levels and overall in headphones it sounds good but when i listen for example in your car its too loud the vocal gaining sounds different than in speakers..... but now im using ST-H01 studio headphone. maybe its because its not the best headphone? thnx for help guys!!!!!!!!!!!

Don't know them but Steinberg is usually a good brand so shouldn't be a terrible problem. The only issue is that they are closed back and you may be a bit better with open back for mixing. But new gear shouldn't be your focus, at least at the beginning.

The reverb issue is a classic, and so is the vocal level. The key to overcome that is to train yourself to understand how your cans are changing the sound with respect to speakers - which in concrete means "which frequency bands stick out more or less" on your cans with respect to monitors/cars etc. and then you equalize for that.

For example:

- if your headphones are making say, the 5K plus region more prominent (so that when you listen on monitors it sounds dull), you use a gentle hi-shelf to raise the vocal there. You usually need just a little bit, so that the listening impression in the cans stays about the same, but in the monitors gets a little brighter.
- If you find that the your cans push the bass too much so that when you listen on speakers and car the bass is too low, the key is to find which bass region is boosted by the cans and, again, gently increase it a little bit (there are other tricks for bass but this is just about the headphones). Normally on a brad boost or cut you don't need more than two or three dB to make the difference (as the "base" sound should stay the same)

To learn that, you need references. Pick up a cd track that you think works well when listened to both your headphones and speakers and has a sound similar to your track, and A/B in order to evaluate what's missing (or too much) on either systems. Then you try to correct your tracks.

For example, I know that a good mix when listened on my 990Pro has basses that, to me, sound a little too big. So if I mix on cans I push them more than I would - and the bass usually plays fine on speakers and cars.

I recently got a new car and it's unbelievable how its sound system is different than the ones I'm used to.. I tested a mix on it and thought it was all wrong.. until I tested well mixed references and they sounded all wrong as well! The car's sound system has simply a very different sound, and I'm now getting used to it, so I once again can use it for testing.
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Re: Is it possible to mix and master just with headphones?

Postby Sam Spoons » Tue Oct 15, 2019 10:40 am

Sam Spoons wrote:A decent pair of open back headphones like some AKG K702 would help, the Steinberg headphones you have are closed back and designed fro tracking rather than mixing.

Open backs are more accurate than closed backs. As a rule of thumb, closed back headphones for tracking so you don't get spill into the microphone and open backs for mixing because they sound more natural.
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