Breaking the Norm: The Art of Mixing with Headphones - Tedeschi Studio, LLC.

Breaking the Norm: The Art of Mixing with Headphones

Mixing with headphones, a once unconventional approach, has become an effective alternative to monitor speakers, offering unique advantages like affordability, portability, and the ability to discern subtle audio details. Particularly for those in less-than-ideal mixing environments, the consistency and isolation provided by headphones for mixing can be invaluable. Models such as the Beyerdynamic DT 770 have become staples in the industry, celebrated for their exceptional frequency response and audio quality, which are crucial for critical listening during the mixing process. This technique, while not designed to completely replace traditional monitors, serves as a critical tool in an engineer's arsenal, allowing for precise adjustments in any setting.

Renowned mixing engineers, including Manny Marroquin and Michael Brauer, advocate for headphones as a potent asset when used correctly. Emphasizing the importance of critical listening and familiarity with one's headphones, they share insights on leveraging this tool to achieve professional-grade audio quality. By understanding the strengths of headphones, such as the Beyerdynamic DT 770, and integrating techniques like reference tracking, producers can navigate the challenges of bass and stereo imaging to create immersive and dynamic soundscapes. This article aims to guide readers through selecting the right studio headphones and utilizing them effectively in their mixing practices.

Understanding the Basics of Mixing with Headphones

Mixing with headphones, like the Beyerdynamic DT 770, offers a unique set of advantages and challenges that are essential to understand for achieving professional audio results. Here's a breakdown of the basics:

  1. Detail Exposure: Headphones provide a direct sound that exposes details often missed on speakers, which can be masked by room acoustics. This characteristic is crucial for identifying subtle nuances in the mix.
  2. Panning and Stereo Image:
    • Panning Caution: When mixing on headphones, it's vital to moderate hard panning. Extreme pan settings should be avoided as they can cause sounds to be heard through only one ear, creating an unnatural listening experience.
    • Crossfeed Techniques: Employing crossfeed can help simulate the natural behavior of ears by making hard-panned sounds appear to come from similar spatial points as they would on traditional speakers, enhancing the stereo image and depth perception.
  3. Reverb and Frequency Adjustments:
    • Reverb Levels: Headphones often exaggerate reverb, making mixes sound wetter and closer. It's important to adjust reverb levels carefully to ensure they translate well on both headphones and speakers.
    • High Frequencies: Keep high frequencies slightly more prominent when mixing on headphones compared to monitors. This adjustment helps compensate for the intimate soundstage headphones provide.
  4. Volume and Reference Checks:
    • Consistent Volume Levels: Mix at a low, conversational level and maintain the same perceived volume when switching between headphones and monitors to ensure balance and prevent ear fatigue.
    • Reference Tracks: Utilize reference tracks to check the mix on both headphones and speakers. This practice helps in achieving a balanced nearness of vocals and instruments, ensuring the mix sounds great on various playback systems.

By integrating these techniques and continually referencing both headphones and speakers, such as the Beyerdynamic DT 770, you can create mixes that are well-balanced and translate effectively across different listening environments.

Choosing the Right Headphones for Mixing

When choosing the right headphones for mixing, it's essential to understand the differences between open-back and closed-back models and their impact on sound quality and mixing accuracy. Here's a breakdown to help guide your selection:

Open-Back Headphones

  • Natural Sound Reproduction: Open-back headphones, like the Sennheiser HD 800 S, Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro, and Audio-Technica ATH-R70x, are renowned for their ability to deliver a natural and spacious listening experience. This design mimics the sensation of listening through studio monitors in a well-treated room, making them ideal for mixing and critical listening.
  • Frequency Response: These headphones are preferred for mixing due to their flat frequency response, which ensures that all frequencies are represented accurately and without bias. This feature is crucial for making precise adjustments in the mix.

Closed-Back Headphones

  • Sound Isolation: Closed-back headphones, such as the Shure SRH1540, are perfect for tracking purposes. Their design helps isolate sound, preventing bleed and external noise interference during recording sessions.
  • Bass Representation: While they can exaggerate bass frequencies, some closed-back models still offer good sound quality suitable for mixing. It's important to choose models known for their audio fidelity.

Considerations for Studio Use:

  • Comfort and Build Quality: Long mixing sessions require headphones that are not only functional but comfortable. Premium materials and high-quality memory foam pads, like those found in the Shure SRH1540, ensure comfort during extended use.
  • Impedance and Amplification: High-impedance headphones, such as the Beyerdynamic DT 770, provide superior sound quality but require a robust headphone amplifier to achieve optimal performance. Using a high-grade amplifier like the Rupert Neve Designs RNHP or SPL Phonitor 2 can significantly enhance the mixing experience.

Incorporating these considerations will help you select the right headphones that meet the specific needs of your mixing environment and personal preferences. Whether opting for the open spatiality of the Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro or the isolating qualities of the Shure SRH1540, understanding these key characteristics will lead to better, more accurate mixes.

The Role of Reference Tracks in Headphone Mixing

When mixing with headphones like the Beyerdynamic DT 770, reference tracks become an indispensable tool. They serve as a critical benchmark, ensuring your mix aligns with industry standards and maintains a professional sound. Here’s how reference tracks can significantly improve the mixing process:

Incorporating reference tracks into your headphone mixing routine not only enhances the accuracy of your mixing decisions but also ensures your final product stands up to professional scrutiny. Whether you're adjusting the nuanced details of a track or ensuring your mix translates well across different listening environments, reference tracks are an essential tool in achieving a balanced, dynamic mix.

Overcoming the Challenges of Bass and Stereo Imaging

When mixing with headphones like the Beyerdynamic DT 770, overcoming the challenges of bass and stereo imaging requires a nuanced approach. Here are some key strategies to ensure your mixes translate well across various playback systems:

  1. Adjustment of Mixing Techniques:
    • Detail Perception: The direct sound from headphones, such as the Beyerdynamic DT 770, exposes more detail, which is beneficial but also demands careful mixing to avoid a mix that only sounds good on headphones.
    • Translation Across Systems: It's vital to periodically test your mixes on different systems to ensure they sound consistent outside of the headphone environment. This helps in identifying any discrepancies that may sound appealing on headphones but not on speakers.
  2. Stereo Imaging Considerations:
    • Crosstalk Absence: Unlike speakers, headphones lack crosstalk, which can lead to an exaggerated stereo image. To counteract this, mixing techniques such as subtle panning rather than hard panning are recommended to maintain a natural sound field.
    • Calibration for Accuracy: Ensuring your headphones have a flat frequency response is crucial. Calibration tools or software can be used to adjust the frequency response of headphones like the Beyerdynamic DT 770, making them more neutral and suitable for critical listening tasks.
  3. Handling Frequency and Ambience:
    • Frequency Content Management: Be cautious of frequency content and stereo ambience, which can be misleading when mixed exclusively on headphones. Techniques such as A/B testing with reference tracks can help assess the accuracy of frequency distribution and spatial effects in your mix.
    • Avoiding Excessive Panning: To prevent disorienting effects and ensure a mix that translates well to mono playback, avoid hard panning instruments to extreme left or right. Instead, opt for more moderate and thoughtful placement within the stereo field.

Incorporating these strategies into your mixing process with headphones like the Beyerdynamic DT 770 not only enhances the mix's quality but also ensures it performs well on various audio systems.

Critical Listening and Volume Levels

Critical Listening and Volume Levels

When engaging in critical listening, especially with headphones such as the Beyerdynamic DT 770, it's crucial to consider the volume levels at which you are mixing. Here’s how volume impacts critical listening and some strategies to maintain consistency:

  1. Understanding Human Hearing and Volume:
    • Complexity of Hearing: Our ears perceive sounds differently at various volume levels due to the Fletcher-Munson equal loudness curves. This phenomenon shows that our ears are less sensitive to low and high frequencies at lower volumes.
    • Consistent Volume for Accurate Perception: To ensure reliable mixing decisions, it's essential to mix at a consistent volume. This consistency helps in maintaining the balance of frequencies throughout the mixing process as perceived loudness changes can affect frequency balance decisions.
  2. Setting Reference Volume Levels:
    • Establish a Baseline: Determine and set a preferred volume level that is comfortable and sustainable over long periods. This is typically around conversation level (79 dB SPL) but can vary depending on personal preference and the specific project requirements.
    • Marking Reference Points: Use visual markers on your digital audio workstation (DAW) and monitor volume control to consistently return to these reference levels. This practice helps in achieving a standard volume setting for all sessions, aiding in consistency.
  3. Volume Adjustment Techniques:
    • Low Volume Mixing: Mixing at lower volumes can help in reducing ear fatigue and allows for longer mixing sessions without compromising auditory health. It also forces a focus on mixing elements that are fundamental, ensuring they translate well across various playback systems.
    • Brief High Volume Checks: While most of the mix should be done at a lower volume, occasionally increasing the volume can help in checking the balance of elements that might be lost at lower levels, such as certain bass frequencies or subtle background elements.

By adhering to these practices with headphones like the Beyerdynamic DT 770, you ensure that your mixes are not only pleasant but also translate well across different listening environments, maintaining the integrity of your audio work.

Software and Tools to Enhance Headphone Mixing

In the realm of headphone mixing, leveraging advanced software and tools can significantly enhance your ability to achieve professional-quality mixes. Here are some essential tools and their functionalities that can transform your headphone mixing experience:

1. Simulation and Calibration Tools

2. Mixing and Mastering Plugins

  • Mastering The Mix Collection: Includes plugins like REFERENCE, which allows level matching of tracks for objective comparison, and BASSROOM, which provides genre-specific EQ adjustments for perfecting the low-end.
  • Waves Nx Virtual Studio Collection: Places you in virtual mixing environments with options for head tracking, enhancing the spatial realism of mixes.

3. Enhancing Spatial and Frequency Accuracy

  • Toneboosters MorphIt: An affordable solution that either transposes the sound characteristics from one headphone to another or flattens the frequency response for a more neutral output, ideal for consistent mixing across different headphone models.
  • Parametric EQ Tools: Utilizing plugins like Crave EQ, Fabfilter Pro-Q, or DMG Equilibrium within DAWs such as Ableton or FL Studio helps in fine-tuning the frequency response to compensate for any headphone coloration, thus ensuring mixes translate well across various playback systems.

Incorporating these tools into your mixing workflow not only broadens your mixing capabilities but also aligns your outputs closer to professional standards, ensuring your mixes sound great on any system.


Throughout this article, we have delved into the nuances of mixing with headphones, a technique gaining recognition for its unique benefits in audio production. Particularly, the Beyerdynamic DT 770 headphones emerged as an excellent example, demonstrating the balance between quality, affordability, and usability for both novice and professional audio engineers. The importance of choosing the right headphones, understanding the basics of mixing, and leveraging reference tracks has been emphasized, highlighting the critical role they play in achieving a professional-quality mix that translates well across various listening environments.

As we conclude, remember that while the initial transition to mixing with headphones, and specifically making the most of tools like the Beyerdynamic DT 770, may present challenges, the precision and portability they offer can immensely enhance the mixing process. These practices, coupled with critical listening and the strategic use of mixing tools, prepare the ground for audio mixes that stand up to professional scrutiny and thrive in diverse playback systems. Embracing headphones like the Beyerdynamic DT 770 in your mixing workflow not only promotes a deeper understanding of sound but also pushes the boundaries of what can be achieved in less-than-ideal mixing environments.


1. Why is mixing music with headphones challenging?
Mixing with headphones can be challenging because each ear hears only one channel—left or right—without any natural crossover, unlike speakers where sounds mix in the air before reaching the ears. This isolated listening can complicate accurately judging stereo panning and the spatial effects like reverb.

2. Can headphones be used effectively for mixing audio tracks?
Yes, headphones can be effectively used for mixing audio, especially if they have a flat frequency response. However, since headphones deliver audio directly to the ears differently from speakers, it might require some adjustment for those new to this method.

3. Should I mix audio tracks with or without headphones?
While headphones can exaggerate the stereo image, making it seem wider than it is, they can still be a valuable tool for mixing. It's often beneficial to use both headphones and studio monitors, or to employ a plugin that simulates crossfeed, to achieve a more accurate mix.

4. What are some effective techniques for mixing solely with headphones?
To mix effectively using only headphones, consider the following tips:

  • Use high-quality, open-back headphones for a more natural sound.
  • Employ a high-quality headphone amplifier to ensure clear, undistorted audio.
  • Avoid hard panning which can be misleading in headphones.
  • Utilize headphone optimization software and assistive plugins to simulate a more speaker-like experience.
  • Always have a secondary reference, like another set of headphones or speakers, to check your mix.
  • Protect your hearing by taking regular breaks and keeping the volume at safe levels.


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