Best Headphones for Mixing, and Other Tips

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Best Headphones for Mixing, and Other Tips

When looking for the best headphones for your mixing needs, there are several factors worth considering before taking the purchasing plunge. Here are some brief guidelines and recommendations when choosing your ideal pair of mixing headphones.

Open-Back vs. Closed-Back Headphones

For those unfamiliar with open-back headphones, their basic design characteristic is an open earcup (and we’ll talk about the advantages of this below). This means that open-back headphones leak sound as well as let in sound from the surrounding environment. For this reason, it’s important to consider whether you plan to use your headphones for multiple applications like recording or for the solo purpose of mixing your tracks. That is, if you’re looking to buy reference headphones that are optimal for mixing and monitoring purposes, you’re obviously going to want a closed-back headphone so that there is no sound leakage during your recording sessions.

Why Open-Back Headphones are Better for Mixing

Generally, because of their open earcup design, open-back headphones tend to have a more spacious soundstage. This means that, usually, the stage not only feels wider, but more holographic. The imaging usually feels more precise, as well. If your track involves a lot of stereo or binaural panning, you’ll benefit from the broader and more accurate instrument placement that an open-back headphone offers.

Balance and Sound Signature

Now, you’ll probably run into a lot of online arguments on headphone forums about what kind of balance or sound signature is optimal for a mixer. The consensus is that a mixing headphone should have a pretty flat balance, so no particular frequency range is favored over another. For example, if you’re mixing with a headphone that has boosted bass response, you may be disappointed to find that you’re not hearing enough bass when you play the mix on a more neutral headphone or speaker. In short, the mix won’t sound as you intended.

However, there are many mixers who don’t use headphones with completely flat responses and still yield great results, but this is only because they have become intimately familiar with the particular sound signature of their cans and are able to adjust the levels to compensate for any frequency bumps or dips. There are other sound qualities to consider, as well; neutral headphones tend to be uncolored. They tend to sound lean and precise, rather than majestic and robust. For example, reference headphones made by AKG usually have a thinner-sounding profile than reference models from brands like Sennheiser or Audeze. So, regardless of the headphone you choose, adjustments will likely need to be made in your mix. And this brings us to the next point.

Never Trust Only One Headphone

Even if you use the best mixing headphones on the market, you’ll still want to listen to your mix on several different headphones and speakers, even the speakers in your car. You’ll undoubtedly be surprised at how different your mix sounds on other headphones or speaker systems. It’s imperative that after you’ve completed your mixing masterpiece you be prepared to adjust your mix to a level at which it sounds consistently decent, regardless of the headphone or speaker you’re listening through. 

Consider the Consumer Headphone

The only thing worse than having too little bass in your mix is having way too much bass. After all, you don’t want your track sounding like a beached whale moaning its last breath. Given that so many consumer headphones, especially the famous Bluetooth models, like the Sony WH-1000XM5, have a generous bass response, and often, a V-shaped sound signature, you might want to go a little easy in the bass and sub-bass frequencies when mixing on a particularly flat or neutral headphone. The same can be said about the midrange and high frequencies. Don’t recess your midrange too much or burn too bright in the highs if you’re using a true-blue reference-style headphone.

Sony WH-1000XM5 Noise-Canceling Wireless Over-Ear Headphones
Sony WH-1000XM5 Noise-Canceling Wireless Over-Ear Headphones

Practice Makes Perfect

As mentioned, whichever headphone you end up choosing will likely require some getting used to. After you mix your first few tracks, you’ll get a sense of how to work with the balance and sound signature of your particular headphone. Once you do that, you can find a spot on the shelf for your Grammy.

Examples of Mixing Headphones

AKG K612 PRO

The AKG K612 PRO is a classic example of a traditional reference headphone. The balance is as close to flat as it gets, and the sound profile has minimal coloration. It’s highly clinical and incredibly precise.

AKG K612 PRO Over-Ear Reference Studio Headphones
AKG K612 PRO Over-Ear Reference Studio Headphones

Audeze MM-100

Audeze tends to be geared more toward audiophiles, although it does offer professional open-back models like the Audeze MM-100. As previously mentioned, you can expect a slightly “thicker” feel from this model when compared to the leaner profile of the AKG model listed above. Still, this particular headphone remains a pretty reliable choice for mixing applications.

Audeze MM-100 Over-Ear Professional Headphones
Audeze MM-100 Over-Ear Professional Headphones

Sennheiser HD 650

Much like Audeze, Sennheiser has a very recognizable sonic personality. It tends to have a gentler, more graceful execution that’s perhaps less objective than something like the AKG example above. However, if you’re looking for a mixing headphone that’s also great for listening enjoyment, the HD 650 is an ideal option.

Sennheiser HD 650 Stereo Reference Headphones
Sennheiser HD 650 Stereo Reference Headphones

Sony MDR-MV1

The MDR-MV1 is basically an open-back take on Sony’s most famous and most affordable monitoring headphone, the MDR-7506. Reliable and relatively accessible to home studio enthusiasts, the MDR-MV1 has become a popular option for mixers partial to the Sony brand.

Sony MDR-MV1 Open-Back Reference Monitor Headphones
Sony MDR-MV1 Open-Back Reference Monitor Headphones

Focal Clear MG Pro

The Focal Clear MG is more of a producer’s headphone than it is a mixer’s, simply because it has certain biases and favors certain frequency ranges. But for mixers who want to get fancy, the French audiophile brand, Focal, has developed a “professional” headphone that still approximates the distinct sound qualities of its more famous models. However, the soundstage is more “honest” than the brand’s audiophile lineup, which tends to have a more colorful, but slightly exaggerated soundscape. The Focal Clear MG Pro is also incredibly transparent, allowing for effective critical listening.

Focal Clear MG Professional Open-Back Headphones
Focal Clear MG Professional Open-Back Headphones

For more information about the featured headphones and their specifications, be sure to check out our product pages. Or drop us a line below, and we’ll do our best to reply to your comments and questions.

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