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Mixing and mastering with headphones

Discussion in 'Monitoring / Headphones' started by Dr_Willie_OBGYN, Jun 20, 2015.

  1. Dr_Willie_OBGYN

    Dr_Willie_OBGYN Active Member

    I am thinking about selling my KRK Audio V8 monitors because I have been in the habit of using my headphones for years and years. Then I test my mixes on my computer speakers and then in my car. I feel like I have mixing and mastering down to a science with my headphones. I feel llike I can hear MORE detail with headphones. Am I crazy? I especially want to know what any of you professional audio engineers think?

    I recently spoke to an engineer who told me that unless I can afford to go to a pro studio then when it comes to mastering I might as well just use a Waves Loudness Mazimizer and be done with it. No point in buying any other plugins. They don't amount to a hill of beans. So maybe doing all of my mixing and mastering with headphones isn't too much of a stretch.
  2. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    Mastering is a very misunderstood word and maybe what the engineer wanted to politely say is 'Homestudios sound like crap so why bother with mastering'
    To a certain degree, I disagree. Now a day some homestudio owners invest in high-end preamps and pristine converters, those homestudio are able to produce quality recordings that is very worth sending to a pro ME.
    Of course, recording a band with a Behringer C-1 and an audiobuddy isn't the recipe for success and hitting the billboard chart...
    But for those who do only vsti (which mostly are pre mastered) I agree that if it's mixed right a limiter may be all that it needs.
    I guess you might be in that late category by reading your gear list : Nuendo, Nexus2, Sylenth 1, Camel Audio Alchemy, Rob Papen's Albino 3, NI Massive, Access Virus, Trillian, Spectrasonics Stylus + Stylus RMX, Atmosphere, Korg Radias, Novation Nova,

    Using studio monitors is better than headphones because the space relation with the room and stereo field are not well represented with headphones but again, if you use pre-mastered sounds..

    If you think you can't do better with your monitors, maybe it's time to get better monitors.
    But in the end, if you are satisfied with the level of what you can produce, the way you are doing it. GO make some music man !! ;)
  3. freightgod

    freightgod Active Member

    Nobody that I know listens to music while sitting facing two speakers properly positioned for stereo. They listen in cars, at work from a lousy mono radio source, or (guessing 75% of the time) on headphones. In my fantasy future successful recording career, these are the people I'm mixing for.
    kmetal likes this.
  4. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    20 years ago I would say forget it. Today and into the future, I think we are going to be hearing all sorts of excellent mixes done on headphones.

    I don't know what DAW you are using but when I dropped Pro Tools, I also dropped Waves, the Mazimizer included. The Fabfilter Pro L is by far superior. Sequoia 13 is all you need for a DAW today. Its a complete tracking, mixing and mastering DAW.

    I don't exclude speakers or headphones at all. Monitoring is as personal as ones shoes. You also need to be smart about it all.
    First we learn about something, then we learn how to do it, then we learn when NOT to do it. Knowing when not to do something is part of wisdom.
    The way digital audio is advancing, I'm not excluding anything today. I'm one of those guys who keeps re visiting this area. Buy a Bricasti and you'll hear what I'm talking about.
    Room simulators and new ways to emulate environments are going to be a big part of pro audio. Spectra editing and digital spacial advancement technologies, wow!

    Traditional headphone monitoring has some serious setbacks, but I think if you know what they are, and use them as part of your methods, they are an asset. There will be a day when headphones are all you need. Maybe that day is already here.

    My new mixing and mastering rig will include various headphone monitoring and tools that are a lot to do with room simulators and spectral editing. If what you do translates to your target audience, then you are doing it right.
    I'm curious about the SPL Phonitor 2.
    exactly. I don't know one person who actually has an old stereo system like we had when we were spinning records. The amps back then all boosted the bass.
  5. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    I don't think your crazy about hearing more deatail. In fact, that's one of the best Imo things to use cans for on a mix. Those little clicks and pops and edits, ect. If they aren't a problem there, they aren't a problem most other places. There all kinds of reasons that contribute from gear to room to phycoachoustics, but I belive there is a place for headphones in the mix.

    As a primary source, if it works for you it works. It's not my way of working, but that's why sound engineering is cool. L2 is the sound of the 2000s. Its simple and loud.

    You can get a pretty decent isotope powered mastering set in Adobe auditions abandonware set. I wouldn't slap just any stock limiter on the bus or for mastering, because some work unpleasantly in that role. But certain ones are decent . Massey has a freeware limiter that's well respected, the l2000? I dunno.

    To my ears isotope is the closest to what (non analog) mastering should do in a home studio. I found it crisp and clean, relative to the crunchy pt/t-racks set of 'mastering'. It was powerful and transparent.

    Something like sequoia is a whole beast, and the idea of rec/mix/mastering being separated is gonna seem soooo archaic in the near future IMHO. Same for rooms. why have any weak links? Mastering level standards for gear rooms and software I say!!!!! Lol, what are we gonna do about the musicians?
    audiokid likes this.
  6. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    If we are taking about the new world of digital audio, new ways that would have never been possible years back....
    Once you mix into a master workflow, there is no way I would ever go back to the old days. The idea of sending my tracks to someone else is so far of my radar now.

    The way I see it today... If I can't finish a track with the tools we have today, its because I haven't got the mix right to begin with. I'm not at all discrediting the mastering side of this business but that area of music is shrinking for a reason.
    Tracking and Mixing is the larger part of this art, not mastering. I spent a good few years mastering for people and it was the most boring and unproductive area of music, what a painful and over rated profession. :cry: The constant drip of mistakes that you can't really improve drive you nuts. At least thats what it did to me.
    If all I was mastering was the cream of the crop, well then it would be great! What a great profession then!
    But that isn't what most ME are getting. ME are getting all sorts of problematic stuff and expected to fix it. ME spend exuberance amount of money on ridiculous gear that is basically all about hearing bad phase and excessive spiking from bad tracking and mixing. Then they dumb down the crud while jacking up the missing. Its not what I would call a rewarding way to spend a lifetime. So, my day would be trying to help clients improve their mix better so I could actually do it justice. Which always comes back to the mix. Which always comes back to improving your way in tracking and aligning freq's before it gets to mastering. So, mixing into the master is really what makes sense. If you are creating music today, learn how to mix great and mastering is a simple step then.

    Every song I got from people, I wish I could have mixed it over. Mastering is something that should only need minor tweaks. Mastering is a second set of ears that may also include someone proficient in a specific medium.
    Mastering is for the old ways of finishing. Finishing, yes... thats what I like to call it now.
    Why would I produce a track that requires a second pass at it when I can do it all in one pass better. Great songs mix themselves. Songs that are hard to mix are usually too full of something wrong. Lets hope spectral editing gets to a point we can actually remove all the bad room reflection. Most home studios and even the very expensive pro studios rooms really don't sound that great to me. People investing in these boutique studios are dreaming imho. They still sound like mom and pop audio. Live music has a sound to it. Commercial music and pop music has another sound to it. The problem we are all having is when we are trying to make live music sound modern. Modern music is less real. And, this is where headphones come in. If you are mixing real live music, I wouldn't even put on headphones on until I was laying down on my couch. ;)

    If a song requires a second set of years to proof the work, well thats another story. Is that what mastering is today? I tend to think so.

    My opinion is based around someone who continues to improve my mixing skills. If my mix sucks, it always sucks. No ME is going to fix what I should have gotten right to begin with. Mixing has always been constant reality check for me. Damn, I should have heard that better.
    kmetal likes this.
  7. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    From what I've read and discussed, it seems the role of the ME has never been stagnant. The job description is always evolving. Seems like a lot of cataloging and remastering for formats right now until technology can do that autonomously.
    audiokid likes this.
  8. Dr_Willie_OBGYN

    Dr_Willie_OBGYN Active Member

    Yeah, I do psytrance music. I don't record ANYTHING with a microphone. It's all synthesizers and samples. Maybe that's part of the equation. If I was EQ'ing a mic'ed guitar I would want to hear through speakers. That would be different. But with psytrance rarely is there something that sounds louder or EQ'ed wrong on my car stereo that took me by surprise (after mixing it all with headphones).

    I've been home recording for about 30 years.... and yes I think I'm going to sell my monitors.
  9. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    I'm all for moving into headphone monitoring but I'm not so sure I would sell my speakers. You are clarifying your work now (psytrance music), which makes a lot more sense. Forums can get really wild in opinion. I think its always important to qualify what we are doing as engineers when we ask or suggest a particular product of process.

    For fun, it would be interesting to hear your mix on monitors vs headphones and let us help you decide. It doesn't even have to be something ready to press, just something you are mixing. It wouldn't be for us, but for you to help confirm what you hear, is actually serving you well.

    Being said, (just chatting away now...) I am so excited for future digital technologies and new ways we listen to music our soundtracks per-say... Animation/ A/V world, man I wish I was 30 years younger! .
    Imagine being able to decode audio to the degree where we see all the audio as spectral colours in every corner of a room, height and distance. I would love to be able to forensically remove audio that was measured in depth. Example, if we could remove all the sound from 10" back and replace that with a Bricasti. Or, use it to augment a reverb or delay for just that particular freq of a reflection. To only manipulat the reflective and not the source.
    We are trying to do this, but we are only scratching the surface to what is coming.

    I am constantly wanting to remove room reflection that are out of time and out of tune. Headphone bleed on overdub tracks kill a mix. When I put headphones on and listen to this, you can hear how these area's turn music into phasy out of sync mixes . I've heard headphone bleed in tracks that were completely re sung with different words, yet they are in the background of a harmony track. Two completely different words on bleeds that null and bloom freq like bad compression. It goes into all sorts of areas of a mix.

    When you are able to remove all the background and start fresh with something like a Bricasti, a song instantly sounds more natural and polished. The art to get pieced together music to sound like it was recorded in a common time, location etc is how you go from home studio sound to pro.
    If you try and isolate these problematic things I mention on speakers, you will miss a lot of it. You will actually not even know what I am talking about because you've never even gotten into the depths of mixing until you use headphones. Some of us think we don't have these problems but I'm pretty sure anyone who is tracking one track at a time, and overdubbing using mics... you are effected too. Does it matter? sometimes it does. And often the subtle stuff we think no one hears, is actually killing your mix.

    I would imagine I will be doing a lot more with headphones as time goes on. However, as this all evolves, so will the need of HD playback systems.
    The other day I was listening to some music in the mall and it sounded great. I'm sure it wasn't stereo and I bet it was mixed on speakers. When I walked into a clothing store, they were playing Trance, it was in stereo and sounded great. Maybe it was mixed on cans and all from a laptop. I doubt it would have sounded that good mono'd.
  10. Dr_Willie_OBGYN

    Dr_Willie_OBGYN Active Member

    I spent some time mixing this on my headphone....
  11. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    If you have both, same song, one on headphones, one on speakers. Otherwise its irrelevant.
  12. bouldersound

    bouldersound Real guitars are for old people. Well-Known Member

    I do. Not always, of course, but the couch in the living room is in the right place. I watch a bit of late night live music on TV and I do like to sit where I can hear properly.

    That's a moving target. You'll hit it more often by mixing on good monitors in a good acoustic environment (starting with a sufficiently large room).
  13. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    @audiokid @Dr_Willie_OBGYN @kmetal @pcrecord @freightgod

    I've been thinking about this, as I've been reading the various posts in this thread, and I think that perhaps one of the "keys" to mixing through headphones successfully, would be to use reference tracks that are similar in genre to what you are mixing at the time.

    Engineers have been using reference tracks for years, some will carry several discs with them that will allow them to listen to how certain well-known songs, or songs that are familiar to them, will sound on the system and in the room in which they are working at the time... so, to my way of thinking, it seems like this would be also be something to consider doing, if you were mixing through cans.

    If you were to acclimate your ears - to the way something sounded in the headphones - something that you are already familiar with, and which you've heard through speakers, it seems to stand to reason that this would benefit you.

    I would also think that you'd want to use the same model of cans every time - again, adding a sort of "stability" to your work flow. You wouldn't want to be changing headphone models all the time, because so many of them can vary so much. If you were to get used to one pair, and use commercial tracks - or tracks that you are sonically familiar with as a reference, I would think that you would likely get better mixes, or at the very least, consistent mixes, and "consistent" is a great place to start... because if you are hearing the same issues every time
    (lack of bass, too much top end, etc.) at least you have a foundation to work from, and that you can adjust for.

    I'm not saying to use these reference tracks as a model to copy in terms of production or mix styles - you'll still want to be original and have your own fingerprint on the mix - I'm thinking that you would use them as a sort of "touchstone" for how the music sounds in the headphones in general.

    Just kinda thinking out loud here...

    IMHO of course.
    kmetal likes this.
  14. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    Reference is the key word here. When tracking, mixing and... well let's put mastering aside so MEs won't sue us.
    So again when tracking and mixing, the most important thing to me is to clearly hear what's going on and quickly identify problems. Right there having only one reference is a problem to me.

    If I would do electronic music, with pre-mastered vsti, I guess I could listen with anything, put a EQ Matching plugin on the masterbus and match my mix to a pink noise and without knowing anything more about music, I doubt it would be a problem to play it in a club.
    But this is a minimal way to think about it.

    Saying that the customers will listen to my music on crappy system so I won't bother doing it right is far from what I aim in life...
    There is enough compromise as it is in the industry. Ultimatly I'd want my music to play on the radio and maybe have a video clip on TV, why would I compromise ?

    In the end, I can say that you won't convince me to use headphones to mix for hours, if only for confort.. no it doesn't appeal to me. I'm not saying I don't use headphones. I do all the time, but just for a short period of time to confirm that my mix translate well on them. If my mom's bedroom was next door, I'd probably say other wise ;)

    But hey don't listen to me, if your music sounds good, it's all that mathers !
  15. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    I still have never been able to mix well on headphones. I don't even Like small speakers lol. Besides getting the low end right, I think people can get used to anything. Eventually anything hits the point of finishing returns.

    I also think Marco is on to something with respect to vsti and samples. There's a lot less need processing with those, certainly far far less corrective measures.

    I say whatever works, I personally don't even like tracking with headphones so, you can kinda see where i come from.
    pcrecord likes this.
  16. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Well, this thread has inspired me to look deeper.
    I am a skeptic on trusting headphone monitoring for a final mix , but I am getting this regardless because I need something better than average . I also have great trust in SPL so what the heck. I'm hoping this is as cool as it looks. After I have time to become familiar with it, I would like to test my abilities with this by doing a public comparison between my monitors and the Phonitor 2.

    Now updated to Phonitor 2, here is the first video on it.
  17. freightgod

    freightgod Active Member

    The Phonitor sounds fascinating, and expensive. Is anyone aware of any software simulators like this?
  18. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Not that I know of. Maybe they will come up with something some day.

    It is indeed expensive but keep in mind, I am downsizing from a hybrid studio that was into 6 figures. My new rig is now under $20 grand and the more I fine tune, the less I am needing.
    Im trying to build a system that is 100% mobile, yet just as pristine and big sounding as the analog system I am leaving behind.
    DonnyThompson and pcrecord like this.
  19. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    The VRM box from Focusrite with its associated host software processing is an attempt at this. It's low-cost for what it achieves.

    Separately, here is an SOS article about mixing on headphones.
  20. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Chris, can you tell us what headphones you are going to be using with this system? Are they HP's that you already have and trust, or do you have your eye ( or ears LOL) on something else... or in particular?

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