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Why is everything sounding better through headphones?

Member for

21 years
I'm using a pair of Sennheiser HD280 Pro Closed-Back Headphones and what I'm experiencing is after finding mic placement/settings and levels for all instruments (inc. guitars, bass, drums, even vocals) is a great quality sound through the phones, however upon listening to the same thing through speakers, sounds very different, and quite frankly, a lot worse.

Even the vocals, (I use these headphones when tracking) sound good in the phones, and after being happy, I'll switch to the speakers and the vocals will sound off-pitch and unappealing. These are supposedly great headphones for noise attenuation which helps our drummer hear the metronome and all that good stuff. The only thing is they appear to me like "ear goggles," in the sense that they warp my perception of something that may just be downright ugly to begin with. We don't have great monitors (we hook up the macbook w/garageband into a decent panasonic boom box, or plug it into creative computer speakers with a subwoofer). I know they're not great...well, not even good monitors, but my feeling is, those are mediums where you would listen to a normal CD, and if it sounds like crap on them, the listener won't give any sympathy to the fact that "well, it sounded good on our headphones."

Is this a normal phenomenon?


Member for

16 years 8 months

took-the-red-pill Sun, 01/06/2008 - 18:14
I stuffed some Auralex Lenrds in my head, to take up the cavities. Turned out my head was not designed with the golden ratio in mind, and there were some pretty bad standing waves inside there.

It hurt like hell(have you ever seen the size of those things?!?) but it sounds a lot better through headphones, now that I've been 'tuned,' and if I get a runny nose, the Lenrds absorb it all.

Jeez, you'd think I worked for them, with an endorsement like that...

That's just me tho, other experiences may vary.

Member for

14 years 5 months

Link555 Fri, 12/28/2007 - 07:50
check this out...

Everyone’s ears have different resonant cavities, so everyone hears slightly different through headphones. On top of that, headphone manufactures shape the sound of there product. Some have low frequency boosts, some have a hype high end. Not to mention that stereo perception is enhanced because the acoustics of the listening room are removed.

Member for

16 years 7 months

moonbaby Fri, 12/28/2007 - 07:53
This is why you should not make mixing decisions with 'phones on your head. Mixes simply do NOT translate that well. There is nothing wrong with the Sennheisers, you're simply making mix decisions with them that you shouldn't do. Headphones are great to "solo" channels while tracking sources. It helps to isolate problems like noise and distortion artifacts.
Nothing more.
You need to learn to use a good set of nearfields to make your "tonal" decisions (placements, EQ, effects, panning, etc.). Once you learn to mix on REAL speakers, your mixes are going to translate well between systems. Even to headphones. But not the other way around.

Member for

13 years 9 months

Codemonkey Fri, 12/28/2007 - 07:59
I was going to get a pair of those headphones...
I use headphones for monitoring, but swap between the same headphones and my speakers (Creative surround sound ones for games) when at home. I can't say I've ever heard the same from both, so I'd call it normal.

Take for example a live recording I made of our church band. It sounds different coming from headphones attached to the mixer on the night, the same headphones attached to a computer later, or my speakers, or in-ear phones on a mp3 player.

Member for

17 years 3 months

JoeH Fri, 12/28/2007 - 08:03
Yes, it is a normal phenomenom. You're dealing with the age-old phenomenom of headphones sounding "Better" than playback speakers, at least on the surface. In most cases, they do, but there's a caveat with using them, just like anything else: Don't always trust them to give you a real-world, totally accurate picture of what's going on.

They will highlight some things, while letting you miss others. In your case, I suspect better bass, strong stereo imaging, etc., but mesmerizing you into ignoring the bad overall performance and out-of-tune nature of the vocals, etc. It's like seeing the Empire State Building for the first time, but selectively ignoring the ugly dirty NJ Turnpike on the ride into the city. Eventually, you process it all, but it takes time.

In your case, you don't have a great playback system to start with, so just about any goood hp system will sound better at least at first. There are two big reasons for this:

1. the headphones are directly coupled to your head, physically, with almost no additional space or ambience in between. Whether it's a closed cup or open-air, you're hearing the very best these things have to offer. No room influence or ambience, no harsh reflections, no coloration. (aside from the HPs themselves.) You're almost connecting the mic/mixer output to your ears, if you will.

2. Your cheap speakers will sound bad to start with, but anything else in the monitoring sound field will exacerbate the problem. Remember, mixing and mastering engineers work in finely tuned rooms with the best gear money can buy. This doesn't happen by accident. The room tuning & speaker placement is set up to combat this very phenomenom.

Don't feel bad about this, use the difference to learn. I have an unofficial rule of thumb for doing live gigs: Don't let the "Great sound" in my headphones fool me. Many times it's exactly as you describe: sounds great in my cans, but lousy on the speakers in the studio. Many times, its' the opposite: bad scary sound in the HPs, but much better when I put it up on the speakers.

The main thing is to learn to understand and process what you're hearing, and make it work for you. Eventually, you'll want to invest in some better playback speakers and perhaps a little room treatment as well; the difference wont be as startling the better you get at this.