Old 03-01-2013, 07:37 PM   #1
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Default Why not mix or master with headphones?

I often hear people say that it's a bad idea to mix or especially master on headphones.

but i'm wondering exactly why. I mean, isn't it possible that a great pair of headphones is actually awesome for mixing?

I find that there are only 2 real situations that people will sit in relatively the right spot, to get a correct stereo image.

in the car, and with headphones.

other than that, people will be in a club, or will be listening in their house, where they're not really facing their speakers for any length of time at all.
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Old 03-01-2013, 07:41 PM   #2
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other than that, people will be in a club, or will be listening in their house, where they're not really facing their speakers for any length of time at all.
Headphones are even further away from not sitting in the sweet spot. Both ears are completely isolated from what the other ear hears.
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Old 03-01-2013, 07:48 PM   #3
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I often hear people say that it's a bad idea to mix or especially master on headphones.

but i'm wondering exactly why. I mean, isn't it possible that a great pair of headphones is actually awesome for mixing?

I find that there are only 2 real situations that people will sit in relatively the right spot, to get a correct stereo image.

in the car, and with headphones.

other than that, people will be in a club, or will be listening in their house, where they're not really facing their speakers for any length of time at all.

The only time I would ever consider mixing anything in headphones would be if I were mixing head-phone specific music, like what was being released in the early 1970's. Other than that, the panning choices, eq's, verbs... well, everything, will not translate well to any other listening environment. I grab my headphones on the rare occasion to check for some noise or quirk. I have tried mixing with headphones just to see why people are so against it.... It only took a few seconds of listening on any other system to understand why it is such a bad idea.

Edit: I encourage you to do some testing yourself, you will answer your own questions I bet.
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Old 03-01-2013, 07:53 PM   #4
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Yeah, just try it yourself. The first time ought to be proof enough once you listen to your mix over actual speakers or monitors.
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Old 03-01-2013, 07:59 PM   #5
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^ Agreed on all points

Quote:
The only time I would ever consider mixing anything in headphones would be if I were mixing head-phone specific music, like what was being released in the early 1970's.
LOL, I was so going to speak of that exact thing but figured nobody remembered (believe it or not, I have seen quadraphonic headphones). I/we do use headphones for clinical reasons and just to get different perceptions of the mix. I simply don't depend on the headphones as the "decider". As long as we don't make the headphones the central reference point... However, whenever this question comes up its usually specifically asking about making the headphones the central reference point so not so good doing that IMHO.
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Old 03-01-2013, 08:07 PM   #6
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^ Agreed on all points



LOL, I was so going to speak of that exact thing but figured nobody remembered (believe it or not, I have seen quadraphonic headphones). I/we do use headphones for clinical reasons and just to get different perceptions of the mix. I simply don't depend on the headphones as the "decider". As long as we don't make the headphones the central reference point... However, whenever this question comes up its usually specifically asking about making the headphones the central reference point so not so good doing that IMHO.
I still have some obscure vinyl of "High-Fi Headphone Music" somewhere.... And you said quadrophonic headphones?? That's absurd... I am marketing a double-headed shovel for more productive gardening this spring, if you're interested....
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Old 03-01-2013, 08:14 PM   #7
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And you said quadrophonic headphones?? That's absurd... I am marketing a double-headed shovel for more productive gardening this spring, if you're interested....
Made by Sansui IIRC in the 70s before they went ultra cheap. There were two drivers in each phone parabolically opposed for lack of a better term. I didn't have any quad content to play at the time so I never got to test them but "that's BS" certainly crossed my mind It was my drummer's girlfriends, dad's system I saw at band practice one day.

Actually poking around the net I "think" this is the same receiver and headphones:






My cousin who was one of my early audio inspirations had a full quad system (aka speakers not headphones) in his bedroom and the first time I ever heard Dark Side of the Moon it was in full quad. I still do the occassional home Reaper mix in quad just for my listening pleasure. Due to mismatched monitors and other issues, I could never play them outside this room but that's OK cuz I'm here in this room much of the time when I'm chilling and listening to mixes.

Remember the "Beam Box" for FM?

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Old 03-01-2013, 08:56 PM   #8
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All right, you are scaring me....my sister had that receiver with 4 Radio Shack Optimus (sp) speakers with the lattice work fronts!
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Old 03-01-2013, 09:20 PM   #9
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It's worth keeping in mind that many sounds, particularly in full mixes, take up space physically as the waves propagate. That space is simply not available between a headphone driver and your ear. Sound is meant to propagate through air.

The thing that headphones are great for is detail checking. I find all manner of pops, clicks, bad cuts that I would never notice in even a good set of monitors. So almost everything gets a pass through the cans. However when I make choices about compression/dynamics, equalization and especially reverb the choice always has to be corrected in speakers; I don't even bother anymore, I resist the impulse to tweak anything but pops, clicks and bad cuts in headphones.
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Old 03-01-2013, 09:31 PM   #10
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If you're doing really professional level work, it's good advice. Otherwise? I do it all of the time, but I have been wearing the same pair of cans every day for what must be going on 8 years now. I have heard good mixes from others done on cans, too.
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Old 03-01-2013, 10:20 PM   #11
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Remember the "Beam Box" for FM?
One of my older brothers, an audiophile and Heathkit builder (remember THAT?) had the Beambox..... a certain Steely Dan song is racing through my head right now.....
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Old 03-02-2013, 03:52 AM   #12
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There are of course some things which can ONLY be heard on headphones!

For an amazing headphone "experience", try this

http://binaural.memetripper.com/178/...Use_Headphones)

You should have 3D illusion as well as hearing some sounds coming from "behind" you !

Remember, headphones ONLY this one.

Share and enjoy!

db
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Old 03-02-2013, 10:27 AM   #13
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Hi,

I do most mixes with headphones. I use a good pair of AKG Cans togehter with the focusrite virtual box. Because I have no good room and only a cheap pair of Monitor Boxes, mixing with headphones is the better way for me.

It is important to hear lot of good mixes throug the environment. But if I thing, i have finished a song, I hear it in my car and over my hifi system. Mostly I find some issues, I have to fix in the mix again, but I thing this allways happens with monitors too.
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Old 03-02-2013, 10:41 AM   #14
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A couple of reasons not to mix on cans: Panning information is vague, and judging compression (as it concerns peak control) is difficult to judge on cans.

But if your monitoring environment isn't very good, the above probably isn't going to be any worse on cans.
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Old 03-02-2013, 10:53 AM   #15
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lemme add this... very recently added a pair of Equator d5's... [thankfully before the price jump]... and so glad I went for them...

what the equators do in way of a wide sweet spot is very true...... sounds just sit in space very nicely and are much easier to distinguish with them.... so even at the new price... I'd still say 'yes'...
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Old 03-02-2013, 10:58 AM   #16
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I've also been mixing with an old pair of middling AKG headphones through a Focusrite VRM box. It's gotten so that I can do relatively ok mixes, but there is definitely a difference in panning and reverbs, etc., when you then check it on even regular stereo monitors. That said, I'm waiting on D5s to arrive and I highly expect my eyes (ears) to be opened once I have them setup and listen to my earlier mixes. I expect thereafter for the headphones to be last-step checking with the VRM.
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Old 03-02-2013, 10:59 AM   #17
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If mixing and mastering with a tin can and string makes you happy, then to it. There are no rules.

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Old 03-02-2013, 12:52 PM   #18
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What DBMusic said. If you do a mix on phones, and the mix translates, then job done. Problem is the mix doesn't usually translate as well as if you mix on a good speaker setup. But if it DOES, then you've won!
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Old 03-02-2013, 02:04 PM   #19
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A good FLAT pair of phones (like AT ATH-M50s) are also useful for determining frequency/tone problems with individual tracks (sometimes whole mixes), because they take the room out of the equation. Unless you have an acoustically well-treated room, all your judgements about what is coming out of the speakers will be affected by the problems of your monitoring environment.

Take a look at the attached graph. The straight green line is a 20Hz-20kHz sine wave sweep recorded from within the computer; the jagged blue line is the same sweep recorded with a very flat electret mic placed in the listening position between the speakers in my room. At first glance it may not look too bad, but when listening to that sine sweep, you can hear the volume change with every single peak and valley as the sine sweeps through the frequencies. Those peaks a valleys completely skew every EQ decision you make when listening to speakers in a room. OTOH, using the ATH-M50s (or comparable phones), listening to that same sine sweep, every frequency stays at the same solid volume right up past my ability to hear.

As others have said, although I don't make mix decisions per se through headphones, owning and using a good pair of phones in this way improved my mixes vastly and sort of changed my life.

Joe

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Old 03-03-2013, 06:25 AM   #20
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Please check out the VRM Box
http://us.focusrite.com/usb-audio-interfaces/vrm-box

It simulates different well known speakers and monitors in various settings. I have the Sennheiser MD-280s, one of the phones the box was designed with, and it works great.

If you do not have the space or $ to set up good monitors in a treated room you are far better off using this set up. (That is due to the sub-300hz issues most rooms have. As others have mentioned). And even if you do have the right monitor/room system this box is so cheap that it is a wise investment to use as a second opinion.

My room is actually my listening room with my desk behind the listening position. I treat all first order reflections and use a DSP to deal with the issues I measured below 300hz. (Triangle Celius 202s with vacuum tube amp being driven by an Audigy sound card in my PC). With that set up the Adam 2.5A VRM Box monitor sounds closest.
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Old 03-03-2013, 06:46 AM   #21
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Please check out the VRM Box
Or for a lot less cash and possibly better results, http://www.toneboosters.com/tb-isone/
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Old 03-03-2013, 08:22 AM   #22
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If mixing and mastering with a tin can and string makes you happy, then to it. There are no rules.
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Over the last few months I have read a lot of threads on this subject (as I was headphone shopping) and it amazes me how polarizing an issue it is.

For a lot of us I think it's simply a cost/quality issue. While I doubt many professionals would choose the headphone route over a well designed monitoring/room combo for some very good reasons, the "You can't mix in headphones' faction seems, IMO, just as off as the 'Skrillex did it and won Grammys" faction.

The order of progression seems to go like this:

"You have to/don't have to mix with monitors."
"John mixes/doesn't mix with headphones and got great results."
"It would have been better/worse if he did it on monitors/headphones."

Then there is the quality issue of the hardware/room itself:

"Bill mixed "Death Puppies from Planet Cocaine" on monitors in an anechoic chamber/with Stax phones, and got great/horrible results."...or...

"...mixed it on KRKs/ipod buds and got great/horrible results."

I read those type of responses and I think "OK, so I can't afford ProAcs and Brystons, but my stuff is a little better than Wal Mart quality... so what should I do...give up altogether?"

Personally, my room is small and no expense is going to change it. And moving isn't an option. So should I and many others like me justdp totally inacurate mixes, not use headphones and/or find a new hobby? Now granted, most of the people here if not all would say hell no, do the best you can with what you have and work toward improving your situation however you can do it. But on some of the other forums I read, some posters really think that mixing on headphones is impossible and that good results cannot possibly be had. Even when examples are posted proving it can, they always find nits to pick when no one else can hear them.

I think there is a strong element of expensive monitors/room treatment as an extension of the penis syndrome at play there and good old fashioned one-upsmanship. Is a good room with good monitors the 'better' solution? In many ways absolutely it is IMO, and many professionals prove it daily. However, one needs to also consider that the way we (the collective we) hear things -has- changed because of ear buds. Like it or not, many, and more by the day, are becoming accustomed to listening to music on buds/phones. And the way music sounds through them.

Many old school guys rail against mixing to the lowest common denominator, and for good reasons, but it has to be considered. When the majority of your potential audience does a thing one way, it makes sense to adapt to their (for lack of a better word) needs. See the Betamax/VHSstory for why.

Whether or not it sounds 'worse' is besides the point unless you are doing it for personal enjoyment because 'better' does not always make the sale. If anything, the loudness wars proved that the buying public (or the pirating public, as the case may be) doesn't have a problem listening to flat, distorted music. So in comparison to the squarewave hell that is the modern mix, a shifted stereo field seems to me to be of little relative consequence.

Just my take on it. Others definitely don't agree.
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Old 03-03-2013, 08:29 AM   #23
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so what should I do...give up altogether?"
No, you do whatever it takes to get the job done with the tools you have at hand. Any Internet forum is going to sit back and blow hot air based the perfect technical solution, typically ignoring the budget. If budget wasn't an issue, people wouldn't even be asking if they could "get by" with anything less than the most expensive perfect solution. Hell, why not spend 50k and rebuild the listening room to perfectly diffuse the reflections, then drop 20k on the best of the best monitors.

If all I had was headphones, I'd be mixing my ass off using headphones and eventually getting mixes I was happy with and ignoring anyone telling me otherwise. If I had listened to that other crap 30 years ago, I wouldn't know 10% of what I know now. Is a proper listening enviroment better all around, yes and I basically have one now but 80% of the time I didn't. Would I sell all my shit because what I actually have and can afford doesn't live up to a gearslutz style internet reply, never, ever.

[/RANT]

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Old 03-03-2013, 08:46 AM   #24
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If all I had was headphones, I'd be mixing my ass off using headphones and eventually getting mixes I was happy with and ignoring anyone telling me otherwise.
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Old 03-03-2013, 09:31 AM   #25
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Would I sell all my shit because what I actually have and can afford doesn't live up to a gearslutz style internet reply, never, ever.

[/RANT]
But you must! If you don't have every new piece of gear on Mercenary then obviously making music is not possible. And it has to be vintage gear since nothing built after the invention of tubes can make anything but cold and strile noise.

Unless it's over $5,000. Then it can be new...

The worst thing is how many people get caught up in GAS and really believe they 'can't' make good music without the approval of forum consensus.
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Old 03-03-2013, 09:54 AM   #26
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The worst thing is how many people get caught up in GAS and really believe they 'can't' make good music without the approval of forum consensus.
True and I wanted to rant along with you that its easy to forget that many (I'll vote most) don't have unilimited budgets, they just want to make music. I'm in full agreement that doing the measurments, getting a good sounding room together, properly placed quality monitors etc. is all good stuff that makes getting an accurate result easier to do with less guesswork, however..... I don't want (as you eluded) for someone who doesn't have that to think they can't make good music that sounds good. The WDYRSLA is basically all about this very concept; controlling what you can control using what you have at hand.

Before I had a better monitoring environment, I simply spent more time running out to the car and listening in other environments, taking notes, adjusting, rinse, repeat but I still eventually got good sounds and mixes. Or at least what was missing had as much to do with inexperience in other areas as it did with the room I was in.
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Old 03-03-2013, 09:59 AM   #27
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If a perfect, sound-treated room with expensive monitors isn't an option, you could do worse than getting a decent set of studio-quality cans and splurging a few bucks for TB Isone. I've been quite happy with it. Download the free trial version and give it a shot. http://www.toneboosters.com/tb-isone/
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Old 03-03-2013, 10:40 AM   #28
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Before I had a better monitoring environment, I simply spent more time running out to the car and listening in other environments, taking notes, adjusting, rinse, repeat but I still eventually got good sounds and mixes. Or at least what was missing had as much to do with inexperience in other areas as it did with the room I was in.
My first 'to the car' experience was pretty much the classic story. In my room I had the song sounding what I thought was decent so I burned a CD and went out to the truck (good stereo with 2 10 in subs) and heard no bass. It just wasn't there. Took the CD back to my room of doom and there it was.

For me, it's what I have to work with and I would guess many have some level of that problem. So faced with trying to compensate (to ridiculous extremes which in my case/room is NEVER going to work)I started researching the headphone route.

In the process I have read a lot of "What's the 'best'" type of threads and it just floors me that a lot of forum types basically guilt trip people into believing that it 'can't' be done.

Sure, we all like toys and we like spending money on them. But the notion that it is somehow evil/bad/wrong/impossible to do just isn't reality. And as you were getting at, if money were no object, we'd all have "Room A'. But phones may well move the learning curve up a few years when the problems they present are fewer than the problems one is getting them to replace.
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Old 03-03-2013, 11:59 AM   #29
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If a perfect, sound-treated room with expensive monitors isn't an option, you could do worse than getting a decent set of studio-quality cans and splurging a few bucks for TB Isone. I've been quite happy with it. Download the free trial version and give it a shot. http://www.toneboosters.com/tb-isone/
I'm in the camp of having a small, mildly treated room, with budget conscious Fostex monitors, but need to do most of my mixing on Sony MDR-V6's. My normal MO is to mixdown then listen in my car, home stereo system, etc., until I get it "close enough".

I downloaded the demo of Isone, but it's not clear to me what I'm shooting for. I've read through the manual, but there are so many different parameters and I'm not sure what the end goal of the plugin is. The manual says a "starting point" is to disable the cross-talk feature, but I thought that was the primary purpose of this tool... Can anyone explain?

Also, are my MDR-V6's "good enough" to warrant spending $20 on this plugin?
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Old 03-03-2013, 12:02 PM   #30
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I've mixed on headphones with mixed results. Usually it was pretty good, but occasionally I would get some funky phase issues on playback. This was usually due to delay effects. Sometimes it was due to poor overhead mic placement on drums. Either way, it generally was a washy sound.

I love headphone mixing for being able to focus on certain sounds, edit points, etc., but I haven't been able to rely on it 100%. A pass through other, more common (ie. the car) systems is usually necessary.

On mixing with speakers...I've had some pretty low-quality monitors and sometimes some decent monitors. And I've had less than ideal acoustics and pretty good rooms. I STILL needed a trip to the car. I've often mixed bass-heavy, especially on unfamiliar systems, because most 'systems' aren't bass accurate and most people wouldn't like ruler flat low end.

Most recently, a friend has been passing along his mixes to me that he has mixed on earbuds...lowest common denominator. He may just not be very good at mixing, but he has phasing issues and horrible balance issues. Sometimes he'll have a vocal buried in the mix and he'll swear that it was much louder when he mixed it. And he'll compile, or "master", a disc and it will be incredibly inconsistent from track to track...volume, EQ, etc.

I can't imagine "headphones only" being a viable option for most genres of music.

BTW, a vehicle IS NOT a stereo accurate sitting position unless you have a bench seat and sit right in the middle. I can barely hear the right speaker in my car because I'm catching the left speaker reflection from the windshield and my door glass. But I still use it as a reference to check mixes!!!
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Old 03-03-2013, 01:21 PM   #31
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"Also, are my MDR-V6's "good enough" to warrant spending $20 on this plugin?"

A lot of the guys on the Acid/D&B boards seem to like them/think they are OK. I've only ever read a couple of negative reviews by users. and they were not 'hate'em' type reviews, just that they were bass-light.
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Old 03-03-2013, 01:31 PM   #32
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"Death Puppies from Planet Cocaine"
made my day, thanks.
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Old 03-03-2013, 02:16 PM   #33
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"Also, are my MDR-V6's "good enough" to warrant spending $20 on this plugin?"

A lot of the guys on the Acid/D&B boards seem to like them/think they are OK. I've only ever read a couple of negative reviews by users. and they were not 'hate'em' type reviews, just that they were bass-light.
I concur with the "bass-light" statement. My biggest problem, though, is that a mix that I'm happy with on the headphones, when played on most other systems, leaves the vocals way too loud. What is weird to me is that with commercial releases, it's not like the vocals disappear. It's obviously something about my tracking/mixes that causes it.
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Old 03-03-2013, 02:18 PM   #34
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made my day, thanks.

It was big in Japan...
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Old 03-03-2013, 02:22 PM   #35
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I concur with the "bass-light" statement. My biggest problem, though, is that a mix that I'm happy with on the headphones, when played on most other systems, leaves the vocals way too loud. What is weird to me is that with commercial releases, it's not like the vocals disappear. It's obviously something about my tracking/mixes that causes it.
The freq response shows a significant dip in the vocal range that could explain part of it. Not that a freq chart is a be all end all or anything.

http://www.headphone.com/headphones/sony-mdr-v6.php

Edit...Would seem to line up with the DB/Acid guys liking them seeing as they often lack vocals in their styles, so that particular problem would never come up.

Last edited by Normie; 03-03-2013 at 02:40 PM.
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Old 03-03-2013, 02:23 PM   #36
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mix on everything. switch between headphones, monitors, midrange computer speakers, cell phone speaker. ear fatigue is a bitch, changing your playback device keeps you fresh
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Old 03-03-2013, 03:02 PM   #37
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Headphones give me headaches.
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Old 03-03-2013, 08:15 PM   #38
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In my experience, both good headphones and monitors are a great combo for both the mixing and mastering processes. The reason I said "good headphones" is because I find anything less than a good headphone is counterproductive, whereas monitors don't need to be stellar to get great results.

In the case of monitors, what's important is to have a fairly revealing monitor so that mix problems are not masked too heavily by the inadequacies or compromises in their design. It's OK that monitors themselves are imperfect, because so long as we can clearly understand their imperfections, we can mix accordingly. Take the HHB Circle 5 as example; a mid-range, mid-price passive midfield from some years ago. A number of producers I know swear by them, even in the face of much nicer alternatives. I've auditioned countless mixes and a great deal of music on them. I know for example that they tend to roll off in the bottom-end, and have a big dip in the upper mids. So I can mix expecting that sound, and know that those mixes will translate well to other equipment. In my book, regardless of the their imperfections, this makes them a "good" monitor speaker: predictable, understandable and easy to create good mixes on; so long as your ears and brain can understand their characteristics, they're not hiding too much away from you to produce a good mix. I can hang the same label on eg. monitors from Adam, Mackie and some of the K-Rok's. None of these monitors are big money, but all allow for the possibility to create great results if your ears and brain can "learn" them. I can't say the same for (at the cheap end) anything Behringer or Tannoy, or (at the more expensive end) anything JBL, though I'm not familiar with their latest models. We've all heard stories about engineers from back-in-the-day swearing by NS-10's, well guess what: they're not a great loudspeaker but they're still a usable monitor, particularly for material that doesn't have the widest dynamic range (140hz thru 14k they're rolling off heavily at either end). The rule with monitors is, if you can get to know and understand them, they're a good monitor for you.

With headphones though it's quite a different story. Nearly all headphones colour sound and mess with it heavily. Most budget cans are very forward in the mids and up, don't handle transients at all accurately and do all kinds of trickeries to "enhance" the bottom end, none of which is great for mixing. That doesn't mean they're bad cans, they're just bad for this job. For example, the classic Beyer DT-100 is a great budget headphone for vocal foldback, but awful for mixing. There are always exceptions though, and probably the only cans I've found that are really good for this are Sennheiser HD580/600/650/800. None of these are cheap, though you might find a few bargains on the 580. The design of these headphones is transparent sound, very little messing around with the source, tight bottom end, very smooth all the way up to 30k (that of it which I hear anyway!) and exceptionally fast and revealing transient response. This makes them great for certain kinds of work when mixing and mastering. For example, adjusting compressor attack etc. on basses and drums. I can get this right on the cans instantly, but on the monitors I'm always fiddling. Headphones tend to goof around with the soundstage, so for positioning instruments in the Z-plane (setting verb levels and such), they're a pain, ditto for panning placement. But for identifying little problems in the mix that sneak by on the monitors, they're great; little clicks, or noise in-between take items etc..

In sum, the combo of both is very capable with the right headphones and reasonable monitors. I liken the HD600 to how I would use small-box nearfields; they do the same job for me. You can address all the issues in your mix and master, hopping between cans and monitors until you've nailed everything. It's probably not the fastest way of working, but I seem to get great results with this method and it's become my go-to workflow.

Edit: I would add that if I had to choose only one it would be monitors every time. I would never mix/master entirely on headphones, regardless of the model, since there's too much that can go wrong. I tried it a few times and had some shock moments when I later listened to my work on monitors and various hifi setups!

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Please check my (recently reopened) Normalisation bugrep and confirm, thanks!

Last edited by zappa; 03-03-2013 at 08:28 PM.
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Old 03-03-2013, 11:24 PM   #39
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I do something absolutely crazy.
If I'm trying to get a mix put together on phones, I put a few different instances of ReaEQ on the master track, all with different EQ curves to emphasize different areas of the spectrum.
For example:
1: mid scoop at 1k, shelf boosts at 200 and 10k (Smiley face)
2: exact inversion of 1 (mid boost, shelf cuts)
3: 2 stacked hipasses at 200 (everything but low end)
4: 2 stacked lowpasses at 200 (just the low end).

When I start mixing, I'll leave them all bypassed. Then, every now and then, I'll pick a random one to enable for about 15 seconds. This helps ward off ear fatigue.

Also, mixing g on cans requires low volumes. It seems to me like phones have better transient response at low to medium levels.

I'll also have MAnalyzer and Schope in there, to give me some more perspective.
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Old 03-04-2013, 02:32 AM   #40
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I downloaded the demo of Isone, but it's not clear to me what I'm shooting for. I've read through the manual, but there are so many different parameters and I'm not sure what the end goal of the plugin is. The manual says a "starting point" is to disable the cross-talk feature, but I thought that was the primary purpose of this tool... Can anyone explain?
You have to calibrate it to suit your head/ears. It doesn't take very long and once you know what settings work for you, you can make presets with different speaker/room properties.
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