View Full Version : Headphones vs Monitors: Stereo Image, EQ, Comp, Reverb

05-01-2003, 02:02 PM
greez all,

as being in the bad situation of not having a studio for the moment and so performing all my work at home i have to try to use headphones instead of monitors for every possible purpose to disturb my neighbours the less possible. =)

please vote which of the following mixing phases u think r possible to perform best on monitors and which ones are best to perform on headphones including the reason for ur preference:

- stereo imaging

- EQing

- compressing

- reverb adjustment

so far my own experiences (which might of course also be wrong and so appreciated to be corrected) are those:

- stereo imaging: better to perform on headphones as u can distinguish more precisely than on monitors

- EQing: better on monitors as not a single headphone i know has a linear frequency spectrum and due to their nature could never represent low frequencies with the same precision/truth and feeling a pair of monitor speakers can do (especially when having a subwoofer you get into the pleasure of also physically feeling the bass which is quite important when eg. being into digital dance music as imitating the situation on the dancefloor)

- compression: better on headphones for the same reasons as mentioned under EQing as here as well u need a very linear frequency spectrum for that your ears dont get \"betrayed\" but instead deal with the very objective (linear) sound presentation

- reverb adjustment: better on headphones as the approproate reverb depth for each channel can be set more precise using headphones. this was also what my audio engineer teacher taught me at my music college once but he also told me to do the stereo image on monitors so i dont really know if all his advices were that good

thx a lot for ur help on this ageold topic,

05-01-2003, 07:07 PM
well, the stereo imaging has been my experience as well.

Our ears are on the sides of our heads so adjusting stereo image with monitors that sit out front can\'t be as accurate as headphones (which sit on the sides over our ears).

But then again it also is about the \'at the moment\' experience of where speakers are and where the listener is... both factors have so many possibilities in the real world that even if we place an instrument in an exact place in the stereo field doesn\'t mean future listeners will experience it in there, too.

But nonetheless, yes, for precision earphones seem the way to go in my opinion.

Bruce A. Richardson
05-01-2003, 11:12 PM
I would say that all points are better determined on monitors than headphones. Headphones are great for precision double-checking of a mix, but can REALLY fool you. The direct coupling to your ears can skew your perspective, especially over time.

05-02-2003, 04:48 PM
Headphones can certainly fool you. Especailly in the volume of instruments is involved. - for me anyway. Ive mixed a piece all night on headphones and play it back through my speakers and - bam - its all wrong. EG: The harp is quiet. The strings are too loud... etc etc.

05-02-2003, 08:03 PM
yes, agreed about headphones and EQ. I would never mix with headphones and trust that.

But as I\'m mixing using monitors, if I place the headphones on occasionally I can get a truer picture of where the instrument is. And if it\'s off thru the headphones, I tweak it and listen again thru monitors. But that\'s probably just my environment which isn\'t ideal (i.e. not using sound treatment like auralex).

Bruce described that after he treated his room with Auralex he could pinpoint instruments in the stereo field very well.

I\'m not working with that benefit so headphones serve me well in this case.

05-03-2003, 12:53 AM
I\'ve heard that using headphones when doing stereo imaging is not a good idea. The reasoning is that when you\'re wearing headphones, your left ear hears only the left channel, and your right ear the right channel. You need to remove the headphones so that both ears can hear both channels, then you get a more realistic representation of what the stereo image sounds like.

Found that in an iZotope Ozone (mastering software) tutorial on their web site.

05-03-2003, 06:15 AM
Thanks for that link, Lee. And thanks for your helpful info, MDesigner.

Interesting stuff to learn about.

05-07-2003, 06:06 PM
Headphones are good for imaging in two situations: binaural recordings, and panned mono. Anything that has subtle phase differences should be done with monitors.

Example 1: You have a signal that\'s centered, but one channel is out of phase. With headphones it sounds loud and centered. On speakers you\'ll wonder where the signal went. Since it was out of phase the signal from the monitors cancelled before it got into your ears. With headphones the signals enter your ears at full sound, but your brain doesn\'t know to cancel outof phase signals.

Example 2: Take that out of phase signal, and reduce the volume to the left speaker by, say, one quarter. Listening to the monitors, you\'ll swear that the sound is coming from a few feet to the right of your right speaker. Put the headphones on. Guess what? The sound is nearly centered.

The all time greatest album for hearing phased image effects is Roger Waters\' Amused to Death. The whole album was done using analog gear(!), and used Q-Sound technology for enhancing the soundstage.

Listen to this album on a good set of speakers, and you\'ll have a whole new view of mixing/mastering. Listen to it on headphones, and you\'ll never want to do imaging on headphones again.

Well, until you listen to a binaural recording - those are done specifically to be heard in hedphones.

Roger Waters\'s Amused to Death. When it comes to imaging, nothing I\'ve heard before or since has touched it.

05-07-2003, 10:07 PM
Actually there are other situations when to use monitoring or headphones.
Headphones are very good when doing detailed listening: composing a complex passage or section of music when positioning in the stereo/quad field is not important. They are also useful for doing the initial pans and evaluating effects and sound-shapes. For the last stage of the mix, monitors are then most useful for manipulating the final image.
One downside of headphones is the fatigue on your ears and long-term hearing. I even tend to mix at relative lower volume because it is easier on the ears and my belief everything sounds better loud and can fool you, while mixing at lower levels lets you know if you are hearing everything or not. Final pass, normal full volume to hear if the material is happening.
Just my 0.02 cents.

05-10-2003, 09:04 AM
Have to throw in my \'me too\' bit here. images/icons/smile.gif I do headphones sometimes on complex passages for that \'critical listening\' stage, to pick up subtle things I\'m missing, but after that, off they come in favor of monitors. I\'d NEVER do a final mix on headphones, period.