Should you mix on ‘hyped’ monitors or headphones?

We recently posted a blog article about Beats headphones, which–you may have noticed–generated quite a bit of interest. There was one comment on that post that brings us to today’s article: “but if everyone on the planet listens to music on BEATS, wouldn’t it make sense to use them in studio as “reference” instead of using proper monitoring equipment?”

Should you mix on 'hyped' monitors or headphones?A very, very good question. Let’s take a wee think about that one. Should you mix on ‘hyped’ monitors or headphones?

It is fairly standard practice to check your mixes on a range of different systems. From your studio monitors, to a more real-world speaker, studio headphones, cheap earbuds, the car, making sure your mix translates to a range of different systems is important if you want to ensure a great listening experience for as many different people as possible.

And that’s why the studio monitor companies try to make your studio monitors as ‘flat’ as possible. By being as neutral as they can, any peaks and troughs in the response of other systems will present less of a problem. Imagine if you had monitors that had a big dip in their response at 3 kHz. You’ll likely boost in that region to compensate. If someone listens on a system with a peak in that region, you may well be responsible for incinerating their ears.

And we’re sure you wouldn’t want that.

Normal distributionIf you picture a curve like this, and imagine that your studio monitors are at the peak. Some speakers may have a bit more 2 kHz than yours, but some on the other side of the curve may have a bit less, some on one side may have a bit of ported-speaker bass hype at 60 Hz, some on the other side of the curve may roll off well before that. By having a pair of monitors in the middle of that curve, you’re not mixing specifically for any single playback system, but, on average, the mix will sound respectable on all (or at least most!) of them.

And that’s a huge part of what mixing is: compromise.

Many pairs of headphones, and it’s not just Beats, are ‘hyped’ to give a particularly strong response in one area, the bass, generally. If you’re in the mood to really feel a pounding bassline, or your personal taste is just for lots of bottom end, buy some headphones that are designed to give you just that.

Now imagine if someone has mixed on those headphones. Yes, they’ll know exactly how ‘bassy’ the mix is going to sound on those headphones, but what if the mix engineer’s idea of what is a good amount of bass is different to yours? What if you want more bass? What headphones do you buy now?

If the mix engineer is using the headphones with the most hyped bass, and you want more bass than that, someone now has to make an even more bass-boosted pair of headphones. And what happens when everyone starts listening on them? The mix engineer gets a pair of those, mixes bass for them, and the cycle continues until the combined effect of all the subsonic frequencies is enough to cause an earthquake that wipes out all of humankind.

And we don’t want that.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with speaker systems or headphones that aren’t flat and are designed to hype specific frequencies, but perhaps that should be left for the personal preference of the end user (much like the amount of compression/limiting, but that’s for another day…).

By mixing on one pair of  ‘reference’ monitors, you can have a reasonable amount of confidence that your mix will translate onto as many other systems as possible. If anything, your alternative monitoring should be something that is very restricted in its response, hence the enduring popularity of the Auratone 5C speakers and their modern equivalent, the Avantone Mixcubes.

Mastering Studio SpeakersWhen you look at images of the pro-mixing studios, that’s generally what you see, the main monitors, a pair of nearfields and a set of grotty limited speakers. In mastering studios, it’s often even more limited, with usually just the one pair of exceptionally expensive, ultra-flat speakers, perhaps with a pair of something small for real-world peace-of-mind.

It’s impossible to check your mix on every type of headphone and speaker, but a relatively flat set of monitors combined with a more ‘real-world’ set of speakers or headphones should ensure that you don’t catch too many people’s ears by surprise or deprive them of your perfectly crafted bassline!


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Fynn Callum

producer, guitarist, engineer & dj
From indie guitarist to deep house producer via Northern Soul dj; mix engineer, producer and gear enthusiast. Jaffa Cake aficionado.

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