Saturday, August 2, 2014


Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article! This time I wanted to share my thoughts about the output devices that we use when recording, mixing and mastering.

Ideally we should use the right tool for the job: isolating headphones when the drummer records the acoustic drums, so that there is no metronome spill on the drum microphones, a good set of monitors when mixing to assure a neutral response, and in the mastering phase a long testing and debugging session with the car stereo, ipod headphones, laptop speakers, and any other device we think that our audience will use.

Since this is a blog about home recording, we assume that not everyone has a full featured studio, so usually bedroom producers choose one device and stick with that: a decent pair of headphones if he/she lives in a flat and cannot produce excessive noise, or a decent pair of monitors if noise it's not a problem.
First off let's define what DECENT means: it means that both headphones and monitors should be meant to be used for mixing, so they should tend to have a "realistic response", which means that the sound should tend to be not too different when translated to a car stereo or into a pair of cheap headphones.
The more this sound gets translated without being totally modified in terms of equalization etc, the more our device is liable, and the more it will cost.

If we want to start mixing or mastering we should choose a device that assures at least a minimum of realism, otherwise our work will be totally useless, we will be like a blind man that tries to paint a picture.
About mixing headphones, I'd suggest only devices from a certain quality level up, for example Akg, Sennheiser or Beyerdynamic (being these last ones probably the best, and most expensive, for mixing purposes).
Speaking of studio monitors, instead, my advice is to avoid the 200€ / $ per pair, since probably the cheapest ones that has some utility in a mixing environment are probably the Yamaha, in their 350/400€ / $ per pair range; going up with the price the quality gets even better, and a very good quality - to price ratio is represented by Genelec, and Adam brand.
Avoid the cheap ones and the small speaker ones (anything smaller than 5"), since if you mix with them, the song that will sound well with them will sound awful and unbalanced with any other device, and you will have wasted your time.

PROS and CONS of using headphones:

+ you will not bother the ones around you
+ you will have a clearer idea of the stereo field disposition of the instruments
+ you will notice more details when tracking or editing
+ on an average, they are cheaper than a pair of monitors

- they don't represent well the low range, and sometimes they just hide it
- they don't represent well the frequency masking
- working with them is more ear-fatiguing
- in the mastering phase they are really close to being useless

PROS and CONS of using monitors:

+ the sound will be usually more realistic and the spectrum will be represented better
+ it's clearer to find the single frequences where to intervene surgically
+ it's clearer to point out phase cancelling and frequency masking
+ they are good also for mastering, to check out the overall loudness

- they are usually more expensive
- to be used at their best they need a certain placement in the room
- they can bother those around you :)
- the room may need some acoustic treatment

Click here for an article with the differences between open back and closed back headphones!!

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