Making Beats & Mixing: Headphones vs. Speakers

I can’t believe I have to actually tell people this, especially after all of these years. There are many uses for headphones in the studio, but mixing is not one of them, or is it? Headphones have always been a favorite of mine because it’s much easier to bang out beats this way, plus the main reason is that it allows me to blast my music without disturbing anyone else. For mixing, however, it could be worth it.

Using Headphones

I love making beats with my headphones, it’s just something that I’ve always done. The reason why is because I live in an apartment, so I don’t want to bother my neighbors, but also it’s because I find that it just puts me “in the zone”, if you know what I mean. It’s great being able to bang away at the pads on my Maschine at all hours of the day and night and not have to worry, but the downside is my ears. Oh my ears.

I think the same thing can be said for speakers (monitors) as well. The more you’re making beats and the longer you spend in the studio making bangers, the more your ears will be getting destroyed. I have a pair of Mackie’s that sound awesome and would easily get my neighbors to call the cops, but they would also make my ears tired, thus my beats would suffer.

Headphones, on the other hand, allow me to make beat at will. Of course, if you have a pair of crappy average headphones, then, well, you’re screwed! It’s hard to find a good pair that will suit your needs AND be comfortable over your ears, but once you find the right pair, you’ll be set for life.

The Downside

The major downside of using headphones for either beat making or mixing, is that it masks the true sound of your beat. There’s been many times when I mixed my beats down in my DAW and it sounded great with the headphones on, but once I listened to my beat through my speakers, wow, totally different story.

I find that what happens when I’m mixing with my headphones is that it muddies up my mix. I have a pair of Sony MDR-7506’s, which sound amazing, but the bass response is making me muddy up the mix by either adding or subtracting bass. When I’m making a beat, I make sure to try and keep my samples as clean as possible so that my overall beat won’t have to have too much tweaking done in the mix. Garbage in equals garbage out! With headphones though, they can be deceiving, for various reasons.

Using Speakers

Using your studio speakers is obviously the best way to mix (and to make beats) because they are supposed to give you the flattest frequency response, unlike headphones that can be very unpredictable. The reason why headphones are not reliable is because they’re all made with comfort in mind. Some manufacturers will add more bass frequencies, others less, it all depends on what they feel is best for that particular product line of headphones. Speakers on the other hand, have the sole purpose of giving you the best, cleanest, and most unbiased sound you can get. It’s supposed to make your beat sound exactly the way it should, without adding any artifacts to the sound being reproduced.

The Verdict

Speakers. If you can, use your speakers to make beats, and especially for mixing. As I mentioned, the whole point of studio speakers is so that it can reproduce your sound exactly as it’s supposed to be, without anything added to it. Headphones are great too, but most of them don’t offer a clean frequency response.

If you happen to live in a place where you don’t want to disturb anyone when you’re doing your music, then I would recommend you use headphones when making beats. What I usually do is make beats with my headphones, and mix with my speakers. This way, even if my beat doesn’t sound great when I’m getting ready to mix, I can now fix it properly because I’m mixing with my speakers.

If you can’t use speakers at all, (or if you don’t have any), then you have no choice but to use headphones for everything. In that case, make sure you have some really good ones, and practice your mixing skills before you go and actually mix something that you will let everyone hear. You can mix down your beat with your headphones, then go and check how your final mix sounds on various devices like your MP3 player, in your car, and on an old tape deck.

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