This is a question I get asked a lot. But before I answer, the disclaimer:
Personally, I’m not happy mixing on headphones.
Of course I use them all the time, for an alternative perspective my monitors, and for listening in very fine detail for clicks, distortion etc. But for real judgements, speakers are the way to go. Headphones just don’t give me the visceral, physical feedback I want.
(So, don’t read this post, blow a couple of hundred quid on a pair of headphones, spend 6 months trying to mix on them and then come back blaming me for bad advice !)
Having said that, I know lots of people who do mix on headphones, and make a great job of it. Maybe you don’t have the space or soundproofing to crank speakers up in your own studio, or a large enough room for your studio. Maybe your studio is a laptop. Maybe you’re like me and use headphones at home in the evenings to avoid waking the children, or your partner !
So, what do I recommend ? As far as the brand goes, the answer is simple – Sennheiser. They are consistently the best-sounding and most comfortable make of headphone, in my opinion. I first became aware of stereo sound at the age of ten listening on a pair of Sennheisers, and I’ve used them happily ever since.
Which model to suggest is a little more complicated, though.
At home I have a pair of HD500s which I’ve had for over ten years – apart from needing new foam pads they’re still going strong. I like the open design and the deep bass. Strictly speaking, they have a little too much bass and treble, but I’m very used to them so I can compensate. But you can’t buy them any more, and I’m not sure of the current equivalent.
Luckily my suggestion bypasses this problem – so, without further ado, here it is.
Buy the most expensive pair of Sennheisers you can afford, that you like the sound of.
See ? Simple.
And before you all start moaning – no, that’s not a cop-out ! When I bought the 500s, I auditioned all the models available at the time, right up to twice the price. They all sounded a little (or a lot) different, but these were the ones that sounded “right” to me, listening to music I knew well.
You should do the same. Because the truth is, if you’re mixing, you’ll have these things clamped to you head for hours on end, and listening fatigue becomes even more of a factor than working on speakers. So, you’re unlikely to get a really good pair for less than £100, but after that, ignore the price and choose the ones you like. Make sure you listen to a variety of material, and remember that the better the headphones, the more flaws they’ll reveal in what you’re listening to.
No ! Not good enough – we need a model number !
Oh, all right. If or when my trusty HD500s finally give up the ghost, the next pair of headphones I’ll buy will be these:
In fact, if you decide to follow my recommendation and use either of those Amazon links, that’s what I’ll put the commission towards : ) (I’m not an audiophile, by the way – but that’s a whole other blog post !)
[Update – Since I wrote this post I have indeed bought myself a pair of HD650s, and I’m delighted with them in every way. Strongly recommended. If you decide to get some though, bear in mind that like any speakers they need to be “played in” – in the case of my 650s, I left them running continuously with a variety of material for over 100 hours before I felt they sounded “right” and I started listening to things on them. Other advocate even longer – 200+ hours]
Listen, listen, listen
At the end of the day, provided they meet a decent level of quality, the truth is that headphones (or speakers) you choose are far less important than how well you know them. So take the advice in my previous post and learn what your headphones sound like, by listening to all kinds of music on them – a lot.
Several people I respect have recommended a plugin which emulates listening to speakers on headphones – the 112bD Redline Monitor plugin. I haven’t tried it, and apparently it takes a little getting used to, but there’s a free demo, so why not give it a try ?
And, here’s a great Sound On Sound article on mixing on headphones – it’s several year sold now, but still contains some great comments and suggestions.