Studio Monitors VS Headphones

You have worked so hard to get your latest project ready for the mix process. I know you want your mix to sound good on every sound system it’s played on. So which is better for mixing? Studio Monitors VS Headphones. Let’s take a look.

Studio Monitors VS Headphones – Which Is Better?

The short quick answer is Both. You need both studio monitors and headphones for all of your studio projects. I hope you weren’t looking for an answer that just picks one or the other. The truth is professionals use both studio monitors and headphones on all of their projects for various reasons that we will cover today.

It could be that you are currently only using one or the other and that’s ok. Use what you have by all means. This is far better than not doing anything at all.

There are advantages to using studio monitors and there are advantages to using headphones. You need both if you are serious about creating great music, voice-overs, beats, and film productions.

Mixing With Studio Monitors

Studio Monitors are not just a set of speakers. Studio monitors are speakers designed specifically for playing back your tracks with a flat frequency response.

Many people new to recording and mixing want to know the difference between regular speakers and studio monitors. The answer is studio monitors are designed to play back with a flat frequency response. Regular speakers have built in enhancements that boost the bass and boost the high end.

Mixing With Studio Monitors

When you are shopping for studio monitors it’s important to do a little research and find which studio monitors have the flattest frequency response, the best size for your room, and fits in your budget.

I think most people prefer to mix with a good set of studio monitors because you can hear what’s happening inside the stereo image and you can really hear your mix as it truly sounds.

Why Studio Monitors Are Important

Studio monitors are important because they are created to have a flat frequency response. You need to hear what is going on in the mix and you need to be able to make good mixing decisions.

We talked earlier about flat frequency response. A flat frequency response is important because this allows you to hear your mix as it truly is. When you listen on studio monitors with a flat frequency response you will know if you need more low end on the kick drum, more high end on the vocals, less low mids on your bass guitar, etc.

You can’t create a good mix that will sound good on any sound system you play it on if your not hearing a true representation of your mix. You can’t make good mixing decisions if you are not hearing your mix accurately.

Advantage Of Using Studio Monitors For Mixing

Studio monitors are great to mix with. We have already discussed some of the main reasons but let’s take a look at some of the other advantages.

Accurate Stereo Image – A good set of studio monitors will give you a better look at your mix inside the stereo image.

More Natural Sound – Listening to studio monitors while you mix give you a realistic and natural ambient sound for a better mix.

Less Fatigue – Studio monitors cause less listening fatigue than headphones.

Flat Frequency Response – Good studio monitors have a better flat frequency response than headphones.

Disadvantage Of Using Studio Monitors For Mixing

There can be some disadvantages to using studio monitors vs headphones. Let’s take a look.

Acoustic Treatment – Your room should have some acoustic treatment to get the most out of your studio monitors.

Not As Portable As Headphones – Studio monitors are not as portable as headphones.

Cost – Studio monitors cost more than headphones.

Mixing With Headphones

Quick, convenient, and very cost effective are words that come to mind when I think about mixing with headphones. Truth is, you can mix strictly on headphones. Also, the truth is you will eventually need a good set of studio monitors.

There is nothing wrong with mixing with headphones. A lot of professional engineers use headphones when they mix. They also use studio monitors. The professional engineer has a lot of experience and knows what to listen for when mixing with headphones. The same can be said about studio monitors.

Mixing With Headphones

More than likely, if you are trying to find justification for only using headphones to mix with, you may be in a situation where you currently HAVE to use headphones. No worries, we’ve all been there.

If you’re in a small apartment, in a noisy environment, or on a budget, headphones may be the way to go. Nothing wrong with that.

The truth is, anyone with experience will tell you they use both studio monitors and headphones.

Why Headphones Are Important

Headphones are an important part of any home recording studio. You may be working on a project late at night and do not want to disturb anyone. You may be trying to set levels and there is too much noise going on in the room. There are many reasons why you may find using headphones is necessary.

One great aspect of using headphones is that you can sometimes get a microscopic look into your mix if you are trying to find pops and clicks happening in the mix. Often times it is necessary to put on a set of headphones to find the exact problem.

Headphones are also good to have around if you are working in a room that has not been acoustically treated. Acoustic treatment absorbs sound frequencies that are bouncing around in the room you are trying to mix in. Listening through headphones eliminates the need for acoustic treatment.

Advantage Of Using Headphones For Mixing

Headphones are your friend and here are a couple of reasons why headphones are good for mixing.

Cheaper Than Studio Monitors – Headphones cost less than studio monitors. Great for getting started.

Very Portable – Headphones are very portable and easy to take with you wherever you go.

Always Sound The Same – Your headphones will always sound the same wherever you go.

Room Acoustics – No need for acoustic treatment if you are working with headphones.

Fine Editing Task – Great for setting reverb and delay times. It can be easier to hear fine details with a pair of headphones.

Disadvantage Of Using Headphones For Mixing

There are some disadvantages of using headphones for mixing. Let’s take a look.

Stereo Separation – It can be difficult to gage stereo separation with headphones. All the right channel goes into the right ear and all the left channel goes into the left ear and there is no natural cross talk between the left and right channels.

No Ambience – There is no natural ambience in the mix. The sound waves are not moving through the air which will affect the way your mix sounds on other systems.

Fatigue – Headphones can cause more fatigue from sitting on your head and pressing in on your ears. May make your ears sweat and ache. Also because the speakers are going directly into your ears you may experience listening fatigue.

Not A Flat Frequency Response – All headphones have coloring or enhancements built in for better bass or high end. Headphones do not have a flat frequency response.

There is a company called Sonar Works that claim to be able to adjust your headphones for a flat frequency response. This is done through a software algorithm that changes the way your computer outputs sound. We will save this for another article.

How To Choose A Good Set Of Studio Monitors

The most important thing you want to look at when picking out a pair of studio monitors is flat frequency response. You also want to consider the size of your room vs the size studio monitors you get. Your budget will also play a role in what studio monitors will be a good fit for you.

Flat Frequency Response – Be sure and check out the manufacture specs for the frequency response of the studio monitors you are considering. All manufactures say their speaker has a flat frequency response but that’s not entirely accurate. Look for a graph showing the speakers actual tested performance.

Pair Of Studio Monitors

Frequency Range – Check to see what the manufacture specs are for the frequency range of the speaker. The human ear can hear from 20Hz to 20kHz. Most studio monitors will range anywhere from 30Hz to 35kHz depending on the size woofer cone you are looking at.

How Big Is Your Room – What size room will you be working in? This is important especially if your room has no acoustic treatment. So if you are in a 10′ X 10′ bedroom you may not want to go with 8 inch studio monitors. You may want to go with the 5 inch studio monitors. The sound frequencies will bounce around in a non treated room and interfere with the way your mix sounds. Lower listening levels will help some with rogue frequencies.

Acoustic Treatment – If you have acoustic treatment in your room or plan on adding acoustic treatment then you may want to opt for a little bigger speaker. A larger studio monitor will create more bass build up in your room, especially if it’s not treated.

Budget – How much are you willing to spend on a good set of studio monitors? Studio monitors are a good investment. Don’t opt for the cheapest set you can find. In my opinion, you are only wasting your money on a cheap set of studio monitors. Save up and get a good pair.

These are some of the main points you want to be aware of when purchasing a set of studio monitors. If you want to learn more about good studio monitor choices check out my article The Best Budget Studio Monitors For Home Studios. It’s full of good information for you and the studio monitors listed in this article come in 5 inch and 8 inch options. Be sure and check it out.

How To Setup Studio Monitors

I just want to take a moment and talk briefly on how to properly set up your studio monitors. Some of you reading this may be new to studio monitors and I thought this may be helpful.

Yamaha HS8 Studio Monitor Setup Diagram

Ideally, you want to set up your studio monitors pointing towards the long end of your room. So if you are in a 10′ X 15′ room, you want to point your speakers down the 15 foot (long end) of the room.

It’s best to put your monitors an equal distance from each wall. Set your studio monitors up in an Equilateral Triangle. This simply means put an equal amount of distance between your speakers and between you. This will form a perfect triangle. I will attach a diagram to show you what I mean.

Try to avoid setting up your studio monitors in a corner. Setting your studio monitors up in a corner of the room creates a lot of extra unwanted frequency build up that will make it harder to create a good mix.

Spend the extra money on acoustic treatment for your home recording studio setup. You will have better mixes that translate well to other sound systems. Foam panels do very little to improve the acoustics in your room. Save up for acoustic panels that will absorb the frequencies bouncing around in your room.

How To Choose A Good Pair Of Headphones

Choosing a good pair of headphones for mixing can be a challenge. There are some very good headphone options out there if you know what you are looking for. Let’s see if we can narrow our options a little.

Closed Back Headphones – Closed back headphones will give you a little more bass punch. This will sound good but may not be the best for getting an accurate mix. Closed back headphones will also give you more noise isolation from the outside world. Closed back headphones are good if you’re tracking vocals and do not want the headphone playback feeding into the vocal mic you are recording with.

Studio Headphones

Open Back Headphones – Open back headphones will give you a wider and deeper bass response. Open back headphones may not be as punchy as closed back headphones. Open back headphones will give you a more spacious stereo field and may help with better panning decisions. In general, open back headphones are a little lighter, cooler, and allow your ears to breathe better. Because of this, the open back headphones may be a better choice for mixing your projects.

Some headphones brands the pros use in their studios are: Audio Technica, Sennheiser, AKG, Sony, and Beyerdynamic. You can expect to spend anywhere from $50.00 dollars to $300.00 dollars or more on a set of good headphones.

Video Credit: In The Mix

What Others Are Saying About Studio Monitors VS Headphones

Source Direct QuoteWhat I Think
Musicradar.com“There’s no doubt that a good pair of studio monitor speakers provides the most authentic and natural-sounding representation of your tracks.”Agree
Producelikeapro.com“Stereo imaging is another major issue mixing with headphones presents. The stereo field sounds markedly wider on headphones than it does on a pair of studio monitors because the left and right channels are literally sitting on each side of our head.”Agree
ledgernote.com“Properly balancing the stereo field can be extremely difficult in the full-immersion of earphones versus the natural ambience of an acoustically treated studio with flat frequency monitors.”Agree
headphonesty.com“A flat frequency response means all frequencies remain level across the entire range. It’s called flat because its frequency response graph looks like a straight, horizontal line. In contrast, most consumer-grade headphones feature a V or U-shaped graph because of the elevated left (bass) and right (treble) frequencies.”Agree
homestudioexpert.com“Why have one when you can use both?  The straightforward answer for anyone stuck between deciding between a pair of headphones or studio monitors for your studio setup is do you even want to choose one when you need both for a better end product.”Agree
andyaxmusic.com“If your room isn’t acoustically treated you will get better mixing results using headphones. If your room is treated, however, you should go with studio monitors to mix your music. Also, the stereo image, volume, and finer details will differ somewhat between the two.”Agree
sonarworks.com“Use both! A combination of headphones and speakers could be your friend.”Agree

Final Thoughts

So when it comes to Studio Monitors VS Headphones the answer is use both. Each has it’s strength and weakness.

Some of you currently may not be using both and that’s ok. My intention while writing this article is to educate and inform you the best I can. I have given you enough truthful information here to help you get started with your home recording studio setup or to educate you on the benefits of using both studio monitors and headphones.

If you like writing, recording, mixing, and producing music then you are in the right place. I want to encourage you to continue on with your journey. Write and produce your music. Get involved and learn all you can about the things that you love and interest you.

While you’re here.. Take a look around. Feel free to leave your questions and comments below.

6 thoughts on “Studio Monitors VS Headphones”

  1. Thanks for the helpful primer on studio monitors and headphones. Most of the work we do at our studio happens over the studio monitors – for all of the reasons you mention. Then, things will always get checked again on multiple other sources before they are considered finished. 

    It is certainly helpful to have the studio headphones ready when you are trying to keep things quiet for others in the house! 

    Reply
    • Thanks for taking time out to leave some comments Aly.  I primarily use my studio monitors also but I like to check my work on the headphones too.  

      Headphones ARE great when we have to work late and need to keep things quiet.  I have another article you may like called, The Best Budget Studio Monitors For Home Studios.  Be sure and check it out and let me know which studio monitors you use in your studio.  

      Reply
  2. I have had to assess tender submissions of small business sound professionals in post-production advertising work. Your post has assisted me in refining the qualification criteria. Specifically, better understanding the different routes that can be taken in mixing and recording, delivering a better sound and ultimately delivering a better campaign. In many instances, the small operators utilize just headphones so I can disqualify them if I am looking for better flat frequency and stereo separation. Similarly, if the budget does not permit and I can get away with it a ‘headphone guy’ will be acceptable. On the flipside if I am going to be using mic men, instruments and a lead singer then have an experienced operator with monitors and a proper sound room is my best way. Of course, as you state having both monitors and headphones are ideal. Thanks for providing this very useful clarification. 

    Reply
  3. Setting up your home studio the way that you want it requires some know-how when it comes to what equipment to use that will work best for you. For beginners, this can become a challenge and confusing. There is nothing like getting the best quality sound and image that will make your work easy. Thanks so much for sharing these tips that are so helpful!!

    Reply
    • I couldn’t have said it better Norman.  The reason I put this website together is to share information and to make a home recording studio setup a little easier for everyone interested. Thanks for stopping by.

      Reply

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