Is it possible to get great results when mixing and mastering on headphones? Yes, it's possible to mix and master audio using headphones! You only need a headphone calibration tool and a virtual mixing room simulation or crossfeed plugin.
These tools allow you to flatten the frequency response of your headphones and accurately represent what your audio would sound like through speakers, even when using headphones.
You can trust your ears even more with the proper setup and tools and achieve better mixes and masters.
Use your EQ as a Headphone Plugin, or use a Headphone correction Software
Also, use a Virtual Mixing Room Plugin
You may have struggled with making the right mixing decisions. Especially when working on your songs at night, it can be challenging to turn up the speakers loud enough, and your room acoustics may not be sufficient to ensure your mix sounds good on all speakers. That's where a headphone plugin can come in handy. It can support you while mixing with headphones, giving you better decision-making capabilities or as a second listening option.
Some popular headphone EQ software options include Sonarworks Sound ID Reference, dSoniq Realphones, Acustica Audio Sienna, or Tonebooster Morphit. However, what you may not know is that you can also use your preferred parametric equalizer such as Crave EQ, Fabfilter Pro-Q, DMG Equilibrium, or Kirchhoff EQ in Ableton, FL Studio, or Reaper and sometimes get an even better sound when mixing on your headphones.
If you don't have a suitable equalizer plugin, use one of the following eq plugins.
If you're looking for a way to get linear and balanced sound from your headphones, a headphone EQ plugin might be just what you need. You'll be blown away by how much better your headphones can sound.
Another plugin that can help improve the stereo image when mixing with headphones is the Virtual Mixing Room Simulation or Crossfeed plugin. These plugins don't actively intervene in the mixing process, but they work so well in changing the audio signal on your headphones that they can help you make better mixing decisions for an optimal translation.
Remember that the respective plugin should always be the last one on the master and deactivated before exporting the finished mix. For example, in the DAW Reaper, there's a "Monitor FX" channel where all effects on this channel are not rendered at all.
Want to learn how to mix and master using headphones? You're in luck! This guide shows you how to utilise your EQ as a powerful free headphone calibration software option to achieve incredible results.
Yes, you heard right; with the correct headphone EQ settings, you can use an equalizer with at least 10 bands to optimize your sound.
The result via the DMG Equilibrium sounded even better with my headphones than with Sonarworks Sound ID Reference. The sound was much warmer at the end, and the bass response in the low end was so much better. Therefore, try the following steps in any case.
This is possible thanks to the Headphone EQ list from Oratory1990 on Reddit. You will find the best studio headphones for mixing and hundreds of HiFi headphone models from which the frequency response was measured.
Visit the following link to use your equalizer as a free headphone calibration software.
Optimizing the best headphones for mixing and mastering: In this example, I have picked the headphone profile from the Sennheiser HD58x and will transfer it to my DAW in the following steps.
After you have searched and selected your headphone profile, click on the Harman Target curve. This specific target frequency response produces the "best possible sound" for headphones. Next, a PDF will open where you can get more information.
Do your headphones provide the best sound quality for music mixing?
I want to share some information with you. Take a look at this diagram that displays the optimal sound (Harman target) as a green line.
On the left side, you can view the frequency response of your headphones without any correction (Orange Line). The Sennheiser HD58x Jubilee has a slightly weak bass response and a little too much midrange.
On the other hand, the compensated frequency response curve (Blue Line) is shown on the right side. How does the sound compare after we have made equalizer adjustments?
The first thing we do is put a gain plugin on the master track. Since the settings on the equalizer change the volume, this must be balanced beforehand. Otherwise, clipping can occur, and your headphones will sound worse than before.
Why must the gain plugin be used? If you raise a frequency by 10 dB, it becomes 10 dB louder. But a software EQ cannot produce more loudness than the maximum (0 dBFS). To avoid this problem, you use the gain plugin.
In most DAW, you will find a gain plugin: In Ableton, this is called "Utility gain." Otherwise, you can also use the free "Purest Gain" plugin from Airwindows.
The value for the gain plugin can be found in the marked red area; see Preamp gain.
In the red-marked table, you will find the equalizer values for your headphones - Here, you can see the EQ values for the Sennheiser HD58X.
In this case, 8 bands have to be added to your equalizer.
Now add band by band to your equalizer and set the correct "Filter Type", "Frequency", "Gain" and "Q-Factor".
In some EQs, you have a "BW" value instead of the "Q" which sets the curve's steepness.
Fabfilter - Pro Q3 uses a different system, and all Q values need to be multiplied by 1.41 (Source)
Load the headphone EQ first and then a Headphone Crossfeed Plugin or a virtual Mixing Room behind it. The crossfeed makes the headphones less fatiguing to listen to for long periods.
Let your headphones behave more like loudspeakers for a more transparent and precise sound. This allows the listener to reduce the channel separation to a natural level.
The main difference between headphones and speaker monitoring is the perception of stereo width.
In theory, the sound from the left speaker is for the left ear, and the right speaker is for the right ear, but in reality, both ears hear the sound from both speakers to a greater or lesser degree.
With headphones, however, this is different - the left ear hears only the left signal, and the right ear hears only the right because the drivers in each earcup are isolated.
However, with the help of correction plugins (crosstalk or virtual Mixing Rooms), it is possible to reduce the difference in perception between speakers and headphones.
The goal is to achieve a subtle feeling of openness and natural directness of sound on headphones. So mixing and mastering on headphones leads to better results.
Read more about Virtual Mixing Rooms & HEADPHONE EQ Plugins at the beginning of this article.
To enhance your headphone mixing experience, consider using Virtual Mixing Rooms or a Crossfeed plugin and HEADPHONE EQ plugins. These tools serve different purposes but you can combine some of them,
The HEADPHONE EQ plugin corrects the frequency response of your headphones to achieve a balanced and precise sound. This can prevent problems such as excessive bass, treble or muddy mids. You'll usually need an EQ profile for your headphone model to use, which can be found in Headphone Correction VST Plugin or implementer via an Equilizer by yourself.
In contrast, a virtual mixing room emulates a natural listening environment's acoustics and stereo imaging through your headphones, providing a more immersive and accurate soundstage. This feature allows you to test your mix on different speakers and rooms. To achieve this, Virtual Mixing Rooms use binaural processing to simulate how sound waves reach our ears from different points and distances.
A cross-feed plugin recreates the effect of speakers on headphones by mixing some of the left and right channels. This minimises extreme stereo separation and enhances natural sound quality. A virtual mixing room plug-in goes further by simulating the acoustics and reflections of an actual room, the position and orientation of your head, and the type and placement of speakers. This approach can enhance the authenticity and depth of the audio output while also helping to assess the adaptability of the mix to different environments.
Use the headphone EQ and select a virtual mixing room or cross-feed plug-in. Combining these two tools can provide a more balanced headphone response, a realistic, open soundstage for better headphone mixing results, and a more enjoyable listening experience.
If you need help getting your music to sound good through headphones, I have a suggestion. Check out this plugin called dSONIQ Realphones. It's pretty sweet because it corrects the sound of your headphones and lets you hear what your music would sound like in different environments, like a fancy studio or even a car. Here's what makes it so great:
First, it works with over 200 headphone models and lets you choose from different sound profiles. Plus, it makes your headphones sound like you're listening through some excellent speakers with its virtual mixing room emulation. You can even hear what your music would sound like playing in a club or a car.
It's a helpful tool for ensuring your music sounds good no matter where it's played. Give it a try!
If you're into music production, you should check out this software called Sonarworks Sound ID Reference. It's pretty cool because it can calibrate your speakers and headphones to ensure the sound is consistent on any device.
It measures the frequency response of your room and speakers using a measurement microphone and creates a calibration profile to correct your sound system's acoustic flaws and colourations.
It also has over 300 supported headphone models, so you can apply a pre-made calibration profile for your headphones. This is helpful because you can confidently create, mix and deliver your music, knowing that your sound will be accurate and consistent across different platforms and devices.
- Acustica Audio Sienna [They offer free headphone calibration software and a Free Virtual Mixing Room Simulation that includes 2 studios.]
- Tonebooster Morphit
- Waves NX (now comes with oratory1990 Headphone Presets)
- Slate Audio VSX
- Goodhertz CanOpener (Use the Mix Engineer preset, Safe Gain Off)
- MathAudio Headphone EQ (only activate the crossfeed; keep the rest off)
- Or use a Virtual Mixing Room like Acustica Audio Sienna or DSoniq Realphones
- SPL Phonitor
- Merging Technologie Anubis
The software I use to calibrate my headphones is DMG Equilibrium Equalizer, one of the best, most powerful and flexible EQ plug-ins that can handle any kind of audio processing. I use the EQ data provided by Oratori 1990, a user who has measured and calibrated hundreds of headphone models. He has shared his EQ presets for free on Reddit, you can download the PDFs and enter the EQ data into the DMG Equilibrium Equalizer. This way you can correct the frequency response of your headphones and make them sound more neutral and accurate.
The software I use as a virtual mixing room is the dsoniq Realphones plug-in, which recreates the sound of various studio monitors and mixing rooms using advanced binaural technology, which can enhance the realism and immersion of the sound. I use the 'Big Fat Bottom' live preset, which is one of my favourite presets for bass-heavy music. This preset gives me a warm and punchy sound with lots of low-end energy, which is perfect for my taste.
With this combination of software, I can get the best sound out of my headphones and mix and master my music with confidence. I highly recommend you give them a try and see for yourself how they can improve your headphone experience.
Qudelix - 5K
DAC with headphone amplifier, which also includes an EQ for tone correction.
Investing in a high-quality pair is the first step to achieving great results when mixing on headphones. Look for headphones with a flat frequency response or whether the frequency response is relatively flat after processing with an eq, which will give you the most accurate representation of your mix. Some of the best sounding headphones are made by: Hifiman, Focal, Sennheiser and some AKG, Beyerdynamic and Audio Technica.
I would also strongly recommend buying a good-sounding headphone amp, it can make a huge difference to getting the most out of your headphones. A headphone amplifier is a device that makes the sound from your headphones louder and clearer. You can think of it as a booster for your headphones. Some headphones need more power than others to sound good, and a headphone amplifier can provide that power. A headphone amplifier can also make the sound more detailed and realistic, so you can enjoy your music more.
Using multiple headphones with different sound characteristics can help you get a more accurate representation of your mix. For example, you might use a pair of open-back headphones for the mids and a pair of closed-back headphones for the lows. Or you can choose between different driver types, such as planar, dynamic, or electrostatic headphones.
To make sure your mix translates well on different playback systems, it's important to listen to it on different speakers and headphones. This will help you identify problem areas and make adjustments if necessary. You can also use Audified's Mixchecker Pro VST plug-in, which simulates 60 different consumer devices, to get an idea of how your mix will translate on other playback systems.
To avoid ear fatigue and ensure that you're making accurate judgments about your mix, it's important to take breaks and listen at an appropriate volume. I recommend taking a break every 30 minutes and listening at a comfortable but not too loud volume. Also, try to listen to your mix very quietly and compare it to playing a track at a very high volume for a short time.
In fact, you should try to mix and master at the same volume for the most part, otherwise, it is hard to judge the mix. You may notice that at lower volumes you tend to focus more on the mids and vocals, while at higher volumes you tend to focus more on the lows and highs. You may also notice that higher volumes make your music sound more exciting and energetic, but also harsher and more distorted. You want to find a volume level that allows you to hear all elements of your music clearly and accurately without compromising your hearing health or enjoyment.
One of the best ways to ensure your mix is on par with professional releases is to use reference tracks. These songs you know sound great on various systems and can serve as a benchmark for your mix. To compare reference tracks ADPTR Metric Vst Plugin is my solution.
As a music producer, developing a keen ear is crucial to creating exceptional mixes, spotting flaws in your tracks, and refining your musical skills. But how do you train your ear to do this?
Well, there are many ways to do it. One of the most convenient and effective is to use ear training apps (Read More).
Ear training apps are software applications designed to improve listening skills through practice, feedback, and gamification. They can help you practice different aspects of hearing, such as pitch, rhythm, frequency, intervals, chords, scales, and more.
I am Marcus, a music enthusiast who runs a mixing and mastering business. Additionally, I compose insightful articles for my blog and produce music as a member of the techno duo Agravik.