Is it possible to mix and master on headphones? Yes it is, with Headphone calibration software and a Virtual Mixing Room Simulation or Crossfeed Plugin!
Free headphone mixing plugin tutorial:
Mixing and Mastering on Headphones
- Use your EQ as a Headphone Plugin or use a Headphone correction Software
- Also use a Virtual Mixing Room Plugin
Indeed you have had the problem of making the right mixing decisions. When you work on your songs at night and can't turn up the speakers that loud. Or your room acoustics are just not good enough to be sure that your mix will sound good on all speakers.
A headphone plugin always makes sense to support you when mixing with headphones, for better decisions, or to serve you as a 2nd listening possibility.
Popular headphone EQ software is, for example, Sonarworks Sound ID Reference, dSoniq Realphones, Acustica Audio Sienna, or Tonebooster Morphit.
But did you know that you can also use your preferred parametric equalizer like 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 then use one of the following eq plugins.
Best free Parametric EQ Plugins:
- Your Standard DAW Equalizer
- ReEQ (Reaper DAW)
Use your Equalizer Plugin as a HEADPHONE EQ:
Yes, you heard right; with the correct headphone EQ settings, you can use an equalizer with at least 10 bands to optimize your sound.
With my headphones, the result via the DMG Equilibrium sounded even better 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. There you will find the best studio headphones for mixing and hundreds of HiFi headphone models from which the frequency response was measured.
Why use a Headphone EQ and a Mixing Room Plugin ?
A headphone EQ plugin provides linear balanced sound. You will be surprised by how good your headphones can sound.
The Virtual Mixing Room Simulation or Crossfeed plugin creates a more realistic stereo image when mixing with headphones.
Both Plugins do not actively intervene in the mixing process. But they change the Audio signal on the headphones so well that mixing decisions are made for an optimal translation.
The respective plugin must always be the last one on the master and deactivated before exporting the finished mix.
*In the DAW Reaper, for example, there is a "Monitor FX". All effects that are on this channel are not rendered at all.
Mixing Mastering on Headphones
How to Mixing and Mastering on Headphones ?
Use this Free Headphone calibration software option for awesome results.
1. Visit Oratory 1990 on reddit
Visit the following link to use your equalizer as a free headphone calibration software.
* If you can't find your Headphones in Oratorys list. Then try this link, and search for your headphone model on the web page. Measurements by Crinacle, Headphone.com, Innerfidelity, oratory1990, Reference Audio Analyzer and Rtings are included
2. Search for your Headphones and open the "Harman Target" Curve PDF
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 search 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.
3.Left side without EQ (Before) - Right side with EQ (After)
Are your headphones - the best headphones for mixing music?
In the example on the left side, you can see the frequency response of your headphones. The Sennheiser HD58x Jubilee has a slightly too weak bass response and a little too present midrange.
On the right side, you can see the compensated frequency response curve. So how the sound will sound after we have made the equalizer adjustments.
4.The Optimum EQ Settings for Sennheiser HD 58x
If you scroll down the PDF, you will find the EQ filter settings for your headphones on the left side. This will optimize your headphones for mixing audio.
5. Add a gain plugin - To balance the volume
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 plugin "Purest Gain" from Airwindows.
The value for the gain plugin can be found in the marked red area; see Preamp gain.
6. EQ Settings: which you enter into your equalizer
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.
7. Start to add the "Filter Type", "Frequency", "Gain", "Q-Factor" or "BW" in your EQ.
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)
8. 5 minutes later I have transferred all values for 8 bands into Pro-Q
Now it's almost done; check the sound and hear how your mixing and mastering headphones have been optimized.
9. Or Use any other Equalizer like DMG Equilibrium
10. Use A HEADPHONE CROSSFEED PLUGIN or Virtual Mixing Room
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 a bit 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 the headphone 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.
Virtual Mixing Rooms & HEADPHONE EQ Plugins
Best headphone EQ software,Crossfeed Plugin alternatives and Virtual Mixing Rooms for mixing and mastering on headphones.
- Sonarworks Sound ID [Headphone and Speaker Calibration]
- Acustica Audio Sienna [They also have a Free Virtual Mixing Room Simulation with 2 Studios)
- Tonebooster Morphit
- Waves NX (now comes with oratory1990 Headphone Presets)
- Slate Audio VSX
Tip: I use the DMG Equilibrium Equalizer for the headphone calibration in combination with the virtual mixing room of dsoniq Realphones. For me, this combination achieves the best sound on my headphones.
Headphone Crossfeed Plugins
- 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
Headphone Crossfeed Hardware
- SPL Phonitor
- Merging Technologie Anubis
11. Important: Turn OFF the Headphone EQ and the Crossfeed Plugin for Rendering
Crossfeed and Headphone Mixing Plugins are part of your monitoring chain, not your mix. Bypass both Plugins when printing your final mix.
12. Don't use your internal Soundcard
Any pair of headphones can be improved with a Headphone EQ, but the Headphone amp is also essential. Get the most out of your headphones by getting an external headphone amp or a decent audio interface / DAC.
How to Use a Windows Equalizer Systemwide?
Also with a Windows PC you have the possibility to use an equalizer between your sound output. You can download a free Windows equalizer like the "Equalizer Apo" here. Use this Parametric / Graphical EQ to get the best sound out of your Windows system.
MAC Equalizer App
Headphone Equalizer for Android
To optimize the audio output for Spotify or Youtube on your Android phone, you can use the following Headphone EQ.
USB DAC with EQ Function
- Qudelix - 5K
DAC with headphone amplifier, which also includes an EQ for tone correction.
Headphone Frequency Response Challenges
Do you have any Question?
If you still have problems getting the Headphone EQ working, use the comment function.
Lem’s (Friday, 04 November 2022 16:37)
Hi Marcus, thank’s for this topic, is helping me very well to have a better « sounding » to work with. Good job for your blog !
However, i would like to delve deeper into this subjects, so i have some few questions :
- What are your sources for the « Q factor » multiple of x1,47 ? (for fabfilter pro-q 3)
- What's the best Eq mode to get a better results (zero latency, natural phase, or linear phase mod like slow/mid/high/or even more) ?
- I still do not understand why it's important to set a gain plugin before eq and how he affect the eq curve ?
which leads me to ask you is it good to gain match after the eq plugin (or auto gain enabled in Pro-q 3) ?
- Last questions,what’s the real signification of preference rating ? I use a Beyerdynamic Dt 990 Pro, and it's written «106/100» after eq, why ? How should we translate this result?
I hope it's not too long to read, but these small details would help me to understand much better. Thank’s sir !
oratory1990 (Saturday, 24 September 2022 16:00)
Waves NX now natively applies EQ to the headphone as well. I am supplying my EQ settings directly to them, accessible directly from within the NX plugin.
Marcus (Tuesday, 07 June 2022 08:06)
I have never used reverb to emulate a mixing room. With the virtual mixing room plugins, it is more about reproducing the speakers in combination with the room.
Pete (Saturday, 04 June 2022 22:08)
In addition to EQ and Xfeed, what do you think about adding a tiny, very tiny portion of reverb, small room, to emulate the atmosphere of a mixing room somehow