There is an endless debate among amateur music producers and sound engineers regarding the best way to get what you’re seeing on screen into your ears. How do you get the most accurate representation of the sounds you are crafting in your DAW, so that what you’re hearing enables you to mix effectively?
Ordinary headphones or speakers designed for listening to your favourite songs, no matter how good they are, just aren’t appropriate for mixing. They are always designed to present the sound in a way that would make it pleasing to enjoy casually – they do not give an objective, accurate representation of the frequency spectrum that is so important for you to nail at the mixing stage. So we have to choose between studio headphones and studio monitors when building up our home setup.
There are several factors to consider at the foundation of making a choice between the two options. The first is your budget – how much you are willing to spend, because good monitors generally cost far more than good cans. The second is your workspace. A residential location without soundproofing or acoustic treatments is not usually conducive to mixing with monitors, because the noise you make will inevitably bother someone, and your setup may cause their sound to be corrupted before it reaches your ears. Finally, you need to be aware that there is huge diversity within either choice, particularly monitors. Once you have made a decision about which is best for you, you then have a far more complex choice to make to pinpoint the precise pair of headphones or monitors you will eventually go for.
The Money Factor
Your budget may end up making the choice for you. To get a set of headphones that are suitable for mixing purposes, the range we are looking at is around $40 up to about $500. For monitors, the range is more like $140 – $1,750! So it’s pretty clear which option is better suited to those with lesser means, regardless of what you think about which option is objectively the superior.
Upfront investment is so often the greatest barrier towards the amateur, DIY musician fulfilling their setup dreams. When a monetary return on your investment is anything but guaranteed, it may seem foolish to shell out on the most expensive products just for home use. Furthermore, the reality is that utilizing the best equipment in a studio that isn’t kitted out with the best acoustics is not gonna allow you to get the best out of your equipment!
If you have the skills of mixing, you will make a good end result with whatever option you go far. Besides which, you will learn how your setup sounds through experience, and gradually become more adept at getting the right sound from your process.
That being said, here are a few suggestions for budget category equipment:
Open Back Headphones
Beyerdynamic DT990 PRO – available for around $150, these headphones are not the absolute cheapest, but offer great value for their price.
Their selling points include:
- A wide frequency range – 5Hz-35kHz
- A very strong bass presence
- A supremely comfortable fit
These headphones will keep you going for a long time, and won’t break the bank if you purchase them.
Check out this video review of the Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro headphones by Youtuber HiFi Heaven…
Another popular model along with these Beyerdynamics at a similar price is the AKG K701.
Samson SR850 Professional Studio Reference Headphones – Available at around $50, if you have the tightest of budgets then these are the headphones for you.
Their best features include:
- A frequency range of 10Hz-30kHz
- 32o impedance
- 50mm drivers for exceptional reproduction/wide dynamic range
It is widely reported that these headphones exceed their modest price tag. A skilled producer will be able to achieve great results for the humble investment the Samson SR850s command.
Check out this video review of these Samson SR850s by Youtuber ODi Productions for a closer look!
KRK RP5G3-NA Rokit 5 Generation Studio Monitors – For a pair of $300 monitors, you can get some great performance. In fact, there are few (if any) reviews of the KRKs that have a word of criticism to offer.
Their features include:
- Large headroom and very low distortion
- Pristine clarity and extended response up to 35kHz
- Proprietary waveguide optimized for superior imaging
They aren’t the very cheapest of monitors, but they are a million miles from being the most expensive.
Check out this video review of these KRK RP5G3-NA Rokit 5 Generation Studio Monitors by Youtuber recordingrevolution.
If you are starting out, but want to invest in something above the most basic, the KRKs are a good shout. As are the JBL LSR305s and the M Audio AV42s, in case you’re interested!
When Money is no Object
Some of the best headphones you could imagine are these Shure SRH1840.
Check out this video review of the Shure SRH 1440 by YouTuber Headroom to get more information.
Hearing music for the first time through them is a beautiful experience, and it just might change your entire outlook on what music is supposed to sound like. The same could be said of the Focal Twin6 Be studio monitors.
These are the high-end options for you to consider if you really do have the means to acquire the best that money can buy. Your setup will be at its most effective if you have these, but they won’t perform at their maximum capacity unless you have the best interface, software and studio setup to support them.
The reason the debate between headphones and studio monitors has endured as long as it has is because it ultimately comes down to personal preference. And, in reality, the best option is to have both! You need to hear your mix through as many different sound mediums as possible to get a full idea of how it sounds on the countless sound systems you plan to be played through eventually. The suggestions in this article will give you the best options to fit your budget…it is up to you to decide which side of the debate you land on.
Please feel free to join the debate through our social networks or comments section to let us know your thoughts on the best way to mix tracks.
Check out one of our own tracks, made with some of this pro audio gear.