How To Properly Use Monitoring Headphones

Have you ever seen those big, bulky headphones that professional musicians and producers wear to play or produce their music? Those oversized headphones are called “monitoring” headphones. They allow the artist to hear every detail in their production without outside interference, only when used correctly.

Here’s how to properly use monitoring headphones:

  1. Know your headphone’s capabilities.
  2. Monitor audio levels correctly.
  3. Test various types of music to get used to different sounds.
  4. Use high-quality audio equipment.
  5. Check the equipment calibrations.
  6. Wear your headphones properly.

Getting the most out of your headphones requires more than investing in a quality set–you’ll need to use them properly too! To find out more about using monitoring headphones correctly, read on.

Monitoring Headphones

Know Your Headphone’s Capabilities

There are loads of different types of monitoring headphones out there, such as IEMs (In-Ear Monitors), on-ear cans, and over-the-ear cans, just to name a few.

With each type comes different features and levels of sound isolation. Make sure you know what your specific set of monitoring headphones can do before you start to use them. This way, you can use them properly and maximize their full potential.

Monitor Audio Levels Correctly

To hear all frequencies with clarity, you have to set your monitoring levels correctly so that loud sounds are not played back at a higher volume than originally recorded.

Start with low volumes and gradually increase them until you find the perfect volume level that allows you to hear all frequencies without distortion.

Be careful, though! Excessive volume may cause temporary or permanent hearing loss if done daily for long periods.

If needed, wear earplugs when setting up your initial monitor levels. When listening at high volumes becomes normal for you, lower the levels again by 10-20%.

Test Various Types of Music To Get Used to Different Sounds

You need to hear all different types of music, not just the ones you are used to. This way, you can learn how your mix sounds in different environments and with different kinds of music.

This will also help you produce better quality songs when using monitoring headphones because it will allow you to listen more critically than when using regular speakers.

Also, by listening to different genres, you will learn how to set your midrange frequencies and treble levels more accurately.

Use High-Quality Audio Equipment

Ensure that the equipment you are using to power your monitoring headphones is of high quality. This is because some cheaper equipment may not power your headphones correctly, causing potential damage to them over time.

This can also result in an inaccurate representation of your mix that will likely need to be reworked.

You also ensure that your headphones have the power they need to reach their full potential by using quality equipment.

Key takeaway: Ensure your audio cables, mixer, and other equipments are of high quality to maximize your headphone’s capabilities.

Check the Equipment Calibrations

Calibrating your audio playback devices is extremely important when using monitoring headphones. Doing this ensures that you get the most accurate sound possible so that you don’t have any problems mixing or producing music down the road.

When calibrating, it’s best to go with the recorded levels because this is what your song will sound like when it is played back on other systems.

Calibrating your equipment before mixing, monitoring, or producing music allows for accurate playback of your songs and gives you a better representation of how they sound.

Here are some helpful guidelines to consider when calibrating your headphones and audio equipment:

  • Check the maximum SPL capability of each device you are about to use. This will help you not exceed the maximum volume and risk damaging your eardrums.
  • Make sure that channel gains are set properly. This will prevent clipping or under-amplification.
  • Check channel strip calibration for EQs, compressors, and other devices you use regularly. Doing so will ensure that the frequencies you are using mix sound as they should.
  • Always start with the lowest possible volume on your headphones and equipment before calibrating them. This will ensure that no damage occurs while calibrating.

Wear Your Headphones Properly

When wearing headphones, make sure to set them properly so that they don’t fall off once you start using them.

If this happens, the chances are good that they’ll get damaged.

Here’s a video that explains how to position headsets properly:

The Dos and Don’ts of Using Monitoring Headphones in Audio Production

Dos

Do Get Used to Your Headphones

Before you use them to mix a track, test them out by listening to your favorite beats first. This will help you recognize the sounds that are amplified most. 

After getting familiar with how they sound, feel, and operate, you’ll be able to identify whether something sounds off in the mix quickly.

Do Pay Attention to the Dynamic Range

Listening to your mix at a loud volume can easily trick you into thinking that something sounds fine when it isn’t.

So, make sure to listen at lower volumes and always listen closely for parts where the instrumental range gets too quiet or too loud.

Do Trust Your Ears

If something sounds off in your mix, it usually isn’t a good idea to ignore the issue and hope for the best.

You may know that specific frequencies don’t sound quite right with each other, but do you want to risk your overall track by adjusting them?

No, you should always trust your ears and make the necessary changes.

Do Clean Up Your Mix

No matter what you’re listening to, it’s always a good idea to improve the sound of your track in any way possible.

You can do this by using an equalizer to fine-tune your volume levels and frequencies.

As long as they aren’t distorting or otherwise altering the sound in a negative way, you’ll be able to hear a lot more with a cleaner mix.

Don’ts

Don’t Underestimate the Potency of Bass Frequencies

Most people hear music through large speakers and surround sound systems, so they aren’t used to hearing these things through small headphones.

This causes a problem because most instruments, including bass-guitars, have a lot more low-frequency content than you might expect.

Bass frequencies justify your entire mix, so make sure that everything is balanced out correctly from the start. If these sounds are exaggerated or understated, it can create a terrible balance in your final product.

Don’t Forget About Dynamics

Music has many dynamic ranges, allowing its various components to come through at different levels throughout the song.

Since controlling dynamics is an important part of mixing, it’s best to use headphones that allow you to hear everything as accurately as possible. If you fail to do this and the dynamics aren’t properly represented, your mix will be unbalanced and unpleasant at times.

Don’t Listen Too Loudly

It’s important to monitor at a volume that allows you to hear all of the sounds present in your mix.

Your ears will start to ring or feel tired if you keep listening at loud volumes for too long, so be sure to stop regularly and give yourself some rest.

In the worst-case scenario, using headphones can cause hearing loss, as this study points out.  

Don’t Ignore Instruments’ Frequencies

There are many instruments in a mix, and each one will have a different frequency range.

For example, the bass guitar will often live between 40 Hz and 250 Hz. So it’s important to identify which frequencies each instrument occupies so that you can balance them accordingly.

Once you become used to hearing music through headphones, you’ll be able to separate all of the instruments and fine-tune each one’s frequency range, which makes for a cleaner mix.

For more information, check out some of my other articles:

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Monitoring Headphones Good for Mixing?

Monitoring headphones are good for mixing. They make excellent substitutes for speakers when it comes to hearing correlations between different tracks and basic mixdowns (volume correcting). They can be used in a pinch or as a supplement to better monitor sound waves.

In brief, here are some of the benefits of using monitoring headphones for mixing:

  • Identifying frequency ranges and volumes of individual tracks
  • Monitoring phase issues (in stereo)
  • Replicating different sources for testing purposes
  • Hearing how changes affect the source (such as volume and EQ)

Pro tip: Ensure that your studio setup contains both speakers and monitoring headphones so that you can take advantage of each type of speaker at different times. This way, you can hear clear differences in sound between monitors and headphones.

Mixing

Is It Better To Produce With Headphones or Speakers?

Neither headphones nor speakers are better than the other in production. On the one hand, headphones offer the benefits of portability and affordability. On the other hand, speakers provide benefits like better ear health and a better picture of the final output. 

It is important to note that many studio setups include both speakers and headphones. For example, some producers listen to beats through headphones to check for phase issues before playing them through speakers for a final mixing pass.

In a nutshell, here are the pros and cons of headphones vs. speakers in audio production:

Pros of Headphones

  • Inexpensive
  • Easily portable
  • Provide an accurate mixing environment

Cons of Headphones

  • Can cause ear fatigue/damage over time

Pros of Speakers:

  • Better for your ears in the long run
  • Provide an accurate representation of the final output (if used correctly)

Cons of Speakers:

  • Less portable
  • More expensive

Can Listening to Headphones Damage Your Hearing?

Listening with headphones can cause ear fatigue and damage over time. This is especially true if you listen to high volumes for great lengths of time. Therefore, it’s best to regulate the time you spend using this equipment.

Here are some guidelines to follow to avoid damaging your hearing when using headphones:

  • Don’t turn the volume too high: Don’t listen to headphones at extremely loud listening volumes. The ideal volume level should be between 30 and 40 dB, which is the range that allows you to hear all frequencies without distortion.
  • Limit listening time in one session: Limiting the amount of time you spend listening to headphones every day is also important to prevent ear fatigue and damage. Try not to listen for more than 2 hours at a time if possible, and break up longer sessions into shorter ones.
  • Wear some ear protection: I recommend a good pair of in-ear monitors that reduce the noise levels around you without distorting the sound. This sort of ear protection is suitable for your hearing and ensures that you won’t be distracted by ambient noise while working.
  • Use quality headphones: It’s also essential to ensure that your headphones are quality and up to standard. Headphones should accurately reproduce sounds as they were meant to sound so as not to skew the frequency range and distort output.

If you’re in the market for quality headphones for production and mixing, I recommend this Audio-Technica ATH-M50X Professional Studio Monitor Headphones from Amazon.com. This product reproduces the frequency range accurately and is especially good for monitoring vocals. Besides, the professional-grade earpad and headband offer exceptional comfort, reducing fatigue.

Sale
Audio-Technica ATH-M50X Professional Studio Monitor Headphones, Black, Professional Grade, Critically Acclaimed, with Detachable Cable
  • Critically acclaimed sonic performance praised by top audio engineers and pro audio reviewers
  • Proprietary 45 millimeter large aperture drivers with rare earth magnets and copper clad aluminum wire voice coils
  • Exceptional clarity throughout an extended frequency range with deep accurate bass response

Last update on 2022-01-22 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Are In-Ear Monitors Good for Listening to Music?

Generally, in-ear monitors or IEMs are definitely good for listening to music. In fact, they’re especially good if you want to isolate the sound and focus more fully on your favorite tunes. Also, they block out environmental noise.

Final Thoughts

In a nutshell, using monitoring headphones is a great idea to improve your production quality and ensure that you’re checking for any frequency issues before those occur in the final mix.

Also, they allow you to listen more accurately to high-quality audio at lower volumes not to damage your hearing.

Nonetheless, it’s crucial to monitor the volume on your headphones and your equipment and limit the amount of time you spend listening to avoid harming your hearing. Also, be sure to use quality headphones that reproduce the sounds accurately.

Sources

Vinnie

I'm Vinnie, and I'm here to support you to create your own studio at home, whether it’s for photography, recording audio, podcasts, or videos!

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