Methods of Modern Monitoring

A round-up of paraphernalia and protocols for monitoring while mixing and tracking, from various headphone and speaker choices, to tips for ensuring accurate (and safe) playback levels

Posted in The Weekly on April 12, 2022 by

Getting your newly recorded multitrack ready for public consumption can be a tedious process, especially if you’re attempting to mix (or track) without the right monitoring equipment on hand. Here we take a look at some tools and tips for ensuring your finished work sounds good on any medium, whether it’s a large PA or a set of teeny earbuds.

Using headphones for mixing. There’s a reason you almost never see archival shots of your favorite old recording engineers using headphones for mixing – that’s because control rooms are traditionally designed to be a natural listening environment for nearfield monitors, which are strategically placed within a few feet of the listening position. Because headphones put the sound directly into your ears, it’s often more challenging to hear the levels correctly (vocals tend to sound louder through headphones than they actually are, for instance). On the other hand, if you want to make a mix at 10pm without incurring the wrath of sleeping neighbors, strapping on the cans may be the only way to go. Hint: try doing the preliminary work using studio monitors in order to get an approximation of where the track levels should be set, which will alleviate some of the guesswork when switching to headphones later on.

Go for clarity, not color. When choosing headphones for recording, a common mistake is using a model that’s aimed at consumers or audiophiles, rather than studio dwellers. Problem is, all that artificially pumped-up bass and volume will make anything sound incredible—including a badly mixed demo! What you really want is a set of true studio-quality headphones that are essentially tuned flat—that is, they accurately reproduce your existing mix without any added equalization.

Closed or open? Yet another consideration is the physical design of the headphones—so-called “open-back” models allow some leakage to occur, resulting in a fuller, more dynamic sound that is generally best for mixing work. By comparison, “closed-back” headphones keep the signal full contained, and therefore are preferable when recording vocals as they prevent sonic anomalies that can occur due to unwanted bleed into a nearby microphone; additionally, closed-back models give you an added layer of isolation when recording amps, drums or other voluminous sources.

Monitoring for mobile. Though it’s always helpful to understand traditional approaches to sound crafting, the way we receive music has changed enormously over the years—where engineers once mixed for the specific sonic characteristics of AM (and later FM) radio, nowadays it’s ensuring your work sounds good over streaming services (keeping in mind how audio changes as you move from high-quality lossless to compressed mp3), as well as on earbuds, smartphone speakers and Bluetooth devices. So just as our forebears might keep a set of car-radio speakers atop the console to hear what it sounded like from behind the wheel of a Ford Mustang, always sample your finished work through any number of sources, in addition to your studio headphones and nearfield monitors.

Watch the volume. When listening to a mix that isn’t quite there yet, do you ever get the urge to just crank the master, as if the extra volume will magically make it better? In reality, what you want is something that sounds really good at the lowest level possible. This is especially true when mixing with headphones—not only will your ears get easily fatigued when exposed to excessive volume, over time you’re liable to cause permanent damage. Accordingly, always keep the output at a comfortable setting while tracking and mixing, and save the extra decibels for the master playback.

SOURCEThe Weekly TAGS Advice


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