Studio Monitors vs Headphones for Mixing

For amateur as well as professional studio owners, one of the most common arguments is between monitors and headphone. Which among these is a better mixing tool?

Well, why do you need to opt for one when using both is possible? If you are confused between studio monitors or headphones for your studio, you need to know that using both can offer you even better results.

It is more like enjoying the best that two different worlds have to offer. As both have different purposes to serve, you should not even try to make a choice, not until a tight budget is an issue.

Yes, you indeed can produce great quality music by using only one. But, the results will be more satisfying when you use both.

Anyway, for those who wish to know which will be better – studio monitors vs headphones for mixing – we shall draw a comparison. Without any further wait, let us learn about the differences between the two.

Studio Monitors vs Headphones for Mixing – The Differences

How is the sound produced by headphones different than that produced by monitors?

Well, the differences you observe are basically due to the interpretation and perception of sound waves by the brain, and not much about the quality of the sound created by both these gadgets.

For instance, when you use headphones for mixing, the sound will be played into your ears directly.

But, when you use a monitor, things will be different. Thus, you will be able to differentiate the stereo width in a much better way with headphones than you can with monitors.

A monitor generally comes with the right and left speakers. So, you will hear sounds in a different way with your ears. Each ear will be perceiving sound in a different way keeping in view how close/far they are to the sound source.

The right ear, for instance, will be picking up the right speaker’s sound faster compared to the left speaker. Thus, a delay factor is introduced, which otherwise is absent when you use a pair of headphones.

This also has an impact on the way sound signals get mixed.

Making Use Of DAW

You can introduce sound mixing naturally into your headphones by making use of DAW and mixing the channels.

Yet, you still will not get to enjoy the delay effect that we just talked about. The sole way you can discover this is by matching the delay in time and then panning them into the opposing channels.

Even after you do this, you will observe there still will be a significant quality difference in sound produced by a headphone and a monitor.

This is because the sound created by a monitor is affected by factors like reflection and also acoustic properties of the studio where you are playing the music.

Yes, you indeed can use software to imitate such factors while mixing with your headphones. But, it will still not be anywhere close to being identically the same.

It is because of the differences between the two that has led to an argument about which is the better one among these for mixing. To say that one is a better option will be sheer injustice to the other.

As various factors help decide the kind of quality you shall get to enjoy with both of these, it will be a good idea to have an even better understanding of both these gadgets.

Studio Monitors Vs Headphones For Mixing – Why Do You Need Both?

Video: “Why do I need Studio Monitors? Can’t I mix on Headphones?”

When you make use of headphones, the sound will be played into both your ears directly and together. This gives you a feeling of the music coming from somewhere within your head. Though, of course, that is not the case.

Owing to this, the reverbs and delays sounds wider and deeper.

Furthermore, panned instruments start sounding more broadly spaced than they actually are.

Things with monitors are however different. The natural acoustics present in your room smooths out the aggressive waves of sound in the mix.

Fix Issues With Headphones

What you hear using your headphone is much close to the actual raw sound if compared to the sound that is produced by the monitors, which is generally more bright and aggressive.

So, a mix that is created for the sound system of a club will usually sound a lot more sterile when you play it using your headphones.

This, however, is not a drawback always. When using headphones, you will be able to hear the finest details that you will not at all will be with monitors. This can prove to be very helpful in various situations.

Headphones particularly prove to be very helpful if you want to fix issues like timing glitches or pitch issues in songs.

So, if you specialize in doing audio editing and restoration or do lots of sampling jobs, then headphones can help you find out clippings or distortions in a much better way than monitors can.

You kind of will be zooming into the minutest details and then will be able to correct even the faintest errors.

This, however, does not mean headphones are superior to monitors as a mixing tool. In fact, there are many errors that you will be able to identify only after you use monitors.

When you use headphones for mixing you may narrow down the stereo fields a bit too much. Also, you might end up not adding the necessary reverb vocals to your mix and then result in a dry production.

Mix With Both

This is why it is often considered a great idea to mix with headphones as well as monitors for professional production.

It is indeed possible to use only a headphone to mix, but you should not ideally do that, not unless that is your sole option. This is owing to the fact that though music will sound very good on headphones, it may not sound as amazing on other musical systems.

Usually, reverb effects, delay, and panning will comparatively sound more obvious with headphone than can with monitors. So, widening the panning will be required for such effects to precisely get translated on speakers.

Likewise, subtle parts like background synth lines and harmonies will need to be somewhat turned up. Furthermore, when you only use a headphone to mix, chances are you might miscalculate drum kits and percussion elements.

Basically, loud elements like kick and snare drums will need to be turned down when you turn down shakers and hi-hats in order to achieve a balance while using headphone alone.

It will be an amazing idea to start the mixing process and perform your compression, balancing, and EQ using monitors.

Then, you can begin using your headphones and fine-tune the sound to perfection. You can again switch back to your monitors and offer any required finishing touches.


So, what is better – studio monitors vs headphones for mixing? This question is undoubtedly answered by now. Now you certainly do understand that both of them have their psychological and mechanical quirks.

If you just use one, chances are, you can get obsessed with trying to make your track sound completely similar on both – and that is just not possible.

It thus will be best to understand the advantages and limitations of both studio monitors and headphones before you start using either.

Next, understand your needs and then decide which one will match your requirements best. As already mentioned, if possible, use both, and then the results will always be absolutely perfect.

Juan Stansbury
Juan Stansbury

I'm Juan Stansbury, author and owner of Homerecordio – your ultimate destination for everything about homerecording. With hands-on experience, courses, workshops, and industry research, I offer tips on selecting the best equipment, and mixing and mastering your recordings to achieve professional-quality results at home. Join me on this journey to explore the world of homerecording and music production.

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