Headphones vs. Monitors: Which One to Use for Mixing

Headphones vs. Monitors: Which One to Use for Mixing Headphones vs. Monitors: Which One to Use for Mixing

Many new mixing engineers ask whether they should mix primarily on headphones or studio monitors.

Realistically, you can get great mixes on either device, though that's not really a helpful answer to the question. To help you make the best choice for your situation, I want to go into detail about some of the main things you should consider when comparing headphones and studio monitors.

Pros of Mixing with Headphones


One of the main benefits of mixing with headphones is that they're far more cost-effective than your average pair of midfield studio monitors.

Plus, when you purchase a pair of headphones, that's all you'll need (besides a 1/4" adapter, depending on the model and your interface).

On the other hand, when you purchase studio monitors, you also need to buy cables and possibly stands to put them behind your desk. If they're on your desk, you might need to invest in some sort of isolation pads to keep them from resonating on the hard surface. For the best possible sound, many engineers even end up having to invest in subwoofer to extend their bass frequencies to match what they hear in their headphones.

If we were to take this idea a step further into the professional realm, you'd also want to invest in acoustic treatment to make your room sound good.

While it's certainly hard to compare the two options altogether, in the end, if you're looking solely at the price, this can mean hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars difference.


A few years back, I was recording this band on-site, out of my studio, every week. That meant that each week, I'd have to bring my studio monitors to the house they were recording at, set them up, tear them down after the session, and lug them back home to set back up in my studio.

Let me tell you, it was a huge pain.

With headphones, this is something you never need to worry about. You could theoretically mix anywhere, whether on a plane, a train, or at the top of a mountain. With headphones, you have freedom , which is great for producers on the go.


Not only do headphones allow you to mix anywhere you want, but they also take one of the most volatile variables out of the mixing process - environment.

You never need to worry about the room you're mixing in with a set of headphones on. Sure, they aren't perfect by a long shot, but your brain processes sound in such a way that it can compensate for any imperfection you're hearing in your headphones much better than it can with studio monitors in a poor acoustic environment.


Though I consistently mix with both headphones and studio monitors, I always use my headphones to check for small details and flaws in my mix. From small noises in my vocal takes to pops and clicks due to poor edits, headphones are awesome for listening closely.

Cons of Mixing with Headphones

Stereo Imaging

When you mix on headphones, you get an exaggerated sense of stereo width.

Studio monitors work in such a way that allows the sound to blend naturally in a room before reaching your ears. However, headphones deliver sound directly into each ear without any cross-feed, meaning the left ear hears only the left channel and the right ear hears only the right channel.

In the end, you get an unrealistic stereo image where elements in the mix may seem more separated or wider than they actually are.


Ear fatigue is a mixer's greatest enemy, and, unfortunately, the direct exposure to sound that headphones provide can strain our ears, especially over prolonged periods. If you aren't careful, it can lead to temporary or permanent hearing damage.

Frequency Response

Unlike studio monitors, which are designed to offer a flat or neutral frequency response for accurate mixing, headphones can vary widely in how they present the spectrum of frequencies.

If you're mixing on a pair of consumer headphones rather than a good pair of studio headphones, you're likely dealing with a certain degree of coloration or enhancement, particularly in the bass and treble. Many headphone manufacturers do this to cater to consumers. Of course, for mixing, this is a big drawback!

Lack of Room Feel

When you mix on studio monitors, the sound interacts with the acoustics in your room. This creates a sense of space, depth, and dimensionality that mimics how we actually listen to music. With the room around you, you can make more informed decisions about aspects like reverb and stereo imaging.

While an isolated sound can be great in a small room, it's also quite disconnected and unnatural. In my experience, it's easier to overcompensate with artificial reverb when working in headphones, giving you a mix that sounds overly wet or diffused when played back through speakers.

Some engineers prefer to combat this using open-back headphones instead of closed-back headphones, though even the most fantastic headphones can't provide the same spaciousness as speakers.

Pros of Mixing on Studio Monitors

Accurate Sound Reproduction

The main goal of mixing is to get an accurate sound, no matter the environment the listener is in. We call that "translation."

If you can't mix with accurate tools, however, it's hard to make informed mixing decisions.

This is why many studio monitors are designed to provide a flat, neutral frequency response. You get the true representation of the mix without any coloration, which is great for balancing levels and making EQ moves.

Of course, this is only the case if you're working in a properly treated acoustic environment.

Spatial Representation

Studio monitors provide much more accurate spatial representation than headphones, meaning you get a better sense of space, depth, and positioning in a mix, allowing you to make precise decisions about panning, reverb, and the stereo image.

Unlike headphones, which isolate the sound in left ear and right ear, the left and right channels from studio monitors meet in the center to provide a three-dimensional listening experience.


After long mixing sessions with headphones, my ears feel defeated.

Even the most comfortable headphones create a sense of pressure on the ears and head, leading to faster ear fatigue that can affect your decision-making and ultimately, the quality of the mix.

With monitors, however, you get a more relaxed listening experience, as you can listen at a comfortable volume level without the need for the sound to be as close to the ear as with headphones.

Cons of Mixing on Studio Monitors

Room Acoustics

One of the primary cons of mixing on studio monitors is the influence of room acoustics, which can significantly impact the accuracy of your mix decisions.

Even top-tier studio monitors can't perform to their full potential in a poorly treated room. There are so many things that can affect how sound waves behave in a room, from the shape to the size to the way you place your furniture.

In the worst cases, you can deal with issues like standing waves, flutter echoes, or uneven bass response. Getting treatment right can be difficult and time-consuming, though if you decide to mix with monitors, it's a must.


The cost associated with good studio monitors can be hard to swallow for home studio producers and mix engineers. Plus, like I said before, you have to also pay for treatment, cables, an interface, and iso pads.


It's hard to be mobile with a big set of monitors, as they're designed to be part of a fixed studio setup.

Of course, in today's fast-paced music industry, being able to work from various locations - be it at home, in a collaborative studio session, or on the go - is increasingly important. For many, being confined is a deal-breaker.

Final Thoughts

In the end, each option has its own set of advantages and drawbacks.

While headphones offer portability, affordability, and the intimate detail necessary for scrutinizing the finer points of a mix, monitors provide a more accurate soundstage, spatial representation, and the comfort needed for extended mixing sessions.

The best thing you can do as a professional producer or mix engineer is find a way to invest in both! That way, you can get the most flexible and adaptable setup, no matter your mix style.

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