The Most Powerful Recording Tool (That You Already Own)

| Tips

What if I told you there was a recording tool so powerful that it could help you get the best sounding tracks, no matter where you record or what gear you record with?

Not only that, it doubles as a powerful mixing tool as well.

And the best part – you probably already own it. That’s right, the most powerful recording tool you could have is a pair of studio headphones.


Your Recording Secret Weapon

It’s funny how much emphasis is put on microphones, preamps, and converters when it comes to recordings, and yet no one seems to talk about whether or not you can hear what those performances really sound like.

Unless you have a dedicated control room that is acoustically tuned and treated, then you have no way of knowing what your recordings are really sounding like on tracking day.

The common situation for us home studio owners is a simple one room setup – and chances are very high that the room doesn’t sound very good to begin with.

So even though things like proper mic choice and strategic mic placement are the key to killer recordings (beyond talent and performance of course) you’re working from a disadvantage if you can’t hear every nuance of the instrument you’re tracking.

Create Your Own Monitoring Standard

This is where a pair of good (i.e. not super cheap) headphones is so valuable – as the gold monitoring standard. They allow you to hear your tracks in isolation and with consistency every single time.

No matter what your room sounds like, playback on those headphones is consistent.

No matter where you record (on the go, in another studio) playback on those headphones is consistent.

What it comes down to is simply this – if you have a pair of accurate headphones (more on that in a minute) and you know what good music sounds like on those cans, then you have a monitoring standard with which to make accurate microphone choice and placement decisions.

Ultimately this leads to better recordings that virtually mix themselves.

Over the years I’ve found this to be true, especially when I was doing a lot of mobile recording.

I would fly to places like Boston, Washington D.C., and Richmond to track albums for really talented artists. I’d work out of basements, churches, and living rooms without my normal speakers and the room I’m used to.

But thanks to my pair of trusty studio headphones I had a standard with which to make my mic placement decisions. It’s been an integral part of my development as an engineer.

What Headphones Should You Use?

This might all sound obvious to you – but I don’t want you to miss the profound implications of this truth. A pair of good studio headphones is your most trusted friend in the studio.

Now, I’m sure 99% of you already own a pair of “good” studio headphones, but for those who are in the market for a pair of if you simply want to know what I think is an acceptable option for the studio, here are some thoughts.

Go for a pair of closed back studio headphones. They will give you more isolation and separation which is great for tracking and playback in one room setups.

You don’t need to spend a fortune. I personally use and recommend the KRK KNS8400s and they will run you around $150 US. That’s half the price of a budget set of speakers!

Also – as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, Grammy winning mixer/engineer Andrew Scheps mixes on a pair of $99 Sony MDR-7506s from time to time. Why? Because he’s had them for years and knows what music sounds like on them.

Honestly, any pair of closed back studio headphones above $99 US is putting you in a range of quality that will work great. You’ll get full frequency response with drivers powerful enough to give your the detail and nuance that you need when making critical sonic decisions.

If All You Did Was This

With so many variables in the recording studio, having at least one piece of stability and consistency is invaluable. That’s what a pair of trusted headphones can do for you.

Here’s the takeaway for you:

  • If you don’t have a pair of studio headphones, make it a priority to get one as soon as possible.
  • Once you’ve got your cans in hand, the most powerful thing you could do is take some time every day to listen to at least 10 minutes of good music on those headphones. Just for fun.
  • Familiarize yourself with what that good music sounds like on those headphones. Take note of how the low end responds, where vocals sit, and how the top end cuts through.

If all you did was train your ears to intimately know every detail of your headphones, you’d be steps ahead for your next tracking session. And that will snowball into better sounding mixes in the end.

Sound off – what is YOUR favorite pair of studio headphones? Let the community know below!


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119 Responses to “The Most Powerful Recording Tool (That You Already Own)”

  1. Sam Sharples

    My favorite is the MDR-7506! I love listening to all kinds of music on them, as well as working on them.
    But the downside is most of my professional friends own Sennheiser 280s and they sound entirely different and I have no idea what to listen for when I listen on them.

  2. Harry Lehr

    High Graham…
    Been following you and your whacky antics( he he)for a while and find them completely helpful… I really want to thank you for taking the time and being there….. Every little bit help… love the job you are doing
    Keep up the good work..
    ‘Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing. ‘…

  3. Jim Gear

    I love my ATH m50x headphones in the studio. I have also been experimenting with the Sonarworks headphone studio monitor emulator. Pretty interesting concept

  4. Gord

    I use a pair of Shure SRH940 headphones, and they are unbelievably detailed, with a very high level of isolation. My first pair was a set of AKG K240, but they don’t even compare to the Shure imo. Highly recommended.

  5. Mark Castellanos

    Great article Graham, thanks for the advice. I already own the same pare of headphones you use, and I didn’t use them like you advice, from now on I surely will!

    Have a very bless Monday dear instructor!

  6. Rick

    Agreed. The consistency is key. It doesn’t matter so much if the low end is a little weak on your headphones, as you’ll learn that, and adjust.
    I mix on headphones. I also use a VRM plugin that lets me adjust what the mix sounds like in different environments (laptop, telephone speaker, etc). The plug-in also does adjustable cross-ear feed, which removes the “stereo divide” in your head, and makes listening on headphones for long periods of time less fatiguing.
    If I can make the mix sound good in the 8 or 10 different VRM environments, it’s going to sound pretty decent most anywhere (all else being equal).
    I then put a reference plug-in in front of the VRM, so I can hear reference tracks through the same simulations. Both of these plugins are on a dedicated monitoring channel, so they don’t accidentally end up getting printed when I export.

  7. Eric Nielsen

    The 7506s are my go to. They don’t break the bank, parts can be replaced b/c they’ve been around awhile and they sound good.

  8. Smurf

    I have used the ATH-M40fs, and now the ATH-M40x, for years and know them well. My AKG K240’s are WAY more comfortable, but no where near as flat as needed.

    I have also used the Isone Pro plugin by Jeroen Breebaart. It is similar to the VMR plugin, totaly free, and works well.

  9. Mike K

    I mix with Grado SR325’s, which are open-air. No good for recording or public use, but amazing for studio mixing. I haven’t compared open and closed designs lately, but open is usually way more accurate.

  10. mat

    AKG K702 are now much cheaper now production has been moved to china.
    I have a pair of the original Austrian made ones and they’re fantastic! If you’re used to ‘beats audio’ type crap then these will seem bass light… they’re not….. beats type crap has ridiculously hyped bottom end…..
    The K702s are open back which is a problem if your tracking someone in the same room or live somewhere noisy though…… if not then they’re incredibly wide and open sounding, the ear cups fit right over your entire earlobes (unless you’re an elephant!) which helps to give the impression of listening on loudspeakers instead of cans….. it’s quite easy to forget you’re on cans with these things on…. pretty comfortable too so they’re wearable for hours on end.
    They’re also incredibly detailed but they need a good couple of hundred hours to burn in properly as they sound a bit snarly straight out of the box.

  11. Grayson Peddie

    I have Sennheiser HD 280 PRO and Superlux HD668B headphones in my bedroom. My room is not acoustically-treated and I don’t have studio monitors. Until I get my own place (I’m currently living in my mom’s house for the time being), my Polk T-50 doubles as music creation and as home theater speakers. My ears have all been trained to know my pair of headphones and speakers, so I’m good for now. Once I get my own place after getting a job, I plan to buy studio monitors.

    Oh, and in case I want to list my studio setup, I have a couple of things I have:

    Behringer FCA1616 Audio Interface
    Roland Fantom XR (bought it used; want it for Crystal Rhodes and a couple of other instruments; have trouble seeing the screen due to my visual impairment)
    TC Electronics M-One XL (via S/PDIF)
    Furman PL-8C Power Conditioner/Surge Protector
    My custom-built computer running Arch Linux for music making

    I do have Audio Technical AT2020, but I don’t use it for vocals. Not even electric/bass/acoustic guitars or drums as I am making new age music. It’s fully instrumental.

    Of course, I went beyond the scope of talking about studio headphones, but I thought I’d like to mention what I have as well.

  12. Paul

    I use beyerdynamic DT250 headphones. A bit pricey, a bit bassy, but they’re comfy, sound good and you can really drive them hard in recording situations. I’m a drummer, so I usually need a loud headphone mix when tracking drums…

      • Paul

        I’ve got the 80ohm version. Had them for about nine years.
        Never noticed any channel imbalance.
        I was told that the 80ohm version can handle headphone amps better!

  13. Paulo Clayton

    I love my Sennheiser hd 280s. Bang-on standard, simple, reliable. The only trouble is, whenever I have primarily done a mix on my headphones, the mixes tend to not sound right when I do the car or home theater check. Other engineering buddies of mine are also easily able to tell that I mixed on headphones. I’m not sure exactly what they are hearing, so I have tried using crossfeed plugins to give me a more realistic sense of what my monitors would sound like rather than the headphones. Can’t tell yet if it’s really helped. What are your thoughts on crossfeed plugins?

    • John Nolt

      I suspect Graham’s answer would be “use a reference track that you know sounds good in the car”. That way you’re making your mix sound like the reference track, not JUST making your mix sound good in your headphones.

      You might do things to make your mix sound like the reference track that actually makes it sound not-quite-idea (but close) in your headphones.

      Personally I seem to get the best results by schlepping my mix to different places, taking notes, going back and adjusting, trying it in headphones to make sure I didn’t ruin it there, then trying the car/bedroom/computer speakers again. A few rounds of this and I seem to be able to dial in the translation. A little labor-intensive, but I haven’t sat down and really set up my reference tracks very thoroughly so for my not-every-day mixing this approach seems to do the trick.


      • Steve Keith

        I do exactly the same thing. Takes a little longer, but it generally works. You gotta do what you gotta do when you want to stay married 🙂 I think these days most people listen on headphones/earbuds anyway.

  14. Chip Murdock

    Hey brother. I love your blogs and appreciate what you are doing. I’ve been in your email list for a while but I never did receive this book on recording. Is it still possible to receive one?

    I teach an audio class of seven studios at a small college in Ohio named Wilmington College. We are on an extremely tight budget and music is NOT a major in our campus. We have been given a 12×6 room to treat as our “studio”. Your techniques are point on for the small room that we have and for what we need. Everything from your idea of a channel strip to the recent headphone posting seems geared right toward us. Thank you.

    • Jorge Silvestrini

      Chip, would love to help you guys if I can – love to teach and help in when I can. I’ve also got a blog and YouTube channel with lots of music notation tutorials and others. Let me know if you need some help!

  15. Allen Burnett

    I have been using headphones for so long that I would feel lost without them. Having a home studio, I haven’t been able to use my speakers for mixing for long periods of time and I have just come to trust my Utltrasone 750’s. I have actually never used speakers during tracking. Even with a proper vocal booth, the space has been so confined that I didn’t want any of the speaker sound on the recording

    • Jay Schaefer

      Yeah! Just got a pair and am getting accustomed to them – they sound and feel great! Used to use AKG K240’s and I make much better mixing decisions on these.

  16. Cranky

    I disagree about the headphone advice with regard to mixing. In my experience, many closed-back headphones have a tendency to colour the sound, giving the impression that the sound is bigger (more impact) than what it really is. That’s what hifi headphones do, even when they are touted with that usual sales gimmick: ‘Studio reference quality’. Even some models of the appalling ‘Beats By Dre’ headphones make this deceptive claim. Hifi headphones are designed to make the source sound good, not accurate.

    So you perform your mix on your hifi headphones and it sound great – and it was so surprisingly easy to make it sound great. But then you remove the headphones and listen through your monitors, and… disaster; a terrible mix full of limpness. This is because such headphones, not only colour the sound, but they are also very forgiving to it , which is why the mix is so often easy on them.

    Personally, I recently decided to bite the bullet and finally spend more on a set of Beyerdynamic DT880 Pro headphones, which are not closed, but are semi-open in design. They are not coloured, nor do they ‘big-up’ the sound. They are very detailed and analytical. They surprised me when I was listening to a Youtube clip of Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You were Hear’, where I was able to hear Gilmour’s guitar microphone switched in, and then hear his tense breathing before he began to play. Furthermore, the sound signature is very close to my monitors.

    For monitoring vocals, I’ve found it best for the vocalist to not use hifi type headphones during the performance, because they give the illusion that you are singing big and loud when you are not. The result is a limp performance. I’ve found it best here to use average to low quality headphones, and I’ve now settled for the relatively inexpensive Sennheisser HD201, which are also extremely comfortable, stable, and noiseless.

  17. bill derenzo

    This is the article I’ve waited for.
    I own Sennheiser md-650’s. Expensive to say the least. These are not consumer. If you look closely at live t.v. broadcasts you’ll see the broadcast crew wearing these. As I am a home studio owner, I felt it necessary to purchase. I’ve treated my room as best as possible, however even with the treatment, any room (other than pro studio) will experience flutter. Mixing is a craft, whether in the phones or rooms. Phones are a great tool, but I always reference through the monitors at low volume , then check placement, the phones. I might suggests using an analyzer in tandem with your ears. Ears get ‘funny’ after repeated use. Just my take…

    • JMW

      HD650s are absolutely the best. I’ve tried a few over the years, quite like a number of Beyer’s the DT990s are nice for instance, but the HD650s are worth every penny as they are so true. I’ve had mixes that I thought were good on other ‘phones but listening on the HD650s really helps you zone in on problems.

      Other massive tool that is amazing is the Focusrite VRM – this is a speaker emulator that emulates many well known speaker models in a variety of settings. Well worth considering this to get a feel for how your mixes will translate – surprisingly good for sorting out the bottom end too.

  18. Kevin Whittenburg

    I’ve been an AKG user since the late 70’s – bought my first pair in the early 80’s – K240. Used those for a lot of years. Two years ago I bought a pair of AKG612s. Once they were burned in I’ve had no reservations about mixing on them…Very comfortable and very translatable mixes.

  19. Martin

    I’ve been recording for almost 10 years, and I have never had a dedicated control room in that time. I’ve had to rely on a pair of headphones ever since I started, and for many of those years, I’ve been using Sennheiser HD280 pros.

    Unfortunately though, when I’m recording drums on location, I can only hear the click track that the drummer’s playing to, so I can make sure they’re playing in time. I suppose not being able to listen to the recorded material isn’t a bad thing, as I need to listen more to how drums sound in the room, rather than how it sounds being recorded. Saying that, I always record the drummer playing just some beat and listen back to it to make sure the mics are all working well together.

  20. rene koster

    Hi you all,
    My favourite is the Sennheiser HD 280 Pro, she’s cheap, sounds absolutely great ( if the recordings do too) fits my oversized head and covers my small ears as gloves. It is a matter of getting used to the sound, as a sort of reference.
    Be good you all, Rene.

  21. M Huss

    The two key points are (1) reasonably accurate and (2) familiar. Just like monitors & room, you need to listen to a lot of reference tracks on the phones to get familiar with what ‘normal’ sounds like.

  22. Roger

    I got KRK ergo. Since then my mixes bottom end are perfect. For some reason its no longer sold. But I also have these KRK headphones and when mixing on these, the mixes translate amazingly well. Theyre amazing and not badly priced!

    • YOHAMI

      I have them. They color the sound and lose detail. The acoustic correction causes as many problems as it attempts to fix. There’s no replacement for good acoustics.

  23. David Price

    I find the ATH-M50x headphones to be very neutral. Their sound comes very close to my acoustically treated and EQ’d listening room. I also check all my mixes by burning them to CD’s and listening in a couple of cars parked in a closed garage with the engines off. One great thing about mixing with headphones is that you can hear and control precisely the amount of ambience (delay and reverb) that is being placed in the recording. Outside the cans, the recorded ambience is always confused with that of the listening environment, making it impossible to tell what is actually in the recording.

  24. Paul Cooper

    My favorite headphones are the Sennheiser 380 Pros. Sound like a dream. They run a little more than your suggested range, but I’ve had em 2 years and they’re worth it.

  25. Douglas M

    I love my AKG K240DF’s! I’ve been using them for years and years. I don’t know if they make them any more but they are fabulous! For radio news anchoring and DJ, audio/visual production, music tracking/mixing…on the road or in the studio…you name it! Wonderful frequency response and dynamic range with very little color. If I need something in a pinch I will also grab my AKG K240S for certain jobs. But for critical work…it’s the AKG K240DF!


  26. Sandip Gurung

    Hi Grahman, thanx for this great blog. Surprised that u use KNS 8400, which is affordable one. I use KNS 6400, recommended by my friend. I have stopped using them for mixing as its trebbley and while mixing I used to boost up the bass therefore making my mixes sounding too bassy. I more or less use Apple ear buds (oops) now when not using my Krk monitors, as I listen music all the time through it. Is there any much difference between 6400 and 8400, would you be able please. Thank you

  27. Bogdan

    Hi! Congratulation for this site, Graham. Good articles and tips. I use Presonus HD7 and those are very good headphones. You tried them? Warm regards, Bogdan!

  28. Jorge Silvestrini

    Yes, great reminder to keep learning how my personal headphones sound. I used to own a pair of MDR 7506 but recently replaced them with a pair of the Shure RH440 Full Size Headphones because the Sony’s stopped working. I also use a pair of Shure SE535 in ears from time to time in the studio and live performances. Like them both!

  29. Scott Osterloh

    I use a pair of Behringer HPS5000s that I modified with a little extra foam for isolation purposes. I have a pair of Behringer 2030As for playback after mixing and some C50as for mono mixing, yes I hv 2 C50as but I put the mix in mono, so I tried the HPS5000s andI was pleasantly surprised very afgordable too.
    If aanyone has been following the STP audition here is one of my submissions:

  30. Rob Tari

    Hi Graham,

    I totally agree with you that a very powerful tool in mixing is a good pair of headphones.
    That’s why I have three of them. A full open Grado S60, a semi-open AKG S242 and a full closed Audio-Technica ATH-M50.

    ATH-M50 is used when tracking (because it’s full closed, so no “headphone” noise leaves it the a microphone would record). AKG S242 for mixing (because I used to listen music on this headphone and I know its characteristics) and I use Grado S60 as one of my final mix-checking step.

    Nevertheless, I agree with you about the importance of headphones, but there are some situations when a headphone might “cheat you” badly, like when using delays and reverbs on a vocal (at mixing on headphones), and when you listen to the final mix on speakers, you realize that the singer “appears/sounds” very far away, that your headphones have hidden from you.

    Do you have any solution to avoid such cheating situation, when you have no opportunity to listen your mix on speakers?


  31. YOHAMI

    No. I spent 15 years mixing on headphones and low grade monitors in non-treated rooms. I’ve been mixing for a year in a half in a professionally treated room with high grade monitors (barefoots). It took me well over six months to readjust to the new acoustics and relearn what sounds like what.

    This is, basically, the only thing that really matters. You need to be able to listen and learn what things really sound like, before you can properly use degraded tools like headphones. Dont go there. Do it if it’s the only thing you can at the moment but know you’re being severely handicapped. Rent or use or buy acoustic treatment and get it calibrated and sounding right.

    Otherwise is like doing photoshop in a broken monitor, then wondering what’s wrong.

  32. John Kuehne

    Great post. Consistency is the key. I record using Audio-Technica ATH-M50X in the studio and then use a pair of Sony MDR-7506 for mix editing.

  33. Randy - Studio151 LLC

    Great Advice Graham! I haven’t heard the KRK’s, although I did have a pair of their passive monitors for a while… I have been using a set of Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro (80 Ohm version) for checking my mixes. The DT770’s are $199 at Sweetwater. I have found them to accurate and articulate – not hyped in the high or low end. They work well with the Focusrite VRM Box – another way to check how your mix might sound on different systems. The Beyer’s are close to my Adam F5 monitors which I absolutely love! I have also used Sennheiser HD280 cans to check my mixes, but these seem a little hyped in the low end. The HD280’s are $99 street. As you said, whatever cans you get, take the time to ‘learn’ them – get used to their character on music you know, then you’ll be able to use them effectively to mix your own recordings.

    As always, thanks for all you do to forward us in our craft!
    God Bless!

    • Cranky

      I used to own a pair of those Shure SRH440. They are utterly useless for both mixing and monitoring. They have a tendency of bigging up the sound, which leads to poor vocal performances, and they are far too forgiving when used for mixing. Every mix I attempted with those sounded terrible when translated to both my pairs of monitors.

  34. Xan

    Great advice Graham. I use Shure SRH840. absolutely my favs. I’ve used them so much I had to replace the ear pads. I use them as a reference against my monitors.

  35. Larry Sexton

    My Sennheiser HD 280 Pro were wearing out so I went to Sweetwater’s site looking for headphones. I came across the KRK kns-8400, thinking to myself “well they make good monitors, I guess they know what they’re doing with headphones”, so I bought them. That was about six months ago and I like them better than the Sennheiser.

  36. Travis

    I picked up a pair of KRK 8400s after reading about your coffee shop mixing awhile back. I use them all the time.

  37. Jrel

    For critical listening I use Sennheiser HD 280 Pros, Ultrasone Pro 2500, Sennheiser gaming headphones and earbuds. For pleasurable listening, I use an HD 595 and an HD 600. However, in the past, my pure headphone mixes have always resulted in the following: my bass gets too boomy, the midrange gets all messed up and muddy, things out-of-phase sound much better than in-phase, I add too much reverb, etc. Most headphone mixes, that I’ve heard from others, fail from the same problems so I’ve always advised people not to do headphone mixes – UNLESS they really can get their mixes to translate to well to normal speakers. Since I’ve confirmed I really can’t good mixes using headphones solely, and the effort to fix them takes too long, I don’t try. However, since I’ve got Waves Nx and Sonarworks Reference profiles created for my 280 and 600, I’m going to try next month’s mix on them, but I am also going to cheat and use my Subpac for the low end. I do applaud and admire those that can get good headphone mixes.

  38. Arsen

    Thanks Graham!
    I use Sennheiser HD650 paired with Sonarworks Headphone Calibration plugin.
    Great pair!

  39. gene stashuk

    I have worked in many of the great studios on this earth and the headphones I have seen the most (and use myself) have always been the AKG K240S…”end of”…

  40. martin bissell

    i use the audio technica ath m40x and like the overall sound of these versus the m50x…. i could’nt see 70$ of difference between them. bass is’nt muddy and mids and highs clear….i just like em….thx

  41. Fábio DLG

    I pretty much like the AKG K240,
    He’s on a good price and the quality is very very good.
    If you search, there’s some feedbacks about it…

  42. Daniel Busche

    Thanks for this post Graham!

    I have recently been blown away by the Monoprice DJ style headphones. They don’t seem like they’d be good, but I got them and haven’t touched my focal spirit pro’s since. They have good isolation as well.

  43. Pierre Lefebvre

    Hi everybody, I own a Sennheiser HD600 headphone set. I’m happy with them. The only other headphones that i tried that satistied my needs was a Focal Spirit Professionnal. But there was too much pressure on my head. What i discovered id the better the hearphones the better you will be able to have less coloration in the sound witch let you do better adjustements with you EQ’s and other plugins. (Or hardwares). It’s a lot of money, but they worth it. My advice is try them, compare them to find out what suits you the best. Have fun.

  44. Ryker Gillespie

    I use the Sony MDR-7506’s. Their so good that the technology in them hasn’t changed since the ’80’s. If you can hear the low end in these things, its gonna be powerful on a regular system

  45. Olle Hedman

    I mix on my AKG K712:s. They are not closed back, and I might probably get a pair of almost as good-sounding headphones for half their price. But they for sure sounds amazing!!

  46. Niclas Gustafsson

    I use Focal Spirit Professional and BeyerDynamic dt880 pro. Both great sounding cans! Strange that no one has really mentioned the Focals. They sound amazing! Very much similar to their monitors.

    • David Newton

      That’s the post I was looking for – I have the Spirits too…When if first got them, I felt like I could hear behind the mix – don’t know how else to put it. Everything I had in my library, a lot of which I’ve had for years, sounded new.

  47. Ron

    Shure SRH 840. Superior sound isolation for recording. The feel is plush and they sound great. A 16′ chord extension is a must for my work space.

    Don,t leave your headphones on the floor. Ever. You will step on them and break them. I did. A soup can screwed to your desk or wall makes a great place to hang the headphones. The cowbell is an an obvious choice for hanging phones on your drum kit.

    If u got no friends and you have no control room and your multitrack recording yourself alone at home, headphones are essential.

  48. Gilbert Sanchez

    I have used the Sennheiser HD 280 Pro’s as well. Simple, clean, and consistent. They don’t have the boosted bass response that most headphone’s do, so I have to be careful not to mix the bass too hot. I currently do not own studio monitors. These are all I’m mixing on at the moment. The man is right when he says to use a reference track. That seems to be highly effective for amateurs like myself.

  49. Kevin Stailey

    I have had a pair of Original KOSS PRO-4AA for decades, yes decades, the same pair for right at 40 years. They set the standard then, and still are the best sounding headphones I have ever owned. Though the are bit weighty on the head, they seal perfectly with zero outside noise infiltrating the mixdown process. In our recording studio they are the key to a straight forward no BS approach to getting great mixes and master tracks on media. I will not buy another pair to replace them unless and until these die.

  50. Alan

    I would’nt change my Koss PortaPro for anything else. Because they’re light , comfortable, and the frequency response and balance is so great ! But I would like your advice: am I missing something?

  51. Chris Mataran

    I love my ATH-M50
    With the Waves NX virtual room plugin, I rediscover my mixes!

  52. Rob Hess

    I use my Ultrasone PROline 750’s in mono for evaluation during tracking. The isolation is pretty good and the freq response is fine for me, although the deep bass is a little hyped (maybe a good thing for tracking, as they seem to really highlight potential problems). Thanks for your sharing spirit, Graham.

  53. Josh Huntley

    I use both KNS 8400’s and Sennheiser HD 650’s to make most of my music, paired with an SPL Phonitor headphone amp. The 650’s are flat, but kind of lacking in bass, so I switch between the two when needed.

  54. Koos Thonissen

    For mixing and editing I use a pair of Sennheiser HD520II – They are “open” headphones but I have them like forever and therefore know how music translates through them. For tracking I have a few sets of Sennheiser HD201 in my arsenal – I’ve been using these for about a year now and I found that these are pretty “drum proof”. All the artists who are tracking in my studio get to wear a set of these. Never had any complaint!

  55. Cran Wilton

    Sennheiser HD 250 Linear II. Unfortunately they are no longer available. I have owned several pair over the past 30 years. They are the closest thing to a “monitor” speaker experience in a headphone that I have found. I now own 2 pair, completely refurbished, so that I can use them well into the future.

  56. Leigh Warren

    Gday Graham,

    Always enjoy your articles etc although I use Logic so not everything transpires but I because I travel I find that I tend to use headphones (good idea or bad?) a lot and find that my audio-technics ATH-M50x are great tho would be interested in getting a different pair to compare when mixing.

    Keep up the great work.

    Leigh from Downunder (Australia)

  57. Herbert

    I have been using Sony’s MDR-7506 for almost a year now. In my opinion they sound as neutral as it can get. Apart from that they reveal all details you want to hear and don’t want to hear.
    In addition, I audit every mix through different speakers including JBL monitors (Bass – 2 dB for room correction), Denon + BNS Ellessy and Denon + Monitor Audio RX6. I also listen songs through my car stereo . By knowing the (reference) characteristics of the MDR’s-7506 I can now almost predict how a song will sound through the other systems.

  58. Steve Keith

    Hey what great timing for me. I am in the market for new phones. I have the closed HD 280 PRO Sennheiser which I have loved for a long time. The only difficulty was getting used to the bass response. It tends to make you mix the bass too high. But you do get used to it. I think all the people who say you can’t mix with headphones really aren’t right. It’s just getting used to how they sound. The foam on my phones is alas wearing out. I was going to get the open back cans, but after reading this article I am now confused. All the things I’ve read seem to indicate mixing is best done with open back. Can anyone comment on this?

    • Dave

      This is coming across a strange for myself as well. I only ever reference my mixes with open back cans full stop. I have some ath-m50x closed backs which I love for recording and know them very well, but there’s no way I will ever use them for referencing. I would go for open back studio headphones based on your budget. That said, the real emphasis here is consistency and familiarity. I can’t believe so many people are referencing on closed backs!

  59. Brian

    I own several pair of cans. If I had to have only one it would be the HD 280,s mainly because they are great tracking phones, especially if you have a singer laying down a click based track. They are bass light. If I’m using them to mix on which I seldom do as I have put a lot of time into room treatment (Thanks Ethan Weiner), I mix so I can just hear the bass but it is not dominant. When played on other systems the bass is usually about right.

  60. Mike Thornton

    Sony 7509 are my favourite. Its a shame they are obsolete now. I also have a pair of Sony 7506 as well. They are not forgiving at all, they highlight any issue, and so I use them for location recordings because if I cant hear a problem on those, it will be fine on speakers.

  61. Jaron

    My favorite stufio monitor headphones are the best basic but quite reliable Sony MDR-7506 cans. After using sennheiser for a while I moved to the Sony V6,I think it was. And then the MDR. Sennheiser is okay, but the 280s always held like a vise on my head when used for extended periods. lol.

  62. GDS

    I had ATH-M50 and right now after a long time of choosing i bought without any regrets ATH-M70x which are incredible on many points!

    I dislike opened headphones or bling bling ones: some ppl adviced me to work with Beat headphones and they were pretty serious!

    My BEST system: Duet II + ATH-M70x for professional use and the same headphone and a FiiO Mont Blanc for personal use (outside)
    Not expensive but quality/value i didn’t find other better tools!

    creativity is far better than money and hard-core marketing and promotion!

    this is why i support recording revolution and his founder


  63. Rick

    KNS8400’s for me and KNS6400 for the talent. I use KRK monitors, so they relate pretty well.
    6400’s are a good consumer phone, the 8400’s are more suited to pro work.
    But I also check every mix in mono on an old Auratone 5C before using the car, iPod, t.v. set and my neighbour’s mega system.

  64. Max

    Sony MDR-V6. ADR mixer Doc Kane uses them aswell I’ve seen. Bought after I did some research on the web. Costs about 100 dollars I think.

  65. Rudolfs

    The main problem with ALL headphones is that no-one really knows how they should sound. For studio monitors you have a good baseline that with a calibrated measurement mic you should be striving for a flat response [at the sweet-spot] throughout the audible range.

    Headphones are a completely different ballgame. How should one voice them? And more importantly – how you measure them? Having heard and measured dozens of headphones, I can say that there are a few truly good cans. Namely the Sennheiser HD598/580/600/650. Sure, they roll off a bit too early for sub-bass duties, but other than that they are tonally more accurate than most of the sub-1000$ stuff.

    Almost all studio headphones at their current state are fine as a secondary monitoring device, due to their treble happy tuning. But would you use Auratones or the NS-10 as your primary monitor? No, it’s a grot-box and thus obscures some information to put an emphasis on traditionally problematic tonal regions. The old saying “If it sounds good on X, then it’ll sound good everywhere” is misleading. There is no magic loudspeaker or headphone which serves as an absolute litmus for good mixes. You have to know how a good mix sounds on a grot-box, to be sure that it will translate well to to other devices. Good engineers make good mixes, not crappy gear.

  66. John Suh

    It’s very interesting for me that you mention those two cans. I’ve been using 7506 for about 20 yrs now and co-mixed my 1st album (I am a classical guitarist) on that pair. And recently I got a pair of KRK8400 on my engineer friend’s recommendation and loving them for about 6 months now. BTW thanks for all the great videos and blog entries. I am lurking all the time but you’ve been a great help for me.

  67. Honza Hladik

    Hi Graham,

    recently I bought like my main studio cans Shure SRH-940. I tried Audiotechnica, AKG, Sennheiser, Beyer… But SRH-940 fits to me. It has for me these pros: isolation, detail, no hyped but accurate bass, it’s at least a little bit collapsible (with nice transport case).

    And for iPad / phone I’ve got still with me tiny Etymotic mc5 in-ears. It took me a time to get used to, but with correct insertion to ears you can listen on low volume and it’s pleasantly eq flat:) Both headphones make me listening pleasure and let me say sound confidnce:)

    Have a nice day to all mixing guys!

  68. Giorgio Gobbo

    Hi Garham!

    Very true that, i got a pair of AKGs k712 open back and soon investing on a pair of close backs for tracking or for when I’m mixing in more noisy environments!
    I am making all my eq decisions and compression decisions in mono on my headphones and my mixes translate better outside because of the consistency of my headphones!

    Really nice hacks now i can’t mix without them!

    For maybe riding faders and auomation and static balance i usually pass back to my monitors so I also can listen how the mix sounds like in my room and tweak from there!

    As usual Great advices!

    Thank you for what you are doing!

  69. Paul Owen

    I use a pair of Westone UM2 RC in ear monitors, which I use daily when listening to music at work or when commuting. In conjunction with the VRM Box feature in my Focusrite Saffire, allowing me to change the speaker emulation, I find these perfect when mixing. The detail and clarity they give is outstanding.
    My monitors are a pair of KRKs, but these have a noticeable bass bump at certain frequencies, which is fine for general tracking, as I can just ignore it, but when it comes to detailed listening I swear by the Westones.

  70. Quigley Foran

    I just picked up a pair of the AT-MX 50XG late last year and I love them. I won’t leave home without them. They have a smooth even response across the entire frequency range. The only kick I have is that they might favor the low end slightly.

  71. David Rupp

    I work in a terrible space for mixing–my laundry room. So I would go back and forth between my Fostex monitors and my Sennheiser HD 380 headphones. Even when comparing my tracks against professionally mixed music as I worked, my mixes would seem to fall apart when I took them to other spaces and speakers. There was a lot of back and forth between the laundry room, the car, and the living room.

    Then I started to use the Focusrite VRM on my headphones. What a difference. I would get the mix about 80% right on the first bounce down, and finish on the second. And now that I can hear what the mix should sound like in a studio, I can adjust my ears to get better results just from my monitors, too.

  72. Justin

    I have 2 sets of headphones… different reasons:

    1) a pair of KAT KTUI26… just for drumming. Similar to the VicFirth SIH1, but better low end and more resilient structure, the Firth’s cable always seemed to pull loose too quickly and then i’d get pops and crackles in my headphone.

    2) a pair of Audio Technic ATH-M40x. I sprung for these because the 50’s were just too pricey, but I love the 40’s for recording vocals, monitoring mixes, even watching netflix when the house is asleep!

  73. Joe

    I saved up, waited for Black Friday/Whatever sales, and I finally have 4 good sets of recording headphones; for recording up to a 4 piece band. I use Focal Spirit Pros for mixing. These are my ‘go to’ cans for mixing every time.

    The best way I know how to describe the difference with the Focal Spirits is this: It seems like every frequency is like a blossomed flower. The sound just seems open and full.

    Graham – It never occurred to me to take time to listen to my favorite songs, notating where certain things sit in the mix, and how they are projected through my cans. As always, there’s something to learn with each and every article you write! Thank you sir for all you do for us!

  74. Owen Thomas

    I think that the ethos of the Recording Revolution (don’t buy two pieces of gear if one will do) may be causing a little confusion for some readers.

    There is near-universal agreement that, if using headphones as part of the mixing process, open-backed design is preferable to closed back. For one thing, they tend to sound more natural. For another, open-backed designs can be a looser fit, and therefore more comfortable to wear for prolonged periods. (But that may just the difference between my Sennheiser 280 tracking cans, and my AKG 702 mixing cans.)

    On the other hand, if your budget will only stretch to one pair of decent headphones, then buying open-backed cans will cause serious bleed problems at the tracking stage – problems which can NOT be fixed in the mix.

    Depending on what you predominantly do, and whether you’re in a single-room studio (as I am), the bleed thing can be a game changer, in a way that the sonic (and comfort) differences may not be. I assume that’s the reason Graham recommended a closed-back design.

    But for everyone else thinking “I though open-backed were better for mixing” … you’re right. (I think.)

  75. Danny T

    Since I started out mixing at home in a small, untreated room, with no money for sound treatment and a wife and kid to contend with, I had no choice but to mix via headphones. First, I was using in-ear Sure monitors, but realized my mixes were not translating well. I then upgraded to a pair of Sennheiser HD 280 Pro’s. These things were a life saver. I got a pair of KRK Rokit 8 monitors not too long afterwards, but I still did the majority of my mixing (and still do) on my Sennheiser headphones.

    Now, I have a full monitoring setup, including a sub, and some Avantone mix cubes to check my mixes on a bass deficient mono source, not to mention a good amount of room treatment. But I still trust my headphones to help me truly hear was each individual track is doing. Great for comping vocals, making minor thing adjustments and all the dirty work. When I feel I have a pretty decent mix going, then I pull of the headphones, fire up the monitors and finish things up.

    However, I do still add one step… the car stereo test. If my mix sounds good on my Bose car stereo with all EQ setting flat, then I know I have something worth listening too.

  76. Craig Martin

    Great article, as per usual.. Interestingly enough, while I’m fortunate enough to be able to use near-fields and have several monitor set-ups for “A/B’ing” purposes, I’ve found that using headphones for mix-down has been really beneficial thing for my mixes overall. I think it has something to do with the ability to truly hear detail in processing (ie: delays, ‘verbs, detune, etc.) in an “isolated” situation, as several folks have mentioned. Also, I tend to look at using ‘phones as just another step in “A/B’ing”, as even though I do have a “go-to” pair for general mixing, I have several others (of varying $ & quality) for comparison.

    All that being said, I consider myself fortunate in living in the place I do, as I have been “brought-up” with Koss products, which have been my “go-to” cans since I was old enough to buy ’em in high school! IMHO, Koss ‘cans are, by far, the most under-rated headphones around. (No, I’m not affiliated ;). Started out with the Pro 4A, and have progressed thru the years. Presently own the Koss Pro4AAT, Pro4S, R80 & Pro DJ100. Highly recommend the Pro 4 (both AAT & s) for mix-down, while the others are terrific for tracking.

    Thinking about picking up a pair of Shures, Sony’s or Grado’s. Anyone have a recommendation regarding these three brands? Can only spend around $150.00, max.

    Thanks again, Graham. You really help make it “easy” and incredibly fun!

  77. Blackie James

    I use the KRK 8400 cans and they are pro quality and match up with my KRK monitors. Between the monitors and cans I always get an accurate sound and my final product is great. Their are many pro headphones available but for me the 8400’s do the job.

  78. Alix

    I have to agree with Cranky here. I have owned and used the Sony MDR-7506’s for years, and while they are extremely punchy and detailed, I would not describe them as being terribly accurate, as they tend to hype the low and high ends, and somehow manage to sound “processed”. Since they are closed-backed, I do find them useful for tracking, however, to reduce bleed. For mixing, I use the Beyerdynamic DT880 Pro’s (semi-open) for their more natural, balanced sound. I compared them to a couple of high-end headphones by Sennheiser and AKG (also very good) and found the Beyerdynamic’s to offer the best bang for the buck. They’re also extremely comfortable to wear. I highly recommend them.

  79. Casey

    Mixing on headphones is an understandable choice if it’s your only choice, but I don’t agree that they’re infinitely preferable to an untreated room. Getting something to sound great on high end headphones or a perfect mixing room doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to sound great everywhere else. When all you do is listen to music through “good” headphones, what happens when you switch to “bad” ones, or listen on a car stereo? Maybe not what you expect. I find the argument to be kind of backwards. To me, the proper way to think about it is, get really comfortable with your mixing environment and learn how mixing choices you make in your environment translate to other listening environments. It’s not about how well calibrated your room is, it’s about how well calibrated you yourself are. Think about how people are going to be listening to the music or sound you’re working on, and then try and replicate those listening experiences for yourself. ALWAYS listen on more than one device/speaker/can/earbud. The more ways you listen to your mix, the more confident you’ll be that you’re making good choices.

  80. Izzy

    Its great how accessible this article is, and how you’re promoting the fact that anyone and everyone can make music. Although there has been some challenging and questioning to what your saying, the principle that you’re encouraging people to make music is key.



  1.  Studio Headphones Being The Most Powerful Recording Tool
  2.  The Case For Mixing On Headphones In The Home Studio | The Recording Revolution

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