Any professional will tell you that mixing an album on headphones is… less than ideal.

They’ve got plenty of reasons to be right about that, but sometimes we just don’t have any other option.

Maybe you’re broke and can’t afford nice monitors. Maybe your room is way too small to monitor properly. Maybe you can’t make much noise or mount acoustic treatment in your apartment.

Whatever your reasons, you may not be as screwed as you think you are.

Every set of headphones (or speakers, for that matter) has a particular EQ curve. They have a sonic character that emphasizes or deemphasizes particular frequency areas, meaning no two sound exactly the same.

When mixing, a lot of the time we want to hear the most “neutral” frequency response we can so that we truly know what our mix sounds like, and not what your speakers/headphones make our mixes sound like.

The good news is that we can achieve that by modifying the EQ curve of our headphones.

Whether your headphones are budget cans, or high-end audiophile companions, you can get an even more accurate, flat response from your headphones. This allows you to get a much better idea of what’s happening in your mix, from the EQ curve to the stereo image.

How is it done?

We essentially take a “snapshot” of the EQ curve of your headphones, and by doing so we can see where frequencies need to be boosted or cut to keep an even, neutral response from bass to treble.

There are two easy ways we can do this depending on the level of accuracy and budget you want to work with.

For the budget level, we have a plugin from Toneboosters that contains profiles for various headphone models. While these are a great starting point, they tend to be less accurate because they aren’t based on your particular set of cans, just an approximation of that model.

There is some variation in frequency response even between two pairs of the exact same headphones, so it’s worth paying a little bit more for the increase in accuracy.

The most accurate option would be to use Sonarworks Reference software. While buying software that’s triple the price might seem absurd, it’s a small price to pay for what you’re getting.

With Reference, you can create custom profiles of your exact headphones, or use their own pre-made profiles. Not only that, but you can do the exact same thing with your studio monitors as well using Sonarworks’ software.

One last thing: with Reference, you can also try emulations of other speakers and headphones to hear how your mixes might sound on other audio systems. Pretty sweet!

Final Thoughts:

If you’re having trouble getting your mixes to translate, or simply can’t stand the EQ differences between your headphones and your speakers, the best thing you can do is put yourself in the optimal position to mix on cans using headphone calibration software.

It’s a small price tag for something that can make such a massive difference in your mixes, and maybe even your career as a result.