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Is it generally a good idea to use headphones in the production/mixing of audio?

And what can I do if my speakers are terrible (e.g. laptop speakers), and I'm on a shoestring budget?

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4 Answers

The best course I can recommend is to use the best tools and resources you have available. Headphones are not ideal, but they're better than bad speakers, and probably better than even good speakers in a bad listening environment.

A lot depends on what you're mixing and what the target environment will be. Mixing music or voice that will mainly be consumed on earbuds is different than mixing for a concert venue, a movie theater, or a TV in a living room.

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+1 The only thing I would add is that you should check your mix on another system. For example, most headphones won't give you a real good idea on how your bass is going to come through on a speaker system with a sub. –  BenV Jul 4 '12 at 2:57
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It is a good idea to avail yourself to as many different listening environments as possible. As others have mentioned, higher quality monitors and higher quality listening environments will allow for more precise control.

However, unless your end user will be listening in that same high quality environment, some of that precision will be lost to the listener.

If your media will be consumed on laptop speakers, it is a good idea to know what that sounds like (and perhaps make adjustments accordingly).

If your media will be consumed on headphones, it is a good idea to know what that sounds like.

etc...

Headphones as a sole means of production...? probably not. But then again, anything as a sole means of production... probably not.

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A mastering engineer I know takes a cassette to his factory-original car tape deck and goes for a drive. It's pretty close to the worst case scenario. Analog consumer tape fidelity on a sound system of questionable soundness (pardon the pun) in an overly noisy environment. If he feels it sounds good there... –  dwwilson66 Jul 5 '12 at 19:32
    
@dwwilson66, precisely :) –  JoshP Jul 5 '12 at 19:34
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While I agree with Jim, to use the best tools you can, I always recommend headphones, if for no other reason to isolate what you're recording from the background noise. You have no idea how many times I've not heard the applicance running in the background until I had my headphones on. Alternately, you may hear a lawnmower outside, but only upon wearing headphones will you realize that your mic isn't even picking it up.

When it comes to mixing, a lot of the craft is to interweave the subtleties of each track. Without headphones, a lot of those subtle details may get lost.

Shoestring budget-wise, save your pennies and make the investment. Even a cheap, $7 pair of earbuds will help you isolate unwanted noise from your recordings and help you hear the subtle dynamics of your mix.

Those considerations are so important to making good audio, that I'd recommend borrowing headphones or earbuds from someone until you can invest in a decent set.

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I try to avoid in-ear buds when creating music. It is much easier to accidentally overload your ears with those things, and you can't slide them half off your ears when needed. Great for listening, though! –  ObscureRobot Jul 5 '12 at 0:04
    
@ObscureRobot agreed. I prefer cans to buds for the same reason. It's like sonic claustrophbia with the buds sometimes. But on a budget...I'd rather have $10 buds than $10 cans. –  dwwilson66 Jul 5 '12 at 19:28
    
As soon as you know the rules, it is time to start breaking them... But be careful with your ears, you can't replace those for $10! –  ObscureRobot Jul 7 '12 at 2:08
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I use headphones for stuff like late night tracking , mobile production but will always check my tracks on a good pair of speakers in the morning

Sennheiser HD25 series are the bare minimum IMO

Headphones are great to get into production but you will need a pair of decent speakers sooner rather than later .

A mid range pair of Hi Fi speakers will be enough to cover your needs .

A lot of knowledge and information can be found at sites like gearstlutz.com and KVR

This reply is dependent on how serious you are about it if you are just looking to mess about with audio on the weekend etc none of these answers matter just use what you got or can afford to get

Have Fun

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Sony 7506 is the standard headphone around the world. They aren't amazing, but everyone has at least one pair. Sennheisers, AKGs and other premium brands can be nice, but it is worth having a pair of Sonys so that you know what everyone else is hearing. Take Gearslutz with a grain of salt. There is good information there, but there is a lot of focus on technology for technology's sake. Beginners should proceed with caution. –  ObscureRobot Jul 5 '12 at 21:12
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