Hey guys,

If you cannot afford nearfield monitors yet and will work only using headphones, would you rather look for flat ones or it doesn't matter much? I'm afraid of, let's say, buy a headphone with too much bass and add less bass than needed in the mixing, y'know? If you had to choose a headphone, would you look for the most flat possible then?

Thank you very much!

  • 2
    Is there such a thing as flat headphones? I would think they would require a model of the shape of your head to do that. – endolith Jul 12 '10 at 19:14
  • These KRK headphones are the only ones I've seen that are pretty affordable and that look like they have a flat response. headphone.com/headphones/krk-systems-kns-6400.php – Stephen Saldanha Jan 24 '12 at 4:46
  • While there may be a true scientific "flat", my feeling is that 'flat as we hear it is relative to each person and their ears/hearing quality - sort of an 'eye of the beholder' conundrum. – Stavrosound Dec 18 '12 at 4:50

13 Answers 13


no headphones have a flat frequency response. they would sound funny, because of the proximity to the ears. whatever you buy you will need to learn the sound of, which is a time investment but pays back. the one very important thing i think you'll lose is the sense of dynamics - headphones seem to compress sound quite a bit so monitor speakers are a must.

alt text http://graphs.headphone.com/graphCompare.php?graphType=0&graphID[]=853&graphID[]=223&graphID[]=2361&graphID[]=933

  • Wow the 7506's drop off like that after 10k? I'm glad I ditched those. – Stavrosound Dec 18 '12 at 4:51

Flat response is always preferred; otherwise you really won't know what you're listening to and won't be able to accurately determine if your mix is too bassy, thin, etc. If you simply cannot invest in near-field monitors, get the best quality headphones you can afford.


I did some quick research for you and found this page:


Scroll down to the section about frequency response near the bottom.

It seems that, because of the proximity of the headphone speaker to our ear, and our ear's naturally unflat frequency response, headphones need to be eq'ed to attempt to represent the way we'd hear the source if it were right in front of us. I'm no expert, but check out the article. It seems to me that you want a decent quality diffuse field eq'ed set.

Also, when you're headphone shopping, have a listen to different pairs if you can. Bring along a CD of mixes you've done or heard on monitor speakers and see which set translates best.

Good luck! And save for some affordable nearfield monitors! They're probably not that much more expensive than quality headphones (although i have no idea what the prices are like in Brazil)


That's a sticky situation. People are definitely correct about headphones not being able to reproduce a flat frequency spectrum. The other issue that you're going to have is that your spatial perception of the sound field will also be VERY different than if you were using a pair of monitors.

Personally, I'd rather mix on a pair of speakers, even if they're just a cheap pair of M-Audio speakers.

  • I'd second this, had some less-than-pleasing results mixing exclusively on headphones recently, was an eye-opener to say the least :( – JTC Jan 24 '12 at 8:12

I have mixed on headsets for years. Make sure you are using as close to a flat as you can get with no compression or filters. I also reference my room monitors so you need both. Headsets are great for aliening stereo and over all balance of instruments. Be careful with effects especially verb. You may have a tendency to over effect on headsets. The bottom line is whether you have a room monitor or headsets is adjusting to your reference. Check what is missing in your reference by using everything from car stereo to home monitors. I have mastered on headsets by knowing my reference. An engineer without the use of headsets is a doctor without a stethoscope. I have been professional engineer for 35 years. I haven't AB-ed headsets since the 2006 Namn show but find Beyerdynamic and Sennheiser to be front of the field for headsets. I have resently reviewed the Beyerdynamic DT 880 Pro, Audio-technica ATH-M50s, and the Sennheiser HD 380 Pro. I find the DT 880 Pro hands down better headsets for mixing. Sennheiser HD700 and Sennheiser HD600 are Sennheiser's high quality. I have not heard these but I assume they are close to the DT 880 Pro. One last comment. I feel the open backed headsets for professional mixing are the best. Because the sound escapes it eliminates the natural compression that occurs on tracking closed headsets where you are combating external sound. It simulates more what you might hear from your room monitors. Hope this information helps as we are all still learning. Happy mixing!


I recommend listening to as many pairs as possible and make notes. Then choose the ones you find have the flattest response. I chose the DT 880 pro.

Save your money for decent near-fields and room treatment to go with them. Total budget = $3000 to $4000K.


I am also using just headphones until I can actually afford to spruce up my studio with decent monitors. I would suggest that you don't consider a mix complete until you've listened to it on a few other systems. For example, make a CD and play it on your home or car stereo system or ipod. Basically, play it on something you expect your average consumer to use. This way you could appreciate the difference between what you're hearing on your headphones and what you hear on other audio systems.


The problem with headphone mastering isn't frequency response so much as phase issues; when you're listening on monitor speakers you have some signal coming from both speakers into both ears, and you can more directly hear the issues of phase cancellation and so on. When mastering on headphones, phase cancellation issues do not become apparent until you listen on speakers, and you wonder why certain things sound totally different than on headphones.

Things that sound good on speakers will sound good on headphones, but the opposite is not true.

Actual frequency response isn't quite so important as people tend to make it out to be; the human brain already does a really good job of compensating for equalization as it listens, so as long as your EQ isn't too out-of-whack and remains consistent throughout a track/album/etc. it'll sound fine. You can spot-check it on a spectrum analyzer to make sure that the power curve doesn't have anything weird in it.


when they say flat frequency response with headphones they mean relatively flat not completely.

like if you compare the frequency response graphs of a pair of sennheiser hd600's to like a generic sony pair you'll see that the sennheisers are much much more even than the sony's.

other things are just as important though. some headphones have a poorly designed frame that might rattle with the bass frequencies or even they can just be bad at handling higher volumes and can have distortion.

You should definitely first research the frequency responses of the headphones you are about to purchase but also always make sure you give them a listen. A lot of factors can change the way they sound regardless of the frequency response like the ear cup design. I've found ones that go completely over your ears like around them with no cushions pushing up against your ears terrible. the reverb must bounce around inside them too much or something. I've heard good things about open back ones. I'm thinking about buying a pair of those.

It sucks though because you used to be able to find a great relatively flat pair for like 60 bucks. Now I find all of the accurate ones are like 200-400 :/

I used to love sony for cheap prices on good phones but the newest ones seem to have a bit of a peak at around 800 hz which would be a major problem for me.

make sure you physically look up the graphs and don't trust what the brand's site's tell you. the page for the kns 8400's claims a flat frequency response for example but they have a unreasonably huge boost at around 100 hz and down. that might be fine if you can get away with putting the cutoff for you highpass over 100hz but when you're working with stuff like double bass like me that's a huge problem because 100 hz is where a lot of issues arise and getting the highpass perfect is essential there. plus i gotta cut off at around 45 hz so that would be a huge problem.

anyways, the reason why a flat frequency response is important to begin with is because for example if your bass is boosted in your headphones, then when you do your mixdown you're going to make your bass too low since your headphones are telling you it's louder than it is.

all in all monitors are better but we all can't afford them or sometimes we're in a situation like an apartment where you can't make too much noise so there's all sorts of reasons to prefer headphones.

I do wonder though what would be better... monitors in a room with parallel walls, no sound proofing, no bass traps, etc versus a good pair of headphones. I'm willing to bet headphones would be better than monitors in a bad space for phase amplification and all of that. would be really interesting to see someone do a comparison on that anyways.

one more note: as much as most of us dislike ear buds since they tend to be tinny and too geared towards the high end... they are great for high end monitoring for the same reason we usually don't like them. like before doing spectral repairs, clicks, pops, crackles etc are all way easier to hear in ear buds so it's good to have a pair for that stuff handy.


I wouldn't suggest mixing with headphones in any case...unless u really know them inside out and know what to compensate for...which is something which takes time...and there r some good near fields that could substitute your need of a costly pair of headphones...KRK makes some amazing low budget but great near fields...


If you're gonna spend a good amount of money on some headphones for a flat response, which still wont be flat, you might as well spend the money on a decent pair of monitors. Not only will it help you in the long run for your mixes but the less you'll be getting ear fatigue while trying to mix on a pair of headphones. I don't know what kind of work your trying to do and it might help for a bit to work on headphones because its cheaper, it'll be worth the investment in the long run to buy some monitors, for the sake of your hearing, your mixes and overall work ethic.


If used a lot of different models for mixing tv ads because I thought its would be great to mix on the go or under the sun. The problems I had with headphones are:

  • The perception of midrange sounds is totally of. I find that i end up wit mixes that have no midrange at all when I use headphones.
  • I find that bass frequencies are very hard to level right. On headphones I end up totally overpowering sub bass areas and I do mix not enough upper base/lower mids because they sound extremely muddy in headphones.
  • Transients are very harsh on a lot of headphones. When I mix with headphones I keep bothering about transient a lot and I start to smoothen them out.
  • Hearing every detail makes me crazy. I end up removing every breath of a dialogue in headphones.
  • Dynamics are very hard to adjust in headphones. it feels like very sound is present anyway so you do not apply the right amount of compression. So when I compress on monitors then go back to my headphones everything sounds clear, punchy and smooth where need to be.

totally agree with fred renick. U really need to double check with earphones to make sure where in the stereofield your instruments are specially if you use lots of synths that need to be competing for the same range of frequency to avoid masking. In other words, make everything fit in a 3d space sound. No matter how flat ur speakers are, you wont get that picture in any other way.

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