Computer software and digitalization have made audio mixing more accessible, to a point where you can do it in the comforts of your own home. Gone are the days when you needed an acoustically treated studio and loads of equipment to make a decent composition. But has technology evolved enough to make it possible to mix music with regular earbuds?
Earbuds aren’t ideal for audio mixing since their sound output isn’t accurate. The unequal frequency response and zero crossfeed will skew how your composition sounds on conventional speakers. However, a reference track may help you overcome these challenges if you have to mix using earbuds.
Continue reading to learn more about the challenges of using earbuds for mixing. This article will discuss each obstacle in detail and let you know how to overcome them.
Table of Contents
- Why Earbuds Aren’t Ideal for Mixing
- What You Need To Know When Mixing With Earbuds
Why Earbuds Aren’t Ideal for Mixing
It may seem appealing to use earbuds for mixing since they are incredibly portable and allow you to hear small details that aren’t audible on regular speakers. However, many professional music producers will insist on using studio monitors for mixing.
Studio monitors are ideal for audio production because they deliver more accurate sound reproduction. Conventional speakers or headphones boost specific frequencies to improve audio output, but studio monitors have a flat frequency response that produces a more natural sound.
Earbuds cater more to the music consumer than the music producer, so you can’t expect them to function similarly to studio monitors. There are glaring differences between earbuds and studio monitors, which make earbuds less ideal for music production.
The Absence of Room Acoustics
The acoustics of a room can work for or against a recording. Even with studio monitors, giving a room some acoustic treatment is a good idea to minimize reverb or sound reflections. However, using earbuds removes the room from the equation, eradicating how your recording sounds in its natural habitat.
Headphones or earbuds eradicate crossfeed because the sound from each channel is kept separate. That is, your left ear is only able to hear what comes out of the left channel, whereas your right ear can only hear what’s played from the right channel.
When you listen to music in a room, your left and right ears still hear the sound from both speakers.
The absence of crossfeed exaggerates the separation between the left and right speakers. Not knowing how the sound blends from both speakers can affect how you balance the sound on your recording.
Uneven Frequency Response
Since earbuds cater to music consumers, their sound signature differs significantly from studio monitors. Earbuds tend to exaggerate high frequencies, while their small drivers may also struggle to produce low bass sounds.
The inaccurate sound reproduction from earbuds can negatively impact how you adjust the equalization of your composition. You can end up overcompensating for the absence of lows, and cutting down some of the high frequencies, leading your recording with over-boosted bass and a lack of clarity.
Low Dynamic Range
Studio monitors have a wide dynamic range, allowing them to capture the varying intensity of the different recording elements. Earbuds have a lower dynamic range, which means there is less variation between the faintest and loudest sound.
The lack of dynamic range in earbuds can make you minimize the intensity of some aspects of a recording where they become inaudible on conventional speakers.
Another drawback of using earbuds to compose music is ear fatigue. The amplified high-frequency sounds from earbuds and the fact that they sit closer to the eardrums can cause ear fatigue more quickly.
Spending hours listening to a composition on earbuds can cause premature exhaustion and discomfort.
While earbuds might not be ideal for mixing and producing music, one might ask the same question about Airpods and Airpod Max. Well, I’ve dedicated an entire article to these devices. Can You Produce Music With Airpods or Airpods Max?
What You Need To Know When Mixing With Earbuds
Given all the challenges associated with using earbuds for music production, it may seem like they won’t be able to get the job done. And while earbuds may not be able to replicate the output you get from studio monitors, there are several steps you can take to augment some of their differences.
Use a Reference Track
Even if earbuds and studio monitors have different sound signatures, using a reference track can make you better understand how the earbuds affect your recording. A reference track is any recording you can use as a benchmark for your composition.
Pick a reference track that closely matches the sound you want to achieve. Play that track numerous times until you become familiar with how it sounds on your earbuds. Once you become accustomed to how it sounds on your earbuds, you can tweak your composition to make it sound similar.
Continue comparing how your recording sounds with the reference track to get them sounding as close as possible to one another. Using a good-sounding track as a reference point ensures your composition won’t be painful to listen to when it’s completed.
Use Crossfeed Software
You can compensate for the lack of crossfeed by being mindful that it’s more pronounced on your earbuds. Always remember that you can hear the slightest pan to the left or right side on your earbuds, so you should pan wider to get the same effect on speakers.
Another option is to install crossfeed plugins that use algorithms to replicate crossfeed as you would hear it in a room with speakers.
Lower the Volume and Take Breaks
Ear fatigue occurs when your ears get tired of processing sound inputs. Listening to audio at high levels for extended periods can hasten the process.
You can minimize ear fatigue by keeping the volume at conservative levels. Granted that audio mixing can take several hours, remember to give your ears a break, especially if you struggle to process what you’re hearing.
If you plan to produce music long-term, you should consider investing in a good pair of studio monitors. Aside from delivering more accurate sound, active studio monitors have built-in amplifiers, which means they’re less prone to distortion at higher volumes.
But even if earbuds sound nothing like studio monitors, you may still get away with using them to produce music by using reference tracks, crossfeed software, and giving your ears a break now and then.
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