How Headphones are Ruining Your Mix

I’ve got a confession to make.

I used to be addicted to headphones.

Pathetic, right?

And there was even something worse that I let happen because of this (I’ll explain that in a minute).

Let’s get this straight. Headphones are an extremely important tool in your live sound toolbox.

They can be used to help you listen closely to audio feeds coming into the mixing console, isolate certain tones and effects on a channel or group, and they are very useful in confirming signal routing among monitor/aux channels.

However, developing a strong reliance on headphones and allowing their use to become a mixing habit can absolutely destroy your final mix.

Developing a strong reliance on headphones can absolutely destroy your final mix. @James_Wasem @twelve30media Click To Tweet

Do you know what your most important job is as a front of house mixing engineer?


Listen, then adjust. Repeat as needed.

But don’t listen to the headphones. Listen to the room. That’s the only reference point you need to build a great mix.

Headphones are great for many things, but they are entirely unqualified to provide you with an accurate reference of what your mix sounds like in a live room.

Listen to the room. That’s the only reference point you need to build a great mix. @James_Wasem @twelve30media Click To Tweet

So, are you addicted to headphones?

And worse, have you ever excused your live mix because “it sounds great in the headphones” (like I sadly used to do)?

Here are two quick tips for curing that addiction:

1. Try mixing without headphones at all. It can be done, and it is a very liberating experience. You’ll be amazed at how alive your room is!

2. If you’re not ready for that quit-cold-turkey approach, only use your headphones for the initial line check, gain/trim settings, and basic mix reference, then put them away; do the rest of the mix simply by listening to the room.

Remember, headphones are an asset in your toolbox. Don’t use them as a crutch.

So, before I get accused of going off on a headphones rant… Let’s just sum this up with some friendly advice:

Use headphones to your advantage when isolating audio channels for line checking, signal troubleshooting, setting gain/trim, monitor mix confirmation, and effects/EQ reference only.

Just don’t let the audio you hear in the headphones be the primary endorsement for the quality mix you are crafting. The sound in the room is the only proof and confirmation you need for your mix.

Headphones are an asset in your toolbox. Don’t use them as a crutch. @James_Wasem @twelve30media Click To Tweet

About the Author_02


Author / Audio Engineer
Great Church Sound | Missoula, MT

James Wasem has been fascinated by sound and electricity from an early age. His love of music and technical gear made sound engineering and systems integration a natural pursuit. James has spent the last 20 years performing and touring in bands as a drummer, mixing live sound for churches, schools and theatres, and working as an audio systems installer and designer.

Though involved in highly technical fields, James has a passion for making things simple to understand and easy to use. It was from this passion that the book Great Church Sound – a guide for the volunteer was born. James believes that technical ministry volunteers provide a critical service for their congregations and should be well equipped with quality tools to help them grow in craft, skill, and spirit.

James and his wife Kate (who also provided the illustrations for Great Church Sound) live in the beautiful Rocky Mountains of Missoula, Montana.