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Why isn't music mastered for headphones?

Discussion in 'Music' started by tsukinick, Sep 18, 2014.
  1. TsukiNick
    It seems people primarily listen to music on headphones whether it be Apple's Earpods, Beats, or some sort of skull candy headphones.  Or they listen to it in the car where the stereo sound field isn't properly set up.  (Can't really be in the sweet spot when the speakers aren't in proper positions nor is the driver in the center of the speakers)
    I hardly see any average Joe listen to it on a proper speaker set up.  Even when I do see people with bookshelf speakers or floorstanders they are not properly positioned.
    So wouldn't you think they would eventually start the shift towards mastering more with headphones in mind?
  2. MindsMirror
    What would you consider an album mastered for headphones to be like? Binaural audio or crossfeed, perhaps? I think the reason why you wouldn't mix albums binauraly is because they aren't recorded that way. Once the audio is mixed with crossfeed, you can't exactly separate it, so speaker listeners would be left with sub-optimal mixing. It's easier for headphone listeners to add a crossfeed effect after the album is mastered, so that seems like the more logical way to go about it.
    Apart from binarual audio or crossfeed, I think albums are already mixed with headphones in mind. A lot of old albums have instruments panned fully left/right, and a sound field that's not full or balanced, which can sound bad with headphones. That is not as much of a problem with most modern albums I've listened to. That might just be a general improvement though, not specific to headphone listening.
  3. gotak
    Anyone listen to that John Legend song "All of me"? Am I the only person who finds there's are bits of really odd background singing in it? It's like suddently Vader decides he would be the background singer...
    Not sure if that was intended to sound like that but on headphones it sticks out like a sore thumb for me.
  4. LFF
    The real problem with using a headphone only technology is that the artists must actually be good. Little or no over-dubbing and you can really edit between takes because it's very hard to match the ambiance of take to take. So, essentially, the song has to be perfectly performed, in one full take, using no over-dubs, no processing, no auto-tune and it must all be done in the same room...LIVE. Not many artists are willing to do that.
  5. lamode
    Agreed. Any decent digital music player *should* offer a simple crossfeed option to cater to headphone users. I use a plugin in Audirvana, for example. This is a simple feature which I would except even iPhones to offer in future. They already offer in-phone EQ.
  6. GloriousLettuce
    I often find with this music how much more detail you can hear when you place the headphones on top of your head or in front of your head. It's like taking a microscope into the musical detail. :p
    As if our brains simply ignore some sounds when the headphones are actually on our ears, to focus on the more important sounds in the presentation.

    this is interesting, what exactly do you mean by placing the headphones on top or in front of your head? Are you doing so while listening to music to see how it compares with listening with the headphone over, on or in your ears? Does this really produce details that you miss when listening in a standard manner? I'm at work now but at the risk of looking silly I am going to try this when I get home.

    Well, as silly as this sounds, I did try placing my HD650's in various positions on my head, not directly over my ears. I have to admit, even though I was doing a semi serious experiment, I did feel a little silly sitting there with the headphone centered over my nose. [​IMG]
    What did I find out? Well, I'm glad you asked.
    There definitely seemed to be some frequencies that registered in my brain and registered differently then if they had been sensed as normal through my ears. It was a different sensation, feeling and experience. Nothing as clear and clean as sound entering your ear and proceeding to be heard and enjoyed by your brain. It was different and it was different then the sensation your get from deep sub bass for example. Sound that is more felt then heard but that certainly adds to the enjoyment factor of experiencing the sound.
    I wonder if research has been done on how people experience sound like this and if one might heighten the listening experience by creating a headphone type helmet which would allow sound to penetrate the skull  from all around the head rather then just through the ears. There probably has been research like this, I simply have never heard of it or bother to look into it before.
    Oh well, if anyone knows of anything along these lines I would be interested to hear about it. In the mean time I will continue to goof around with this. at least until I discover something positive or I just get bored.
    Good listening all.
  9. FFBookman
    mastering engineers need to be able to hear everything. they know their speakers and their room the best.  headphones aren't giving you the full picture.
    headphones are artificial listening, because it is micro-vibrations.
    real music - when made by the artist - has big vibrations that fill the room. various frequencies move around the room and interact, even collect in various places. 
    a mastering engineer's primary job is to make sure there is no 'bad' frequency buildup, whether it be mud or bass rumble or some piercing whine at 1400k.
    moving in and out of a sweet spot and moving around the room lets them hear the sound from different axis', and allows the mastering engineer to use their golden ears to tweak the EQ just right.
    that said - mix engineers use headphones. some occasionally, some often.   the bottom line though is that the 'air' in the room in headphones is fake or nonexistent. sound works by agitating air, so headphones are generally misleading and don't translate to other listening modes.  you don't want to make decisions on a mix based on headphones.
  10. Audioholic123
    Some interesting opinions here [​IMG]
    I have my own procedure when I'm recording, mixing and mastering my own music. Once i've finished recording I then listen to the track on 3 or 4 different headphones, to make sure that no sounds contained in the recording are masked. I then use a particular headphone (usually AKG K712PRO) and mix it to my liking. Speakers only come into play right at the end, when i'm done with the track. The way I see it is that you can perfect a recording with headphones...you can finesse it. Natural reverbarations that you get from speakers and in live performances can actually be generated during the recording process and mixing stages solely using headphones. For me, hearing my own music through speakers is the...end result...and doing it this way gives me a thrill.
  11. FFBookman

    I know budget is always a concern, but you really shouldn't master your own music, especially not on the same rig that mixed it. To me that's not really mastering, it's just another stage of the mixdown. The point of mastering is to get it sounding solid on all systems by someone that didn't mix or write it while being on a mastering rig that exposes flaws, not hides them, and to sure up any holes that the mixer left/made in the song.
    Your mix rig, by definition, is hiding problems as you fix them in the mix. I agree that your room adds to that problem, so putting on headphones reduces the issue but introduces others.
    Rates have really come down, my guy is working at under $100/song these days. Thats bittersweet - good for me, not so good for him. Of course he also does the other mastering engineer stuff: fades and sequencing, then packaging and tagging. 
    That said if your stuff sounds awesome keep doing what you are doing! I am just a purist about the difference between mixing and mastering and I don't believe they should ever be done in the same room with the same set of ears.  
    Audioholic123 likes this.
  12. KT66
    Been recording bands on and off for 30 years, a lesson I learnt a long time ago is to never master or mix with headphones
  13. FFBookman

    Rock and roll!
    I learned that early too. Do you remember the reasons they gave you?  Everyone seems to describe this stuff differently.
  14. FFBookman
    Thought of a shorter answer to OP - because each headphone type is the representation of a virtual room that is impossible to target.
    Which led me to a new thought - of course you could mix and master in headphones, and even sell your services as such. I think certain genre's do - street hip-hop for instance.
    I believe the reason why most don't is because the mix decisions don't translate as well from headphones to room space, especially big room (clubs, PAs) as they do the other direction.
    It's a desire to sound good in as many modes as possible that makes most people avoid headphones for final decision time.
  15. FFBookman

    This is a really interesting take but I'm not sure I agree with it. Headphones are used extensively in the studio. Tracking almost involves all sorts of headphones and isolation tricks, no matter how good or bad the band is. 
    Headphones are also being used to mix, but selectively and probably not for the final decisions. 
    All that you mention - processing, overdubs, autotune, has to do with the skill and persistence of the editor, and how much faking is acceptable by the artist. 
    - ya know...
    What you are actually describing perfectly is the difference between recording to tape and recording to computer.  Those are very different beasts, and it has alot to do with the talent.
    aka it's very easy to fake sounding great these days. great is not great, usually.  actual great sounds messy to the modern ear. 
    the computer will fix, fit, take, fake, blend, substitute, correct, whatever you want it to do. the final product is a highly edited document.
    the tape will record what you actually sound like. you need to rehearse and be good in the first place. 
    this is the main reason there's very few good rock bands after 2001 or so... the computer had taken over the studio.

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