There’s been a long-standing debate on studio monitors vs. studio headphones for mixing and mastering.
Of course, you can use either of them, but there are many things to learn and questions to be answered. Would headphones suffice for mixing? Do you really need studio monitors or is buying them an overkill? These are common questions.
Many people may have a limited amount of space to record and mix in, which is common nowadays due to the rise of bedroom producers. In this case, a pair of studio headphones is enough.
Still, in other cases, some people can afford to have a fully dripped-out home studio where the use of studio monitors is ideal even though studio headphones are more convenient to use.
Whether you’re an expert or a beginner looking for some opinions regarding which setup works best, you’ll find this guide helpful especially if you’re deciding between studio monitors and studio headphones.
What are Studio Monitors?
Studio monitors are loudspeakers in speaker-like enclosures. They function just like a regular speaker, except that they’re specifically designed to produce a flat and accurate sound as much as possible.
This flat response allows studio monitors to produce sound as faithful to the recording as possible. Unlike regular speakers, they don’t add any coloration or distortion to the sound, making them ideal for those who work in the audio industry, such as audio engineers, music and film producers, and the like.
Since they’re built to produce accuracy and not hide imperfections in the recording, studio monitors make it possible for audio professionals to tweak and perfect the sound that they’re working on.
Studio monitors let them discern which details should be worked on, allowing them to make more informed decisions when editing.
Studio monitors are the absolute go-to when working on any audio as they ensure that the playback quality translates well when playing through various devices. This allows for consistency and good-quality of audio production.
Here are some of the advantages of using studio monitors:
- Sound – Studio monitors are specially built for the studio. Their flat frequency response is essential for bringing out excellent detail, clarity, and recording accuracy so that audio engineers can work on their audio precisely.
- Performance – Studio monitors are known for their consistency. They help ensure that the audio playbacks you hear will be consistent across different listening setups.
- Usage – Since studio monitors are built with audio engineers in mind, they’re optimized for studio use, allowing them to be a reliable tool for audio professionals.
- Technicalities – Studio monitors produce subtle nuances and details from a recording, which allows for accurate and precise refinement during various audio editing processes.
Here are some of the disadvantages of using studio monitors:
- Requirements – Studio monitors require an acoustic-treated room to perform well. Even though you can still use them in an untreated room, you wouldn’t be able to maximize their capability.
- Cost – With higher quality comes higher costs. High-end studio monitors can be pretty pricey, making them a substantial investment for audio engineers and professionals.
- Portability – Since studio monitors are relatively clunky depending on the model, they require a certain amount of space. They’re also not suitable for moving around. Even though most studio monitors are plug-and-play, some require a separate amplifier to power them, which adds more to the cost and bulk.
What are Studio Headphones?
Studio headphones are headphones specially made for audio professionals. Much like studio monitors, studio headphones are designed to produce the most accurate and detailed audio you can get. Their high-fidelity nature allows them to be used professionally in mixing and mastering audio.
Studio headphones also have a flat frequency response, ensuring that the audio presented is as faithful to the recording as can be. They don’t have the coloration that other headphones produce, which comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. In studio use, the flatter and the more accurate the sound, the better.
Most studio headphones are also designed to have better sound isolation to prevent external noise from getting in the way of your work. This allows you to focus better on your work.
They’re also much more comfortable than regular headphones as they’re intended for long periods of use. Studio professionals are known to work on their audio for hours on end so they’d need a pair of extremely comfortable headphones.
Because they’re smaller in size and more compact than studio monitors, studio headphones are portable, which works great for professionals who are always on the go.
Here are some of the advantages of using studio headphones:
- Sound – Some studio headphones, especially in the high-end category, can go on par with the quality and performance that studio monitors offer.
- Sound Isolation – Studio headphones isolate sounds best, especially those with a closed-back design. Sound leak is brought down to a minimum, so you won’t get noise complaints from neighbors. This also makes them great to be used in public or when commuting. Even open-back studio headphones have a more manageable volume compared to studio monitors.
- Portability – Studio headphones are easier to carry than studio monitors. They come in different sizes and form factors, making them ideal for those who constantly need to work from one location to another. They’re also ideal for those who have limited space in their room.
- Comfort – Studio headphones are designed with comfort in mind since they are meant for use in studio work, which may require you to wear headphones for extended periods. Most studio headphones have different ear pad options and feature adjustable headbands, allowing a better fit for your head and ears.
- Cost – There are plenty of options for studio headphones whether you’re on a limited budget or looking to invest in high-quality gear. You’ll find decent studio headphones that can give you a similar performance to studio monitors for a fraction of the price.
Here are some of the disadvantages of using studio headphones:
- Fit and Comfort Inconsistencies – While studio headphones are generally comfortable, they come in varying sizes and designs. Depending on your head size and shape, some models may not fit you well or may not be as comfortable. This is why it’s important to try them out before making a purchase.
- Sound Coloration – Some studio headphones can produce some coloration with the sound, which alters its presentation. This can cause inconsistencies and an inaccurate presentation of the sound, which may give you a hard time when working on your mixes.
- Ear Fatigue – Using studio headphones for extended periods can cause ear fatigue and discomfort even with higher-end models.
- Sound Presentation – Some studio headphones don’t provide an accurate presentation of sound, especially when interacting with natural room ambiance. This can lead to inaccuracies in some spatial aspects of a mix. Although open-back studio headphones are known to sound closer to studio monitors, studio monitors still provide the best job of presenting the nuances that you can get in a natural room ambiance.
Studio Monitors vs. Studio Headphones: Final Thoughts
In the debate on studio monitors vs. studio headphones, studio monitors come out on top when it comes to producing the best quality audio. They produce a far more accurate and consistent presentation of sound, allowing you to make informed decisions when mixing or mastering audio.
When it comes to whether you should use studio monitors or studio headphones depends on your situation.
If you have the budget, adequate space, and the knick-knacks needed to ensure the quality of the acoustic treatment of your studio, then studio monitors are a no-brainer option. They’re perfect for the job if you want high-quality sound.
This, however, comes with the disadvantage of cost since there are a lot of considerations to ensure that you’re maximizing the capability of your studio monitors.
While studio monitors come on top of the game, it’s worth noting that studio headphones are also competent when it comes to production.
They may not be as accurate as studio monitors but they do have a flat response that makes them do a great job in mixing and mastering. An added advantage is their portability.
In my case, I use both studio monitors and studio headphones for testing my mixes. While this is purely out of preference, I like to hear how audio sounds between these gears so I don’t leave any details behind — no stones unturned type of way.
As cliche, as it might sound, the quality of your mixes still depends on you and your skill level. Tools like these are only meant to help you achieve your end goal. Your skills and experience are essential for getting your desired outcome.
A man of many interests, Querho is passionate about discovering new things that stimulate the mind. When he is not writing about the things he is passionate about, Querho can be found making music at his home studio.