In the world of creating music, there are generally two ways that producers and musicians listen to the music that they record: through headphones and speakers. These are essentially the same thing, just in different sizes and shapes. These tools are the avenue by which the music that’s recorded onto the computer, tape machine, or another medium is taken from its storage place and into the ears of the listener.
In the modern musical world, musicians and producers have access to many different options in terms of headphones and speakers, with many of them coming in at fairly affordable prices. It’s never been cheaper to be a musician, and that’s a huge part of why it is such a struggle to choose between headphones and speakers. With good options in both categories, picking which ones are right for you often comes down to the situation that you find yourself in. Here are the best reasons to purchase each of these tools for listening to music.
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The Advantages of Headphones
Many musicians choose to use headphones as their main way to listen to and create music for a variety of reasons. Understanding these benefits is essential to seeing if headphones are the best for you.
Headphones Are Portable
While some headphones are easier to throw in a backpack than others, the general consensus on headphones is that they are small and lightweight. This makes them usable in many more locations than speakers. You can use a good pair of headphones in a studio, in a bedroom, or even on a plane. Speakers are generally grounded to wherever they’re set up; they’re much less movable.
Headphones Offer Isolation
One of the reasons why many recording musicians favor headphones is because they not only stop outside sound from getting in, but they stop the sound of the headphones from getting into the microphone. Headphone bleed is the bane of many mixes and can drastically lower or even ruin a recording. For musicians who spend a lot of time in front of a microphone, it can be a lot easier to use headphones. This can also save the ears and sanity of anyone who lives with you from having to constantly listen to your music in progress.
Headphones Can Be Cheaper
When purchasing headphones, they can tend to be much cheaper than speakers. With speakers, people need to buy at least two to get the full stereo experience. With headphones, people just need to buy one pair.
If you’re looking for cheaper options, headphones will almost always be less expensive than comparable speakers. This isn’t always the case, as there are many inexpensive speakers on the market, as well as more expensive headphones. But generally, headphones will be the nicest to your wallet.
The Advantages of Speakers
Speakers tend to be considered the more professional option for music creation. Many mixers (although not all.) choose to mix and create while primarily using speakers, and that’s for very good reasons. Here are a few.
Speakers Are Easier to Listen To
Generally speaking, most headphones cause listener fatigue after extended listening. The tight fit of many headphones and the close proximity of the headphone drivers to the ear can cause the hearing of a user to dull and become tired after a while. Speakers are music better at maintaining the hearing vitality that many professional musicians and mixers crave.
Speakers also tend to have specific characteristics that make them more pleasing to listen to, and the stereo field that speakers produce is generally better, if less dramatic than headphones.
Speakers Are Better for Collaboration
When you’re listening on headphones, you’re the only one who can hear what’s happening. Unless you invest in quality headphone splitters and amplifiers, it can be very difficult to collaborate with a partner because only one person can really hear what’s going on.
Speakers are inclusive in the way that they share audio, because they do it to a full room instead of just directly to someone’s ears. This makes it so that several people can listen to the song and collaborate on it simultaneously. This is an essential characteristic for people who are making music with others.
Speakers Are Safer for Your Ears
According to research, most people will instinctually listen to music anywhere from 25% to 50% louder on headphones than speakers. While this might be exciting in the moment, this can have long-term effects on your hearing. Since hearing is essentially the most important part of being a musician, it’s very important to make sure that the health of your ears is as good as possible.
Which Is More Accurate: Headphones or Speakers?
When it comes to accuracy, the debate about whether listening to music on headphones or speakers is better can be a very difficult and complicated subject to tackle. The important thing to know about the accuracy of sound is that a lot of it depends on acoustics.
Acoustics are the sonic qualities and characteristics that differentiate different rooms. For instance, playing music in a massive arena is going to sound very different from playing music in a bedroom. Arenas have lots of reverb, equalization characteristics, and other aspects to them. Smaller spaces are generally much less colored with the way that they add their own characteristic and properties to sound.
The reason why some people appreciate headphones for mixing is that they take acoustics virtually entirely out of the picture when reproducing sound. There is no physical room that the headphones are putting music into; they are outputting directly to the ears. This technically can make headphones more accurate than speakers, generally speaking.
But that doesn’t mean that speakers can’t be incredibly accurate as well. Many studios will use speakers but put them in heavily acoustically treated rooms, so the room doesn’t actually affect the quality of the sound in a dramatic way. This allows the room to take in all the good qualities of the speaker’s sound, as well as the much more appealing stereo field. Many studios will primarily mix and master using speakers in these heavily treated rooms because that is more appealing to them.
At the end of the day, the question of which is more accurate comes down to the context in which the tool is being used. If all you have is a room with poor acoustic properties and you’re generally working on your own, headphones are often the better choice. But if you are consistently working with other collaborators and have the money to spend on good speakers and room treatment, getting some nice monitor speakers may be the better solution.
Of course, the best-case scenario is having both to take advantage of both system’s benefits.
When you start creating music, you have to try and get the best sound possible to really make an impression. The pure acoustical energy that speakers and headphones create is going to be completely necessary to the process.
But what’s even better is having the right tools to make your music more relatable and professional, right from the start. If you’re looking for the best way to get amazing sounds as easily as possible, Unison has your back. We have dozens of different packs of Serum Presets for sounds that are amazing right out of the box, Artist Series Packs to help you stay inspired with pro-quality samples, and MIDI Packs that will help you finish your music in less time. The best music out there can be in your hands with the help of Unison.
What Is Microphone Bleed/Spill? (With Methods To Reduce It) | My New Microphone
What is Acoustics? – Learn about the science of sound | Explore Sound
What’s more accurate: Speakers or headphones? | CNET