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In last weeks Hangout I was asked about the difference between monitoring with headphones vs speakers. Well headphone sound and room sound are completely different, they’re not even close. So you have to make a choice. What are you’re going to use your room for and what are you’re going to create within your room?

Engineers that do a lot of classical recordings like headphones because they can hear everything in the mix because of the isolation properties of the headphone and the nice frequency response that today’s headphones have. Unfortunately or fortunately whatever the case may be people play music in rooms so your mix has to translate into a room acoustic situation.

So the person who posed the question was right in saying that if you just use your headphones, your ears will explode and I believe that. I don’t care for headphones personally myself and why would I when I’m a room acoustic engineer? I want to make your room sound like your headphones in terms of detail, separation and clarity but I want the sound stage, the depth, the height and the width that I get in a room. So using both is probably the best idea.

A headphone is great for hunting detail but there’s nothing like hearing that detail in a well treated room

A headphone will help you find something that the room may not let you hear because the room is not treated correctly. I don’t think the room will ever actually help you find anything you can’t hear in the headphone but my goal with room design is to try and get the articulation, the separation, the clarity and the definition that you get with headphones but have it in a room where you have a sound stage, width, height and depth and we can do that for you, we’ve achieved that many times.

People that sit in our studio are amazed at how great it sounds. Well that’s why you treat your room, that’s why you spend the time and the money and the effort to deal with your acoustical issues in your room because you want that detail. You want that separation, you want that clarity but you don’t want it in an environment that’s not realistic to the way people are going to be listening to the music that you produce it.

Most people listen in rooms. Now maybe a lot of people listen on headphones, I see a lot of people wearing headphones not even headphones but ear buds and to me I don’t know how they deal with that but that’s their personal choice. The bottom line here is room sound and headphone sound are completely different and you’ve just got to decide what’s more important to you. If room sound is the most important thing in your room usage and what you’re trying to do then you need to treat your room acoustically and we can definitely help you with that.

Be very careful about damaging your hearing with headphones

If you are only concerned about hearing everything in the mix and don’t care about room sound, then headphones are a good way to go but that said watch your pressure levels. Don’t ever exceed more than 80, 81, 82 dB SPL in those headphones for long periods of time. Having that much energy that close to your ear canal is not good. Be very careful with the length of time that you use them and be very careful with the levels that you subject your ears to.

Once you damage your ears you’re done, there’s no way to fix them. If you look at the structure of the ear and you look at the outer, middle and inner ear and you look how delicate those structures are and how small they are and how good they are at measuring frequency response you wouldn’t even move your head because you wouldn’t want to damage them. But you have to be very careful with your ears and I’ve been very careful with mine. I can still hear up to 15,000 cycles which at my age is almost impossible for most people. 8,000 is about the highest frequency people in their 60’s can usually hear. I’m fortunate that I can still here the full bandwidth of sounds but you have to be very careful with your ears and having a lot of energy that close to your ears, got to be careful.

In Summary

If you would like your room acoustic issues analysed for free by me then please fill in the form here and I will be happy to take a look for you.


Dennis Foley

I am an acoustic engineer with over 30 years’ experience in the business. My technology has been used in Electric Lady Land Studios, Sony Music of New York, Cello Music and Films founded by Mark Levinson, and Saltmines Studios in Mesa, Arizona, along with hundreds of others.


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