Headphones

Ian asked:

your new portable recording system sounds amazing. What are your preferred headphones for mixing and/or tracking

Thank you, Ian. I am very happy with the sound as a starting point. I also love how the guitar sounds with the rain.

I took a look at what I wrote about headphones in the past. There is this post from 2005. Unfortunately the links don’t work anymore because Stax no longer produces those headphones, uh, Ear Speakers. I just searched for the Stax headphones and tube amp I use – SR-404 + SRM-006t – and found a set on Ebay for $880. Great price.

Those Stax are my most used pair of headphones in the studio, ever. I bought my first pair in 1990 and bought this combo about 20 years ago. I can say with confidence that I spent more time listening with those headphones than any other headphones or loudspeakers. I mixed every album with those. At first I mixed on speakers and occasionally checked the mix on the Stax but slowly that reversed over time until I worked mainly with the Stax and checked and confirmed with the loudspeakers.

Headphones for tracking: what I wrote in 2005 about tracking headphones was valid until last year…

I have an indestructible pair of Sony MDR-V600. They are a little bass-heavy, but are used by many musicians and road engineers. They last forever. About $75.

They lasted a long time and I still have them.

What I have been using since this Summer, for both tracking and mixing, is a pair of Audeze Euclid IEMs. They are tiny, and travel well, but have an amazing sound.
OL 221008 13 09 05
I was also wearing the Euclid IEMs in this photo from Rockport, Massachusetts, last month.

When I work on music I can wear the Euclid for a couple of hours and forget they are there. These monitors use the MMCX = Micro Miniature CoaXial connector, developed by Amphenol, which makes it possible to easily switch out cables. I have a custom-made long cable with a 90º stereo mini plug, for listening to my laptop, the MixPre, or my stage monitor mix, and also use the Audeze Cipher BlueTooth cable for listening to my phone on the go.

Ideally I would love something like this IEM of my dreams:

  • MMCX plug for the option of using a cable for higher quality sound
  • built-in BlueTooth
  • built-in Noise-Cancellation
  • built-in mic array for making phone calls
  • In other words the one ring that rules them all… :-)
    It’s not likely to ever happen because it is not something that a lot of people would need or want.

    Back to headphones. Check out Stax, if you can find a dealer, and check out headphones by Audeze. All of their headphones are really nice. A few times a year Audeze sells so-called B-stock at great prices. Stephen Duros uses a pair of Sennheiser that he swears by and, while I have never listened to any Sennheiser cans, I have heard a lot of good things about them.

    Question : Answer – Upright Bass

    Steve asked what I know about the upright bass, seen in this post.

    It’s a Chadwick folding upright bass. Jon has been playing the folding bass since 2015. It makes traveling so much easier and is a big reason why we do perform with the upright again. Well, it also sounds really good. We can fly with it and at other times it gets shipped via FedEx.

    Unfortunately Chadwick no longer produces the bass – see this.

    In 2015, before settling on the Chadwick, Jon tried this one. It didn’t sound as good.

    Question : Answer – guitar EQ

    Eric Nolan asked:
    When you mix, do you pretty much leave the EQ and other guitar effects the same once you find your sound or do you find yourself starting with a clean slate every song and exploring from there?

    My guitar EQs are guitar-specific, meaning they are created for each guitar and because of that particular guitar’s acoustic properties. EVERY guitar’s sound has an ugly component somewhere, some part of the sound that is boomy or muddy or otherwise not right. An easy way to find this component is to insert an EQ on the guitar track and to sweep the frequencies one suspects of unpleasantries, while boosting the EQ. Now the bad stuff will jump out and be very obvious. Narrow the EQ to taste, then roll off those frequencies. Save this as a preset for that guitar. That guitar EQ should work every time, but you will have to adjust it when using a different microphone.

    I always have at least two EQ presets for every guitar, one for RGtr (rhythm guitar) and one for MGtr (melody guitar), with the rhythm guitar EQ rolling off a little of the general low end in addition to the above described surgical removal. I often play several RGtr tracks (the chorus of Barcelona Nights was made up of three RGtr tracks and two MGtr tracks) and if I leave the RGtr tracks too “thick” they will take up too much room. I also EQ reverb returns, but I’ll save that for another time.

    This gives me an idea: it might be interesting for some of you if this could be a component of the subscription site: I could record a video or do a screencast of a mixing session and explain why I record, mix, master the way I do. Or perhaps the occasional Zoom session to answer questions.

    Question : Answer – plugins

    Ian had a followup question:
    I have one more music production question – what plug-ins (if anything) do you use on your master fader in Pro Tools?

    I don’t have any plugins on the master track, but the preceding mix has the following three plugins inserted. I normalize the stereo mix to -1.5db to allow enough headroom and then use the Massenburg EQ plugin, and two plugins from Sony Oxford, Sonnox, the Inflator and the Limiter. That’s also the order in which the plugins are inserted: EQ, Inflator, Limiter.

    I have used the MDW EQ for a long long time, perhaps for 15 years. It is my guitar EQ as well as my mastering EQ. I think they didn’t make the plugin for a while and I was bummed to have to do without it after upgrading my equipment last year. But then they came out with a new version of the plugin and I was able to move the presets, which I had created over the years, from the old G4 Macintosh to the new MacBook Pro without a problem. And they worked!! That was a relief.

    Jon turned me onto the Inflator and Limiter and they have been part of my mastering for at least five years.

    Question : Answer – DAW, microphone choice

    Ian left a question in the comments:
    Have you settled on a DAW – I know you were a Pro Tools user for many years. Also is your M149 still your mic of choice?

    Yes, having tried Logic and UA Luna I decided that I much prefer to work with Pro Tools. It may just be the sense of familiarity but I like the way it works and the amount of control I feel I have when I work with it. I don’t use MIDI for anything and understand that people who use MIDI a lot like Logic.

    Regarding microphones, I love my M149 but it picks up everything and requires a very quiet room. The Earthworks mic I use live is really great at focusing on the guitar and rejecting other noise. So I have been working with the Earthworks mic and it really sounds good. I have also been using the microphone preamp in the MixPre instead setting up the Martech MSS-10. It also sounds remarkably good. So for now I am using Pro Tools and the MixPre (A/D converter and mic preamp) with the Earthworks mic. But at some point I will use the M149 and Martech again.