The iPod Earbud Test

2011 Feb 09, 2011

Let’s be honest, no matter how great your mixes sound in your studio most people are going to be listening to your final tracks on computer speakers, car stereos, or more likely their iPod’s earbud headphones. It’s just a fact. More and more people are experiencing all the music they own through the small, mid rangy, white headphones from Apple, rather than on expensive home stereo equipment. Does this change the way you approach mixing? It should.


Via Mark Giles Flickr

The Medium Matters

In the studio, you want professional equipment that will allow you to not only capture quality audio, but to playback detail so you can accurately record, edit, and mix complex music. But in the end, you are creating music for people outside the studio and those people statistically will be listening on earbuds.

It would seem prudent to know what your final mixes sound like on the same medium and speakers that your end user will be listening on. Because if it sounds great in your studio monitors but not in the “real world”, then your mix isn’t actually a good one.

How To Do This Practically

Here’s what I do with a typical mix. I start mixing with a combination of my studio monitors and studio headphones. I begin making mix decisions based on experience and having “learned” my studio. Basic levels, EQ, compression, and reverb decisions are made like normal. But midway through the mix I grab a pair of Apple iPod earbuds, plug them into my 1/4 inch to 1/8 inch headphone adapters and then into my audio interface. I continue to mix for a bit with only the earbuds. This does a few things for me:

  • It gives me a fresh perspective on my mix balance with different “speakers”
  • It allows me to assess my bass response and high frequencies to make sure they translate
  • It helps me focus in on the midrange (since the earbuds are midrange focused) and see if the vocals, snare, and guitars are playing nice together.

I then will likely go back to my monitors and/or studio headphones to finish out the mix. When mix 1 of a song is complete I make sure to bounce down a version to reference in iTunes next to some of my favorite professional mixes, all with the earbuds. I compare my kick, snare, vocals, bass guitar, etc from song to song to see if I’m even in the ballpark. Whether I’m satisfied with the result or not, at least I’ve learned some helpful things about my mixes compared to pro mixes on the popular medium of the day.

Don’t Isolate Your Music

No matter your intended purpose for these mixes (commercial release, or just a fun indie project), you would be wise to not isolate your music. Compare it to the best of the best out there. Reference it on popular formats like MP3s playing through iPod earbuds. I can honestly say it will only help your music. If however you think this concept is rubbish and you don’t want outside influences, then I can guarantee your mixing ability will only plateau and your music will suffer for it. Don’t isolate yourself, and don’t fight the medium of the day. Embrace it and improve your craft.

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