Mixing With "Reference" Headphones Poll/Test

Hey everyone! My Friend and his band recently released their song “Second Thought.” Prior to release, I got together with my friend, who is the band’s drummer, and asked him if he’d be able to test some headphones that are usually marketed as reference or for studio use by making different mixes of the song to describe his experience using those headphones for a mixing application, and to get a better understanding of how the headphones may influence the end product. The headphones we requested he test were the HD600 (Neutral-Leaning tonality), DT990 Pro (V-Shaped Tuning), LCD-X (Slightly scooped upper mids and low treble), and MM-500 (Neutral-Leaning with slight upper midrange boost).

We spiced the test up a little bit by having @Resolve, @GoldenSound, DMS, and myself listen to the mixes and attempt to guess which of the four headphones was used for each mix. My friend also threw in a curveball by adding a fifth mix to the list, which was made on a pair of CCA CA10 IEMs.

Can you tell which headphone was used for each mix? Listen to the mixes linked below and comment which headphone you thought was used for each mix! Results will be revealed in a corresponding video next week!

Mix 1: 1.mp3 - Google Drive

Mix 2: 2.mp3 - Google Drive

Mix 3: 3.mp3 - Google Drive

Mix 4: 4.mp3 - Google Drive

Mix 5: 5.mp3 - Google Drive

Final Mix (Professionally mixed on speakers): Spotify

Additional Note: we recognize that what we’re doing here is listening to an interpretation of mix when created with different headphones. We are listening for how we think that the engineer compensated for the hesdphones’ frequency response and tonal balance. We are not assessing the quality of the mix, but rather identifying qualities of a headphone that may result in certain alterations to the mix—it’s not meant to be a scientific test, just a fun guessing game to see if we could tell how certain headphones would influence the mix! :grin:


I guess it’s my job to be “that guy”. There are so many variables here that I’m not seeing how any useful information can come from this.

The goal is to create the desired sound on a system that the person has extensive experience with (their reference system).

When headphones are used it’s in the conext of the person knowing how the desired mix sounds on those headphones,
not making the mix sound good on those headphones.

This can only be done when a person has a lot of experience knowing how a headphone maps to their reference system.

What’s needed is to have the mp3 of the mix as created on the reference system, so it can be compared to the mix created on the headphones. Aaaaaaaand - they should all sound the same if the person knows how to map each headphone to the reference system.

Plus, the desired mix may not even sound that good on the reference system!

There are a wide range of devices people listen on - from $1 buds included with a phone to car radios to high end headphone and speaker systems.

The challenge is to make a mix that works on all these devices, where “works” is defined by the person doing the mixing.

Maybe I’m just being dense and not understanding the experiment.



I’ve added a note to the post that hopefully clarifies this a bit more :slight_smile:

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This sounds like fun.

I think it would help to provide us with a brief/high level description of what each headphone sounds like, for those people who don’t have experience with them. Since this is meant to be a fun exercise, not to be taken too seriously, I just mean one or two words to give us broad context like ‘warm’, ‘neutral’, ‘bright’.

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Not necessarily dense, but I do think you’ve misunderstood the purpose here. This is not to indicate the quality of the mix, or even to create a mix on headphones in particular. Rather, it’s to see if we can tell how someone may be compensating for a given headphone’s tuning characteristics when mixing a track. There are many headphones marketed for pro use, but they all have vastly different tunings. So we figured it would be fun to see what would happen if someone mixed a recording using a number of them, and to see if we could guess which headphone was used.

There are a number of key limitations to this guessing game too of course. One of those is that there’s no guarantee the person is aiming for the same sound on each headphone, and I think this may be related to what you’re getting at. But it’s still interesting to see if there are any major differences (and there are) that arise as a result.


Awesome experiment!

I put together a simple web interface for comparing audio tracks, loaded these files into it and it’s pretty useful for quickly comparing them: CodePen - Audio A-B


Just in case…



This is going to be fun! I’ll give it a whirl later this weekend. Cool idea guys!

To repeat what I said above, it would be helpful to get a high level summary of each headphone’s tuning characteristics.

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Crin has graphs for each of these, which should help if you haven’t heard them yourself.

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Next your gonna be telling me they have shirts where the sleeves go all the way to your wrists. Unthinkable.

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Engineer/producer here. First off, great tune, performed well, produced well, sounds well recorded, and mix #1 sounds great, totally releasable. In some ways, I like it better than the released mix/master on Spotify. @Chrono: could you ask your friend if this single is available for purchase as a lossless download? The previous single is on Qobuz, but this one isn’t.

Here were my impressions/thoughts during listening (in numerical order, with excursions backward for comparison and note addenda):

1. Balanced, relaxed, slight lack of midbass?

2. Brighter than 1+3, sibilant, louder than all others, punchier midbass than 1

3. Congested midrange, slightly honky, slight lack of treble extension, punchier midbass than 1 but less punchy than 3

4. Brighter than 1+3 but less bright than 2, less sibilant than 2, slight lack of subbass

5. Thinner than 4, acoustic guitar and vocal lack body, midbass not as punchy as 2+3, tambourine buried

If I had to guess the headphones used for each mix, it would be:

1. CCA CA10: I’m assuming these are “Hans’” own reference earphones, and I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt that he is a good mixer when using a reference monitoring system.

2. HD 600: Excessive brightness and higher loudness suggest the Sennheiser “veil” and highest-of-the-bunch 300 Ohm impedance.

3. DT 990: The anti-V-shaped mix points towards a V-shaped headphone.

4. LCD-X: Brightness indicative of a headphone with scooped lower treble.

5. MM-500: The noticeable lack of midrange leads me to believe this was mixed on a headphone with boosted midrange.


Thanks for participating and for your response! The track’s unfortunately only available in Spotify now, but higher quality versions will be available for streaming on Qobuz and Tidal in the next few weeks is what I’ve been told!

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Oh, and one more note, the final version of the song, which was released on Spotify, was mixed professionally by someone using Neumann KH80s and Adam A7xs!

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I’ve been mixing using a rotation of

Focal Utopia (EQ)
HiFiMan Sundara (no EQ)
HiFiMan Edition XS (EQ)
and Focal Monitors

for years now and I used to write #content for Headphones.com

I’d love to do any of the above versus the MM-500 if you ever want to do another one of these vids/experiments :]

:control_knobs: Select Work

:rock: Reference Tracks

Thanks for the compliments! It was actually all recorded in my basement.
(I assume you watched the video, but) The first track was mine, with the CCA.
I do personally like that mix a bit better than the released mix, but we had a pro complete the mix and master; we worked remotely with him so time was more limited and revisions weren’t as effective as if we were working with him in person.
We would’ve used my mix but I’m relatively new at mixing (only done it for a couple years) and I don’t have a lot of the technical know-how to maximize loudness, DB, and master the track.
Stylistically I would say my mix better matches our vision for the song, but oh well. Our guy still did a very good job and we’re happy with it.

The track should now be live on Qobuz!

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