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In-ear monitors for mixing and mastering? EXPERT OPINIONS only, please.
Old 19th October 2013
  #1
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In-ear monitors for mixing and mastering? EXPERT OPINIONS only, please.

Yesterday I visited the audiologist department of a major medical institution here in the Seattle area for some custom-molded musician's earplugs.

The audiologist asked if I was also interested in in-ear monitors and added, knowing that I produced my own music, that the new custom-molded in-ear monitors (some with perfectly aligned 5-way drivers, such as the Westone ES5) had a near-perfectly linear frequency response and zero phase issues, and would create a nearly perfect listening environment for music production, eliminating any room acoustics challenges.

Of course, as someone who has spent months analyzing and bass trapping and employing things like ARC2 to get the best possible sound in an imperfect space, eliminating the room issues entirely sounds pretty nice. But if everyone could just master without speakers, they would.

Is this a Very Bad Idea? Or a great one? Or somewhere in between?

Please tell me your educated opinions.

(Please, acoustics experts, MEs, and people with direct experience with the ES5s or similar products opinions only.)

Thanks!
Old 20th October 2013
  #2
well those westone's sure look great. but it doesn't really matter how linear the response is, they're still headphones, its about how the sound is presented to your ears (with almost no air between the drivers and your eardrums). For whatever reason the mixes just don't translate well to speakers. although I will admit a client of mine has had some great success using a speaker simulator. I had no idea he mixed the entire album on headphones until he told me.
Old 20th October 2013
  #3
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I have a friend I do mastering for who has some top of the line in ear monitors.
His mixes are noticeably better using ordinary monitors (Mackie 824s?) and Dynaudio BM15a's than from the in ear monitors.
Old 20th October 2013
  #4
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I think if you only ever worked with them for a long time, you could probably get things to translate well, but I'd personally never want to master something using my Etymotic ER4s. They sound pretty great, but not even close to my monitors (ATCs).
Old 20th October 2013
  #5
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Thomas W. Bethe's Avatar
 

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If you are doing binaural mastering they maybe OK. For normal stereo mastering I think you will find that speakers are more apropos.

To each his or her own.
Old 21st October 2013
  #6
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Thanks guys. Sounds like I'll stick to my monitors...
Old 21st October 2013
  #7
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I have a pair of Westone 4R's and also Grado PS1000's. They are pretty good for listening.

They are great references, but I would not trust them without first referencing on speakers.
Old 21st October 2013
  #8
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I'd rather use conventional over ear open backed cans over in ears for any kind of music work.

Moulded in ears are for performance where spill and appearance are important. You don't want something that close to your eardrum all day every day.

And would anyone trust a mastering engineer working mainly on headphones? I know I wouldn't!
Old 23rd October 2013
  #9
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At least not for primary reference duties, but if I would find some in ear monitors with a very flat response and would find they improve the sound when they are used as reference in ear monitors, then I would probably at least consider that for non-primary reference duties. I am currently looking at the Shure SE846 in ear monitors configured with the black filter. They are pretty expensive (1000 USD). The good thing about them is that they remove outside noise by almost 40 dB which can be quite good when doing critical listening and fine tuning, they also have a great low end performance including the subwoofer frequencies, the bad thing is that their performance drops significantly after 2kHz and if that is not an error in the test method, which you cannot assume, then they look like they could cause too much translation issues in practice. The DT 880 cans are very good, but they are somewhat weak in the mid range and somewhat too powerful in the highs, the Shure SE846 in ear monitors configured with the black filter seem to correct that, but by too much it looks like. The good thing about these in ear monitors though is that you can change filters and hence get 3 different references from a single pair which can be useful for instance during mixing. Another thing with these is that they are probably some of the better in ear monitors out there, so for optimizing a mix for in ear monitor use, these definitely seem to be a good choice for that. After all, a lot of the music consumption today happens through in ear buds... For instance I compared these to my Westone UM-3X in ear buds (that are also very popular consumer in ear buds and are excellent for bass guitar and kick drum mixing) and I concluded the Shure SE846 with the black filter were better in every way...

Does anybody here have any experience with the Shure SE846 in ear buds configured with the black filter? I'm very interested in their true performance...

Old 25th October 2013
  #10
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The obvious problem with headphone and IEM monitoring is that without compensation and calibration the stereo image will be totally wrong. Sound sources panned at any angle across the soundstage don't appear in the right places, and there will be a huge hole in the middle (actually just left and right of the middle, probably 315-330 degrees left and 30-45 degrees right). A 'flat' frequency response is also essential, but you mainly need a good way to emulate the way speakers mix the stereo image in air. Isone Pro crossfeed plugin (now TB Isone but I think the legacy version is better) does this amazingly well, and after a proper calibration of the soundstage with a source that you know exactly the position of sound sources (eg a stereo recording you've done yourself with sources at 45 degrees left and right, 90 L/R, etc), comparing that to an already-well-calibrated speaker setup, and also fine tuning any necessary frequency response deviations with a good EQ, you can get a monitoring system with headphones/IEMs that sounds very accurate and can rival loudspeaker systems. It is definitely not a replacement, but if you do all this, comparing to reference material as you would normally, there is no way that mixes/masters won't translate as they do on speaker systems.
Old 25th October 2013
  #11
Earbuds just for QC and sometimes, ear fatigue not matter what drivers are into
Old 25th October 2013
  #12
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So how do you do spatial cues with headphones...

You can't.
Old 25th October 2013
  #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DSD_Mastering View Post
So how do you do spatial cues with headphones...

You can't.
Sure you can. Binaural can be so accurate it fools the brain.

But, IMO, headphones are not as good as speakers for mastering regardless of their quality.
Old 25th October 2013
  #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DSD_Mastering View Post
So how do you do spatial cues with headphones...

You can't.
What are you referring to in a Mastering context? The way I'm understanding your comment is that it relates to spatial effects; this is usually a production/mixing issue.

Spatial correction can be done to a degree in Mastering, but it all depends on what else shifts, but even then, typically it's best if the clients have that fixed back at the mixing stage.

Or maybe you mean you're able to "feather" some kind of dynamic processing in the stereo image the same way a Golf pro can bend shots around a tree (which would be above and beyond my league).
Old 26th October 2013
  #15
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You really shouldn't use headphones if you don't have to.
Reasons:
1) quality of mix will suffer
2) easy to damage your ears
Old 26th October 2013
  #16
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In July of this year, Glenn Schick was kind enough to have an interview with my class via Skype and alluded to using a new 'Proprietary' in ear monitoring system allowing him to offer a location mastering service, to keep up with the speed of today's output demand. He's used it on songs that have charted already. He also stressed that he has several years of experience and would recommend not using headphone systems for mastering if you are inexperienced.
Old 26th October 2013
  #17
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edit*
Old 26th October 2013
  #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DSD_Mastering View Post
So how do you do spatial cues with headphones...

You can't.
Isone has an HRTF control with ITDs for head and ear size. Binaural is also amazing as has been said, and presents sound sources behind or above the listener very convincingly.

Answering the original question though, are in-ear monitors good for mastering and mixing. Well they tend to have a very fine transient response with generally more accuracy in the bass, a flatter frequency response across the low and mid range compared to circumaural cans, much deeper extension into the sub bass (I know people would argue that is not real sub bass, but depending on the IEM it can be surprisingly hefty and natural, even compared to subwoofers), and very good isolation, if that's what you need. I use them with a pair of ear defenders and get 32dB attenuation. You can hear a crazy amount of detail with this quiet a background and that is useful not just for studio work but for monitoring in less than ideal locations noise-wise, as well as things like location recording.
Old 26th October 2013
  #19
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link for the ear defenders?
Old 26th October 2013
  #20
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Hi Babaluma,

Mine are just standard workmen's ear defenders from a Japanese company here called Trusco. The combined attenuation of the IEMs and defenders is what gives the overall NRR rating, but it's a bit hard to work out. Basically the IEM attenuation is the most important rating, then adding practically any ear defenders with ratings from 20 to 30 will bring up the overall rating to 30+. If I was buying from America I would look at the Howard Leight Leightning L3 or similar, but would avoid any electronic noise cancelling and make sure nothing from the inside touches any part of the IEMs, so you may need to remove or reposition a bit of foam in there. Also bear in mind that ear defenders may generally be designed to not attenuate speech around 1-2KHz as much - a good thing for safety but not so much for audio! But you probably won't notice it in practice.

Cheers
Old 26th October 2013
  #21
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Thanks, my old Etymotic ER4Ps would cut the ambient noise down more than anything else I've tried, can imagine in combination with these defenders you could get things very, very quiet. Swings & Roundabout - LOVE the sound of my HD600s, but the very fact that makes them sound so open is also the problem that leads to background noise. I think I'll be sticking to the ATCs for all tonal decisions, and continue QC checking things on the 600s at the end.
Old 27th October 2013
  #22
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I understand room ambiance actually increases the amount of information we can perceive.
Old 23rd July 2015
  #23
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Older post, but most of these responses don't make sense to me..... why? Because I'd dare to say that 60% of listeners these days are either using their ear buds or cell phone. I'm now using near field, headphones, as well as my buds to make sure that any listening device folks use will yield decent results..... I'm leaning more and more to mixing my highs with my buds and the lows with my head phones then making small tweaks with my near fields.... nothing personal, but if most listeners are using buds these days then that has to be accounted for and considered in a respectful fashion. In today's rush rush world how many folks are listening to their music with shelf speakers or home theater? Probably not very many..... I'd rank them as Buds/Cell,YouTube, Auto, Home, Professional..... Just my current approach.....
Old 24th July 2015
  #24
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Earbud mixes translate well to earbuds but not necessarily to speakers. Blends, stereo field, mix element location and many other things are much more separated on earbuds so it's easy to think a mix is great because you can hear everything better. But that doesn't always mean it will work on speakers. Many decades of practice proves that speaker mixes do translate to speakers and earbuds.

OTOH, nearfield speaker set-up in a lot of small studios is off the charts terrible these days. In those cases, buds may actually be better.
Old 24th July 2015
  #25
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Look what happens when sound moves through air... This effect alone means that if you want your music to translate in the real world using transducer technology than you damn well better mix using conventional speakers. We listen to everything through the air (for the most part). Density of molucules, temperature, etc... Effect how we hear and listen.

Here is a paper Ed Wolfrum (Motown Engineer) wrote years ago... Look at the high end graphs.

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Old 17th May 2016
  #26
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IDK, tell Glenn Schick that. He is mastering for everybody on the go using in-ears.
Old 17th May 2016
  #27
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Mastering is not mixing!
Old 18th May 2016
  #28
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CRYSCO View Post
IDK, tell Glenn Schick that. He is mastering for everybody on the go using in-ears.
That guy is a real interesting case in point for in-the-box and minimalist mastering rig.
Old 18th May 2016
  #29
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CRYSCO View Post
IDK, tell Glenn Schick that. He is mastering for everybody on the go using in-ears.
Read a few interviews with him. Seems like he's made this move for business/lifestyle/convenience reasons. If you're a broad brushstrokes kind of mastering engineer I can see it might work, but I think it's always going to be a compromise in terms of pure sonics. Probably also helps that he's an experienced mastering engineer starting with good mixdowns that won't need so much work...
Old 19th May 2016
  #30
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You guys saying that you can't mix or master on headphones are assuming that all speaker systems are calibrated perfectly and give a perfect representation of what is on the recording. This is ignorance, there are about a million ways a speaker system can be set up wrong or flawed, just as there are about a million ways you can design and set up a headphone system to accurately represent the recording, and thus not have any problem at all mixing and mastering on it. Imagine the difference between a well set up headphone system and a speaker system that is not full range, not firing at your ears, has room problems, etc. I know which I'd choose.

Greg - Just noticed your comment about studio near fields set up wrong and totally agree.
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