For many musicians, producers and engineers mixing at home can bring up some limitations for music making. It may not always be possible to utilize loudspeakers for one reason or another. A common reason would be working in a flat or other domestic situation where disturbing ones neighbours is a distinct possibility. This text is about mixing on headphones. Mixing on headphones is from the outset a compromise situation although these days many people will in fact be listening to music with a pair of ear buds so it is certainly an important aspect of audio reproduction to be aware of.
For people who have to start mixing on headphones the first thing to be aware of is hearing damage. Make sure you do not listen for too long periods of time at loud volumes. The ear quickly adapts to loud listening volumes and it should be avoided at all costs it is especially important when mixing on headphones. It can be easy to not realize how loud you are listening and I suggest that you listen no louder that you need to in order to hear the balance requirements in your music. Closed back headphones can assist in attenuating some of the external sounds if need be so you can listen less loudly, though they do tend to be less comfortable over longer periods of time. When it comes to headphones you should be expecting to pay between £50.00 and £100.00 for a good quality set. If you peruse the quality manufacturers sites you will come up with a few options. Personally I like open back headphones for mixing in a quiet environment because there is some airflow to the ears and they tend to be more comfortable for longer.
I find some closed back headphones tend to feel as if you head is in a head clamp after a while and this is not going to help you keep comfortable. I also suggest using a set of headphones that offer a flat frequency response characteristic. This is because they will help you make tonal decisions and avoid making a bass light and dull sounding mix down. If you are mixing on headphones that sound bright and bassy then the results might sound rather lack luster when they are played back on a speaker system. In addition, neutral headphones will offer a less fatiguing sound to the ears as they will not be so harsh and tiring to listen to.
I would always try and listen to your mix down on a set of loudspeakers at some point before finalizing the mix down. Mixing on headphones offers advantages and disadvantages. It helps avoid the frequency response problems of untreated rooms such as early reflections and uneven bass response but can create a problem when making judgments on some mix elements. Pay extra attention to the balance of delay and reverb stereo effects in the mix. Mixing on headphones is always a compromise because you are removing the acoustic from the equation and you do not receive audio from the left speaker in your right ear and vice versa so it is a little unnatural.
However with good referencing of well mixed material, knowing your headphones, checking your music on a loudspeaker from time to time and monitoring at sensible volumes it is possible to achieve good results. Always have rest periods in your mixing to keep a fresh perspective and try not to mix for longer than 1 hour at a time without taking a break. If you ever hear any ringing after your mix session immediately lower the volume you are monitoring at to protect your ears. You only get one set and hearing damage is far to common and easy.
This is not a specific recommendation but my own choice of headphones for mixing would be AKG K240 MKII. These are semi open backed, comfortable for longer periods, neutral and non fatiguing to the ears. All the best mixing your tracks and ensure you take care of your hearing.