mixing on headphones with sonarworks - title on background showing correction curve of sonarworks plugin on the left and a sexy girl with long brown hair and red lips huging her shoulders with her arms - she's a singer - Indraya

mixing on headphones with Sonarworks. “Arciau” by Indraya.

It may seem that lately I only mix stuff produced by Lithuanian artist duo Tomas Čiukauskas and Indraya (here is the first and the second piece I mixed for them). And it is truth. More unfortunately than not I mix less and less music. Does that mean that I’m getting worse at it? Well it’s for you to judge. If you asked me – this is one of the best mixes I’ve ever done. Shockingly (for me) it was done entirely on Sennheiser HD 280 Pros. Few months earlier I would not have believed professional mixing on headphones with Sonarworks was even possible. Because mixing on headphones in general was reasonably considered nonsense – with or without plug-ins.

Sonarworks Reference 3 spotted

My friend and colleague, who also mastered my mix came across Sonarworks Reference 3 Headphone and Speaker Calibration software several months ago while he was mixing an audiophile recording he made of a band-musical-project called Baroque Contempo. I remember him struggling with mud buildup in the lower mids of the grand piano track as well as some resonances in higher registers caused by stereo miking technique he used. He was calling me to swear and to ask for advice and direction on how to get rid of them. And as I’m more of a low-end guy I couldn’t help him much. So after some research and demoing one day he calls me all happy and gay and says he found the perfect software for mixing. In fact he said that there are two things he bought (out of hundreds of plugins, software and bunch of high-end recording and mixing gear) that did invaluable impact on his skills as a mixing engineer – first of them – professional acoustic treatment of his mixing room, second one – Sonarworks Reference 3 digital calibration system for headphones and speakers. At that time I did not understand what is he talking about and how can high end productions mixing on headphones with Sonarworks (wtf is that?) be justified? But I did subscribe for Sonarworks‘ newsletter anyway.

Sonarworks Reference 3 bought

One day I got a nice discount offer I couldn’t resist. And as long as I’ve already demoed the plugin, liked its idea and thought it might be useful in my line of work (in an half treated mixing room) I bought it without overthinking it too much.

Sonarworks Reference 3 in everyday life

I started editing, mastering and mixing on headphones with Sonarworks Reference 3 my daily TV, radio and web ads. Although I wasn’t excited too much on the end products, I was however happy to be able to mix (without waking my son up) with my Sennheiser HD 280 Pro headphones (super uncomfortable if worn for long periods of time) and knew the results were very good as I heard several spots I mixed in shopping malls, over radio and on TV. In several weeks I started trusting the plugin without need to check my mixes on monitors or elsewhere (still talking commercials here). Yes I know it’s a bad habit but in my everyday work life every second counts as we usually work on projects that are thrown at us by our clients long past deadlines.

Dance music mixing on headphones with Sonarworks Reference 3

For the first time in my life I completed my first version of a mix, rendered it, put it on on my Škoda Fabia’s sound system and had nothing to correct. I listened to the mix again and again at different volumes and still I found nothing that I could or want to fix. For the first time in my career as a mixing engineer I was completely happy with the result. Now every mixing engineer knows – thou shall not be happy with your mixes. Ever. I know that too so I sent my mix to my friend who will be doing mastering for the track. Strangely enough all he said was: “there’s not too much I can comment here. Sounds great. Good work!” That was strange but very pleasant to hear/read so I’ve sent the mix to my client who also came back all happy and said that his piece sounds like a whole new song (in a good way) and he feels that I have put tremendous amount of work not only as a mixer but also as a producer for his song to sound like that… And I really did. Not only I’ve put lots of work and editing but tried something new as well. I’m sure mixing on headphones with Sonarworks Reference 3 Headphone Calibration plugin will become a habit of mine for next months or even years to come.

Oh, and after I was so happy with the mixing result, I got using default Sonarwokrs‘ profile for Sennheiser HD 280 Pro I bought a pair of AKG K712 Pros and sent it to Sonarworks in Latvia, Riga to calibrate ’em personally for me. Now these much more comfortable headphones (with custom Sonarworks profile named after me!) are sitting on my head 99% (that’s why headphones you mix on must be comfortable) of time I do audio related work. Literally – best EUROS spent on a piece of audio software (in par with Reaper and iZotope RX) in years.

I won’t get into details about the mixing process of the song itself, that would be boring and unnecessary. Things I wanted to say with this article are:

  1. Go try mixing on headphones with Sonarworks stuff on your master buss.
  2. Give “Arčiau” by Indraya a spin and let me know what do you think about the mix (after mastering stage but still).

Thanks for reading this and here’s the final version of the song for you to listen to:

P.S.: no-one is paying me for worshiping Sonarworks (yet), I just am so excited about this discovery, I decided to combine my latest piece of work with some light review and share it with whoever will read this. Cheers.

9 comments

  • Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences. I have been researching Sonarworks Reference 4 online, and the insights provided by your post are helpful in making my decision.

    I intended to purchase Reference 4 with microphone and combine that with Sennheiser HD650 headphones, but am now researching the AKG K712 Pro headphones that you chose. I wear glasses for computer work, and the HD650s have a reputation for “squeezing the head.” Pressing earpieces into the temples can be painful, so I much appreciate your comments regarding the COMFORT of the AKG headphones. And since I will purchase my new headphones online, I am thinking very carefully about those AKGs. Thank you for this.

    • Thank you for taking time to write here and thanks for reading my stuff as well! I really appreciate that as I sometimes think some of my posts go unnoticed.
      As off “squeezing the head” type of headphones – even K712 Pro start to feel “heavy” on the neck (after an hour or maybe two of wearing them). And if you are wearing glasses, are serious about your music making and about your health – I’d go for the “lightest on the ears” option even if it cost a bit extra. Will save a lot in the long run and your head, neck and shoulders will be much grateful. So if you’d ask me – I strongly advertise for K712 Pro’s if you’re planning on working “in those” for longer time runs. Individual calibration from Sonarworks does help a lot too!

      • Yours is a well-written, informative and helpful article. Thank YOU for writing it. And yes, the Internet is so HUGE (almost limitless) that even the best content sometimes goes undiscovered for a while. Keep up the good work!

        For your information and for the benefit of your readers, it appears that Sonarworks will implement their Summer Sale beginning Monday, June 10, and running through the following Sunday. If they offer a solid discount on the Reference 4 Premium Bundle–with custom-calibrated Sennheiser HD650 headphones–then I will probably opt for the HD650s rather than the AKG K712 Pros (because I see the benefit of having the I would individualized calibration).

        If there’s no sale discount, then I will have to decide between AKG and Sennheiser based on comparison of the weight/comfort per your advice, the cost and availability of replacement parts, and whatever I can understand about the SOUND based on online research/reading. Reading about “the sound” is not a good research method but is the best I can do, and frankly, I think Sonarworks Reference 4 will provide an excellent mixing experience through EITHER headphone choice.

        Again, thank you for your willingness to assist and advise your readers. =]

        • Hey,
          Individually calibrated HD650’s is far better choice than default K712Pro’s! And thanks for sharing the sale info.

  • I forgot to mention this: The mixes you posted sound great. =D I realize that what I am hearing has been mastered, but you clarify in your post that your mastering engineer had little to do because your headphone mixes were so good. Congratulations! And thanks for helping others like me to overcome the limitations of unsuitable mixing facilities.

    • Thank you, Tom! Glad my investment in Sonarworks is paying off. Mastering does help heaps, but the mix must be solid in order for the mastering engineer to enhance it. As the arrangement must be great for mixing engineer to take it to the next level. We’re all connected…

      • I completely agree with you, that the mix must be as close to perfect as it can be before mastering takes place. And I also agree: Mes visi esame sujungti.

        It’s just a Google translation, but I mean for it to show respect for you, brother. It’s GREAT that you are reaching out to people across this planet. I hope you continue to do that, and I wish you the best in your business endeavors.

        Tom

  • Tomas == Thanks for additional information and Good Vibe, and I’m glad to know that Google Translate didn’t completely embarrass me. HA!

    I’ll post here to confirm what happens with regard to Sonarworks and my headphone choice. If the Premium Bundle with calibrated HD650s is included in Summer Sale 2019 I’ll buy it, but I think it was not included for Summer Sale 2018.

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