Headphones vs. Monitors: Which Should You Use For Mixing Audio?

By Kevin Graham

If you’re an independent filmmaker, you’re probably no stranger to acting as your own audio mixer during the edit process.

Whether you’re sound designing a promo reel or editing down an interview, getting a good mix is extremely important to the overall quality of your video.

But what’s the best way to listen to your audio as you’re editing?

This argument almost always boils down to headphones vs. monitors. But which should you use?

Well, the answer is, it depends.

audio volume knob

Headphones

For most, headphones are the right choice. An accurate pair of headphones will generally be much cheaper than an accurate pair of studio monitors.

Additionally, headphones are not vulnerable to acoustics issues that may be present in your editing environment, such as HVAC noise, echoes, poor room shape, etc.

Headphones aren’t perfect, but they are usually going to be accurate enough to paint a realistic picture of your mix, particularly when you’re dealing with dialogue noise, edit points, and low frequencies.

Even if you only have access to the cheap earbuds that came with your phone, headphones are much better than typical internal computer speakers.

earbuds

Monitors

While headphones are going to be the right solution for most, if you have a good acoustic environment and some budget available, you’re going to want to think about getting a good pair of studio monitors.

The fact is, in the correct acoustic environment, a quality set of monitors is going to be even better than headphones. You’ll have a more realistic stereo field, more transparent frequency balance, and your mix will generally translate better across multiple listening devices.

For your listening environment, the use of acoustic absorption panels, bass traps, and even a well-placed rug can help dampen your room’s inherent noise and provide a cleaner setting for your monitors.

audio monitor

So there’s the answer: headphones are good, cheap, and simple to use, where monitors are more expensive and require a good room, but can deliver the best results.

At the end of the day, every filmmaker’s situation is unique and you’ll need to weigh the pros and cons of each option.

Hopefully, this overview will help you find the perfect listening setup for your edits.

audio on set

Kevin is the Music Director and Lead Composer at FIlmpac.

FILMPAC Filmpac is a premium stock footage + music membership library.