Look, I know that you’re already chomping at the bit, thinking of ways to tell me I’m horrible for suggesting you use Beats for studio mixing.
That’s not what I’m saying. But you should definitely have some in your mixing setup. Hear me out.
Traditional “studio-style” gear, whether we’re talking about speakers, amps, or headphones, is generally tuned “flat.” This means it aims to reproduce sound exactly as it was recorded. This way, when in the mixing phase, you get the most accurate idea of how the final sound output is balanced.
It’s traditional industry practice to mix your music, or podcast/radio audio, or movie soundtrack in a flat environment, then send it out into the world, blissfully unaware of the sort of equipment the end-user has access to. You know that it sounded the way you wanted it to in studio, and if they want to mess with it or play it back with 100 subwoofers or something goofy, well, that’s on them.
I think this is a little problematic, old-fashioned, and downright silly, especially in the year two thousand and sixteen.
First of all, many of the most famous and widely-used“flat” studio headphones don’t actually have a flat frequency response curve. It’s true! The Sony MDR 7506 monitor headphone, a proud champion of the recording and broadcasting industries that’s been around and unchanged for decades, is known for its “detailed and crisp” sound. It achieves this by slightly boosting the high-midrange, and by slightly boosting the bass. Countless other “Studio Headphones” do similar things to achieve clarity of presentation, and to help expose flaws in recordings. There’s nothing wrong with this per se, but many people out there will represent these as flat headphones, when they really aren’t in the technical sense.
In the audiophile community, flat is often revered to the exclusion of all other types of frequency response. But that’s not the world most audio consumers live in. It wasn’t that way when the MDR 7506 first launched, and it super isn’t that way now.
Here’s the bottom line: If you’re in the business of making audio in 2016, it’s extremely likely that the bulk of your listeners will consume it through Beats headphones.
The smart phone market is largely “to blame” for this. In the last 8 years or so, the mainstream went from mostly enjoying audio in their house to mostly enjoying audio on the go. The MP3 player explosion of the early 2000s was but the predecessor to the colossal success of smartphones. More people than ever before are consuming music, movies, and audio podcasts/recordings through their phones or other portable devices, many of which have really nice audio hardware inside them.
If only they’d spent some money on the included earbuds.
Aside from the Apple Earpods, which offer serviceable audio, most included earphones are terrible. So, with hundreds of millions of audio players came a giant market for better headphones. And that’s where Beats came in.
And they totally crushed it.
Beats owns over 60 percent of the headphone market. Think about that. It’s a completely crazy, dominating number. Longtime big players in the space such as Bose and Sony were completely bowled over, and it doesn’t look like that’s going to change any time soon.
I’m sitting in a small suburban coffee shop writing this right now. There are three other customers sitting near me, all of them on computers or phones. Two of them are using Beats headphones right now, and I am too. That’s insane. Completely insane market penetration. This is a random coffee shop in an economically average place, and I can just look around and spit on several Beats products.
So, given all of that, why on earth, as an audio professional, would you not want to experience your audio the way the vast majority of your audience will hear it? Why wouldn’t you at least give it a listen? I’m not saying you have to mix on Beats, but to not at least listen to your song/movie/podcast on them means that you’re not going to be hearing it the way that most of your consumers are.
Also, the audiophile prejudice against Beats is more and more unfounded with each passing year. Yes, they do some minor tweaks with tuning and DSPs to change the sound a little bit, and the original models were booming bass machines, but their sound quality has improved dramatically in recent years, and the current line is flat enough that you could probably go ahead and mix on them. InnerFidelity has a great examination of the modern Beats Solo 2 and its audio quality here. That article is so refreshing, as its an honest mea culpa from one of the most-known audiophiles in the business.
Beats are here to stay. And these days? They’re pretty darn great. If you’re in the audio industry, you should have some in your studio. You’d be doing yourself a disservice not to, even though it might be hard to admit to yourself If you’re one of the 40 percent of headphone owners that doesn’t use Beats, give the new models a look. I think you’ll be surprised.
Or, you could just stand at the demo unit and click the hinges open and shut, over and over again.