Can great mastering be achieved using headphones only with no speakers?

    • February 17, 2023 at 5:25 am #4935
      Rich Steve Beck

        Due to a mastering studio costing huge amounts of money and a newbie not having the knowledge (and usually budget) to know how to apply acoustic treatment to their studio space are headphones a viable alternative to speakers?

        One theory is to use speakers as a secondary reference when mastering if a room is not treated. Is that good advice?

        I’m fully aware headphones for audio mastering have some potential limitations. Headphones can provide a highly detailed and accurate representation of the audio signal, but they can also exaggerate certain frequencies and create an artificial sense of soundstage. I’m also headphones can cause listener fatigue, which can affect the accuracy of the mastering process.

        Are open back headphones the best option if no other options are available for a newbie and don’t want to upset Mr and Mrs Jones next door?


      • February 17, 2023 at 7:20 am #4938
        Bob Katz

          Good question, Rich.

          About 8 months ago the passive crossover in the right speaker of my extremely expensive, pristine and very accurate Dynaudio M5P speakers had a little problem. Turned out to be elsewhere but during the process of elimination I had the crossover apart and so my mastering loudspeakers were down. During that week, while the debugging process proceeded during off-hours, with some trepidation, I switched to the following for mastering monitoring:

          1) My pair of Audeze CRBN Electrostatic headphones (around $5000 if I recall)

          2) Driven by a $3000 Mjolnir Electrostatic headphone amplifier

          3) Processed with my Weiss DSP 502’s crossfeed algorithm calibrated by me to produce a stereo image image equivalent to the +- 30 degree separation of stereo loudspeakers

          4) Equalized in Acourate Convolver with my custom EQ that I had designed to subjectively replicate the response of my reference calibrated loudspeakers. This EQ is EXTREMELY accurate tonally from the lowest to the highest frequencies and the electrostatic headphones present extremely linear response with no obstacles between the lightest diaphragm in the industry and my ears.

          I was extremely successful in mastering with the above. Mastered an album and a few singles in the rock and singer-songwriter genres and nailed them! The clients were very happy with the results. To be safe, I checked my masters upstairs in the mix room Studio B on the mind-blowing Kii 3/BXT loudspeakers, which also are quite precisely equalized in a well-treated room.

          (Why didn’t I try to master in Studio B, then? Because I have all the tools and my racks for mastering in studio A and Sequoia is geared for mastering, so I really would have felt handicapped trying to mastering in Studio B.)

          Anyway, I am happy to report that you can master in stereo with absolutely superior headphones whose frequency response (equalized) you absolutely trust as a reference, and with a crossfeed algorithm whose stereo image produces a +-30 degree location for the left and right channels, and years of experience under belt. The cost of such a system is not trivial and rivals the cost of a set of mastering loudspeakers. I would not recommend mastering with anything less. In my opinion, planar magnetic headphones are a bit too wonky in some regions due to the interference of the Fazors to the stereo image and frequency response, and I haven’t found, equalized, that I would trust any of the Audeze that I have to use for mastering, unless that’s the only monitoring that you have available: And I have Audeze: The Marroquin MM500, The LCD-4, The LCD-4Z, The LCD-5. So I know the weaknesses and strengths of each one and each of the EQs I have developed for these have truly improved them but not in my professional opinion good enough to do A grade mastering. I could see doing “B grade mastering” using the LCD-5 or the MM-500 if push comes to shove and you use a great DAC, great EQ, and a crossfeed algorithm.

          Hope this helps.

        • February 17, 2023 at 7:23 am #4939
          Bob Katz

            If you’d like to learn more about the amazing Audeze CRBN electrostatic headphones, head over to Positive Feedback Magazine and read my two part review.

            Part 1:

            Part 2:

          • February 17, 2023 at 8:43 am #4940
            Rich Steve Beck

              Excellent! Thanks for the info Bob! As you know like many engineers I use my Audeze LCD-X headphones with an RME-ADI2 Pro FS Black Edition DAC, with everything else in the box.

              Over the next few days I’m going to try headphones only with a crossfeed algorithm like you recommended to see what results happen!

              Fantastic info which I’m going to read and ponder on over the next few days 🙂

            • February 17, 2023 at 9:49 am #4944
              Bob Katz

                Rich, I’ve heard it on the grapevine that Canopener plugin by GoodHertz is the Bees knees. But I would suggest that you do what I did with the Weiss and my EQ: Play just the left loudspeaker, that’s located at 30 degrees left, and switch back and forth between phones and speakers and adjust the crossfeed until the virtual position of the left image is subjectively at the same as the loudspeaker. This should be symmetrical when you switch to right. This helps tremendously.

                There is also the incredible new binaural translator from Virtuoso that I demonstrated to the San Francisco AES recently. We are preparing a video for playback and demonstration of Virtuoso which I’ll announce in the Events section of Digido Fora as soon as it’s available. Virtuoso presents an uncanny, very transparent (to my ears) picture of stereo loudspeakers IN FRONT OF YOU. I have not tried to mix or master yet with Virtuoso but it’s very promising and I urge people to try it and report back here. You may be able to get a demo of Virtuoso by applying at

                Virtuoso does immersive as well, producing an excellent binaural picture in headphones of  the Atmos speakers in space in just a set of headphones. I also demonstrated Atmos playback in my demo and it will soon be made available. We are living in interesting times!

                I don’t encourage people to mix or master on headphones as a primary thing, but consider remote recording of immersive audio, editing and producing on remotes, students learning how to mix, all kinds of applications. As I said, in an emergency at my place, using maybe the best headphones in the world — I had success. Your mileage may vary!

              • February 17, 2023 at 2:40 pm #4947
                Rich Steve Beck

                  Wow! Thanks Bob I’m going to give all you’ve just suggested a go over the next few days, brilliant!

                  Re the APL website…just listened to a sample grinning like a Cheshire cat! We’re living in interesting times indeed! Awesome!!

                • February 19, 2023 at 12:18 pm #4968
                  Bob Olhsson

                    CanOpener adds some ambiance to the crossfeed. It’s quite nice.

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