Custom Headphone Mix

Introduction

Headphone mixes can have an enormous effect on the quality of a performance. Poor headphone feeds can make it hard for vocalists to establish their pitch, and rhythmic instrumentalists may struggle to feel the groove of a song.

Headphone mixes are usually a little more complex than just sending the master output, in most cases they need to be frequently changed at the request of the performer who may want to hear a different balance of the instruments or more/less of a certain effect for example.

This tutorial will show you how to create an efficient headphone mix system within Pro Tools which can be adjusted during any point during a production with ease.


I/O Setup

The first thing you will need to do is to create and name an I/O arrangement which we will use to route elements to a headphone mix.

Within your Pro Tools session navigate to your I/O settings via the ‘setup’ menu as shown below.

 

You will now be presented with the I/O setup window which allows you to create, name and modify inputs, outputs and busses. The headphone mix will require a stereo bus feed, so we will navigate to the ‘bus’ tab which should bring up a display as below.

 

Quick Tip: You may find that you instead have a blank list, in this case you will need to create a bus manually by clicking the ‘New Path…’ button at the bottom of the menu.

The busses are now setup so all you need to do is name the stereo paths; for this example we will call the bus ‘Headphone’. Do this by double clicking the default bus name.


Headphone Fader

A stereo auxiliary input track can be used to control the level of the headphone bus; set its input to the ‘Headphone’ bus. The output of the summed headphone mix will depend on your setup but you will need to choose an output which differs to your main master outputs for the entire session. This means that anything we send to the headphone bus will be summed together on this track to give a level to what the artist is hearing.

Creating The Headphone Mix

Now all we need to do is setup a send on the tracks we wish to route to the headphones, the artist will usually make clear which instruments and effects they want to hear or not hear, and the advantage of creating a headphone mix using this method is that levels can be changed very quickly keeping the artist happy.

As soon as you place a send on a track, you will be presented with a fader which determines how much of that signal is sent to bus, an artist will very often ask for level changes such as “can I have a little more acoustic guitar in my headphones” so all you will need to do is navigate to the send on the acoustic guitar track and adjust the level until they are happy.

Quick Tip: You may notice that when you solo your headphone master fader that you can’t hear anything. This can be resolved by making the bus sends ‘Pre-Fader’, this can be enabled by bringing up a bus send fader on a track and selecting PRE just above the pan knob.


Final Words

So as you will see, using this setup will allow you to create an entire headphone mix within minutes, more importantly this mix can adjusted just as quickly so more time can be spent on recording rather than wasting time trying to work out the best way to create a second mix exclusively for the performing artist.

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