Eli5: How are audio mixes of albums so versatile in their soundscapes? How do they sound different on earbuds, closed back, open back, and studio grade headphones?



I’ve always wondered how one final audio mix of a music album sounds so different on unique equipment.

In: Technology

Frequency manipulation, volume, and spread.

Most humans can hear all the way down to 20 hertz, or cycles per second, and all the way up to 20,000 hertz. Or 20khz.

All instruments have a frequency range in which they excel, so to speak. A bass guitar is useful between say 60 and 4000 hz.

A piano is super wide and can really go 20hz-20khz.

A Celeste is hella narrow, and is good only from about 200hz and up.

The human voice present between 80 and 16000, roughly but you don’t need all of it.

When we mix a song, we accentuate and de-accentuate frequencies. We carve niches in the palette. Everything has a place to shine, from the high hat to the cello to the bagpipe.

If two or more instruments are crowding, we seperate them spatially by moving them out of the center to a left or right spot in a process known as panning.

We also use a variety of tools to manage the dynamic range of the elements so that nothing is over or under represented, for a nice balance.

There’s more but that’s the fundamentals….

Each playback methodology, whether it’s earbuds, studio monitors, car systems or whatever, are designed to sound as good as they can given physical, practical and economic limitations.

Technically, the bigger the speaker the more accurate the sound, BUT, it’s far more complex and interesting than that thanks to dsp.

Because IEMs, open-back, and closed-back headphones all sound very different, not the mix itself.