Monitors are devices that act as loudspeakers. They are specifically designed for audio production applications where a precise audio reproduction in essential. Monitors are mainly used in recording studios, radio studios, project studios, home studios, filmmaking, as well as in television studios. Headphones, also known as earphones, earspeakers, or cans are devices that are meant to be used by a single listener. There are several types of headphones and they are designed in a wide range of audio reproduction quality capabilities.
Monitors and headphones have both differences and similarities. The main difference between them is the way the listener perceives sounds. With natural sounds, the human brain processes two audio streams and analyses the differences in both timing and frequency in order to distinguish the direction of a sound. With headphones, both ears perceive the audio stream at the exact same time, so the listener perceives the sound as if it is coming from inside its head. It’s worth mentioning that when listening to sounds through headphones, the room acoustics are eliminated. Monitors add ambience to natural room reverberation, and it soothes aggressive soundwaves.
Headphones are great for listening to details, which is quite useful when trying to solve pitching issues and vocal timings. They are also useful when trying to spot unwanted distortion, as well as clipping and clicks. It’s worth mentioning that reverb effects, delay effects, and panning tend to be more specific when using headphones. Subtle sounds, such as shakers and hi-hats have to be turned on to make them audible, whereas sounds such as kick and snare drums have to be turned down in order to be accurately perceived. Listening to tracks on headphones requires the left and right channels to pump directly into the ear without mixing the signals. Listening to tracks on monitors crossfeed is essential.
Mixing requires both monitors and headphones, although many users prefer using monitors as the primary device. The main reason is that, when only using headphones, it is much harder to achieve good quality and transferability. It’s worth mentioning that headphones are best for revealing details, whereas panning and stereo imaging is best when done with monitors.