The Finest Tool in the Shed: How Will Putney Mixed a Number One Record Entirely on Sennheiser Open-Aire Headphones
Underground metal band The Amity Affliction has officially made a name for itself in its native Australia, where the band’s third album, Chasing Ghosts, was released on September 7th of this year and subsequently raced up the charts to capture the number one position. NJ-based producer Will Putney, who was recruited by the band to mix the album in a time crunch, mixed and mastered the entire album on a pair of Sennheiser HD 600 Open-Aire headphones in his bedroom. By the time he was able to listen to the album on a pair of monitors in a traditional studio, the album had already been pressed and was on its way to reaching number one on the Aria Charts in Australia.
Putney, who works out of The Machine Shop studio based in Belleville, NJ, was already mixing another record at an L.A. studio when The Amity Affliction inquired, asking whether he could mix their new record. Putney already had his days fully booked at the studio, but didn’t want to turn down the gig. Thankfully, he had access to a remote mixing rig and a pair of Sennheiser HD 600 headphones, and was enthusiastic about mixing the record over several late nights in the bedroom where he was staying. Putney explains:
How did you come across the Sennheiser HD 600s?
I have been using the HD 600s as a mix reference for a long time. I had been using these headphones more than usual because at the time I was between rooms and finishing construction on my mix room. That said, I’ve always had the sense to check my mixes on real monitors, and as a result have become more acutely aware of what to look out for in how things translate. But for this record, I never even wound up hearing it on speakers until well after the fact.
Did mixing on headphones give you any advantages?
Yes. This album was pretty synth heavy, so I was able to hear all the waveform decays, effects and sonic placements more accurately than I would have if I had been mixing on traditional monitors. Also, if something was too bright inside the headphones, I was able to spot this much earlier and either fix it in the mix or get rid of it entirely.
From an end-user perspective, I think people tend listen to music either on laptop speakers and headphones — even more so headphones. I mean, just sitting on a train going into New York, everyone has an iPod with a pair of headphones on. When I am sending out mixes to bands that are on tour, nine times out of ten they are evaluating their own mixes on a pair of headphones — and it is their own art. So if artists are making their decisions on how things sound on headphones, maybe I should be listening to my mixes on headphones more, too.
How do you choose a pair of headphones for mixing?
I think one of the most important things for me is how the sound translates in different listening environments. One of the reasons Sennheiser is so popular that if it sounds good on these headphones, it probably sounds good just about everywhere else. With many other fashionable headphones, it can be very deceiving as to what you are listening to. Without mentioning brand names, I purchased a pair of non-Sennheiser headphones I thought I would be able to mix on and it just sounded wrong in my car, on a stereo and everywhere else I heard it. I was drawn to Sennheiser’s Open-Aire design because I knew I would be getting a more realistic texture across the board. With my HD 600s, I know I can get a mix that will work everywhere.
How do the HD 600s perform?
The HD 600s have a pretty flat frequency response across the board, with a clear low-mid picture that is not overly exaggerated. It is clear enough that I can hear where my kick drum sits and where the bass is in relation to that. It also has the high end, but it is not painfully high — so I can listen to them for extended periods of time without enduring unnecessary ear fatigue. With other headphones, ear fatigue seems to kick in much faster, perhaps from overly exaggerated frequency response curves and because they are not as comfortable.
Were you surprised when the The Amity Affliction record topped the charts?
Definitely. I knew it was going to be a big record in Australia, but I think a number one was probably a big surprise to a lot of people. It was a big win for the underground! From a working perspective, these guys always knew what they wanted. They are a very hard working band and cared a lot about how the record was going to sound. For me, the Sennheiser HD 600s were a critical tool in getting the job done and I am glad that in the end everyone was ultimately happy with the record.
What other tools did you use besides the HD 600s?
I work on an Apple Intel PowerMac, in kind of a hybrid analog/digital mix set up. I have a floating mix rig in a giant rack, which contains all my compressors and EQs. I mix in the box in Logic Pro, then go out to my rack of analog stuff and then bring it back into Logic. I use MOTU 2408 and 24 I/O interfaces and an Alan Smart CS2 compressor for my mixes. I also have other tools you might expect, such as Empirical Labs Distressors, Universal Audio LA3As and others. In Logic, I use Waves and Sony Oxford plug-ins, well as some of the native software instruments in Logic.