HeadphonesI ask most people I talk to where they listen to music: On a home stereo system? Through headphones? In the car? While I haven’t tracked the answers scientifically, I’d say the breakdown looks roughly like:

Headphones or earphones: 60%
PC speakers: 20%
Car speakers: 10%
HiFi speakers: 10%

A recent CEA study adds that three quarters of adults online listen to music on their PC:

… penetration of the PC in US households (now estimated at 82%) has more and more consumers looking to their home computer instead of their TV, DVD player or CD player for a home audio experience. 86% of home PC audio users are satisfied with their computer-sourced audio experience.

This study and my informal survey above point to an important truth about mixing: If you know that most listeners consume your music in a specific format, you should ensure your mixes translate well to that format. When your mixes mostly end up as MP3s on iPods and PCs, it makes sense to check the results of your mixing decisions on those devices.

In fact, some argue you should specifically target the destination medium with your mix. For example, many professional engineers produce separate mixes for CD and radio, the latter constructed to hold up under the extreme compression, limiting, and phase rotation that radio stations pass their broadcasts through.

If nothing else, the modern listening habits outlined above suggest you should keep a pair of consumer PC speakers on hand, and periodically check your sound through them. You’ll have confidence that the growing number of listeners who hear your mixes through smaller speakers still enjoy an accurate version of your intentions for the mix.

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