What about control room monitors. Don’t listeners pretty much all use earbuds with their MP3s?
This is extremely important. Whatever you're mixing, you have to have a reliable and comfortable control room monitoring environment as a reference. Control room tuning and monitors have always been a passion of mine. Prior to my sabbatical from recording, Indy Studio A (the third main room I helped design) had a Russ Berger LEDE control room with JBL 4435s, and provided a great reference without any room eq at all. I think we had some Whites in the chain for producers who wanted them, but we mostly ran with them out. And I've used NS-10Ms for 40 years in six different control rooms for nearfield. It really is true that if your mix sounds good on NS-10Ms it'll sound okay anywhere. And you’d also take mixes out and play them in your car and on your home stereo. I still do that, and of course now there's phones with Bluetooth earbuds.
When I first came back, I had no control room per se, and mixed in my home theater on NS-10Ms and headphones. And by the way, I always liked Sennheiser phones, but just got a pair of 800s. I never saw that much difference in high-end phones for mixing, but these are in their own class, just superb, superior to our Focal Clears. Anyway, I knew what I was getting on the NS-10Ms, but they're fatiguing and I was missing out on the opportunity to hear the mixes in a professional control room with purpose-built monitors. When Steve [Durr] was doing his initial masterful tuning of the control room in 4a, I gained a new appreciation for the environment as a reference point when you mix. We've got Trio6 Bes and the Yamahas, too, but you are just sonically adrift without access to world-class room acoustics integrated with true reference monitors.
Steve had our monitor housings made to order by Travis Smith. They are loosely based on the Altec 816 "Voice of the Theater" design, with 16-inch Altec 515s in the cabinets and Altec horns with TAD drivers on top. We added a Bag End subwoofer, which enables us to be flat down to 20 Hz. The high end is bright but not harsh, with an intentional gentle 3 db taper at 15-20 kHz to avoid stressing the tweeters with stuff you can't hear. If you've got 20k stuff in your mix that shouldn't be there, in any room most folks'll have to find it with the RTA instead of their ears.
We started out in Nashville with White 4400s for tuning and crossovers, but now use a Trinnov MC Optimizer. It gets a digital signal from Pro Tools so the DSP phase and frequency correction, crossovers and DA conversion for the tri-amped main monitors all happen in that one unit. You put a calibrated 3D mic at the listening position and push a button. The Trinnov puts out a pulse of pink noise and tunes itself to a curve you define. The improvement in the sound by getting all frequencies in phase is amazing. Just really builds on what Steve has done, although I'm not sure he agrees it's an improvement. It's sure as heck not as much fun as watching Steve tune a room, and it only works because he designed a great room to begin with.
Until we built 4a, I didn’t think anybody could really tell the difference between CD audio and an MP3 encoded at 320 kbps, so when ripping from CDs or encoding audio for my phone, I used LAME “extreme” VBR, which averages out around 320. But listening in 4a, there is a difference in “depth” between a CD and a 320 kbps copy. So I listen mostly to WAV files, now. And with storage getting cheaper and cheaper, I predict that consumer audio will evolve to the use of lossless formats such as ALAC and FLAC.