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H is For Horizontal Headphone Routing

Headphone mixes can be reasonably straight forward, and simple, or they can involve complex routing. It all depends on your hardware setup, and how many separate headphone mixes you need to set up. Standard interface setups might include 8 or 16 I/O, and involve a couple of separate headphone feeds.

However, if you are live tracking big ensembles with Logic in a large studio environment, you might need eight or more separate headphone mixes for multiple performers all playing together.

How can we best set that up in Logic? The easy answer and common approach is to set up all the separate mixes vertically on each track. In other words, use multiple Send slots on each channel strip and send them to different aux tracks, each set to feed a different pair of outputs going to headphones.

Here’s where there is a problem with this approach. Logic only has a maximum of twelve sends available per channel strip. Using so many sends for headphone mixes doesn’t leave very many empty slots available for effects sends. Sure, you can juggle the send assignments after tracking, once you start mixing. But that’s not a particularly elegant solution. What if you are recording a big band, and need twelve independent headphone mixes, AND some effects send slots?

Happily, there is a solution. And it requires only a shift in thinking from vertical to horizontal.

Here’s what I am talking about. Instead of setting up the headphone sends vertically on each instrument or audio track, set up a single send on each channel strip to a different bus. Logic has 256 of those available, as well as 1,000 return Aux channel strips if necessary. Each channel strip in this scenario sacrifices only a single send slot for headphone sends. Provided you have enough audio hardware outputs, you can set up to twelve separate headphone mixes and still leave eleven slots free on each channel strip for effects sends.

Having a unique send on each channel strip as I am describing gives the ultimate flexibility. It’s not necessary, however, to place one on every single channel strip. Busses and subgroups work fine in instead of all the individual tracks feeding into them. This kind of routing might look something like this:

How does this relate to headphone mixes? Simple, once you shift your thinking. Each of these sends will arrive at a new Aux Track. You are effectively creating a parallel set of aux tracks that mirror your mix tracks, or at least the subgroups and essential individual tracks. The sends that I set up in the previous image arrive at a new destination Aux Channel Strips. Here is what that might look like. Notice the different bus inputs at the top in the input field. I have given each a descriptive name to illustrate a typical example. Notice that the output fields are each set to No Output. This ensures the mirrored signal is not routed into the main mix.

Here you have two options for the next step. You can route sends from these Aux Channel strip directly to the hardware outputs on your audio interface that will be feeding the individual headphones. Set the blend up for each headphone mix independently by adjusting the amount of send from each mirrored track to each of the twelve headphone mixes.

High Aux counts are no problem now for Logic. However, Bus tracks are limited to 256. If you are running a massive project, this second option may be less desirable, as it uses up twelve more of the available busses. Instead of routing the sends to the direct outputs, route them to a new set of twelve aux tracks that, in turn, feed the individual outputs on your audio hardware. The advantage of this method is that you now have an additional gain stage control for the global amount going to each headphone output. Bear in mind that either way, you will still have the individual Output Channel Strips in your Mixer Window that also act as a global level control for each headphone output. So the extra stage of gain control may not be particularly useful to you. The downside is that you are using up an additional twelve bus pathways. This setup would look like this:

Head back over to the original channel strips used in your mix on the left-hand part of the Mixer, and you’ll see that there is only one send used on each track/channel strip for all these headphone mixes. There are still eleven free for effects sends.

Here’s a nice power user to tip to end this off. If you do choose to work this way, the Sends on Faders feature is a very elegant way to quickly adjust the send level from each of the individual elements to the headphone mixes. In this image, I am using Sends On Faders (the Gold colour channel strips) to adjust the amount sent from each of these mix elements to the headphone mix sent from Output 11-12 on my audio interface.

Hopefully, this will be of help to some of you working with big tracking setups, and for the rest of us, it is an interesting exercise in shifting from vertical to horizontal thinking.

This post was originally published at pro-tools-expert.com