Q: "Is it better to wear headphones when mixing a live band?"
Question from a Audio Masterclass visitor...
"Is it better to wear headphones when mixing a live band?"
There are two alternatives here. One is to use headphones, as the questioner asks. The other is to listen to the PA system and hear what the audience hears.
The answer to this question might seem like a no-brainer. Clearly the engineer has to optimize the sound for the audience. And he is best placed to do that if he listens to the PA.
One the other hand, headphones can be a useful additional tool in several ways.
Sometimes in a live PA or theater setting, the sound doesn't seem quite right somehow, but you can't really put your finger on why. Listening on headphones can give the extra clarity that is necessary to pinpoint the problem and set about solving it.
Another use of headphones is to PFL (pre-fade listen) individual instruments. You might do this if you suspected their was a problem with a certain instrument - a blown speaker in a guitar cabinet for example. Or you might do this as an aid in optimizing the sounds of individual instruments.
The third use of headphones is to detect feedback. If a channel is on the point of feedback, it is far easier to hear this on headphones (using PFL). You can hear the 'ringing' that precedes feedback before the audience is aware of it.
One important point is that your headphones should be very well sealed against outside sound, otherwise the PA will either drown out what you are trying to hear, or you will be tempted to turn up the headphone volume to dangerous levels.