To understand this, we need to first understand how records are mixed and mastered.
Mixing is the process of taking raw recorded tracks and using tools like compression, EQ and reverb along with adjusting levels and panning to create a finished stereo mix.
Mastering is the final step in the production process that takes the finished stereo mix and optimizes it for playback on a variety of devices.
EQing individual instruments
Mix engineers first work on the individual tracks to make them sound right and then put them together to make a record. For acoustic music, the mix engineers (especially when they are also the producers or have access) sometimes go into the recording booth to hear what an instrument actually sounds like and then try to replicate that while mixing with the instruments raw tracks using EQ (among other things) before putting all the tracks together to create the final record. The important thing to note here is that the EQ is done for each individual instrument.
Earphones and Headphones as EQ
One way to think about the things in your chain when listening to music, is to think of them as EQ devices (among other things). A colored earphone/headphone in that sense is the same as applying EQ but this EQ is done on the final record (similar to mastering) and there’s a reason the first rule of mastering is “do no harm” and why mastering is all about making subtle changes. An EQ applied to the final record is destructive, especially for well recorded acoustic music where authentic replay matters, because it changes the sound of the individual instruments in different ways and an EQ that works for one instrument might not work for another.
This is also the reason why most earphones and headphones (since they are all colored in some way, some more than others) can’t do justice to all instruments and can at best be good for certain instruments on certain records, and why neutrally-tuned earphones and headphones might be better for well-recorded acoustic music where authentic replay matters (for some definition of neutral, which is a post for another day 🙂).
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