The term “Emmy Award Winning” is not exactly a term that is used around these parts. That changes today. We got our hands on a pair of headphones that has become an industry standard for creating soundscapes with such high audio fidelity that it took home the 2018 Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Engineering Development. From Westworld to NCIS, these headphones have been used create immersive experiences to deliver gripping stories and intrigue - goofy “hacking” montages aside. This is our review of the Mix-Fi studio headphones by Blue Design.
You may be familiar with Blue Design for their line of Yeti microphones (which are nearly ubiquitous with streaming), however, the company has a whole array of consumer- and studio-grade products for just about every level of audio production and enjoyment. The Mix-Fi is no exception. Let’s take a look at the nuts and volts.
- MSRP: $299.00 USD
- Drivers: 55mm fiber-reinforced dynamic drivers
- Frequency range: 15Hz - 20kHz
- Impedance: 42 ohms
- Built-in custom amplifier with all-analog performance modes (passive, active, and enhanced bass)
- Amplifier output: 240mW
- Sealed cups for sound isolation and feedback prevention
- User adjustable tension and suspension
- 1020mAh rechargeable battery provides up to 12 hours of playtime
- Weight: 466 g (16.44 oz)
If you were to look at Blue Design’s product description page for the Mix-Fi, you would not get very far before the term “audiophile” gets thrown around. That is because the major design difference between the Mix-Fi and its little sister in Blue Design’s headphone line-up, Lola, is the Mix-Fi’s built-in audiophile amplifier.
Since sound can be subjective to the listener just as much as what makes something “audiophile” grade, it is important evaluate what this claim is based upon and if it delivers on just that. In order to answer this question, it is important to understand what an amplifier exists to do in the first place.
Simply put, an amplifier will take a line-lever signal (input) and boosts that signal in order to power its attached output, such as a speaker cabinet or a pair of headphones. The quality of that signal will be determined by how much power that particular signal needs in order to be transmitted to the end source, the amount of power required by the end source in order to drive that signal through it, and the differential between how much power the amplifier can supply to the end source and how much is needed for these tasks (headroom).
In the case of the Mix-Fi, its built in amplifier receives the signal delivered to is and takes the load off of the source, providing more headroom for better sonic articulation. Where many modern headphones would take the avenue of leveraging digital technology to do help this process through digital analogue converters (DACs) and digital signal processors (DSP), the Mix-Fi keeps it old-school by providing an all analogue amplification solution within the headset itself. Not once, but twice.
Blue Design did not seem content to offer one setting for the Mix-Fi, but three. Yes, I did just say there were two powered settings, but the Mix-Fi can be used in an unpowered Passive state (Off), powered in Active mode (On), and with Enhanced Bass (On+).
And they all sound incredible.
After charging the Mix-Fi’s battery up, I subjected it to my typical battery of tests for any audio gear - metal to funk, EDM to indie, and a whole gamut of games. In each case, on each of the three amplifier settings, it delivered extraordinarily well. What truly amazed me was that with each setting, I heard articulation within each source I tested which would normally get lost in a lesser pair of headphones or speakers. That being said, the Active mode seems to provide a great amount of bass enhancement by itself, making the extra Enhanced Bass seem superfluous. However, if you are listening to old vinyls that could use some extra low end, this mode is perfect.
In gaming situations, the Mix-Fi delivered a fantastical immersive experience, creating a precise surround sound environment. There was something incredibly satisfying about firing off thunderous Hand Cannon rounds in Destiny 2’s Dreaming City with bolts of energy flying by as I dodged each incoming shot. As each round left the chamber, meeting their mark to Destiny’s symphonic score, nothing was lost or out of place, nothing muddled or muddied.
I could hear everything.
And that is what makes the Mix-Fi such an incredible pair of headphones. It honors each layer of sound, providing space for each nuance to be clearly articulated no matter the volume the headset is at. Even unpowered, the Mix-Fi is incredibly articulate.
Speaking of articulation, the Mix-Fi’s construction provides multiple points of articulation to adjust the headset you the shape of your head. Their design harkens back to stereo headphones of yore with a futuristic flair. They have a solid heft to them, coming in at just over one pound, but do not feel cumbersome.
One thing that I appreciate about the Mix-Fi design is that there are no exposes cables - they are lovingly tucked in channels away from the danger of potential snags. The joints where the heavily cushioned ear cups meet the frame even have rubber protective covering around them. Even the main cable has a recessed connection with a tapered end on the connection, keeping it nice and snug.
As far as accessories go, the Mix-Fi comes with a 3-meter cable, a 1-meter tip-ring-ring-sleeve (TSSR) cable with build in microphone and iPhone controls, a 1/4 inch converter, USB cable for charging, and a two-pronged stereo airplane adapter. All of this is neatly packed in a soft cloth case with a pocket for the accessories, magnetic snaps on the flap, and a handle on the back for easy carry.
One unfortunate omission from this otherwise amazing headset is that the TRRS configuration, the built-in microphone on the 1-meter cable is not compatible with Sony’s Duelshock 4 remote. While this has less to do with Blue Design’s cable choice and more about the lack of universally accepted standardization within TRRS formats, perhaps Blue Design can release a cable to do just that in the future.
Sound can be a very subjective taste. While they will cost you somewhere in the ballpark of a mid-range GPU, the Mix-Fi by Blue Design creates a stunning soundscape with or without enabling the built-in analogue amplifier. Engaged, the amplifier can provide rich quality to your gaming experience, keeping you immersed deeply within each new experience or making familiar experiences feel brand new.
Overall, the Blue Design’s Mix-Fi headset is excellent in design, features, and performance, even if the mismatched console TRRS is a bummer. Even with this minor setback, the Mix-Fi is versatile enough to be used with you favorite external headphone amplifier at home if you have one, while still having access to high quality sound on the go. It is well built, comfortable, and an investment worth making for a long lasting piece of audio gear.
After experiencing them for myself, it is no surprise that the Mix-Fi can be found in such a venerated place in both the studio and on set. If you ever have the opportunity to take a listen through a pair, I would highly recommend it before considering a purchase. You may just hear your favorite gaming experience or tracks for the first time.
- Analogue amplifier provides extended headroom for full, articulate sound
- Passive Mode maintains high quality
- Excellent, sturdy design keeps wiring secure from potential damage
- High quality accessories included
- Weight can be a but cumbersome after extended periods (3+ hours) of use
- Mismatched console TRRS excluded it from full usage
The product discussed in this article was provided by the manufacturer for the purposes of review.