What are good studio headphones? Good studio headphones are comfortable, reproduce your mix accurately, don’t break easily, and allow you to produce a professional song.
But with so many headphones on the market and what feels like a maze of technical jargon, it can be tough to find a pair of studio headphones that are right for you.
We’re sure you want to jump right in and start using the same headphones that professional engineers use, right? The chances are that your budget won’t stretch that far. But you can find a plethora of other headphones that’ll do the job elegantly and won’t burn a hole in your pocket.
But, rather than show you what these headphones are, in this article we’re going to show you what to look for when buying studio headphones.
What Purpose Will the Headphone Serve? (Mixing, Mastering or Monitoring)
Your first step always needs to be determining what function your new studio headphones are going to serve.
Are you going to use your studio headphones for both monitoring and mixing, or do you want a pair of studio headphones that are dedicated to mixing? If you’re just starting out then you’ll want to look for a pair of studio headphones that perform well at all three functions, of course. But if you’re only looking to monitor inputs then you’ll want to look into studio headphones for recording.
But as you continue to grow in the industry you’ll learn that many people are mixing engineers and only mixing engineers, while others are mastering engineers and only mastering engineers (by day, at least).
So, have a think about your needs before you continue down this list.
Open-back, Closed-back or Semi-open
There are three types of studio headphones when it comes to music production. Those are open back, closed-back, and semi-open.
You may be unfamiliar with what makes these types of studio headphones what they are, so let’s talk about it.,
Open-back headphones have the outside of the ear cuff completely open. This serves the purpose of releasing sound pressure that’s generated inside the headphone cuff.
Open-back headphones excel at mixing. By releasing sound pressure into the world, there is no build-up of reflected sound inside the cuff – providing a more accurate sound.
Closed-back headphones are the polar opposite of open-back if you hadn’t guessed. The ear cuff is completely closed, meaning no sound escapes them. Closed-back headphones are great for monitoring purposes, so much so that vocalists use them to monitor their vocals in a booth.
Due to their closed nature, they’re better at noise canceling than open-back headphones. But due to the build-up of reflected sound within the ear cuffs, they’re not so good for mixing purposes.
Semi-open headphones are the best of both. They’re great for both mixing and monitoring, so home studio producers may find these to be their best shot.
Partially open from the back, semi-open headphones allow us to record vocals and mix our track down all without taking the headphones off our heads.
Circumaural vs Supra-aural Headphones
There are also two types of headphones that are worth your investigation. Referred to as over-the-ear and on-the-ear.
But they have technical names! These are circumaural (over-ear) for supra-aural (on-ear).
Circumaural headphones enclose your ears entirely, but supra-aural headphones simply press against your ears. Due to this, there is much less noise isolation with supra-aural headphones which makes them more suited for commercial use compared to studio use.
We briefly touched on the accuracy, but we’ll double back on this point.
Your goal is to achieve a professional song/mix. Achieving this goal depends on both your skills and your gear. Your skills will develop over time, but your gear stays the same (disregarding software updates, etc.). That’s why it’s important to understand the consequences of buying gear that’s not adequate for your needs and budget.
You need gear that provides you with an accurate representation of what you’re doing inside your DAW. If you’re using commercial headphones like Beats By Dre, you need to stop. Commercial headphones such as these have frequencies cuts and boosts, especially in bass regions. They serve an entirely different purpose to your needs because they’re not designed to reproduce music accurately (that is, as the producer made it).
The frequency range humans can hear is between 20Hz to 20kHz. So, your studio headphones need to be able to accurately reproduce frequencies within this whole range without boosting or cutting any frequencies. When choosing headphones always lookout for a flat frequency response in the tech specs.
If you’re investing your hard cash on new studio headphones, you don’t want a pair that’s going to break in a month. To avoid this, stick to trusted brands such as Sennheiser or Yamaha (but there are many more). If your gear does not last, you’ll be saying goodbye to money and your sanity. The build of your studio headphones should be solid and be able to deal with continuous yanking and minor falls (because it happens).
Make sure you check out customer reviews on headphones and avoid newly released headphones. Another useful trick is to see if a pair of headphones’ various parts can be replaced. This will save you from having to buy a completely new pair of headphones when the fault is only with one small part that can be repaired/replaced.
With a bigger driver comes more volume.
But the sound quality isn’t directly proportionate to the size of your driver. While the size of the driver is still something to consider when buying studio headphones, it’s more important to look at what materials were used to make the driver.
Impedance is quite a technical thing, so we’ll avoid jargon and explain it simply.
If a pair of headphones has low impedance then they will produce good quality sound with low power (volume). In contrast, a pair of headphones with high impedance will only produce more detailed sound with high power (volume).
Impedance refers to electrical resistance. So, low impedance means low resistance and high impedance means high resistance.
Sensitivity is about how well your headphones convert electrical signals into sound with the power they receive.
If your headphones are labeled as 90dB of sensitivity then 90dB is the loudest the headphones can produce sound with 1mW of power. With a higher sensitivity number comes a better sound.
You’ll be wearing your headphones a lot. So, you need a pair that does not compromise on comfort. Look for ear cups and a headband with enough padding which will avoid putting too much pressure on your ears and head. However, be reasonable. Comfortable headphones get pricier and pricier, so don’t expect your eras to be living like royalty if you have a relatively small budget.
Wired Over Wireless Headphones
Bluetooth and Wi-Fi technology has come a long way. These technologies enable means of pairing devices wirelessly and allow wireless Bluetooth headphones to make consumers’ lives easier by removing the faff of a cable entirely.
But for studio purposes, Bluetooth wireless headphones are far from ideal. In order to transmit music from your device to wireless headphones, Bluetooth algorithms compress the audio file and make it smaller so it’s easier to send.
As well as audio quality, professional studio equipment is designed to work with wires so you’ll run into compatibility issues with wireless headphones. Besides, when you’re working in the studio you won’t be moving around all that music so wireless headphones aren’t actually necessary.
Many studio headphones have a detachable cable, anyway!
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