What a time to be alive. How fortunate are we that we’ve been able to see the evolution of headphones over decades? From exclusive-for-engineer models to wireless earbuds for your daily commute, it’s evident that we’ve seen an Olympic-sized jump from the models of yesteryear to today’s sleek innovations.
While you’re more than welcome to explore a more general analysis of headphones, this segment is going to dive into the science and culture behind recording headphones in today’s day and age. We’ll supply you with the knowledge and diction necessary to understand what constitutes a recording headphone pair, the difference between open & closed-back pairs, options with Bluetooth connectivity and much more.
In a nutshell, recording headphones are meant to be used in a music producing, mixing or mastering atmosphere. They are highly beneficial when it comes to critical listening and mix analysis, and give you a different perspective than, say, a pair of studio monitors would.
Let’s break down everything you need to know as you commence your recording headphone shopping spree…
Open Back vs. Closed Back
You’d be surprised by how many people, actively engaged in the studio production process, aren’t aware of the difference between an open and closed-back pair of headphones. So with that being said, don’t feel bad if you didn’t have that knowledge going into this write-up.
Open-back headphones feature an over-the-ear design; this is a far cry from your morning yoga earbuds. An over-the-ear design is considered full-size, encasing your ears entirely. You may see a pair of open-backs referred to as circumaural, so keep your eye out for that in a description. These types of headphones offer optimal comfort for your ears, giving them an opportunity to breathe better and stay atop your head for extended mixing sessions. Speaking of mixing, you’ll find that hearing music on a pair of open-back headphones gives you a widened stereo image and bigger overall sound. You can dig into those frequencies with accuracy and precision while finishing up that vocal track or overdubbed guitar solo. With unparalleled acoustic performance and a naturally-wide stereo image, the Shure SRH1840 Professional Open Back Headphones make for an ideal fixture in your recording space.
Closed-back headphones offer the same design for your ears, but are much better at isolating sound to you and only you. In other words, you won’t get any outside environment interference this way; you won’t have the industrial-soundtrack of midday construction leaking into your mixing and listening sessions with a pair of closed-backs. Instead of a wider sound, closed-back headphones tend to give you a compact, tight sound. Everything will be pulled in closer together, instead of spread across the sonic spectrum. Looking for a pair to get the ball rolling? The AKG K92 Closed Back Headphones are optimal for sonic precision and getting your mix to translate to any listening device.
Which type is better? Well, that’s entirely subjective. Check out some options we offer at SamAsh.com, of both the open and closed variety. Your ears will thank you!
As an engineer, one of your chief responsibilities is getting the mix to sound polished and up to professional standards. While the art (and science, honestly) of mixing can be an entire article on its own, one important factor relating to this conversation is the idea of frequency response.
Have you ever seen a pair of entertainment speakers with “enhanced bass?” Maybe your buddy just got a subwoofer with bowel-shaking low end that, well, your stomach felt with a little too much boom. Sound familiar?
Much like studio monitors, a quality pair of recording headphones is meant to grant you a flat, balanced and accurate audio spectrum. We don’t mean flat in a bad way; this refers to the neutrality and frequency dispersion of a professional-grade mix. Often times, you’ll find that headphones on the market are meant to boost certain frequencies to alter your listening experience. The Stanton DJ PRO 60 DJ headphones, for example, are meant to pump extra bass for club and party atmospheres. In some cases, headphones are simply dull and shallow, lacking depth or sonic disparity. Many earbuds users find this to be the case; albeit, their music listening experiences are in a much different context than an engineer’s. Are these “bad” options? In a vacuum, no. But in the context of recording and mixing, you want to get the best balance without any frequency bias to guarantee you’re covering all of your audio bases.
If frequency response is something at the top of your priority list, look no further than the Beyerdynamic DT 1990 PRO reference headphones. This brand has been a bit of a hot commodity amongst those in the sound universe, and this particular model prides itself on high-resolution sound with exceptional balance/frequency range.
Bluetooth, Drivers & Audio Nerd Jargon
You didn’t think you were going to come out of this guide unscathed, did you? There’s no turning back now. Prepare to be indoctrinated into our audio allegiance. Become a nerd with us. Join our exclusive cult and –
Sorry, that was the intern. He takes this stuff a little too seriously.
But you as a dedicated buyer can take it seriously without the cult initiation and rituals, for what it’s worth. There are plenty more details to discuss, with regards to recording headphones and the pair that best suits you.
As you browse and explore your options, terms like “driver” may appear in descriptions. Think of it as a tiny loudspeaker built into the headphone. Its primary job is to convert electrical signals to sound, so you can immerse yourself in a musical listening experience. Bigger doesn’t imply better here – you can have smaller sized drivers demonstrating massive sound. Earbuds have drivers that generally fall between 8mm and 15mm, while many headphones discussed here can sit in the 20mm-50mm range. Quality drivers equal quality headphones. Keep that in mind while shopping!
In the Bluetooth era, it seems like almost everything can benefit from its device-connecting magic. Can we assume the same with headphones? The Audio Technica M50xBT Bluetooth Headphones may be a solid Exhibit A in our analysis. Interestingly enough, this model is meant to replicate and harness the same audio qualities as its wired M50x brother; accurate bass response, sonic clarity and professional audio performance are all captured. It translates beautifully to the M50xBT, so you can work and mix without the restraints of a wire. With no loss in quality or dynamic range, this seems like a slam dunk for those looking to get on the Bluetooth bandwagon.
With that being said, not every pair of Bluetooth headphones may translate to a recording or studio setting. A pair like the Koss BT540i Wireless Bluetooth Headphones may be fantastic for those who are casually listening to music or mellowing out to a playlist while they’re studying. But because of potentially enhanced/masked frequencies or imperfect stereo imaging, you may want to steer yourself in a different direction to wirelessly mix your next album.
Recording headphones may have their own unique set of features and specifications, but for good reason. Let us help you find a perfect pair today at SamAsh.com.