What do I look for in a pair of headphones? This is a question that most of us have had to deal with at some point in our lives. It is important to note that choosing a perfect pair of headphones is quite different from choosing any other sound gadgets and a slight mistake could mean you end up with something that will not only deliver poor sound quality but may come with additional health problems.
We understand you do not want to subject yourself to this kind of agony, this is why we present this headphones buying guide so you can find some practical ideas and make your next shopping experience for these trendy gadgets something to remember.
What Do You Need The Headphones For?
The intended purpose of the headphones is one of the top factors to consider before choosing your headphone.
Generally, it is observed that headphones used while tracking in the studio come with lots of specifications and needs as opposed to those used for live sound applications. Therefore, define the purpose of your headphone so you can adapt the correct one for that purpose.
How Does The Headphones Fit?
There are various pairs of terms that are associated with the manner in which the headphones fit around your ear. The first pair of terms is Circumaural and Supra-aural. Circumaural headphones fit around the ears while the Supra-aural fit above the ear. The way a headphone fits around our ears is determined by the design of its earcup and the choice of one over the other is purely on the level of comfort offered.
Still, on the fit of the headphone, we have the closed-back and the open-back. These terms are used to refer to the design of the headphone part which covers the area that lies behind the driver that stretches out in a straight line away from the side of your head. For the closed headphones, much of the sound is prevented from escaping since the headphones are designed in a manner that their downsides trap all pressure inside it, with an effect that it creates false low frequencies. However, if you are looking for a more accurate balance of frequencies, you can opt for the open-back kinds as they provide less sound isolation.
One of the major factors to consider in monitoring headphones is the isolation. And because there are several kinds of musical instruments that aid with tracking, we shall go over a few of them briefly so you can understand the kind of headphones that would be ideal in each case.
Drums – Tracking drums need acoustic isolation as this enables them block out the drum beats so the drummer can correctly hear the mix. This separation is necessary to prevent unnecessary interference of the click as well as the reference mix with the recording microphones. For such drums, experts recommend a minimum of 25-29dB worth of sound isolation.
Electric Guitars & Bass – These tracking instruments are easier to work with as compared to the drums as with them; you can use either the closed or the open headphones depending on how they are tracked. At times, you may not need a headphone at all and all you will require is manipulate the monitor mix if the bassist or guitarist is using an amp to track in the same room.
Acoustic Guitar and Other Instruments – With these instruments, you won’t go wrong with the closed-back headphones as these headphones offer better isolation, so there won’t be any bleed in the recorded tracks.
Vocals – Perhaps this is one of the trickiest areas of choosing headphones for studio tracking. This is because vocalists rely on frequency balance and proper pitches for a more accurate sound output. To ensure this, you need to invest in a top open-back headphones are recommended for vocals.
Headphones for Monitoring And Mixing
The headphones used in mixing enable you to isolate and correct sound problems that may have found their way into the music when tracking. In addition to this, a good pair of headphones will also enable you to hear your mix without facing interference from any background noise. Therefore, experts advise high-end open-back or even the semi-open-back headphones for control rooms. This is because they offer clearer and more accurate frequency response.
Live Sound Applications
One of the greatest characteristics you should look out for when choosing headphones for live sound applications is their ability to block out the often-high sound level in your house.
The most popular formats of live headphones are the earphones or what’s referred in technical terms the in-ear monitors. You may need to go for high-end, professional earphones because aside from the fact that they are not very visible and will make you look as though you are not wearing anything at all, they are also highly efficient in blocking out all the background sound. However, it is important to note that their small size and design means they offer low-end expression hence may not go well with certain instruments such as the drum or the bass. In this case, you would need multi-driver earphones that come with qualified drivers for higher and lower frequency ranges.
Lastly, you need to ensure your soloing and troubleshooting needs are well taken care of when you select your headphones for live sound applications. Because the level of sound pressure at the mix position can surge to 110dB, you will need a pair of headphones with very high isolation so that you can hear correctly.
Evidently, choosing a headphone is pretty much comes down to your individual needs and the purpose of the headphone. As a general rule, if you have enough cash to spare, always buy all of the possible categories. This is because whether you are using the headphone for live sound applications or in the tracking studio, you will always realize that you need one or the other pair at certain points in time.