Using a headphone for your mobile device or for casual use is quite different than using one for your home studio. Both devices are different and will, therefore, require different accessories. Because headphones come in a variety of forms and configurations, we'll help you choose a professional studio headphone for recording at your home.
Let’s say you’ve been enjoying your headphones with your mobile device. In fact, you recommend the brand to people who ask for your opinion. Then you purchase a home studio, and you try to use the headphones with it; later on, you are surprised to see that the quality is not the same. You honestly thought that it was the same type of headphones until now.
You now have to search for options and choose a professional headphone for your home studio. This involves checking for the product model and design, as well as the technical characteristics of the headphones used for the home studio system. Now, it should be pointed out that no headphone can completely replace studio monitors. Only monitors will allow you adequately build the volume, estimate the amount of bass frequency, and adequately work with space.
The difference between regular headphones and studio headphones is that most studio monitors work with the principle of psychoacoustics, where a listener perceives sounds not only with his ears but with his whole body, and this does not happen with headphones.
Headphones are rather used as an accessory to Studio Monitors. The major difference between studio headphones and basic headphones is that studio headphones transmit sound as plainly as possible. The sound engineer uses headphones as a form of a magnifying glass to identify the smallest details of a soundtrack. Studio Monitors allows you to work accurately with tones, equalization as well as dynamics. This is due to the fact that the sound in the headphones does not depend on the space or room, which do not always have perfect acoustics.
This article seeks to explain how you can choose a professional headphone, thus we’ll help you choose the best-suited product for your home.
1. Things to look out for when choosing a Professional Headphone
There are some factors to look out for to help you choose the best product, some of which include:
1.1 Purpose of Operation
One of the basic things used to choose a professional headphone is the purpose of the operation for which you need the headphones. Do you want to use the headphones for mixing only? Or for monitoring and mastering beats and sounds? Or you need the headphones for Disc Jockeying (DJ). This step is the most important step in choosing professional headphones. Some sound engineers are merely mixing engineers that only mix sounds, while some other sound engineers are music producers and mixing engineers. Yet there are others involved in everything: tracking, vocalizing and mastering, recording music, music production, and mixing.
This is because the purpose of operation depends on how well the headphones can isolate sound, especially in tracking. A good example of this product is the Sony MDR7506 Professional Large Diaphragm Headphone. When tracking, it is essential that the sound coming out of the headphones is reduced to the bare minimum, or else the sound quality of the music file will be very poor. Also, excellent sound isolation helps the musician hear the click of the soundtrack more accurately without an increase in volume, leading to high-quality performance.
1.2 Type of Headphone
This factor usually describes the design of the headphones. The design of the headphones is divided into 3: Closed-back, Open back, and Semi-Open back. The type you choose goes a long way to determine how well it’ll perform with a home studio.
- Closed-back headphones are headphones that have an enclosure on the headphone. This is used for monitoring, especially monitoring by vocalists. Closed-back headphones are excellent in preventing noise as compared to open-back headphones. Truth is, in vocal rooms, condenser mics that are very sensitive to sound are used to capture the sound released by open back phones. So rather than use an open back headphone with a condenser mic, closed-back headphones are a more preferred choice. The only downside to the closed-back headphone is that there is a possibility of not getting accurate frequencies due to internal feedback of soundwaves. This is why closed-back headphones might be great for monitoring, but not such a great choice for mixing sounds. A great example of a closed-back headphone is the Audio Technica ATH-M50xRT. There are other amazing examples out there, such as the Bowers and Wilkins P7s.
- Open-back headphones: Ever seen the Sennheiser HD 800 Reference Studio Headphone? This is one of many open-back headphones. These are headphones whose backs are open. The essence of this is to allow outside noise and release the sounds generated in the headphone, which can cause pressure and provide a more natural sound. Open-back headphones are great for mixing as there is no wave reflection inside the headphone, but they are a disadvantage for recording as the mic will pick up any sound from the headphones. This is an advantage as open-back headphones give a more accurate frequency, although sound frequency can be affected by several factors.
- Semi-Open back headphones are the middle ground between open-back and closed-back headphones. They are partially open at the back but are not as noisy as open-back headphones. Semi-open headphones are used for mixing and monitoring as it releases sound pressure, yet it is not as noisy as open-back headphones. This is why semi-open back headphones are a great choice for both mixing sounds and recording vocals. An extra advantage of semi-open back headphones is that they help save cost as it is like buying 2 headphones (or headphones for 2 purposes) at the price of one. Semi-open headphones also offer a practical stereo field as well as an extended low-frequency response. A great example of a semi open-back headphone is the PreSonus HD7.
1.3 Noise Isolation
Isolation is an important factor due to the professionalism the headphones will need. This is also important in studios. A great studio headphone should be well isolated from noise both on the outside (external sounds) and on the inside (the sounds that leak from the headphones). Usually, studio headphones have foam on their drivers to isolate the noise from the outside, as well as preventing the sounds from leaking. A well-isolated headphone stops the sound from the tracks leaking into the mic. It also prevents outside noises from entering the headphones, which can be a distraction to the musician recording. In closed back headphones, isolation works both ways, as described earlier. In open back headphones, the isolation slightly prevents outside noise from entering the headphones. Semi-open back headphones have a great noise isolation property.
1.4 Frequency Response
This factor relates to how reliable the headphones are in reproducing sound on a particular frequency. The wider the frequency response, the more bass or treble will be picked by the headphones. This is why you will also need to consider the need for an Amplifier. Usually, you should not need an amplifier as your studio mixer should have an in-built amplifier for one or two headphone outs. The only time you will need an amplifier is if you have more than one headphone, and your mixer does not have more than one headphone out, and you need to use them simultaneously. The accuracy of the sound produced in your studio also depends on the frequency response of your headphones.
1.5 Comfort and Durability
If you are working many hours in the studio, you might want to consider your comfort, especially when mixing and mastering sounds for hours. The headphones you choose must be comfortable, and must not cause discomfort, whether from the design or the noise generated. Open-back headphones are said to be the most comfortable as they allow the sound pressure generated from within the headphones to leak outside, making it easier to listen to sounds for long sessions. You shouldn’t use closed-back headphones for long sessions, as this can damage the eardrums. It is better to take breaks between studio sessions if you use a closed-back headphone for a long time.
Another thing to look out for is the overall durability. Many studio headphones are pricey, and you will want a gear that will last after spending money to get it. This is why I would advise that you get a brand that has been tested and trusted and has quite many positive reviews from customers.
1.6 Length of Cable/Connections
When it comes to the connections used with your professional headphones, there are a lot of things to consider. First, what is the size and type of the audio interface in use? What is the length of your cable? How durable is the cable? Many professional headphones come in 2 connector types, the ¼-inch phono, and the 1/8-inch phono. A lot of audio interfaces and amplifiers come with ¼-inch connectors, so you need to check the compatibility of the plug with the interface/amplifier connection. If the sizes are different, you might need to get an adaptor with the appropriate size.
You only need to worry about the length of cable if you are going to use your headphones in a separate place apart from the mixing desk. You might need extra cables or even an extension if you’ll be using the headphones in a vocal room. Ensure that the length of the headphone wire is long enough for use in the studio without causing hassles. Lastly, ensure that the cables are strong enough to prevent shock hazards. It is recommended that you use cables similar to phone receivers as they prevent shocks.
I decided to talk about this after the other factors for one simple reason. Many professional headphones are pricey, so getting a professional headphone is similar to making a “Sound investment”! Now, you should note that the term “pricey” or “expensive” is relative and professional headphones prove this point as you will get a good product you can use for mixing and monitoring at a relatively low cost. There are quite expensive headphones that have added features that many low-cost headphones do not have. Again, checking out customer reviews will help in making the extra decision when it comes to budget.
In the end, you also have to be aware that the headphone you use for your mobile device will most likely not be good enough for your home studio. I am sure that you cannot go wrong with the factors and tips listed above when choosing a professional headphone for a home recording studio. The last point to reiterate; check out customer reviews before making that purchase!